Saturday, January 10, 2015

If I Can Imagine It, Can't I Write About It? by Sydney Salter

Admittedly, much of what I say to my 15-year-old irritates her, but there's one phrase which never fails to drive her especially crazy: I can't imagine…crazy teen antic, horrible news event, dumb decision, bizarre life event, yet another freaking teen pregnancy at our local high school.

"Oh, you can't imagine that? I think you can imagine that," my daughter chides.

And she's right.

I can imagine almost anything. I've been blessed (cursed?) with a vivid and active imagination. Just last night I imagined approximately 9,000 horrible things that could potentially happen to my-home-for-the-holidays college-aged daughter who spent the night out with friends.

Naturally, it's more calming to focus my imagination on my fictional characters (my daughters prefer this too!). I love creating people who've lived all manner of diverse lives: male and female, gay and straight, a variety of ethnicities, past and present and future. The only thing that keeps me from majoring in every college subject is my ability to learn about anything and everything--and write about it.

Before taking my daughters to Mexico, a country I fell in love with as a young child, I dove into research and wrote Jungle Crossing, a book that explores ideas about tourism, ugly stereotypes, as well as past and present culture and history. I loved putting myself into the minds of a cast of diverse characters.

Early travels planted the seed for a lifelong interest in Mayan culture and history.

And then came the horrible review. At the time I read it as "how dare a white woman write about Mexico and ancient Mayans!" The anonymous reviewer seemed to be accusing me of all kinds of cultural crimes. I've never felt so misunderstood and maligned.

That painful review scared me away from writing about diversity for a few manuscripts. I hate to admit that. But six years later, I still ask myself: is it okay for me, a middle-aged white woman, living in the Western United States, to write about someone who isn't anything like me?

I keep learning and imagining and traveling and imagining--so many stories about all the diverse people who live in our world. If I can imagine it, can't I write about it?

I know what my 15-year-old would say!




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