Thursday, August 17, 2006

Awkward and Upward 

Saturday night I chatted with a friend about a workshop I attended a few years ago. I'd signed up for the workshop because of the subject to be discussed and then bought a novel written by the facilitator. The novel included two characters who shared something significant in common with me. One of them suicides and the other dies in a humourous accident. What are the chances?

That's just too weird, I thought. That's not how I'd choose to have Something In Common, which isn't often written about, represented.

During the workshop, the discussion turned to whether writers of fiction should write about what they don't know, specifically whether they should write about characters who are of a different ethnic or racial background to themselves. The facilitator/author supported the idea that they should, that this is what writers of fiction do - they imagine what it might be like to be someone else, to live a life different to their own.

I agree, but I wondered if authors also have a responsibility not to stereotype - or not to leave perhaps the one reader who shares that Something in Common wondering why the literary joke's on her.

Did I share my thoughts with the group or the author? No, I didn't. I couldn't explain to my friend why not. I said it could have been embarrassing. But 'embarrassing' wasn't quite what I meant.

What I meant was that the situation could have been awkward. Awkward for me and potentially confronting for the author. Hi, is there any reason why you've killed off the only two characters in Australian literature who have this Something in Common with me? Did the Something in Common contribute to the suicide? I can see it contributed to the humourous accident. No one in the room would quite understand.

I told my friend on Saturday that, at the time, I didn't feel strong enough to keep it light and still bring in my perspective.

Rodney blogged about Awkward situations after reading Seth on Awkward. Seth says:

The reason we need to be in search of awkward is that awkward is the barrier between us and excellence, between where we are and the remarkable.

I don't think anything remarkable would have come from me breaking through the awkward barrier at the workshop. Maybe I'd feel better, having responded. I do know that I avoid doing stuff that could become awkward, or that I sense I'll handle awkwardly. And I think that if I can overcome that, I'll be able to do much more.

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