Friday, December 02, 2005

I woke up this morning with a quote in my head: "I am human, nothing human is alien to me." I couldn't remember where the quote came from, so I looked it up, and discovered that it is from Terence (aka Publius Terentius Afer), an African-born Roman playwright, who was born around 185 BC. As a boy, he was a slave to a Roman senator; the senator ended up educating him and giving him his freedom. Terence went on to write several comedic plays.

I love the quote, and knowing the history behind it makes it even more rich. I think Terence's words are a reminder to be tolerant and compassionate and open, to remember that we are all human, even if we have wildly different cultural practices and ways of being in the world. I think his words can also speak to fiction writers. When we write fiction, we need to be able to slip into the minds and bodies of all sorts of people (including horrible, unethical, bizarre, people) without judgement. We need to be able to empathize with all our characters, even the ones who do shocking acts. We need to keep our eyes open to all human experience, from the ridiculous to the gritty to the sublime. And in doing so, we realize, like Terence, that nothing human is alien because we all have dark and light inside us.

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