02 June 2007

Worlds apart

One of my fixations in working on my novel has come down to this: people are often interested in entirely different things. And certain people are entirely interested in entirely different things. Usually, though, we are so busy constructing the stories that motivate us to act throughout our days ("I have to get to the store before it closes" or "God, drivers are nuts around here") that we don’t often stop and take real notice that people aren’t always thinking what we’re thinking.

Someone just wrote to Dear Abby (to me columns like that are godsends, ears to the ground in the vital effort to collect important data about people and what they are capable of doing) and asked, in light of the recent shootings at Virginia Tech, should I worry or say something to someone else about the customer who comes in and says, “I would not have shot myself afterward,” when talking about the guy who shot everyone? It was a good question: Should we worry about people who think differently from ourselves?

And once you go down that road, you have to ask how we deal with those differences and their consequences. Where do police end and thought police begin?

I believe you have to rewind the tape and go back to the beginning, so you can start to see what a world of a different color that doomed, underprivileged, and angry Virginia Tech student lived in before he died for his personal cause. Think of him coming from Korea to the America available to Koreans who operate a drycleaning shop. This life is not the same color as the America he grew up seeing in the movies and on TV, manufactured in the culture of gleaming golden bodies and cars and exalted as high gospel on "Beverly Hills 90210" and "The O.C." That frustrated kid saw that contrast and shouted to the very rooftops that it was utterly intolerable.

His world is a different color from mine, too, here in my pleasant suburban town with my husband and daughter. I've made choices that have kept me firmly anchored in my bastion of white privilege, and choices that have placed me a little outside it as well. But I'm kind of shocked by the contrast between my sweet life and that of many people around me now. I have too much to lose; I've been coming to think I would live differently -- and perhaps better -- with less but haven't known how to change this course, or even that I wanted to until recently (since Katrina, probably, knowing that if the same scope of disaster rolled through my community, it would probably expose similarly egregious sins of neglect here).

I live in a pretty world, but it's not so pretty to me when its underpinnings are so harsh for so many people, and when I could be doing so much more to extend my privileges to others.

Now, how to translate this back into the story.... I'm hoping I can write for/about/to this disparity somehow, give glimpses of the creative process so that others can change the color or texture of their world as needed to become themselves, to live for their own ideals and dreams.

But in terms of storytelling, it's the muckiness that's always the most interesting part, isn't it? It's the places where the world isn't bright and clear and we're all fully realized. It's where we stumble and fall in the dark, swampy murk, morally and ethically and spiritually and physically.

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