As someone who writes essays and blog posts, you would think that there would be a corresponding adeptness to creating written correspondence that would clearly translate my thoughts to the recipient. It is not as if I am writing in another language, where something might get lost in translation. Over the years however, I have found that on occasion some of my comments have been misinterpreted or misunderstood, with results that have not always had positive outcomes and have sometimes been somewhat disastrous. As someone whose hearing becomes more diminished and the written word becomes the major source of communication, I am wondering if I have something to worry about here. I will preface everything by saying that I have a reputation for being very direct and honest (while not being rude) in my communications. But I write pretty much the way I think.
The first time experience regarding the issue of opposite interpretation on a major level was as a child – I must have been about nine years old. This initial key incident was so traumatic to me that I actually have a title for the event in my mind; “The Valentine Card Incident”. In anticipation of that holiday, I had walked all the way to the pharmacy near the train station to get my mother a card. In memories that are filtered through the echoed chambers of childhood, I recall it was a card for Valentine’s Day, but that might be because it had hearts on it – in reality it could have been a Mother’s Day card, as I had picked it out just for her.
After agonizing and lengthy deliberation over a rack full of frilly cards, I finally found one that illustrated exactly how I felt. What I saw was a cartoon of a person trying so very hard to write something that would convey their love, then scribbling it out and starting all over again, then ripping up the next attempt and starting yet again, over and over until in the last frame the person burns the card in frustration – because none of these attempts really are able to show the intensity of emotion and love they felt. This was it, this is how I felt, exactly like that. It even had a hole on the last page that looked like a real burn hole, which I thought was very impressive. I was thrilled and I knew my mother would open it and fully see how deeply I cared and appreciated her. I counted out my nickels and pennies to buy it and excitedly brought it home, signed it, sealed it, and with pleased anticipation presented it to her on her day.
When she opened it, my parents both looked at me with dismay, and possibly a hint of horror. Then my father said “Oh, that’s terrible”. I was floored. What was so terrible? What did they not understand? A sense of vertigo overtook me as they glared at this card that had suddenly morphed into something so disastrous. And then, as I tried to process this, I realized that the person in the card was burning their efforts because the recipient was not worthy of a nice card. That is what it must have meant. The card I had given her was an insult card, a joke. I had not had any concept of something like this – my interpretation was totally the opposite.
What was I thinking? And how could I clarify it? There I had been trying to explain the depths of inexplicable love, had put my emotions right out there on the line, and I had ended up insulting them, hurting my mother’s feelings. I grabbed the card, went running from the room crying and tore it to shreds. I remember my mother saying “It’s all right”, but of course, it wasn’t, it was all ruined by then.
On a lesser scale, this has been a running theme through life. Not in every correspondence, not all the time, not even all that often, but there have been a few key moments since. When I write, I don’t actually sit there and “think” about what words I am going to say, do you? The thoughts and emotions come rapid fire and sort of pour out onto the keyboard or through the pen unbidden. As I have discovered, clearly sometimes Daeja’s “view” is not the same view other people are getting. I am sure it is like that for most of us who write (Or is it? Really, although I have prided myself on sharp observation, the reality is that I have no idea how the thought processes of others truly work).
Years ago I had written a number of simultaneously sharing and venting emails to someone I thought was a like-minded friend, only to one day get a response back from her saying she “didn’t like my edge”. I guess my edge was a little too raw. Getting this reaction was like the Valentine Card Incident sting, to a lesser extent. Needless to say, that was the end of that correspondence.
At work, I found out through the grapevine that I had apparently insulted a coworker in an email with my “tone”……even though nothing negative was sent or intended. As a matter of fact, ironically, I was actually smiling as I was writing it, and it was a positive thing I was trying to convey. Given that, it appears all work correspondence going forward has needed to be punctuated with many “Thanks!!!!!”, embellished with lots of happy, upbeat exclamation marks and further punctuated with smiley faces to insure they get it and can envision me as a perky ray of sunshine. Which I am not. I have been adding emoticons to many things I write now and I seriously hate emoticons, I really do. If this is what it takes….(I pause here to sigh for a moment)…..
But the most recent example of this phenomenon is what has prompted this post. I apparently, inadvertently, hurt the feelings of an incredibly talented and intuitive artist – one I have admired for years – who has been painting something specifically for me and giving it to me for a price that is generous. When told that the piece was almost finished when I assumed I was going to have to probably wait eons for it, my first delighted response was, “Wow! That was fast!”. Had the recipient of this comment seen my face, they would have seen the pleasure and excitement at my good fortune. But how the artist read it on the other end was that I assumed the painting was just knocked out quickly and without much thought. Needless to say, she was a bit hurt and insulted. Now perhaps the artist is just being an Overly Sensitive Artiste, as many artists tend to be because it is the sensitivity that ultimately fuels the creativity. Maybe, but given my history, it could just as likely be not. Once again, it could be me….. it could very well be me, yet again. With this small misunderstanding, it carried back “The Valentine Card Incident” to me with such a tremendous and surprising force that it brought tears to my eyes. (OK, maybe there is some hormonal action happening here, but not totally….)
On a global scale, isn’t this why we have all these conflicts? A matter of interpretation that is so drastically different, when we are all just emotions guided by our own comprehension, all of us sensitive, burning hearts…..
That is the written equivalent of the saying: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
The response says much about the recipient of the email, letter, blog-post, birthday card, etc…. – how they interpret these things is about their agenda – it can be a minefield out there – you are responsible only for your effort – the outcome of how someone experiences what you have written is really out of your hands. I almost lost a very precious relationship via email – because I could not see her face – or she, mine, hear the tone of her voice – or her, mine – we didn’t speak for almost 2 years – I woke up with a broken heart every day over that, until we decided to be friends again. It was a hard lesson for me to learn.
This has given me a lot to think about – thank you for posting this. In the end, we must all be responsible for our emotional selves, and if we have a question, have the courage to ask – and if we are supplying an answer – to communicate with honesty and compassion… ox
and thank you for your very thoughtful response…..
I understand to some extent, I’ve been through similar. A comma here or there, a twitch of some facial muscle, an overly complex sentence, or maybe the interpreter just had a bad commute – and everything goes topsy turvey. It’s happened with your reading me, and you once told me my humor sometimes had too much edge. But it’s not always a bad thing. At the risk of using a sports analogy, and of revealing myself as a provacateur to the rest of your audience, if you never foul you’re not playing hard. We don’t wish to be misinterpreted, or to foul, but uncommon expression entails risk, and likewise there is risk in being known as one who makes uncommon expressions: others may ascribe less than charitable intention. Enjoy reading you, as always!
edgy humor, edgy taste in art too……Touché 😉 (notice nauseating and possibly unnecessary emoticon…)
playing hard in concept, yes…but sometimes those fouls hit you right between the eyes …or the heart…
glad you are stopping to read here, very much like your contribution to this