Writing For An Audience

I’m never very far away from remembering that the reasons I started to write in this blog (as opposed to a private journal) continue to demonstrate that I chose right. When writing with the intention of sharing your work with others:

  • the story must be closed with respect to details, because almost no reader will know who Bob from high school was. For that matter, they won’t know your where your high school is and when you went there
  • you must obscure identities, unless the specific person(s) have given permission or given reason to call them out
  • choose your words carefully, with respect to vocabulary. Obviously this is a fine line between using the perfect word you know or settling for a less well-fitting word that most people will know (as you might have figured out, let’s say, I tend to stay on that thin line between using a ‘big’ word that many of one’s readers will know or at least be curious enough to look up online).
  • writing for an audience turns a recorder of facts and a thready sequence of events into a storyteller
  • you’re you own test group

And after awhile, you find that a story is a far, far better way of recording the past.

For example, in the process of telling the story of my run-in with a “Drama Empress” and subsequent loss of friends, I not only animated in my mind that bit of my past, but in the telling of it, the focus of the story changed: what started out as an attempt to record something that I might recycle for some fiction piece (a farce, of course) turned into a paean of friendship and that when you choose to be friends, you can change an insurmountable obstacle into a moot point.

Sappy? Yes. But true.

Enmity

“Enmity”. That’s the word I’ve been looking for.

At first I was thinking of something vague like “wariness” or mundane like “dislike” or overwrought like “fear”. But no, “enmity” wins out. And it has the magical distinction of having shown up as a word of the day the day after I settled upon it.

When you’re growing up, you learn simple facts by which no explanations are attended. They Just Are. More than old wives tales (because they’re objectively demonstrable) but less than conclusions (because no one bothers to explain “why?”), such simple axioms have carried the day in our personal histories more than we care to even think about.

I’m sure you can think of a few, but consider examples such as

  • Approaching thunderstorms carry a heralding scent
  • “Autumn is in the air”
  • Adult cats avoid kittens
  • Adult dogs avoid puppies

But did you ever ask your parents or other adults——or even yourself—why those things are what they are? Probably you did ask others and got a “because”, or you asked yourself and were simply stumped or you pulled out the World-Book-Encyclopædia-Britannica and arrived at something close to—or at least close-enough-to—intellectual satisfaction.

Intellectual anything is near and dear to my heart—though less near than usual in these last fourteen months and therefore more dear in these last fourteen months—but as I get older and older (and isn’t 43 so much older and so much younger than you thought it was/would be when you were half that age?), the intellectualization of a thing becomes more and more an artifice, a synthetic supposition of the reality it attempts to approximate.

Death is an interesting one. Illness—especially one’s own—also interesting. Interesting because the distance between the idea of a thing and the actual thing is so much more vast than you ever, ever expected. By distance I most certainly do not mean incorrectness. Death is an ending and a shape to which the living must conform in order to continue on their own existences. Illness is much the same class of thing only varying in degree. Intellectualizations aren’t necessarily incorrect, they’re simply left wanting. And ironically, the better the match, intellectually to phenomenologically, the more poignant the distance: Being so right in one’s intellectual expectations and left so unbelievably wanting when the analogous reality occurs.

“When you’re dead, you’re dead.” That’s a James Lapine line from a Stephen Sondheim musical, if you can believe it. Unsung, aptly, and lacking bitterness, aptly, but in the book nonetheless.

We carry around with us our own sensibilities…

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…and those sensibilities—my own sensibilities inform me—may account for so much more of our actions and reactions than any of us is willing to own up to.

This is not a bad thing. Sensibilities are, from a certain intellectual (yes, I know) perspective, learning that happens beneath, beside, astride, because-of, before, after, in-spite-of the bookish, garden-variety learning.

The adult cat senses the caprice of the kitten. The adult dog finds puppy-play unpredictable and moot. Cats and dogs may not play together, but they avoid together.

Humans avoid together, too. Or at least they should. When they can.

But human society mixes more, isolates less even as each of us feels more and more isolated. Instincts are devalued against intellect, positioned as competitors instead of symbionts. The results are skewed, sometimes to the point of catastrophe.

Maturity marches no longer in lock-step with age, but the instinctual expectation of such remains: we assume.

Assumptions are fragile and fall away silently. Consilience becomes archaic. We lose discernment, which is just another way of saying we regress: the kitten does not, cannot discern between play and attack. The puppy has no sense of boundaries.

The adult human is adult sometimes only in form and not function. The human child may lack a sophistication which imbues a wisdom his or her adult self is destined to lack.

These things begin at different times and progress/regress at different paces, often within the same individual. Fractionation leads to fractiousness and the road to hell is formed by the footfalls of such creatures.

There is no Hell, of course, except the one of Lore and Allegory, of Hyperbole and Admonition, but the imagery is of practical use.

People live with paradox because they must: survivors. Sometimes people live amidst paradox, willfully taking advantage of gray-space in a world increasingly unwilling to see things as anything but black or white: manipulators. Sometimes people resort to clever to spin up attractive paradoxes to their own advantage: monsters.

And some people are so damaged that they lose their way: the petulant.

This last group are the ones ultimately responsible for others having invented aphorisms like “no good deed goes unpunished” and “nice guys finish last”. Untruths, to be sure, unless the petulant are involved.

Petulance creates insult out of generosity, invents lies out of truth, twists candor into accusation and always, always lives the life of emotional vampire, the ultimate acquisitor.

There are many in our culture who turn terms of therapy into some a self-serving swamp of personal jingoism. These are the same people who weaponize grief and sorrow and generosity and good-intentions even when any of those things in their original good-will forms benefit themselves!

Now, I have been accused of many things: I’m too blunt, or too decorous. Too direct or too passive. Too generous or too stingily demanding. Too kind or too cruel. Too forgiving or too unrelenting. I have been accused of not being able to “just let it go”, whatever “it” was, and there is no opposite to that.

I have accused myself of misguided Fool Me Thrices (and beyond). You know the “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”? It’s the Thrice case that leaves me confused, impotent, addled.

And like certain cultures whose counting mechanisms never evolved past “One. Two. Three. Many. Many. Many…”, such is my own openness to the world of “survivors”, “manipulators”, “monsters” and “the petulant”.

I am ever surprised when a gift results in thievery. Ever surprised when kindness is returned with abuse, forgiveness with with retribution.

Right now I am confounded by a smiling knife slipped with exacting precision between ribs in my back; I am also disturbed by the fact that the knife itself is only a minor part of the pain. No, filthy and base, it’s all down to matter of money and an ugly judgment based thereupon.

I was accused—and likely rightly so—of enabling bad behavior in another by covering his expenses. I accept this, refusing to question it because I am out of my depth in such matters. My accuser, however, is also out of his depth and did directly benefit financially from my “enabling”.

There is no wiggle room here; my guilt in enabling is clear and unqualified. Let that fact stand.

But I ask myself why I am furious at the accusation when I know it to be true. That my good intentions brought harm to another should—and does—bring guilt, not fury. That my good intentions brought benefit to my accuser? Well, that was part of my original impetus in covering expenses as the two people were financially interdependent! I was not helping just one person, but several, and was helping to keep an entire situation from fragmenting into a thousand sharp and ugly pieces.

So if the enabling-money was the problem in all of this, as the accuser pointed out, there’s a simple answer to reversing the damage: reverse the cashflow. This was not a suggestion to my accuser, it was a demand. Return the money that had caused the problem. Ungift the gift that had helped you out and had reduced your stress and had allowed your own life to proceed without significant disruption.

If the money was needed, as the situation more than implies, you’d expect his answer to be “I can’t” or “I don’t have the money to give you”. His actual answer? “It was your choice in giving the money and it’s not my responsibility to return it to you.”

Adult cats keep distance from the pin-pricks of kitten-claws and kitten-teeth. Adult dogs avoid the unpredictability of pups.

My fury? There’s no answer, there’s only the wisdom of cats and of dogs.

Of grown-ups.