Censorship. It’s a word with many negative connotations, associated with authoritarian states and restriction of freedom. But on an individual level it is something most people practise without even being aware of it. Things left unsaid. It may an attempt to spare somebody hurt; it may be to avoid leaving oneself open to attack for voicing an unpopular opinion.
Sins of omission. Being unwilling to speak out because of the possible consequences. Is this a bad thing? Does it depend on context? Is it acceptable not to tell somebody something because you feel it may hurt their feelings? Is it unacceptable to keep an opinion to oneself because it differs from the majority view? Or is that simply self-preservation?
I’ve been thinking about this recently because I worry that being open and honest in describing how I’m feeling and the difficult times my wife and I are going through might upset or hurt people who care about us. I don’t know the answer to this one. In general I am opposed to censorship and in favour of freedom of speech. But do I have any right to decide to withhold information that could affect other people’s view of me? To offer them an incomplete picture? Doesn’t that equate with dishonesty? I feel uncomfortable if I contemplate offering false information or deliberately omitting details. If the two situations feel the same doesn’t that mean they are the same? I believe they are, at least in my mind.
So I’m left with this conflict between wanting to avoid causing anybody distress and being open. So far I have leaned towards being open. I am aware that this can cause some of my readers to feel sympathetic pain and that is a cause for concern to me. But I believe that to hide the difficult facts and only write about the good times would be misleading. It would give the impression that I live in some ideal, perfect world where nothing bad ever happens. The truth is that like everybody else I face a range of situations, go through highs and lows, triumphs and disasters. I strongly believe that I have to present an accurately balanced account; I try to do so here.
I apologise if anybody has found what I write here to be distressing; that has never been my intention. But that is how life can be at times. Would life’s highs provide such elation were it not for the contrast with the lows?
How do you tell somebody that you sympathise with them; that you understand what they are going through and just want to do or say something that will help them cope with it and – hopefully – help them feel better?
I have a deep aversion to any reliance on trite stock phrases: “I’m sorry”, “Chin up” and all that. They always strike me as insincere and demonstrative of a lack of thought. I like to try to cast my words in an original way – to make my message personal and unique to the person and situation. And that can create problems for me because I need time to compose my response. It’s so much easier in writing but that doesn’t help at all when you’re face to face with somebody who is telling you how they feel. Dealing with emotional content in conversation requires a lot of effort at any time. So I struggle, end up muttering “Sorry” – if I can say anything at all – and feel bad for not managing to come out with what I wanted to say and falling into the trap of cliché.
Still, I’m as bad on the receiving end. I say “Thank you”. Then I start thinking that that’s not enough – I think it sounds like it’s just an automatic response, without any thought. I worry that the person will think I’m ungrateful or insincere. So I want to expand on it but I can’t easily think of appropriate words on the fly – I end up feeling frustrated with myself on top of whatever it was in the first place! Not the other person’s fault – it’s pressure I put myself under.
It would be so much easier if I didn’t feel when people I care about are troubled – when they are feeling sad or hurt. Most of the time I don’t know what to do to “fix” the problem and that hurts me because I think I’m letting them down. And I can’t say all this to them at the time – I can’t tell them how I feel about their situation. I could write it here but that’s clearly not the same. Are a few muttered stock words like “I’m sorry” backed by my full conviction better than another person’s empty words of reassurance uttered in tones of sincerity? I don’t know. Perhaps the end result is more important than the intent, at least to the listener.
All I can really do is tell them that I care about their situation and I want to help if possible. Would it work if I just said that? Or does it sound like a politician’s response to some disaster? When I run the words through in my mind there’s no emotional inflection – it’s like a string of syllables without any semantic aspect – sounds without meaning, empty. I’m saying what I mean and even I am unconvinced, so how could I convince a person I’m speaking to that I am sincere? Writing is a much more comfortable medium in which to express myself.
Why do I derive such pleasure from writing? It ties in with my special interest in words. It provides a means for me to communicate without speech. But it’s more than that – there’s the joy I get from the creative act of crafting a written work and the release I feel when I am able to express how I feel through this medium.
My first writing, naturally, was at school – “What I Did On Holiday” and the like. I was taught spelling and grammar from the outset and this has stood me in good stead – knowing the rules and conventions allows me to decide when to bend or break them for effect. But it’s not just my scholastic education that has influenced how I write – I’ve also picked up elements of style and structure from works that I’ve read over the years.
I’ve never had much trouble recounting events but imaginative writing has always been a problem – I find it impossible to invent characters and settings and have to fall back on stereotypes – so I avoid writing fiction when I have any choice in the matter. The last time I remember writing a fictional account I was at school – it was a diary entry from the perspective of Rev. Parris while we were studying The Crucible. I chose to concentrate on events from a segment of the play rather than attempting to ascribe feelings to the character, and found the most interesting aspect to be my attempt at recreating the language of the period – special interest strikes again!
I enjoy writing poetry in various forms – the range of constraints within the form offers an interesting challenge – but I worry that I’m not very good at it. It can be a challenging technique to become truly proficient in – I’ve always had difficulty maintaining the rhythm of the prosody because I have trouble determining the appropriate stress and intonation of words in speech. I have a somewhat monotonous tone and rhythm when I speak – I’ve got better at it over the years but it doesn’t come naturally. (My wife sometimes asks me to read to her at night to help her fall asleep.)
None of my essays are what I would describe as long – one English teacher wrote on a school report, “concise but errs on the side of brevity” and I had several similar comments across various subjects over the years. I believe it’s linked to my AS and my lack of small-talk in conversation. I have an innate inability to waffle – I consider this to be a positive trait because I find listening to such talk causes my attention to wander, and I just want to tell the speaker to get to the point!
So, how do I write? I get an idea in mind for a subject – often about myself or something that evokes strong feelings – and just start writing. Sometimes I’m inspired by an article I’ve read; sometimes it’s a way of dealing with my emotional state. Sometimes I drift off topic but I do try to maintain focus. Since I enjoy writing much more than editing, I worry about the end result being a bit rough around the edges – I never spend much time reviewing and polishing. I start at the beginning with no idea how it’s going to end, and keep writing until I’ve included pretty much everything I wanted to cover. I read it through, maybe tweak a couple of words here, a phrase there, and somehow it seems to turn out all right. I can’t really explain my writing process any better than this: I know what I want to convey and the words simply come out.
In some respects it does come easily to me – I can turn my thoughts into words with little effort. But only when writing. And this fluency is another reason I gain pleasure from it, when I contrast it with the hesitancy and mental blocking that afflicts my speech. I find the written word to be a more natural means of communication.