Friday, December 9, 2011

Distance Perspective

"In front of me sat a large pile of cattle carcasses, still smoldering from the fire that had essentially destroyed them. Occasionally, I'd hear a crackle or pop coming from the heap, but for the most part, the grassy English field was silent.

Thankfully, I was four thousand miles away, cozied up in my apartment and watching this on TV, far removed from the smells that would have been carried by the damp winds. I was tuned in to a BBC channel, viewing a documentary about bovine spongiform encephalopathy, an affliction better known as mad cow disease."
-- Anne Jackson

Thus begins Jackson's approach to a different subject marked by its own dis-ease, close and tender to her own heart and to the hearts of those she seeks to reach with her writing. I am intrigued by her starting point because of the distance it introduces, and I wonder what she'll do with that.

Distance creates barriers. Like sitting comfortably and far away on a couch, it is tempting to deal with difficult and messy subjects by creating an intellectual separation so the issues cannot reach the heart. Until the heart is engaged, though, mental assent doesn't mean much.

At the same time, distance has the potential to create safety. Sometimes it helps to step back a little, to gain the perspective of standing a little further away and perhaps from a different angle. This may be just what is needed to create space to explore and express what feels particularly risky.

I don't want to find myself living always so close that I find myself swallowed up and lost in complex issues, unable to find my way out.

At the same time, I am cautious about standing so far back that all the details blur together, allowing neither recognition of the different aspects of the situation nor the understanding to successfully navigate whatever immediate situation I find myself in.

There is something to be said for bifocals -- or better yet, those newfangled transition lenses that allow for seeing well at a variety of distances. That is how I want to see the world around me. I love Jackson's image of distance as she approaches a difficult subject, both acknowledging the messiness which can be quite personal and allowing enough distance to make it palatable. I hope she writes in the balance of the two.

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