Communication: Why I love to Write, Part 3

I love to write because I am fascinated by the process of communication.

Some of us are born communicators: for these folk, starting a conversation with a stranger is easy and listening to a friend’s woes comes naturally. I learned to communicate when I trained as a junior primary (elementary) teacher, because my job meant I would have to walk into a classroom, ‘engage the learner’ and, in the process, teach that learner how to communicate via both the spoken and written word. But that doesn’t mean communicating with others is easy for me, it’s just a skill I acquired.

I was told communication is made up of three basic components: the Sender, the Receiver and the Message. Several years later, at a communication workshop, I discovered it’s not that simple. There are many things that interfere with the clear, harmonious exchange of information, ideas and feelings:

  • The Sender’s intent, mood, attitude, education, language skills and even their appearance,
  • The Receiver’s willingness to hear the message, their  mood, attitude, education, command of language, their appearance and relationship with the sender,
  • How the Message is sent, whether verbally or via a letter, text, email, photograph or emoji,
  • How skillfully, or otherwise, the Message is composed; its content, tone and the style of language used. In the case of written messages, the quality of the grammar and punctuation is crucial. In one-to-one verbal communication the receiver and sender’s ‘non-verbal’ language, what we used to call ‘body language,’ is a major part of the message exchange, which is why it has been replaced, in texts and emails, by emojis.
Given these variables, it is a wonder we manage to communicate with each other at all.

What has this got to do with writing, creative or otherwise? I am always aware, as I write, that I want to communicate something; an idea, a feeling, an image, an incident. I spend much of my writing time ensuring my message is ‘clear’ and easily understood. I realise this sometimes gets in the way of ‘art’ and I should forget about the receiver (my ‘ideal’ reader) and remain true to the creative impulse, to what compels me to write, to the act of creation …

… I’m writing at my dining table. The morning sun pours in but it’s nevertheless a cool winter’s day. I am anxious to finish this blog because I am meeting a friend for lunch. The palm outside the window casts spear shaped shadows across the batik table cloth. The spears distract me, irritate me. Looking through the glass I see the window is dirty, a cobweb defaces the upper right corner of the frame. When am I going to find the time to clean the windows and tidy the garden before we head to Europe? Yes, we’re going to Europe at the end of the month. I don’t like flying and I’m steeling myself for the flight. We’re visiting six countries in seven weeks; the longest time we’ll spend in one place is Ireland. Thrill and agitation sit at my shoulder as I prepare for this trip, as I am arrested by the burnished blue jewel that is my winter sky; friends tell me the first thing I’ll notice when I arrive in Glasgow is the quality of light. In less than a month, I will walk beneath northern skies. In France, Italy and Greece I will not possess any words, my messages will dissolve, I will hallucinate before each indecipherable sign. Who will I be if I cannot communicate …?

… I know I will learn. I trust I will find a way to communicate, just as I do every time I sit at my computer and write.

 

Developing Your Eye: Day Eight

Treasure

The day after my grand daughter was born my son, who is a gifted photographer but lacks the time to develop his talents, took this photograph of his new born daughter.

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#developingyoureye: ‘Newborn’

Later that year, while playing around with my camera, I photographed my partner as he prepared our Christmas Dinner, our first one  with our grand daughter.

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#developingyoureye: ‘Paring Knife.’

Both photos are, for me, emblems of the bounty of life but I also like the contrasts between them – the old hands, the new hands (what wonders will they perform?), the sharpness of the paring knife, the tenderness of those tiny, vulnerable fingers.

Photography is, indeed, poetry.

Reflection and Metaphor

For a long time I was the only person who read what I wrote. I was in my late thirties when I shared one of my poems with a friend, in my 50s when I bestirred myself and enrolled in a Creative Writing degree and was obliged to share my work with fourteen classmates. Despite writing since I was eighteen, earning a PhD and writing dozens of short stories and scores of poems, I have only entered my work in a few undergraduate competitions. The few modest prizes I won felt like aberrations; it was as if someone was playing with me, opening the door a crack and then shutting it again.

And now, out of the blue, I am blogging and potentially sharing my writing with thousands of strangers. It feels imprudent; it feels outrageous. Why, after all this time, after hiding from readers and telling people I wasn’t really a writer, am I suddenly craving readers?

All writers experience doubt but I turned my doubts into proof; I converted my suspicions into evidence; I wasn’t writing, just dabbling. If you are a writer you will probably understand that feeling, but I took my reluctance to publish to an extreme level.

I wrote in my first post that I did not want my research into therapeutic writing to languish but there is a deeper reason for starting a blog; I finally want my writing read. I want readers. One would satisfy me, two would be better, and if there were more …?

I recently attempted to describe this feeling to my partner. ‘My decision to start a blog is one of the most significant I have ever made,’ I said. But is that true? What about the life changing decision to return to university at 52; to leave my marriage; and, years later, buy a house with my current partner? Surely blogging isn’t as important as these decisions?

I’ve read what other writers say about publishing: it’s like walking naked into a room full of strangers (if you have seen Birdman you’ll understand the feeling); it’s bearing your soul; it’s pure hell. But I have written and submitted a PhD, which means I’ve been through the butt naked and soul baring fires of hell experience and survived. Why does starting a blog feel so different?

I suspect it’s because I am kicking a long-term habit. I am conquering an addiction; I am so used to keeping my work to myself, to writing for myself, to holding on to my art, I don’t know how to do anything else. Like all addicts I have been selfish, stingy and disagreeable. I haven’t allowed myself to risk criticism, and I’ve missed innumerable chances to learn and to share insights that might be valuable to others.

In The Courage to Create, Rollo May wrote,

If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution.

In other words, potential reader, dear reader, I have let you down.

Why am I sharing this? It is because I want to explore what it feels like to finally send my writing out into the world, I want to reflect on that statement, to mull over what it means to commit myself to my reader(s). I want to explain reflective writing by demonstrating it, by examining my fears, my assumptions and my prejudices about the experience of starting a blog.

To use an Australian metaphor, I feel like a wallaby caught in the headlights. I am mesmerised by those beams, frozen but desperate to flee, blinded and with no idea whether those behind the light are friend or foe. If foe, there is a gun pointing at my head and I’ll be dead before I hear the gun shot. If friend, I have to trust they will dim the lights so I can see and approach them. It’s a terrifying image (and, sadly, one played out nightly in outback Australia) but it is the kind of metaphor reflective writing, a painstaking contemplation of experience, is meant to conjure. Whether or not my wallaby-in-the-headlights image pays off depends, on one hand, on the readers standing behind the headlights. On the other hand, it symbolises, for me, what sharing my writing feels like. It is an image of the vulnerability all writers, all artists, must learn to live with.

When we reflect on an experience we are curious and critical about what happened, and what we did. We analyse our behaviour, examine our assumptions, think about how to incorporate what we have learned, and what we might do differently as a result. Research indicates that reflecting on, and articulating our insights about, what we have learned leads to deeper awareness and enhances the learning experience. Reflection also makes us responsible for our learning. Articulating my fears by using an image of the wallaby has eased my discomfort, while evoking, for my reader, what I experience when my finger hovers over the ‘publish’ button.

Having to learn a new skill is not easy and writing a blog is a completely different skill to writing a private journal, undergrad essay or a PhD. Fortunately, I love exploring new ideas and discovering different ways to perceive the world. Starting a blog satisfies my need for knowledge. I have learned more than I imagined I would. A reader, therefore, is not strictly required although it would be awfully nice to know the headlights I stand in are not a sign of my imminent demise as a writer, but will help light my path.