Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Worthy Pursuit

I have much to say. That’s nothing new, I usually do, but right now I am experiencing a moment where I want to write but have nothing in particular to say - about anything. Not specifically, at least. Except, of course, where writing is concerned. That is my default… my safety valve. I’ve been told by more than a few writers more experienced than I that we seem to always be able to pull something up about our craft. And I guess that is not surprising as it is a craft I love dearly.

But like love in any manifestation, it can prove to be frustrating as well. Feelings are not easily translated into words and as far as my personal experience is concerned, I find it impossible to completely convey exactly what I feel. I have written about this before. And although my art of expression might be improving, the more I write the more it is revealed how difficult the task of laying down words really is. And that doesn’t even truly convey the frustration I feel right now.

I am a scholar (or rather, training to be) of communication. I study how we exchange ideas between one another. It is not a perfect science nor is it static. Constantly evolving – in real time – communication is always a work in progress. I am learning as much as I can about what brought us to where we are, and in some sense, to predict where we are going. In the process, I am also learning about how to better convey my own ideas to others. It seems as though that, sometimes, the more I know the more daunting the task becomes. By design, I am sure.

Everything exists outside of communication. Everything that was before humans conquered the Earth existed before we attached any kind of label to it. The laws of physics were every bit as valid prior to their discovery as they are now. Long before the first caveman (or woman) took a rock and put it with another rock and named the transaction, one plus one equaled two. The communication conventions we have created over just a relatively short time are remarkable, but in so many instances still inadequate. I can still not entirely capture the nebulous essence of what I feel. And I don’t know that anyone truly can.

And even if possible, the same words, configured in a way that I identify as “it” could mean something entirely different to someone – anyone – else. For the words are but placeholders and what a particular symbol or combination of symbols means relies wholly on one’s personal human experience. Sure, part of that experience is the schooling we receive that defines the communication conventions used in our society, but those definitions are largely influenced by our interaction with the world. And it happens every second of every day.

Although we have been able to accomplish much through our ability to communicate, an ability unique among the animal kingdom, we still deal largely with universals and generalities. Even with highly specific language such as that practiced by governments and lawyers, there is always room for interpretation. And that interpretation also utilizes the imperfect conventions used to create the ambiguity in the first place. Yet the effort to become clearer moves us. The desire to be understood in what we say is as old as our race. It is fascinating to study and... a worthy pursuit.


VV said...

I struggled with this for years in writing poetry. How to get someone to feel what I'm feeling using words that might not hold the same meaning for them. I ripped emotions from deep inside, feeling like I was bleeding upon the paper, yet I knew the depth of that passion, that emotion, was not felt by most who read my words. I felt almost crazy in my "work," my efforts to feel and communicate that feeling, that art to others. I felt like a shadow walking among the living because I lived in a parallel world where words had color, had music, had emotions connected to them, and if I just laid them out in the right pattern, I'd have a work of art that all could appreciate. I did a post on this a couple years back and used a poem I wrote that describes this way of living. I don't know if you ever saw it:

"A Tender Madness"

Tiny drops of blood
from a heart squeezed
too many times
a very fragile sanity
between the lines

Shadows of existence
with lonely sadness
the poet drifts
among the living
within a tender madness.

Michael K. Althouse said...


Ya, you get what I was saying. Oddly enough, I ran into a situation where someone read into my piece something so far removed from what I was trying to say that it left me scratching my head - really. But such is the nature of words.

I like your poem, I think I remember seeing before and I think I know what inspired it. But even if I didn't it touches me in a profound way.

Thanks for weighing in - these "deep" topics don't usually get many comments.


David Edward said...

the desire to be understood.
that is it right there

also the ability to understand another.
good post

Netchick said to come on by here

Jennifer Priest Personal Coach said...

Hi Mike,

I really enjoyed this. Writing is a struggle for me - and I worked in communications for almost twenty years before becoming a coach. (Talking comes easy - writing is hard. LOL.)

It is hard to understand another even though we have this gift of communication, and even though we can be precise. My definition of being precise is different from the next persons.

mw said...

I loved this post Mike, and I too am always amazed at how something that I feel is so clear is completely taken a different way.

In poetry there are constructs that can kind of pin an emotion in place, and you can work with that, given a short enough poem.

In prose you can beat a topic to death and hope that through shear repetition you can get maybe a point or two across.

Just for arguments sake, mathematical languages are exact and communicate rather unambigously to those who know the syntax, and math that describes the universe (which all math ultimately does) can be as blindingly beautiful as the best of poetry.

(and, as an aside, VV, I really appreciated your poem and comment as well - it's powerful).

Here from Tanya, wonderfully happy I came.

rashbre said...

You remind me of when Alice meets Humpty Dumpty, through the looking glass and they have that argument about the the meaning of words.

Snaggle Tooth said...

Being misunderstood despite seemingly clear language is frustrating! Perception does depend on individual experience to interprete meaning.
I'm constantly misunderstood by the immigrants I work with... Clarification when the same words have alien, unknown definitions by others makes it tough.