Friday, May 30, 2014

The Dangers of a Traveling Writer

It really isn't safe to be a writer, to travel abroad and tell people about your work.

First of all, it's harder than you'd think to pitch your novel in simplified English. If you've worked up a perfectly-worded pitch that takes you exactly twenty-five seconds to deliver, chances are that the wording will be too complex for most people you meet. (You know we exhaust every double-meaning of every word in those hellish pitches.) If you haven't worked up that perfectly-worded pitch, you're still awash. We're writers; our greatest weapon is our command of the English language ... but when your "foes" are impervious to glances from your English Weapon, you're sort of drifting in dangerous waters.

One evening early in the trip, I found myself sitting in the back of a little car as a young Romanian man drove. Two of my teammates, Matthew and Oliver, were with me and we had just finished an evening service at a church near Arad. As we puttered through a village and took a roundabout, I chatted merrily to our driver (who spoke excellent English) about wanting to learn Romanian as my second language. He smiled quietly at me through the rear-view mirror and told me that I had much better take Spanish; I would find it more useful, he said, for visiting Mexico.
"But I don't know anyone in Mexico," I said somewhat petulantly. "I have friends in Romania!"
"Don't you have Hispanics in Virginia?" he asked.
"Well, yes."
"Then you see. So tell me more about your writing."
(Here goes, I thought.) I managed to eek out something that sort of resembled a description of Fly Away Home but it was dashed hard. I mean, how am I to know what the 1950's were like in Romania and how much of what the 50's were like in NYC needs explaining to the person who has an idea of vintage Romania in his mind? Would our driver know what I meant by "glitz" and would he even be interested in the premise of my novel or was he simply being polite? There is nothing for making you weigh the value of your words like trying to cross a culture barrier, I tell you.
My American companions were rather silent during my conversation with our driver but I was not going to let my spirits be dampened by their lack of gregariousness. My Romanian acquaintance smiled at me again through the mirror and clicked his blinker on, slowing before making a turn.
"Are you going to write a book about Romania?"
"I would love to someday," I said, leaning into the topic willingly. "For now I'm keeping a journal and writing about everything that happens and everyone I meet. Someday I'll fit it in a book."
After my eager pronouncement, he smiled at me and I heard him say, "Well don't forget to."
"Forget to? I would never. I could never."

My American companions remained silent.

Flip a few pages in my travel journal to the next day when I was finishing up a surprisingly triumphant round of bowling. Oliver sauntered over to me with a silly smile on his face.
"Hey Rach," he said, "did you realize that when you were talking to Vlad last night, he said 'Don't forget me'?"
"No, he didn't!" My heart thudded to a halt and slowly jerked back into business as I realized the import of Oliver's words.
"Don't forget me."
"Forget to? I would never. I could never."

Speaking about your career as an authoress in a foreign country is dangerous. It can get you labeled a flirt and it can make you the laughing stock of your teammates. Thank heaven I soon saw the humor in the situation and helped Oliver make "I wouldn't. I couldn't," a catchphrase in our group that lasted to the final days. Nothing like laughing at yourself, right?

Oh golly. Only a Rachel, darlings. Onnnnnnnly a Rachel.


Miss Dashwood said...

*Rachel once again penslays her followers in a way that reduces them to helpless puddles of laughter*

Riley Pleasants said...

that's amazing ;D

Rosamund Gregory said...

Oh botheration, that's hysterical. Rachel's in lovvvve, Rachel's in lovvvvvve! *said inthe best teasing voice* And it's all the better for being accidental!

Emily Ann Putzke said...

Oh my gosh! So funny!!

Livia Rachelle said...

I think I will keep my mouth buttoned if I ever am lucky to go to a foreign country . . . I can see myself making worse mistakes. I am glad you could laugh; how you found out was pretty hilarious too!

Jack said...

Aw, that is a story you will never forget 8-D Even if it was embarrassing, it is one you will be able to tell people about for a long time and laugh over.