This Thing Called Communication

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.

phoneI 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 BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

The Art of Miscommunication

It’s amazing to me that we ever manage to communicate with one another at all.

A couple of days ago, I talked to my artist sister about the purpose of art and writing and what it means in this winner-take-all world. I mentioned that if you’re not one of the people who by chance happen to be discovered and so have a large audience and hence enough money or validation to continue working on your art, it seems that you have to do it for yourself. My sister said, “You think I do art for myself?” The conversation continued without my following through on her remark, but it stuck with me, so the next day I texted her:

If you don’t d531da618f5363c22_mo art for yourself, who/what do you do it for?

She responded: Absolutely. It’s just that we get confused and try to fit art into rigid and societal structures. Art needs to be free. Otherwise it’s not art, not alive.

Me: So you do it for the art?

She: Because it needs to be done and some are called to do it. It’s not my art or yours. Just art. Creative energy manifest. We need art and artists. It’s actually what makes us divine.

Me: Your first response was beautiful, but it didn’t answer my question. What question were you answering?

By then we were both confused, so we talked on the phone. She said she answered my question. I looked at my first text again and again until it finally hit me. What I thought was a direct and simple question had struck her as a statement or a rhetorical question meaning that if we don’t do art for ourselves, there’s no one else to do it for.

Even more than the strange miscommunication, what interested me about the exchange is that I have recently come to the same conclusion. Writing is art, divine, eternal, a way of participation in creation. Selling books is commerce, mundane, a thing of the world.

We need artists, whether painters, sculptors, dancers, or writers even if no one but the artist sees the work. It adds to the total creative energy and happiness of the world, makes us better persons and, as my sister pointed out when we talked on the phone, if you are doing art, you are not out committing crimes or being inhuman to other humans.

***

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.

Giving Thanks for Words

Every day I find something to be grateful for, even if it’s only that the sun is shining,  that I once had a great love, that I have open spaces to explore (both in my head and in the world). Even when all else seemed bleak these past thirty-one months since the death of my life mate/soul mate, even when I had no hope, there was always something to be grateful for (most often that he was no longer suffering), so I don’t need to set aside a special day of thanksgiving.

Still, during this season of giving thanks, there is something I am especially grateful for, something worth celebrating . . . words.

Words convey thoughts, ideas, hopes from one person to another. They connect us from continent to continent, enabling us to bond with like-minded people all around the world. I have exchanged words — and friendship — with people from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the Nederlands, India. And for this I am grateful.

Words allow us to read and to write, to find entertainment and enlightenment in worlds created out of nothing but letters strung together. Words allow a story, concocted in one mind, to come to full realization in another. For most of my life, these worlds of words have been my life, or at least a major part of it. Now that I too am a world-creator, I am grateful for the words with which I build my stories.

Words give comfort, especially when distance (either geographic or emotional) does not allow a touch of commiseration. I am especially grateful for all the words of encouragement you (the readers of this blog) have given me during my time of grief, words that touched me. I hope some of my words touched you.

Words mean hope. With words, there is always the hope that we will be able to come to an understanding of each other, and perhaps find peace. (Of course, people would have to shut up long enough to listen to each other’s words; one-way words cause conflict and confusion.)

Words mean community and continuity. Words, both spoken and written, presuppose that there is someone to listen, and that is community. Telling our his-stories and her-stories to each other creates both community and continuity. They tell us who we were, who we are, and who we hope to become.

If there were no one to hear our words, if we existed solely in ourselves, we’d still need words to communicate our feelings and ideas to ourselves. This ability to put our thoughts into words gives us the power to know ourselves and to understand greater truths.

So this week, whether you celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving or not, stop for a moment to give thanks for words. They are we.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+

A Place Where I Can Connect With Myself And The Mystical World

It’s amazing we ever manage to communicate with each other, considering that different words mean different things to different people. We do have common ground, though, so perhaps that keeps us connected. We know basically what words mean, such as “desert,” “reading,” “writing,” but we also imbue the words with our own connotations, and that’s where it gets interesting.

For most people around where I am staying, “desert” means a place of rattlers, a place to ride dirt bikes, ATVs, and other noisemaking machines, a place to honk their dogs. (That’s what I call it anyway. They let their dogs run free and drive behind them, honking to keep the animal from straying too far.). But for me, “desert” means a place away from the bustle of everyday life, a place where i can connect with myself and the mystical world around me, a place where I get in touch with the truth inside me (the truth that resides in all of us.) Even those who do see the desert as a place away from every day life, see it as a place to run, all the while connected to an ipod or whatever is connected to those wires coming out of their ears.

For most people, “reading,” fiction, in particular, means entertainment, a way to kill a few hours, an indulgence in fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course — it makes people happy and fuels the book industry — it’s just not what reading means to me. For me, “reading” means a place away from the bustle of every day life, a place where I can connect with myself and the mystical world of books, and get in touch with the truth inside me. It came as a real shock when I discovered that’s not what reading means to others. It’s often true that people see reading as a place away from the bustle of every day life, but for most people it’s an escape from themselves, not an escape into themselves.

Writers each have their own meaning for the word “writing.” Most often it’s the same as reading — to entertain, to communicate with readers. Sometimes they don’t know what it means to them, except that it fulfills a need. Occasionally, it means a way of making money. It should come as no surprise that writing, for me, means a place away from the bustle of every day life, a place where I can connect with myself and the mystical world of my own story, and get in touch with the truth inside me. Writing bloggeries, such as this one, helps me figure out what I think, but writing fiction puts a “face” on what is inside me, creating a metaphor or a parable for my thoughts and experiences.

I’ve never been one to count words since the number of words don’t count. What counts is what the words say, what they mean. I’ve never been one to inform others of how my writing is going since the writing is for me. Once the book or bloggerie is published, however, it becomes something else, not something that was written so much as something to be read. Does that make sense? I might have walked too long in the desert this morning, and brought some of its mysticism back with me.

Giving Thanks for Words

Every day I find something to be grateful for, even if it’s only that the sun is shining, that the pain of loss is muted, that I once had a great love, that I have open spaces to explore (both in my head and in the world). Even when all else seemed bleak these past nineteen months, even when I had no hope, there was always something to be grateful for (most often that my mate was no longer suffering), so I don’t need to set aside a special day of thanksgiving.

Still, during this season of giving thanks, there is something I am especially grateful for, something worth celebrating . . . words.

Words convey thoughts, ideas, hopes from one person to another. They connect us from continent to continent, enabling us to bond with like-minded people all around the world. I have exchanged words — and friendship — with people from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the Nederlands, India. And for this I am grateful.

Words allow us to read and to write, to find entertainment and enlightenment in worlds created out of nothing but letters strung together. Words allow a story, concocted in one mind, to come to full realization in another. For most of my life, these worlds of words have been my life, or at least a major part of it. Now that I too am a world-creator, I am grateful for the words with which I build my stories.

Words give comfort, especially when distance (either geographic or emotional) does not allow a touch of commiseration. I am especially grateful for all the words of encouragement you (the readers of this blog) have given me during my time of grief, words that touched me. I hope some of my words touched you.

Words mean hope. With words, there is always the hope that we will be able to come to an understanding of each other, and perhaps find peace. (Of course, people would have to shut up long enough to listen to each other’s words; one-way words cause conflict and confusion.)

Words mean community and continuity. Words, both spoken and written, presuppose that there is someone to listen, and that is community. Telling our his-stories and her-stories to each other creates both community and continuity. They tell us who we were, who we are, and who we hope to become.

If there were no one to hear our words, if we existed solely in ourselves, we’d still need words to communicate our feelings and ideas to ourselves. This ability to put our thoughts into words gives us the power to know ourselves and to understand greater truths.

So this week, whether you celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving or not, stop for a moment to give thanks for words. They are we.

She Says, He Says; She Does, He Doesn’t

Writers often make men and women characters interchangeable, using only physical attributes to tell them apart, forgetting that there are differences between the two species. (I know, men and women aren’t two different species, but you have to admit it feels that way sometimes.)

Brain scans show that women have between fourteen and sixteen areas that evaluate others’ behavior, while men have only four to six. Because of this, women are better at juggling several unrelated topics in a single conversation. They also use five vocal tones to make their points. Since men can only identify three of those tones, they often miss what women are trying to say. So men accuse women of not being direct and women accuse men of not listening.

It’s amazing we manage to communicate as well as we do, considering that men and women have different reasons for conversing. Women ask questions to show interest in the person; men ask questions to gain information. Women find that talking about a problem provides relief; men feel that talking about a problem is dwelling on the negative. Women think that continuing to discuss the problem demonstrates support; men want to make a decision and forget it. Women provide peripheral details because they want to be understood; men just want them to make their point. Women think that talking about a relationship brings people closer; men generally think it’s useless.

Women are better at interpreting body language than men. Because of men’s inability to read body language, a crying baby often confuses them, though women know exactly what the infant wants. Women’s subconscious ability to interpret body language makes them seem more intuitive than men, but men (and women) can consciously learn to interpret body language, which evens things out.

There are differences in the way our eyes work, too. A study of nonnudists at a nudist colony showed that men had difficulty resisting the urge to look, and their gazes were obvious. Women, on the other hand, were not caught gazing, though they had just as hard a time resisting the urge. Does this prove that women have more self-control than men? No. It only means that men and women are hardwired differently. Women have better peripheral vision than men, so they can appear to be looking at a man’s face when in fact they are checking him out.

Men generally have poor close range vision, which keeps them from seeing what’s directly in front of them, but they are better than women at spotting targets over long distances.

I’m not sure how to use this information to make male and female characters non-interchangeable, but knowing some of the differences should help.