This series of reposts/posts started partly because someone in Sarah’s Diner, on FB asked me what was Portuguese about my writing. Which set me thinking.
Years ago, I’d have said “my writing tends to be more poetic than average.” Only I’m not sure that’s true anymore, or at least not in most circumstances. I have fought it pretty hard the last several years, mostly because unless it’s a certain type of writing (say, involving Shakespeare and fairies, for instance) it gets in the way of readers experiencing the story. If you stop and marvel at the words, you’re not following, much less living the action.
And yeah, the poetic thing is absolutely a Portuguese survival. Not only because Portuguese as a language approaches meaning in spirals and therefore is more suited to poetry than to any other type of writing, but because Portuguese culture emphasizes and favors (makes heroes of) poets.
It is said that every Portuguese has a poetry book in his drawer (written by himself)and I used to doubt it but not anymore.
What’s truly amazing is reading history books written in Portuguese and seeing all the extra words added to a sentence to “make the rhythm work” even though the book is non fiction, factual, and the added words add nothing. Heck, sometimes there are subsidiary phrases that make no sense, but are there to add the rhythm and the feel. Which to a now thoroughly accultured mind reads really odd, let me tell you.
Now, Charlie Martin, who occasionally edits me, says that my writing still has a Latin Rhythm (please, make it not be the Girl From Ipanema) and I can sort of buy that, at least when I’m writing off the cuff and letting myself go. Perhaps like the accent in speaking it is something trained in so early that you cannot lose it, no matter how you try.
I know it’s given people very odd ideas of who I am and what my ambitions in the field are, probably from the beginning. People have thought that I aspired to be Faulkner, when in fact I can’t even read Faulkner without getting impatient, and people — by which I mean NYC publishers and agents — have assumed I aspired to or was best suited to literary fantasy and then were horribly disappointed I wanted to write “Space Opera trash.”
Eh. Indie makes that not a big deal, though there must be something still remaining, considering I often get praised for “beautiful language” on something I wrote while sick or sleepy and which I only gave a cursory look to to kill typos after.
So, that’s possible. Something of a penumbra of Latin might remain on my word choice and rhythm, though I’d argue it’s grown much fainter or at least much more controllable over the last 20 years.
But that was not what the person asking wanted to know. They wanted to know what ur-story, what trained in bit of thought came along for a ride in my plots and character creation, which would never have been there if I hadn’t spent my first 22 years in Portugal and hadn’t spoken Portuguese almost exclusively for the first 14 of those.
It’s a fair question, but one which, like almost everything in life, is far more complicated to answer than it might seem at first glance.
Because your early training in infancy is everything from legends to lullabies, from the environment you grew up in, to the the unspoken assumptions of your relatives.
Now, I am perhaps more conscious of those than most people, having had to deconstruct them as part of my attempt to acculturate. But how far does the unraveling go? How far the root?
I don’t know if this is of any interest to anyone but myself — feel free to tell me to shut up — but if anyone else wants to follow along tomorrow we’ll look at “A sense of history” which is definitely different than if I’d grown up in the US and which arguably influences everything, including future history.