It’s Monday and I am thinking of things to write about — I just did my three pages, and that feels good, a kind of stretching. But what now? I thought about writing about my ideal reader: who is that?
The candle is at my right eye now, the lights are strangling my attention: incandescent on the left, candleflame on the right.
A busy week on tap here, and it will end with this month’s Writing the Flood. Want to join us for some writing prompts, some excellent writing community, and a chance to spend your Saturday afternoon creating writing that may very well surprise you? I’d love to write with you!
Ok: Ideal reader? Sometimes my ideal reader is someone who just needs to hear a truth that I have the capacity to share, but more often, I think it’s someone who can hear what’s underneath what I’m writing, someone who can hear and read and feel the coded messages, the letterings and thoughts behind the words and phrasings I use, someone who can say, “Oh, I get why she said it like that — yes, that’s exactly how I feel, too.” I want someone who lifts up the words, the blanket of meaning, and touches what’s messy inside. I want a reader who feels that stuff of anguish floating around the belly of their own words and hasn’t known how to find language to coat it in, to tuck it into, how to push it out into the snowy world with its hair still wet and tangled, its shoes inadequate for the snow, its belly not quite full.
What I want is someone who can see what I mean: everything I mean. Who knows the stories I’m not telling and can read them inside the stories I have told, someone who can feel the backstory, someone who holds the cicadas and devlishness of the place, the house, the specificity I come from.
Carla Kaplan talks about an “ideal interlocutor” (interlocutor: someone who takes part in a conversation/dialogue) in The Erotics of Talk, (and if you haven’t read this book, I’d highly encourage you to find it; she shares powerful vision of an erotic engagement with conversation, a “communicative ethics,” as a process of individual and community/social transformation): the ideal interlocutor is someone who has the capacity to fully hear, comprehend and respond to our stories, our tellings. In her book, which engages literary and cultural theory, Kaplan asks the question: Is it true that women in literature have “lost their voice”–and that it is the responsibility of feminist (or other) critics to unearth that hidden/lost voice–or is it the case that women authors/characters have been speaking all along and what they have been “looking for” is the right interlocutor: someone who will/can listen and is able to hear?
When I was reading her for my thesis work, I took this question to engage with one of the myths about women and the “underserved”: that we have no voice. That others are required to speak for us because we are the voiceless. This phrase is used as a fundraising tool, a way to touch the hearts of those with money and access to circuits and systems of power: “be a voice for the voiceless” and “we have to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
This is a pernicious metaphor: being ignored or not listened to is not the same thing as not having a voice, not speaking. Incest survivors and those who experience other forms of sexual trauma, in my experience, “tell” in many different ways, both directly and indirectly. We may be ignored, denied, shoved aside, policed, legislated against, but we are not voiceless. We speak: many many people, however, don’t want to listen, do not want to be that interlocutor.
The word interlocutor brings with it this idea of exchange, of participation, at least, on both parts: conversation, dialogue. That means more than just one person listening to another — that means being engaged with.
I have that longing myself, for those readers/listeners who have the background and present desire to fully engage with the stories I’m telling, who can hear the whole story, even more than what I’m saying, who have the capacity to respond as well. And I’m fortunate to get to meet readers/listeners/interlocutors of this sort on tour with Body Heat, and during the workshops, where we engage one another’s stories as writing as craft and as powerful truth-tellings (whether in fiction, poetry, or nonfiction form).
Have you thought about your ideal reader/listener? Who is this person?