As a writer, you often feel the tension between, on the one hand, writing what you must to be true to your art, and, on the other hand, wanting to be sensitive to the sensibilities of not only your audience but your characters.
At least, this is true for me. I wouldn't want a novelist or poet to write insensitively about me or my condition, and I hope that I bring this sensitivity to my poetry and prose.
I just never thought that one day, we scribes would need to emerge from our self-absorbed fog, and start worrying about the bruised feelings of mice.
Dogs are my BFFs, and I enjoy a good cafight with our feline friends as much as anyone. But, I've never been buds with mice. Well, I'm visually impaired, so occasionally I have surges of empathy for the Three Blind Mice. Until, they come knocking on my door, wanting my food.
But, all of this is about to change. Recently, "The New York Times" reported, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany have placed the human gene FOXP2 in a strain of engineered mice. I'm no scientist, so I won't pretend to understand the scientific mumbo-jumble of this discovery. But, I know enough to know this: the FOXP2 gene is involved with language. Mice with the human FOXP2 gene are already emitting whistles with lower-pitches.
Soon the mice will be talking and heaven help us–having feelings. Their newfound language will infuse them, for the first time, with a hunger for reading, not just eating, books. In bars, churches, bookstores, and cafes, our new "friends" will fulfil their old fav pastime–munching snacks (maybe snitching a sip of beer)–with their new love–listening to stories and to poetry. "Literature is our utopia," the mice, like Helen Keller, will say.
Until they settle down, listen to what the bards are saying, and come face-to-face with mouse stereotypes.
"'Quiet as a mouse'??? What planet are they on? Are they deaf?" the mice will mutter through clenched lips among themselves, "that's such a cliche! You can hardly get a word in edgewise once we start gabbing!"
"'Meek as a mouse'?" Mighty Mouse will roar, "I don't think so! I could take out Superman any time!"
"Poor as a church mouse?" will snort Mickey Mouse, "Have you seen my house? It's as big as a theme park..wait a minute! It is a theme park! And I have people! How many of those poets have people?"
"'Mousy' is a derogatory term that we hope humans, particularly poets and writers, will stop using to describe us," a statement on the Mice Anti-Defamation League website will say, "this slur implies that we're weak, indecisive, timid, morally spineless creatures."
"Anyone who has taken the time to truly get to know us will understand that the vast majority of mice are strong, decisive and bold," the statement will continue, "inaccurate images contribute to the stereotyping of groups. While we don't endorse censorship in any form, we hope creative artists will show more sensitivity in their depictions of us."
Mice haven't become part of the literary set just yet. But, who knows? If the FOXP2 gene takes off, we, perpetually sensitive scribes, should be prepared to take the feelings of mice into account.