I remember working with a law school in which white men heavily dominated the faculty. They used lots of sports metaphors (doing an end run, Monday morning quarterbacking, and so on), with legal jargon thrown in for good measure. I suggested that this was not a particularly welcoming trait in their school, that in fact it was sexist, but they paid little attention. I made my point by speaking for about five minutes in dressmaking terms: putting a dart in here, a gusset there, cutting the budget on the bias so it would be more flexible, using a peplum to hide a course that might be controversial. The women in the room laughed; the men did not find it humorous….Language is power, make no mistake about it. It is used to include and exclude and to keep people and systems in their places.
What you do is write letters to yourself. Literally. ‘Dear David, my name is Timothy Cavendish, I’m in my sixties, we’ve met once before few years ago when you wrote Ghostwritten. Person I love most in the world is this. What I’m afraid most of in the world is this. What I think about god, money, sex, work is this, this, this and this.’ You cover about twenty basics and you use their language. Not my language because they’re writing a letter to me. Do that two or three times and they’re kind of real enough to then stand on their own feet and talk. That’s it.