Why I Write What I Write

Understanding is the name of my game

I was an infuriating child with too many questions, did you say? Why did you say that? Why did he just run the stop sign? Did he not see it, or did he just not care? This series of inquiries enraged my sister to no end, as my questions never ended. An answer led to more questions, and so on. My deafness heightened my natural curiosity. Too bad this made me a lousy churchgoer. I would always tug at my mother’s sleeve and ask why the pastor looked funny when he said: “God bless you all.”

Books gave me an outlet. I didn’t have to ask a million questions because the author answered them before I even had to ask. Well, some of them, at least. The more I read, the more I found myself gravitating toward the more inward-looking novels: stories that dealt with the human psyche. Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and Butler’s Kindred became fast favorites with their nuanced explorations of why we do what we do. Ishiguro looked at how (and why) Stevens ended up an aging butler with a conflicted view of his past. Butler considers the complicated relationship between master and slave in antebellum Maryland. These novels showed me that complexity lurked beneath a seemingly simple veneer. A butler was not just a butler. A slave was not only a slave nor is a slaveholder just a slave.

That led me to all sorts of wild imaginings of the secret stories of regular people around me. Perhaps that bored-looking cashier snapping her gum had a magic love affair that drove her into mundane work. Or maybe that grumpy old lady around the corner yearned for a connection with an estranged daughter far away. (Okay, I had a taste for the sensational.)

So it’s not surprising that when I started penning my own stories, I wrote just the kind of stories I loved reading. Tried to might be a better way of putting it, as I started off a big mess. I (very) slowly figured out what I wanted to write, I found myself drawn to characters on the fringes, the ones often misunderstood by mainstream society. The ones. One of my earliest short stories, “The Arrival Gate,” deals with a man who orders a mail-order bride and why. Always one too ambitious for my own good, I also like to test people’s assumption. In a recent short story, “The Library Girl,” I think about how physical appearance can influence a blind man, even if he can’t see it. I can only hope my words ignite a glimmer of empathy in its others. My clumsy attempts at eliciting understanding and empathy extend to my nonfiction. Most of my articles aim to enlighten people about subjects close to my heart: Deaf culture, cochlear implants, blindness, and appreciation of literature. Nerdy topics all, but what do you expect from me? This is also why I strive to have a balanced—nonpartisan, non-dogmatic—presentation of these subjects.

My goal isn’t to convince anyone to do something; my goals is to help them understand something so they can decide for themselves. The distinction is subtle and very real. Understanding is the name of my game. I choose this game because mutual understanding helps us relate and interact better. Or, at least, that’s my plan. Herein begins my Quixotic crusade!

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