Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Wide Angle and the Closeup – Erich

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am attending weekly meetings of a group called Writers Without Borders. We read pieces of about 10 pages or fewer and get feedback. The pieces are all written in English, and there are members of the group who are American, British, Australian, and Thai.

These are people from many places who have come to Chiang Mai. Some of them are here for a short time, I am only staying a month. Some are here for a long time. There is a member who has lived in Chiang Mai since the 1970s. There are varied ages and interests and writing styles.

And yet, there are some things that unify us all both in their broad applicability and their narrowness of focus.

Many of the pieces being presented have as their settings places in South East Asia. After all, these writers know this area and want to write about it. There are some set in Thailand, others in Laos, in Cambodia, and in Vietnam. As such, sometimes a phrase in the local language is included in the stories.

Now, I am not a Thai speaker, so if a phrase in Thai is included, I basically gloss over the actual written words and, from context, figure out what it must more or less mean. But many of the people in this room do know Thai. And they get very heated about how you spell those words.

The easy answer is to just spell them correctly, but Thai is not written in the Latin alphabet. So there isn't one correct spelling when you are trying to transliterate the word. And among those present who know Thai, they all have strong opinions about how each word should be transliterated.

This is exactly like every writers group. Not that we always argue about changing a language into another alphabet, but there is always some narrow specific detail that becomes far larger and more important in critique than it will be in actual life. When those in the room say “Your readers who don't speak Thai will be mispronouncing it in their heads! You can't have that!” I keep quiet, but inside I shake my head.

I am one of those readers. And the way it has been phoneticized is no more important to me than it was for me to figure out how to properly pronounce Elvish when I read the Lord of the Rings books. I won't be trying to pronounce it at all. And if someone is pronouncing it in their heads and they do it wrong, who cares? It isn't going to make any difference to their understanding of the story.

But there is also a big picture way we are all the same. I brought a piece this past week called No Picnic. It is a nine page play about political correctness gone to an extreme. I felt it was very topical, given what is going on in the United States, and it is based on an actual event that happened in the U.S. in the year 2000.

It was interesting to hear the reactions. Apparently this is not just an American issue. People told stories of political correctness gone overboard in Australia. Others talked about it happening in the United Kingdom. Others told stories of this happening in universities across the United States as well.

I was afraid it was a very American satire. And it turns out it was a very international satire. It may not be universal, but it was universal enough that many people enjoyed it, and more importantly, related to it.

Some many people in so many places experience the same emotions, manias, problems, and societies. It's amazing that we don't all relate better than we do.

But maybe an inability to relate is another thing we all have in common.

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