Two weeks ago, I received a frantic e-mail from my college roommate. It said something akin to, “Are you still as organized and neurotic as you used to be?” It seems finishing her masters and trying to raise a three year-old while pregnant with a second child had put her in the weeds household-wise. Always ready to help a friend (and more than gleeful for the opportunity to feed the OCD beast in my head), I took off for four days to help restore order to chaos. While I was there, my friend’s young daughter took to calling me “Emo,” which is the term for a maternal aunt in Korean. So, to my early dismay (and eventual delight) I was called “Emo,”and, as I hinted earlier, no one got their teeth kicked in for it.
As Emo Avery, I suddenly realized the power the old(er) have over the young. My tiny minion wore headbands when I did, ate what I said was delicious, and, at my behest, announced to her mother (a former punk with undoubted visions of impending karma) that she was going to wear black lipstick. Unfortunately, the lyrics from The Smiths were too hard for her to manage, so, “Girlfriend in a Coma” came out as, “Boppy, boppy, bop.”
All of this potentially useless backstory leads me to a frigid afternoon when I was driving the clan to Ikea to purchase storage containers. There was a CD in the car stereo playing “kid-friendly” versions of wildly inappropriate songs by current pop artists. At one point, a childish female voice belted out something about being, “A very bad girl.” For a moment, my mind spun at the suggestive nature of those lyrics. After a few moments of indignation, I realized I was listening with my adult ears. While world-weary Emo Avery was picturing whips and leather, her inherited niece was blithely singing along, thinking this Very Bad Girl had just been busted coloring the walls purple with her crayons.
It’s all about perspective–first understanding ours is shackled to us much like our mortal coils, then realizing the need to try and step out of it, and ultimately accepting that no matter how much we want otherwise, our collective life experiences unfailingly filter our comprehension of the rest of this crazy, complicated race. As writers, we’re beholden to provide a glimpse inside the human condition, destined to forge entire people without applying personal prejudice. The question is, can we do it?
Regardless of how fast we sprint, we can never outrun ourselves. And so our private filters color every page with our own experience, inserting the essence of our beings into each word we write or say, into every encounter we come across. But, it is the simple attempt to see beyond that allows us the chance to guess at the inner workings of others, to create new and interesting characters that live and breathe inside the ink we put down–and can occasionally help transform a string of horrific lyrics into pure innocence.
Thanks to Natasha (Spyscribbler) for a great post that solidified for me the importance of this seemingly trivial event.