“But, as Yertle, the Turtle King, lifted his hand
And started to order and give the command,
That plain little turtle below in the stack,
That plain little turtle whose name was just Mack,
Decided he’d taken enough. And he had.
And that plain little lad got a little bit mad
And that plain little Mack did a plain little thing.
And his burp shook the throne of the king!” (Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle)
I was having a conversation with a couple of friends on Twitter the other day about what I was calling my Turtle Revision. Not that there are any turtles in the novels I’m working on. Basically, I’d have to confess that I was whining. The litany is standard for me: not enough time, not enough talent, writing this book is taking forever and at this rate I’ll still be revising when I’m ninety two. That sort of thing.
And then John, @barnestorm2004 on Twitter, coined a wonderful phrase: Turtle Vision.
The idea is that while doing a Turtle Revision, Turtle Vision might be a helpful perspective. One assumes that to a turtle, his own pace is not slow, but natural and not a thing to resent.
I got to thinking about this, and about the fact that really the novel is moving nicely at its own pace. And I’m perfectly contented with it, absorbed in the way it is taking shape, until I start looking at all the hares out there, dashing by me with amazing leaps and bounds. Unlike the hare in the famous story, they don’t seem to be silly rabbits at all. Rather than dawdling, they are all racing to the finish line and collecting prizes of agents and publishing contracts while I’m still working away at chapter four.
I know perfectly well that envying the hares will not end well, I’ve made that venture before. And like Yertle the turtle, the result of the venture left me covered in mud and lower than the lowest turtle of them all.
How much better to put on my Turtle Vision and accept the pace of the story and to be contented with that. Slow and steady may or may not win the race, but I think there is a certain peace to be found in recognizing and accepting the reality of the way I work as a writer.
As everything else in my writing life, the concept expands to the rest of my world as well – my relationships, my job, the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities and tasks that make up my daily existence. Turtle Vision. Taking it one step at a time and accepting what life has to offer. And while I’m at it, remembering that one small thing – sometimes a turtle burp can shake the throne of the king.
(Note: If you haven’t read Yertle the Turtle, I am sad for you. But just in case you haven’t, you should know that Yertle was king of the turtles. He got some rather grandiose ideas about expanding his kingdom, and built an ever higher throne on the backs of his turtle subjects. Mack, the turtle on the bottom, after expressing his opinion on the matter to no avail, solved the problem by burping. Yertle landed in the mud, and all of the turtles were free “as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.”)
Most of the time I live a lot inside my head. It has to do with the writing, I think. I’m busy mulling a plot, figuring out character motivations, trying to locate that elusive perfect word. Or, if I’m not thinking about writing, I’m trying to figure out how to solve some other problem at work, or around the family. I’m aware of the world around me, and that it is often very beautiful, but I often move through it on autopilot.
My venture into photography with the Wading In class is teaching me to see the world around me. “Pay attention,” my father used to say when I was a child. Mind you, he would say this in the middle of a card game, while tapping a card he was about to play on the table. This rather obvious signal meant that I, his partner, was expected to do something, to take some action, and that I would know what it was if only I put my mind to it.
In the Wading In class, it also turns out we are expected to pay attention, and take action. One of the assignments last week was a scavenger hunt, with a list of pictures to ‘find’, continuing to include some part of our physical self in the image.
And I began to notice things I’d been missing. Geometrical patterns everywhere, the way a sheen of water on the pavement will shift and change with the pressure of a foot, reflections in a window. It is good to be pulled out of my head and into the physical world, and I hope in the end it will make me a better writer. I’m including some of these pictures here, again with the caveat that I am not a photographer and these are not ART. But they do show the way I am beginning to see the world a little differently, thanks to the camera.
In response to the instruction to “find a heart”, I started here:
I was so totally focused on getting a picture of a heart shaped object with some part of my body included, that I didn’t even notice the different textures and patterns in this picture until after I took it. I’m thinking a real photographer sees these things before they take the picture. For me, I seem to discover them after.
Like this one, in response to “A Moment of Rest.” I had literally never noticed the geometry of the stairway.
The last one I’m going to share was taken during a trip to the local dump, looking for “a pattern on the ground.” I began by looking at the yellow line, and only through the camera lens did I notice the light reflecting on the sheen of water, and the way it changed every time I took a step.