I’m excited: One of the friends I’ve known the longest, and who honestly feels like my big sister, arrives for a short visit tomorrow. In the normal course of things, there have been times when getting the chance to see her has stretched out longer than a decade–mainly because she’s German, and the Atlantic is a mighty barrier when money is tight. So I’m stealing from her Facebook timeline for my blog post this week, because the sentiment is perfect. (For those of you who don’t speak German: It’s lovely to know someone with whom one can have so much fun, one can forget the seriousness of life.)
For those who may not know, I spent a significant portion of my growing-up years in Germany. Since my parents are both Americans, this makes me a “third-culture kid“. Explaining “where I’m from” is a pain because I really don’t have a hometown, and even though my brother says I still have rose-colored glasses about Berlin (which is nothing like when we lived there, on the Eastern side, from 1980-84), it still holds a piece of my heart. Even though most of my friends from that time have dispersed, and I’ve lived in the US for longer than any other country by now. So when I read about cultural hybridization this week, it struck a deep chord. Even more so when I read one of that author’s sources, the transcript of Lionel Shriver’s keynote address at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Especially in conjunction with an article I’d read earlier in the week interviewing an autistic author.
This constellation of thoughts helped gel for me what spooks me about sensitivity readers. Or the notion that a fiction author, who is, by definition, MAKING THINGS UP, should skirt certain populations out of a misguided notion that their experience is so foreign to the author, the author has no hope of properly representing the challenges a character from that population might face. My concern now boils down to: How is any one physical characteristic so deterministic that the person can be automatically identified via that avenue? It smacks of the worst kind of discrimination that something like age, health, skin color, or any other random physical trait could be so other that a modicum of empathy can’t help an author construct a full being with motivations and internal logic that serve the story the author wishes to share. Or that people assume any one of those characteristics could be shorthand for any aspect of true character–emotional life, desires, dreams, or any of the internal tapestry that is unique to every human.
As Shriver notes, “We do not all do it well. So it’s more than possible that we write from the perspective of a one-legged lesbian from Afghanistan and fall flat on our arses. We don’t get the dialogue right, and for insertions of expressions in Pashto we depend on Google Translate.” I embrace her challenge to always “fail better,” but I also think that at its core, writing is about putting yourself so far into someone else’s experience that the logic of your being speaks on a deeper level than merely checking certain demographic boxes. Humanity’s experience comes in every shade and age, and we could all do with a bit more hybridization and empathy.
On the other side of my reading this week, I learned about the myth of drug expiration dates, and was even more deeply frustrated by the current healthcare system in America. I also dug into what studies have found about actually reaching 10,000 steps in a day. My phone says my daily step average this week was 5,704. Up slightly from last week, and certainly nowhere near as sedentary as we had been–though it’s been a challenge given the regular occurance of humidity levels in the 90 percent range.
Between that and all the cooking we’re doing at home via our Sun Basket subscription, we’re both feeling quite a bit healthier. We even had a stay-at-home date night to watch Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow. It was gripping and well-done in thoroughly unexpected ways. As if someone had decided on a remake of Groundhog Day in an alien invasion setting. But then there was the echo of Arrival with the way the story played with time. I was surprised at how meaty that intersection made the story, and am still considering the implications of it. It may even be worthy of viewing more than once.
All of that by way of saying… I still haven’t found my pace with my editing tasks. I keep poking at my MS. And I have ideas. But I haven’t gotten enough of a head of steam built up to just do what I need to do. With house guests this week, I’m going to guess this week won’t help me further that process either.
Sometimes I wish there were a magic bullet with just that infusion of energy to push us into the creative zone. Since I’m fresh out, though, I’ll refer you to my ROW80 buddies, and return again next week with my status report.