I've been thinking about character bleed and the way I talk. I've been thinking about how my characters talk, and wondering how much of that is my own verbal venting. My characters cuss a lot, and they get a twang now and then, and they add "yeah?" onto seemingly declarative statements. As I write, I have a definite sense of "tuning in" to a special station. And once I've tuned in, I might clean up some dialect for readability, but more and more I want to leave the patois as is, out of a sense of respect and authenticity. Which is not to say the voice is the Texican I remember growing up with. Some, yes. The rest, I guess, is me.
As a result of writing in this voice, I'm increasingly aware of how much I censor myself. Part of this censorship stems from my desire to make Tweetie's life easier. I can repeat the mantra I used to preface the Honey Badger video in my sleep: "Some of these words are considered 'bad words' and if you say them at school you will get in trouble and get sent to the principal's office and you will have to accept the consequences." But it's not just cussing, it's not the words themselves. It's more, I think, the difference between profanity and obscenity. Perhaps because it's not expected from me, I shock people.
But my desire to be a good role model doesn't explain why I retract my mush-mouthed contractions in emails: who does it hurt to say I'd've?
Why do I feel the need to backspace and type out I would've
or even I would have
? If I think yeah?
at the end of a sentence, why don't I include it? I'm letting my verbal bad habits hang out more.
J shared this NPR story
with me, about a Cuban-American poet lamenting and celebrating the burden of bilingualism. He quotes his poem "Bilingual Blues":
psycho soy, cantando voy:
You say tomato,
I say tu madre;
I burst out laughing in recognition. The interviewer translates tu madre
as "your mother," to which the poet, Firmat, says, "...it's more like saying your mama, because it's actually an abbreviation of a somewhat longer and more intricate curse, which is the worst possible curse one can utter in Spanish and which I can't tell you on [the radio]... I think inter-lingual puns are often pujas in Spanish, which are jabs. You know, sort of stabs of anger."
As someone who grew up between languages, I can say that rings so true. I often feel a rebellious burst rising up between my words: what I can and can't say, what there are and aren't words for... Firmat goes on to explain, "There are not only mother tongues. There are also father tongues, and sister tongues, and lover tongues, and brother tongues, and son tongues." And he explains how he can only curse in Spanish, but he can't say "I love you" in Spanish without feeling ridiculous. I recommend reading the transcript, it's short.
Also on NPR, there's a piece on Hispanic roles in Hollywood
as seen through the disparate experiences of Rita Moreno and John Leguizamo. Moreno's discussion of West Side Story
pretty much explains why I can't stand to watch the movie except with the sound off. I love the color sculpting, the shadow play, the writhing men, but I can't cope with the accents and stereotypes. According to the article, Ricardo Montalban once said, about Hispanics in Hollywood, "the door is ajar." Leguizamo adds, "yeah, you gotta kick your foot in there, then kick the other foot in, then throw somebody in there quick. That's what you gotta do, exactly."
And once you've thrown somebody in there, odds are they end up fighting for the worst, most stereotypical roles: "It'd be me and all the same dudes — Benicio Del Toro, Benjamin Bratt, Esai Morales and Jimmy Smits," he recalls. "And you'd go out there and [the roles were] all gang leaders, drug dealers, janitors, murderers. And you're like, 'All these roles? Really? Don't we contribute more?' I mean, I went to college, man. I'm an educated human being, and I know a lot of hyper-educated Latin people."
Again, I LOLd, because so often I've been like, "Again, Jimmy? Must you be ALL the Mexicans?" This article is also worth reading, but the conclusion has a slightly "bootstrapping" tone I could've done without, the radio shorthand for "conclusion about overcoming adversity yadda yadda yadda."
I have no such conclusion shorthand. Hell, I don't even have a conclusion!