Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dialogue as a Second Language

You're used to hearing writing described as a lonely process, although you do not agree with the assessment.  True enough, you're often alone in the physical sense, even though on occasion you leave the comfort of your work area at home for a coffee shop filled with customers engaged in chat and conversation.  You do this to fine-tune your focus on work by blocking out the very conversations you'd come to experience.

Once at work, you're far from lonely; you're in the company of characters and landscape you've created, focusing on them,  In the process of this focus, you've transported yourself into another landscape of time, space, and causation.

For the past several days, you've been living in two parallel universes.  One of these is the alternate universe of your own devising, dropped on your desk almost like a legal brief or, to apply heat to the metaphor, like an indictment.  

You'd not set out with any plan to design this alternate universe the way you'd have done had the material on your desk been a novel.  This universe was a group of your short fiction, often written in times such as these, between classes and editing assignments, or as delightful excuses to avoid working on something longer.  

The stories have all had homes in various journals, some no longer thriving.  Every one of them has passed through some form or another of editorial review.  The fact of their having been published was a contributing factor to their being about to appear under the same covers, subject to yet another editorial review, and of course your own.

The other parallel universe is, of course, the world of reality as it is, or as it presents itself to you, as the reality it is.  This other universe and your response to it and your interpretation of it, is a direct and proximate cause of this alternate universe you've brought together over some years and in various moods, all of which are recognizably you--so far as you are concerned.

Going through this potpourri of your visions, you've focused on the world of dialogue, which is the world of characters speaking in dramatic terms as opposed to the conversational tones you're used to hearing about you when you're out in the actual world.

This morning, you're at one of your favored breakfast spots, puttering with the New York Times crossword puzzle, making some inroads on a latte with an elaborate design, waiting for the rest of your meal to be delivered and for your frequent Sunday morning companion, Jim Alexander, to appear.

Other breakfasters are beginning to appear, including a gentleperson of about your age, who is seeming to address the same puzzle as you with a vigorous ease.  Sounds of conversation waft about you like the pleasant bitterness of coffee aroma from your latte.  These sounds are in their way incomplete or distracting even though the persons engaged in producing them seem comfortable and sociable.  They are speaking in conversation.  You've been intent these days on dialogue.

When Jim Alexander arrives, you're relieved because at last, with another writer present, you can switch to dialogue.

Dialogue is in most cases another language, neither American English, conversational discourse, nor the oblique approaches to communication so useful and serviceable in the world of reality.  The inner dialogue a character has when alone or when being introspective among a group of others is called interior monologue.  This inner talk is also unlike the more descriptive aspects of narrative; it is taut, tense, often incomplete or barely declarative sentences.  It is the poetry of your inner selves, the articulations of your fondest desires, your most forbidden fantasies, your darkest moods, your agendas of discovery and understanding.

You live in an area where there is a significant and diverse Latino community, thus numerous occasions for ESL or English as a Second Language Classes.  With that in mind and your sense of disconnect at having spent so much time in your own world of your own language and your own visions of trying to express ideas, feelings, understanding, and empathy, you are teaching the equivalent of ESL classes every time you give a writer's workshop.  You are trying to write and feel your way into the language of story.

If you have learned anything at all about story, you've learned that it cannot be described, it must be conveyed, through dialogue, interior monologue, and narrative.  These are not languages of English or Spanish or any other fine and descriptive language; these are the languages of the human spirit, caught up in the immediacy of coping with the world we all inhabit and try to understand.

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