My husband and I were driving back from Flagstaff Arizona yesterday where I attended a four day writing conference. In Yuma we stopped at a Love’s gas station. A young man with a yellow shirt, braces, glasses, and a big smile held the door open for us. Both my husband and I thanked him, and asked him how he was doing. “Great! It is a nice day today.”
My husband and I headed off to the restroom, and then met up at the coffee station. They didn’t have any liquid creamer that wasn’t flavored so I chose Almond Joy for my coffee. I don’t normally like flavored coffee, but we were on the road and being on the road requires many things outside of my norm or routine.
When we went to the cash register to pay, the young man that held the door for us started to ring us up. “Are you having a nice day? He asked.
“We have been driving all day.” I said.
“Where did you come from?” He asked.
“We came from Sedona and Flagstaff.” I said.
“I want to go to Sedona. That is on my list.”
“It is so beautiful with the red rocks all jetting up to the sky. There is a church there, called Church of the Holy Cross that you have to visit if you go.” I said.
“Is the church in the rocks?” He asked.
“Yes, it is. You can see the whole canyon from the altar. Behind the altar is one big window looking out. The architect was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright’s.” I said.
“I can’t wait to go.” He said.
We said our good-byes and as we were walking to the car my husband said, “He may not know who Frank Lloyd Wright is. Not everyone knows or cares about the history of architecture.” My husband said.
I immediately regretted the reference to Wright. While trying to build a connection with that young man I had severed the tie by parading my knowledge of architecture. If he didn’t know who Wright was I had built a wall instead of a bridge. I had put myself above him. I had shown my education and experience. In essence I had waved a card of privilege – a privilege to care about art and architecture, traveling, etc. Sedona is only a few hours from where he works and he has never been there.
I should have known better. The same thing happens to me when I am reading many writers, and they will make a reference to a Greek God, a philosopher, or a long dead writer and I will be lost by the reference. The writer will have put distance between themselves and me – they will have upped me in education and their knowledge of culture or history. I know with Google I can easily look any reference up, but the negative feeling it generates, the space it creates between me and the piece of writing, I often don’t care to look it up. I often give up on the piece and say, “This is over my head. This is too academic. This wasn’t written for me.”
I know how it feels to have someone else’s privilege (college, graduate school, possibly a PhD), or even world travels – references to places, or food, or art, or architecture – all of these things made reference to without an explanation making it seem like, “Of course, everyone knows this!”
I don’t want to push people away I want to find ways to bring them closer. I want to hear their stories and to possibly tell mine. I want to hear their hopes and dreams or be a witness to their heartbreak and pain. I want to speak simply, not because people can’t understand, but because many people haven’t had the opportunities that some of us have been lucky enough to have. That doesn’t make a person dumb, or uneducated. It may mean they have had to focus on a going to work from a very young age, or taking care of a sick parent, or maybe they know all the words to every Star Wars movie.
Who is to say what knowledge is anyway?
If we really want to reach people we have to think about our audience. Maybe some of the writers I read aren’t writing for me, maybe they are writing for people just like them, but that isn’t true of me. I want to be accessible to everyone. It’s more important to me to build a connection than to show you where I’ve been, what I have studied, the culture and history that I know.
Let’s get down to the real stuff that makes up life – let’s build a bond so I can find out what makes you cry or what makes your heart beat faster. That’s where living is, not in a reference to a dead architect.