The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Sunday, April 23, 2006

On Impediments and Introductions

by Tamara J. Lee

Introductions baffle people when they first meet me. It is not, as I would like to pretend, due to any unique aesthetic qualities, but rather due to my ‘accent.’ You see, I do not have one. In its place I have a rather unglamorous speech-impediment, which ‘places’ me as an East-coaster, the opposite shoreline of where I am from. My slight, but discernible, inability to roll an ‘ahr’ adequately means people usually assume I am from New Jersey, Brooklyn, or Boston. I haven’t even been to any of these cities.

When I was 13, on an awkward vacation in Hawaii with my father, I chatted with some dubious people in the second-rate motel my budget-minded father booked us into. And doing what I’d done for fun many times before, I came up with a lie about my identity by telling the motley crew that I was from Brooklyn. Unfortunately, so was one of the motley crew. But rather than laugh and back out of the lie with my hands up, I did what any stupid teenager would do: I pushed it further. When buddy asked me where in Brooklyn I was from, I recalled research for a short story I was writing and said, ‘The Heights.’ When buddy said, ‘Hey, my cousin lives in the Heights, what street you on?,’ I stuttered (a throw-back to another part of my speech impediment I’d learnt to wrestle) and finally, unimaginatively, settled on Kings Road, my actual address. Buddy smiled at my lie, at the defiant teen with the ‘funny accent,’ and informed me there is no Kings Road in Brooklyn Heights. So I reluctantly settled on the full truth that I am from a Vancouver, BC suburb, which he somehow found more interesting, as he generously handed back my pride to me.

My discomfort with where I come from has been an obstacle since I started writing stories at nine years old. Aware that my favourite writers up till then came from interesting places like Copenhagen (Hans Christian Andersen) or Belfast (CS Lewis), I wrote my stories from a place called ‘Anywhere-but-here.’ Seems I didn’t have the imagination to include my own borough in my stories, much less my own country. Reading tales about people in faraway lands seemed infinitely more interesting than anything I’d ever experienced. Rather than write what I knew, I tended to write what I read, including ghastly attempts to seem British. That I grew up in a city with its own diverse geography and people—from the last remnants of ancient rainforests, to the waterways carrying exotic wares and people to the city, to the towering mountains named for native legends—never struck me as worthy of writing about when I was young.

As an adult, I am recovering from this impediment, though rather like a belligerent teenager, I still wrestle with ‘place’ from time to time. More often now, characters I develop come from somewhere similar to Vancouver. Sure, they might not have been born in Vancouver, but they may find themselves here, or find themselves trying to get away from here. And the more I travel, the more I realize how I tend to write about that place from whence I came. Except, when I tell it, it still sounds like I’m saying it with a Brooklyn accent.

Welcome to the Canadian Writers Collective. As the site grows into itself, we hope you will find the diversity of our words, our accents, both engaging and entertaining.


Blogger Patricia said...

It sounds to me like whatever you write would be interesting, regardless of the setting..xoxoxo and Vancouver is far more, a million zillion times more interesting than ...the heights??? xoxox eh?? xoxo

Thu Apr 27, 09:16:00 pm GMT-4  

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