Freshly (Im)Pressed, or, the Challenge of Writing

First of all, a big shout out and “thank you” to the good folks of WordPress.com who chose my post from yesterday, Of Death, Dementia and Dear Old Friends, to be featured on their “Freshly Pressed” page. This is the first time a post from this blog made it onto that site (where they daily feature about 11 selections from over a half million daily WordPress blog posts), and my site’s traffic tripled! So “hello” to everyone who is just now discovering my little blog thanks for “Freshly Pressed.” I hope you’ll drop in and and say hello from time to time.

One of the nice things about getting so much extra attention is that I received lots of comments on the post. Yesterday’s post was about my decision to write a letter to an old friend who I thought had died, but learned this week is alive, although suffering from dementia. I specifically said in my post, “I’m going to write her a letter.” But a significant number of the comments left on the post ran along these lines:

  • “i suggest no matter what, write it.”
  • “Definitely write the letter.”
  • “Write the letter. Now.”
  • “What does it cost you? Get in touch.”
  • “I say write the letter, you won’t regret it!”
  • “Write the letter to her; it sounds like you both need it.”
  • “I vote for you to write the letter.”

I appreciate all these words of support and encouragement, but what blows my mind is that I wasn’t thinking about writing the letter, I actually wrote a letter. After I received two or three of these “Go ahead and do it already!” comments, I left a comment to that effect:

It’s interesting, but people seem to be under the impression that I was only thinking about writing the letter. But, no, as I said in the post, “I’m going to write…” and, in fact, I just mailed the letter about half an hour ago.

But even after posting that comment, still a number of my respondents left comments implying that I still needed to be persuaded to do this thing (to their credit, plenty of other folks left comments that basically said, “Glad to hear you wrote the letter”).

I’m reminded yet again of how fragile our communication process really is. If something as simply as saying “I intend to write a letter” can be so easily misconstrued as “I might write a letter,” is it any wonder that we have such a screamingly difficult time connecting with one another? How often, despite our best intentions, do we fail to communicate what we’re really trying to say, either because we can’t quite articulate our message artfully enough, or the folks on the receiving end are not fully paying attention, or simply misunderstand us, no matter how direct or eloquent our words might be?

Please understand, I’m not trying to criticize anyone who left a comment yesterday. I’m not angry or unhappy at anyone who left comments; the fact that so many of them misunderstood me is, to me, a sign that either I have a lot of learning to do concerning the art of clear and effective communication, or else all of us human beings need to acknowledge just how easy it is to get things wrong when we speak, write, read, or listen. And what that means is that it would be a good thing if we all tried to slow down when we communicate, and cut each other a little slack when we’re not quite making the connection we want to make. Being gentle and forgiving with one another is a good thing, don’t you think? Especially when we keep in mind just how easy it is for communication to breakdown, for no other reason than that’s what sometimes happens.

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  • Simon Whitney

    Carl

    Try some Philosophy of Language! Actually, this is exactly the story of the Tower of Babel. What that also shows is that if we do understand each other there is no limit to what we can do – even to building a tower that can reach up to heaven. It also shows that we need to work together to achieve anything major.

    But what your comments also show is that it is very easy to read something and get the wrong end of the stick – and this is even more prevalent in the spiritual life which so many put down to mere subjectivity. “Don’t touch my spirituality!”

  • Linda

    Hey Carl…you should write the letter!

    (bobbing, ducking and weaving).

    Linda

  • http://honeybeecooksjackfruit.wordpress.com honeybeeluvsjackfruit

    I found your blog through freshly pressed. I did notice too, that after saying you wrote the letter some still said to write it, funny for sure.

    The post particularly caught my eye because I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about aging and death. But your mentions of facebook and lost touch with friends reminded me how disconnected people really have become (or always were?) while feeling artificially connected through facebook and other “techy” means. Sigh.

    Maybe Im not communicating myself well. :)

  • Ellen N. Duell

    I inferred from those urging you to write the letter that they were identifying with the friend who is suffering dementia, and felt how glad she would be to get the letter, whether or not she would realize it was from you–just getting a lettier, written so well (you DO write well) would be likely to cheer her! I picture myself, not quite knowing which end is up, getting a LETTER! I’d probably read it, enjoy just holding it, and read it over and over.

    Thank you for this sharing.

  • http://joysofdickandjune.wordpress.com joysofdickandjune

    Carl,
    I always check the blogs on”Freshly Pressed” when I go to my blog page. Your blog
    concerning Dementia and Alzheimer’s got my attention right away. The reason I was
    interested is that at 79 I am the caregiver for my beautiful(to me only,I know) wife
    who is 80. I have been gathering material from our life with the thought of doing a
    blog about living with Dementia & Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know if there would be an
    interest, but judging from comments to your blog, I can see that there is some!
    Thank you for your timely blog. You did right mailing the letter!
    Dick

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      Thanks for your message, Dick. And I know, having lost my mother to dementia and now watching my father’s journey into a similar twilight, that of course your bride is and remains beautiful, and good for you for the love and care you show her. I suspect there would be a lot of interest in your blog.

      Blessings,
      Carl

  • http://joysofdickandjune.wordpress.com joysofdickandjune

    Carl
    Wouldn’t you know, just as I finished my other comments to you, that sweet loving wife of mine came to me with the small “shopping bag lined”trash container from the bathroom. In it was a small amount of warm “poop”. In her other hand was a soiled “depends”. The look on her face asked, “what do I do now?”….This is just one of the challengers that a Caregiver faces and this what my blog will be about. The good, the bad and the love from someone who loves me unconditionally( even though she is not too sure who I am)! Really, it’s not a bad life at all!
    Dick

  • tana

    Carl, it’s wonderful that your blog was showcased yesterday on the Freshly Pressed page. I hope people stick around and engage in the great conversations you set up for us through your thoughtful and articulate posts.

    I know that a lot of people don’t read comments before then commenting. I know this from my years on fora where someone will read the opening/original post and then immediately click “reply” and write a response without reading the 73 responses that came prior to theirs. They are usually responding to a misunderstood communication that’s already been cleared up and/or giving advice that someone has already given and that the original poster has already responded to. I used to do the same thing until I was chastised a few times in those very fora. :)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    You’re right, Tana. That’s why I tried not to be snarky in my observation here. All this is really just a reminder that we can all so easily misunderstand or misconstrue what we read (and for us writers, no matter how clear we think we’re being, we need to be aware that somebody somewhere will not get what we’re trying to say, not because they’re dense or because we’re necessarily bad writers, but because to err is human, which means to misunderstand is human, too).

  • Al Jordan

    What letter? Did I miss something? Just kidding.

  • http://www.spiritualchristianity.net Cheryl Bryant-Rushing

    Damn, I love your writing style, the way you twist and turn on a dime! Bravo. (So did you write the letter or not?…) JUST KIDDING!

  • http://www.emahlou.blogspot.com Elizabeth Mahlou

    Congratulations on the sharing of your post! I enjoy your site.


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