Whenever I start patting myself on the back for my ability to write, something happens to make me realize how very difficult is this thing called communication.
Today I texted someone to give my opinion about a course of action he was planning to take that would affect me. I immediately received a call from him chastising me for my anger. I was taken aback because I wasn’t angry. I was being direct, or at least thought I was.
I got upset with the situation, and remarked this was always happening to me — I say something that seems unadorned and direct, and the recipient reads it as anger. My communicant today responded, “If it always happens, maybe the problem is with you.”
Perhaps it is. If so, how would I know? I only know what it is I think I am saying, not what it is people hear when they read my words. But come to think of it, even if I were angry, what difference does it make? I’m allowed my own reaction, especially when it comes to things that affect me.
Today, because of his call, we were able to smooth things over. Both of us apologized for the misunderstanding, but that ease of voice-to-voice communication is not always possible. And when that happens, things drag on, with the situation getting ever more complicated. I try to explain myself in subsequent emails but end up only deepening the misunderstanding, because each explanation seems as if I’m refueling the anger.
When we write fiction, we write to evoke emotions — anger, nostalgia, humor — but people don’t always respond the way we want them to. Sometimes the humor falls flat, the romance seems uninspired, the pathos insipid, but we as writers don’t end up in imbroglios because of the miscommunication. In fact, we seldom even know where it is we lost those particular readers, or if they even care. Maybe they felt something completely different and just as meaningful as what we intended.
But real life isn’t as easy. We leave people with impressions we don’t want to make, and no matter how precise we think we’re being, we end up causing confusion. Case in point: I sent this text to the executor of my father’s estate: “I’ve got a note on the cable box that it has to be returned to the company.” And I do have a note taped to the box. I put it there as a reminder to return the box when the house is sold. I just wanted to make sure it didn’t get forgotten or thrown out in the flurry of post-sale activity. But the executor thought I meant that I received a note from the cable company about the box. Eek.
Considering all the misinterpretations that are possible as words slip from one mind to another, it’s amazing that we can communicate at all.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.