Sunday, July 16, 2006


Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. ~ Dr. Seuss One of the really neat things about Dr. Seuss is that the ideas in his books appeal to readers of all ages. Certainly, reading the quote above today takes on more depth for me than it did when I first encountered it as a child. I have many labels of identification, although in this case, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. For example, I am a mother. I gave birth to my daughter nearly thirty-four years ago. But that does not make me more of a mother than a woman who nurtures and loves and guides her adopted child or the countless women and men who make up "the village" needed to raise a child. I live in the United States. When I travel to other countries, I am labeled "American." Those of us who live here know that from speech patterns to political ideologies to climate, there is no single homogenous description that applies to all who reside within this nation's borders. When someone from Fargo, North Dakota stands next to someone from Miami, Florida on a January day, the point is visibly reinforced. I am an African-American, an appellation that I willingly assumed in preference to other labels that had been applied to those whose ancestors were brought to this continent as slaves. I am not strictly "colored" or "Negro" or "Black" although I identified myself with each of those terms in my lifetime. There was a time when the amount of white blood a slave's genetics included served to define them as mulatto or quadroon or octoroon although such distinctions only factored into the price which could be demanded for them, not in their freedom. Lingering remnants of this mentality serve as the roots for the divisive colorism that attributed greater status to fair-skinned members of the race. I also define myself as a writer, a description I adopted once I started writing with serious intention on a daily basis, even before I was published. One of the absolute joys of writing for me is that I can literally step outside the boundaries of all the labels and explore how life would be different if I were a man or I spoke only Japanese or if I lived one hundred years ago. Stephen King in his book "On Writing" likens writing to telepathy. The author puts the words onto a page and someone far away in time or space can read that page and understand the author's ideas. Science fiction writers conceived of travel to outer space long before engineers actually developed rockets that could go to the moon. As a writer, I can be anyone anywhere at any time. I can imagine myself growing up in a shtetl two centuries ago in the wintry cold of Siberia. I can imagine myself as an androgynous being sitting at a gathering on Alpha Centauri two hundred years in the future. Or I can simply pick one attribute to explore. What if I woke up tomorrow and had lost my sight? The challenge as a writer is to chronicle how I would navigate the world around me and how would my perceptions change without the aid of visual clues. Imagine describing the colors of the rainbow to someone who has never been able to see! One of the most dramatic images in history is that of Beethoven composing much of his music after he had lost his hearing. So much of how we experience life is through the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The sensory details make us as writers better able to share our experiences and those of our characters with others. A good way to develop your use of sensory details in your writing is to focus on one sense at a time. For example, make a list of all the smells you notice as you enter a restaurant. Pay attention to the texture of the different fabrics in your closet. Notice the sounds you hear as you walk to the parking garage when you leave work. Think about how you would describe them to someone who had never been there. Adding this level of detail to your writing will enhance the experience of your readers and pull them into your story, the one only you can tell.

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