Thursday, May 24, 2012

Context: Is is really necessary?

As a writer, language is important.

Duh, Dot. Tell me something I didn't know. Right?

And as a sign language interpreter, language is also important. Not just language, but the context in which the language takes place. Which includes the setting, the purpose of the exchange, the people (of course, another "Duh, Dot"), culture, background, and so on.

So there is a lot in common between the two things I do: writing and interpreting. And theater. Language and context is very important there, too. Theater for me is a crossover activity, involving both my interpreting and my writing, or at least my creative output although I have plans for more theatrical writing in the very near future. But, shhh, on that last part because it's not public yet.

Context. Necessary? Yes. And maybe no.

Not "no" really, but more like: What tools do you have when there is no or less than optimal context?

When we're writing, we have time on our side for the most part. Even if you're doing the 24-hour Short Story Writing contest or NaNoWriMo, you still have time. Even if you're writing quick writes or flash/instant fiction on the fly, you have a little time before it goes public. So you can tinker with the context, show it or exclude it or alter it as needed, depending on your intent.

With interpreting, context is - I was going to say imperative and you can't do your job without it. But that isn't true. Because with video relay interpreting, sometimes we don't get the context and we have to do our job anyway. Interpreting requires context. Really; it is imperative. But with video relay we have instant connections, sometimes we're are dropped into the middle of drama or incidents in process and we don't have any background or context except what we see on the screen with the video caller and what we hear through our headset with the hearing caller. So context is necessary, but we have to have tools to deal with it and maintain the accuracy of the interpretation because, sometimes, it just isn't there.

Context. A tool to help our readers understand our characters. To help move the story forward and keep the energy flowing, interest, and reveal as things unfold.

Context. To give us language clues. Culture clues. Behavioral and emotional clues.

Context helps us to make sense of the what is happening around us.


Now let me tell you how I got on this topic. Not that I need a reason. Like I said, as a writer and an interpreter, language context is central to everything I do. What any of us do.

But there was a catapult to today's writing. Let me take you on this little journey with me.

It all started with this bumper sticker, on the rear bumper of a vehicle:


The design isn't 100% what I saw; all of the parts are the same and the words are in the same order and the symbols are the same.

So - my first question when I saw this was: what's the driver's point? Some of you may be thinking it's obvious and others may see different persepctives, as I did.

Because "Red" was used years ago as in the "Red Scare" to warn of the threat of communism, that was my first thought.

And let me explain a little more. The vehicle was a large white pick up with an extended cab; probably a 3/4 ton or a little more (I was co-owner of a 3/4 ton truck many years ago, and this was a little bigger than that - but the extended cab may have altered my assessment, as may have the larger than normal tires and jacked up height. I was focused on  deciphering which side of the Green issue this guy was on.

So my first thought was that it was negative - he was against Green. But then I thought that, maybe, he was supporting going Green and saying that people were acting like it was the big bad evil monster but it wasn't. I wasn't sure.

So I started looking at the other stickers plastered on the rear window of the cab, the bumper, the flap. Clues.

Yes, the context. I'm not going to paste or link in any of the other bumper stickers I saw. But the message was clear. I know which side of the Green/Red issue he was on. I'm not saying anything about big truck drivers, really I'm not. Why, some of my friends drive big trucks and I suspect I have some relatives who might drive trucks. It was a nice truck. But some of the other bumper stickers said things like "Does this truck make my ASS look bigger?" with a charicature of Obama (which I also don't understand; I'm missing a connection and that's okay; some things maybe I don't wnat to know); there was one on the rear window of the cab which said "MORON" and the "O"s were the Obama campaign Os; an "Impeach Obama" sticker; gun control, America-love-it-or-leave-it, and so on. So I'm confident which side of the Green/Red issue he sits.


The words on the bumper sticker alone definitely go either way. The hammer and sickle are clues. The other stickers are clues, definitely.

And when I was poking around online, gathering more information, deciding what way to take this writing, I found even more conflicting sites and viewpoints. The "Green is the New Red" is being used by opposing sides. So I wasn't "off" with my initial reaction. There are "left" groups claiming the phrase, saying that environmentalists and animal rights advocates and such are being targeted. There are "right" and extreme "right" groups claiming that Green is like throwing socialist (which is bad in their view) policies at a bad situation and that Green groups are creating problems. Opponents using the same phrase.


And for me this all started with a drive to meet with my writing buddy yesterday and a big white pick up.