Make Yourself Understood
Letter from the Editor, Fall of 2007 originally appeared here at Our Stories Literary Journal
SPEAKING ANOTHER LANGUAGE IS A LOT LIKE WRITING A STORY. Bear with me. You try to get something out and you hope you're understood. Got me? Let's try this again. Sometimes you don't know exactly how to get someone to understand, and you struggle racking your brain to find a dozen ways to describe a feeling, an event, or say, a word.
The first time I lived in Romania, five years ago with the Peace Corps, I was telling someone about the hammock that I brought with me. I wanted them to know why the thing mattered to me, why I'd trucked it 7 time zones over and what it meant having it with me. Problem was, I didn't know the word in Romanian for hammock. So I used what language I knew and said, "island bed" and then I said, "ship bed" then if those weren't bizarre enough, I said something I'll never forget, which was, "pot en aer" literally a "bed in the air." So they laughed until they got a hold of themselves, and went to hunt down a dictionary. Was that the right way to describe it*? Uhh, no, it wasn't. It was a little embarrassing but I managed to make myself understood.
So, writing stories is a lot like that. We're looking to make ourselves understood, and we must have -before anything- that undeniable audacity to believe that we can convincingly tell a story. And I mean tell it "convincingly" in the sense that you want to get life on the page, and you got the guts to believe someone is gonna get wrapped in the suspension of their reality, and become engaged in the waking dream they created. Damn, that ain't easy. I gotta say, I think everyone of the stories we publish try do that. _It's about getting it right and having the courage to revise your creativity until it directly bisects the division between the artist and the other, forcing them into a transient state where your creativity allows them to exist with the text. But how does that start? It takes, more than anything, in that first instant -when you put fingers to keyboard- to make an utterance, to break the silence and decide you have something to say and that you're going to (insert explicative here) well make yourself understood. To have the audacity to say it. To have the audacity to write.
It takes courage to do what we do. Know that, believe that. Ask Paul Cody if you don't believe me. If you struggle in this field, chances are you're doing something right, chances are you care, chances are that you want to utter something and let your voice be heard -and sure- you're scared, scared that you won't be listened to, or that they won't "get you". Worried that you're not going to nail the paragraph perfectly, or can't get the mass of your feelings into the text and convey it properly. Here's the thing: you won't, at least not the first draft, but starting will get you to utter that first word, to take a chance, to believe that you have the audacity to write and tell the story the way you want to. All that.
So then I said, yeah, "hamac" (in Romanian) and after they stopped laughing said, "So what does it matter? Why is thing important to you here?" So you tell them, how you would swing in that hammock every day in your Romanian apartment, swinging lazily, thinking about the life you made in a foreign country, and in the middle of the night you'd curl up in it -wrapping yourself in your sleeping bag- that bizarre hammock that you decided to bring with you to Romania, and this is what it meant: because it gave you a bit of peace every day. It told you where you came from, and if kept you grounded like a bed in air should.
Now go on and write.