Monday, 10 March 2014

What the writer writes is not

what the reader reads.
I don't usually bother with such things but yesterday I listened to a video clip, posted by Liz Fenwick, of Joanne Harris reading from The Gospel of Loki.
I haven't read Loki yet. It is in the "to be read" pile along with too many other books but I will get to it in time.
By then I may have forgotten what the author, reading her own work, sounded like. I know she has a lovely speaking voice and good diction and I will remember that. Will I remember what she sounded like reading Loki though? Probably not.
I will put my own interpretation on the words. My own interpretation will be stronger than that of the writer. It will come from my personal experience of the world.
I commented (in a tweet) to Joanne that it had been interesting to hear the emphasis she gave the words when she read. She sent a message back saying that listening to someone else read her words (aloud) was like listening to reading them in translation.
I think we understood one another very well at that point. Everyone experiences the world in a different way. We understand one another not because our experiences are the same - they aren't - but because our experiences are sufficiently closely related that we can communicate them to each other. We make connections.
More than once in my life I have been asked by other people a question which usually goes along the lines, "How can you write about things you have not experienced?"
I know that, for me, they probably mean some of the more everyday things like running or carrying a glass of water across a room. Could I describe driving a car? Possibly. Could I describe playing a game of football? Possibly. I haven't tried - yet.
I might one day.
I can remember when I was teaching a profoundly physically disabled child to read. I was trying to give him a range of other experiences as well. He couldn't speak but he was learning to communicate by other means. Early on I put a range of things against his hands, soft, hard, rough, smooth, cold, hot, silky, furry and so on. We held him upright. We took him "swimming" and rolled him in the grass in the playground. When he wanted to try we strapped him into a swing and pushed him gently backwards and forwards - only to be greeted with the obvious desire to go faster and higher.
"Well, I suppose he is getting some of the same experiences as the rest of us," one of the other teachers told me. She didn't quite approve of my approach.
No, he wasn't. He was getting his experience of the world. It was quite different from hers - or mine. But, we were making connections.
I knew I had succeeded the day he told me via his communication board, "You me think same different."
It took him several minutes to get that message across with nothing more than his eye movements to tell me. His message made absolute sense. We understood each other. We had connected.
Writing has to be about making those connections. It has to be about making so many connections we can understand each other - and enough new connections that we can understand a little more.


Anonymous said...

I used to work with learning and/or physically disabled adults in England

Two memories stand out

One day, when we did not have time to walk around in a park, we sat on the grass under a tree, talking and watching the world go by. For ages afterwards people would refer back to this, happily and with some wonderment.

Another time, with great effort, we went to see angels on a church ceiling. The memory people had, however, was being able to hold on to the very large (and very old) key to the church.

I think the lack of ordinary experiences and especially playing hinder the disabled very much.


Miriam Drori said...

I'm told I write dialogue well. And yet I can't repeat it in real life. We can write about things we haven't experienced. And we can describe things that readers haven't experienced. That's what writing and reading is all about. The reader might not understand it exactly as the writer does, but it'll be close enough.