Slice of Life Story - A Little Distance Helps

I have been thinking about the effects of distance…

In my final year of high school I travelled to Central Australia with my teachers and classmates and in that vast remote space experienced the night sky in a manner I could never have imagined.

One evening, in the middle of the Simpson Desert, we were camped adjacent to an artesian waterhole situated on a gibber plain. ‘Gibber’ is an aboriginal word loosely translating to ‘stones able to be picked up in the hand and thrown,’ -so the surrounding landscape was a carpet of small stones stretching to the horizon. In that isolated location, so removed from the city, the night sky put on a display forever etched in my memory bank. The stars shone with an intensity I had never previously experienced. A star garden of luminous quality greeted our collective eyes as we stood gazing into the darkness. The moon and the stars illuminated the gibber plain, transforming it into an illusionary world of snow. A trick of the light?  Absolutely! But, mesmerizingly beautiful at the exact same time.

Here we were, in the middle of an immense island continent, a world away from civilization and its associated pollutants and manmade illuminations, witnessing a night sky of clear and unadulterated intensity. A collective wow echoed across the desert darkness. The distance had provided a rare opportunity to view the stars in a way city dwellers could never easily comprehend. The distance between this place and civilization had enabled an unparalleled view of the stars. They glowed with sparkling clarity. A view of the heavens few appreciate. This was how the ancients saw the stars. This was special.  We were staring at superstars in every true sense. I understand what it means to be a star gazer.  As the saying goes, you had to be there…

Over the last decade I have travelled extensively in my work as well as for relaxation and enjoyment. It has taken me to many different world locations and provided insights and adventures. My thirst to explore and learn more remains unquenched. However, as much as I love these privileged opportunities, I am always grateful to return home; to touch base with my regular surroundings. My home and my heart remain anchored in the place I call home. It is the distances I travel that add to my appreciation of my special place on the planet. Going away, makes coming home an extra reward for taking the journey. The distance I create between my temporary location and my heart’s home serves to reinforce the relative importance of home. My perspective is enhanced. The familiar is viewed with fresh appreciation. I cease to take it for granted. The distance provides some acuity. The image of my home base now sharpened allows me to view it with a keener eye. It is a place in my heart, afterall.

While living in New York, I visited the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art on numerous occasions.  On one such visit I found myself standing in front of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Irises.’  This painting was in fact one of a series Van Gogh created. It shows irises in a vase with a pink background. With time the pink had faded to almost white. My first reaction was to the size of the painting, It was much smaller than I had imagined. I initially viewed at close range.  However, it was when I stepped back a little I began to more fully appreciate the beautiful depiction the troubled painter had created. The full impact of the artist’s delicate shaping of the irises could now be full appreciated. A step back, some added distance, had sharpened my vision. Everything became clear.

As a writer, the notion of distance is critical. There are times when I need to step back from my writing to view it more clearly. -To understand the words that initially hit the page. Does what I have written match the vision I had in my head,  -my plan for the words and their shape upon the page?  Is this the intended message? By distancing myself for an hour, a day even, I am often better able to appreciate what needs to happen next. Creating distance enables me to return with fresh perspective. I see things as they really are; less emotionally.
I once wrote a poem about ‘Sneakers’ and couldn’t find a suitable ending. I was becoming frustrated. Nothing seemed to be working. I was forcing the words out and they were not landing in the right place. Eventually I put the poem away and went on with some unrelated reading. I took the dog for a walk along the beach. When I returned, I knew exactly how to finish the poem. It was as if the problem had resolved itself in the time I had been away. The distance I had placed between myself and the poem had been productive.  My head was clear, my vision restored, and the words presented themselves willingly. Occasionally putting distance between yourself and your writing can prove quite fruitful.

“If you’ve never stared off into the distance, then your life is a shame’
From Mrs Potter’s Lullaby
Adam Duritz
Counting Crows


  1. ThAnks for the tip on putting distance between to bring clearer vision...
    "Going away makes coming home an extra reward for taking the journey."
    - Love this notion of your thinking! So well stated!


    1. Thanks as always for the feedback Amy. May you find clarity in the distance.

  2. We are on the same wave length once again, Alan. I love your posts,

    1. Bonnie, I'm pleased my thoughts on distance struck a chord with your thinking.

  3. I love your description of that splendid evening of stargazing. Perhaps I did need to be there, but your words made it come alive for me.

    1. Ramona, the challenge for every writer is to take the reader along with them. If you were able to visualize that special scene , I am well pleased.

  4. Great reminder, and much appreciated today! Thank you!

    1. Thank you Jaana. Hope you can make use of this notion to give clarity to your own work as a writer.

  5. I've had several 'stargazing' experiences, one memorable one at Lake Powell with my students, Alan. I hope they remember too, as you have. I enjoyed your connections throughout the piece. "Stepping back" can be advice for others things in life although I agree about the writing. It seems sometimes the brain just needs a rest, a new alignment if you will. As for the 'other things', stepping back makes me remember the lines from "I can see clearly now" which reads: I can see clearly now the rain is gone/I can see all the obstacles in my way" and so on. Obviously, your post touched me, Alan. Thanks!

  6. As always Linda, your feedback is greatly appreciated. Your reference to the song, 'I Can See clearly Now' is an apt reminder. As you say distancing is something we can apply to a range of life events.

  7. I love these sentences:

    My home and my heart remain anchored in the place I call home. It is the distances I travel that add to my appreciation of my special place on the planet. Going away, makes coming home an extra reward for taking the journey.

    And then I love how you compared it to our writing journey.

    I wonder how long it takes to feel like a new place is really home. My daughter has relocated to Ecuador and she is continually missing...home. xo nanc


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