Thursday, July 18, 2013

It Takes A Community

I want to say, as a writer: you can't write what you don't experience. You can anticipate emotions, but you might not know the depths of despair or the heights of plateaus truly until you have lived through it. A few years back, one of the short stories I wrote for my NaNoWriMo was a collection of letters written by fictional parents to their unborn children. I don't think I really captured the depths of worry, sorrow, and fears that parents could bring as well as the joy and the hopes that parents often have. Just around the corner, a co-worker of mine would be a parent for the first time the following year. And then in February, we got a letter from the co-worker about the baby, the baby was going to have a pretty serious birth defect. We rallied around her. And when the baby was born extraordinarily premature, we were as supportive as we could be. When the baby died a few days later, we all came together and helped the family out the best we could.

Again, at my feet lays an experience I never wanted to have. A good friend of mine from high school lost her little boy on July 4th in an accident. And I've challenged some thoughts in another blog and he was a wonderful little boy, but again, the depths of loss leave me floundering for the words to share the truth that community comes together, even a small one for this little boy.

This taints my look at things. And yet today, something else came my way that was much more mundane. One of my NaNo groups had an author who was flustered over the fact that his work was lacking in gender diversity. I am not sure how old this author is, but I was struck by how much he was troubled by this conceptually. He had tried adding more characters, even supporting characters but they weren't nearly as interesting and they were only shells as he had described them. He wanted fully participating characters.

As an author, and especially one who participates in NaNoWriMo, I usually don't give a rip what genders my characters are. Gender eventually comes to the surface and it all balances itself out, though admittedly: I have never written a gender neutral character or a transgendered character. But again I could not ignore the idea that an author had wanted to make sure that his story lived in a gender balanced world.

I look at my own constructed life: I spend a lot of time with women, but I have spent a lot of contact time with men. But each individual representation had elements of stereotypes on both sides of the gender. However, my last 3 published stories all had main characters that were female, with a heavy dose of women surrounding them. The stories that have yet to be published that contain male main characters are surrounded by men. But that is also a result of things that I know about how deep secrets are comfortably shared within genders. A greater trust has to be met to share across genders be it marriage/partnership, siblings, or a long time of friendship.

I sometimes wonder that my own writing is too lacking in diversity due to the fact that my world is the world that I see. To be honest, I have only know 3-4 practicing Muslims, and only 1 Pagan. Of those 5 people, I think only the Pagan would list me within their good friends (a significant difference of best friend). I also do know that in my experience, I am all too aware of the contrived racially, gender balanced writing (High School Musical and upcoming Teen Beach Movie--I realize that these are screenplays, but they address the same things). There was a presentation to me that discussed the limitations of popular media with regards to racial equality (that there is no equality for races), but I am also struck that I know of shows that are specifically targeted at certain ethnicities and yet they are not at all racially balanced. 

As a concept: diversity I'm flummoxed by it as a writer. I know diversity, I've lived it most of my life even in its limitations: I socialized with people with multiple ethnic identities and religious choices, I know the difference between being the leader and knowing when to take a supporting role, and I have friends, good friends of several genders and gender preferences. I'm lucky: I live in a state that has a lot of representatives of both mainstream and minorities.

This becomes a sticking point though as I am on the precipice of preparing materials for social sciences to be used with students with developmental disabilities. I know it's the point of educational materials to be as politically correct as possible and be the introduction to the world beyond the four walls of school.

And then I take a breath.

It's the community that will give rise to the work. Both fiction and non-fiction. I can strive for the diversity without purposely putting it to task. I can ask myself to consider to have my characters step outside of prescribed stereotypes, that they will rise to the task. And I know they all will be okay. Because my friends have 2 special angels on their shoulders. And I have more experiences, albeit, experiences I hope no one ever has to see.

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