Last week’s column in the local paper (another one about immigration) elicited a rather scathing letter to the editor that claimed that I “railed” against a variety of institutions, including the media, the welfare office, and the Minutemen (of which the letter-writer is a member).
One of the most frustrating things about reading criticisms of my columns is when readers obviously don’t take the time to really read the piece and understand the message. This particular letter-writer did at least get most of my points, but I’m stumped as to where he got the idea that I was “railing” against any of these groups. I don’t especially enjoy being excoriated in print (this is a small town, after all, and my ego’s as fragile as anyone else’s), but I’m never really sure what to do with those arguments that stem from a misunderstanding of what I actually said.
The majority of the responses I get from my columns make the same mistake, so much so that I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps I’m the one in error. If someone misunderstood my point, that could mean one of two things: a) the reader has poor reading comprehension, or b) I failed to write my piece in a way that could be clearly understood.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter were true in some cases. I’ve been known to be unconsciously obtuse, even (especially?) in my writing, particularly when there’s a lot at stake. (I once wrote a love letter to someone that I was so worried about that I had a friend review it for me. He very wryly informed me that the word love doesn’t appear in the text at all, something that my fearful brain had completely overlooked.)
But I’ve read and re-read a lot of these columns I’ve written, and I think I’m fairly straightforward, sometimes more than I should be.
Several weeks ago I received an email from a reader in response to a New Year’s column I wrote about how women should forgo the usual diet resolutions and instead focus on more substantial challenges that really change one’s life (travel, write your memoir, take charge of your finances, that sort of thing). I began the column with the line “Forget the Iraq War for a moment,” and then proceeded to make a tongue-in-cheek comment about how the biggest news of the year to me was when a health magazine reported that a majority of women polled said that they would be willing to lose a few points off their IQ in exchange for the perfect body.
The rest of the column briefly covered gains in the women’s movement, Time‘s Person of the Year (i.e., You) and how technology has allowed individuals to achieve so much using so few resources, and that we should take advantage of the wealth we have relative to just about anyone else in the world to really make a difference. End of story.
The anonymous woman who wrote the email response was irate. I mean, irate. She ranted about how one should never forget the Iraq war, not for a moment, and that I was selfish and unpatriotic and that she had a son (or was in nephew?) in the war and blah blah blah blah.
I was so taken aback by the email that I didn’t read it again for a few days. When I did get back to it though, I re-read and thought, Lady, did you even read the damn column? She admits halfway through her incoherent message that she didn’t read the rest of it and apparently didn’t read beyond that first line, for she writes that she had “no idea what the rest of it was about.”
I ended up not responding to her. It wasn’t worth it, ya know? I’m always happy to respond to any criticisms about the column, but when the criticism isn’t about the column itself but about a single line that was taken completely out of context, then, ah, I don’t waste my time.
Today’s output: 4-1/2 pages. Woo hoo! I meant to work on the play this morning as well, but problems with my tax return arose. Oops.
Cool doc on the History Channel last night about the history of the Star Trek series as well as the auction of Star Trek memorabilia at Christie’s last year. Even if you’re not a Trekkie (or Trekker, whatever the case may be), you have to admire Gene Roddenberry for being so committed to creating a show with a message, one that unabashedly explored social, moral and political issues and challenged conventional thinking about all of them. It’s so rare to find that kind of vision on TV nowadays, where the so-called “vision” of contemporary entertainment execs is to make people laugh. Admirable goal in and of itself, but when that’s all you have to offer, it can get really stale.
Colin Wilson once said that he writes what he does because he believed that people feel too much and think too little. He wants to restore that balance and write stories that make people think. Would that modern entertainment media (books, TV, art, films, radio, YouTube, whatever) were to take up that mission as well.
4 thoughts on “Sticks and Stones”
Grr. I don’t know how you handle it. I just hate people who don’t “get it”. I just hate them. It would be one thing if they disagreed with my thesis, but to just not understand what I was going on about . . . to not even read past the first line . . . my hat is off to you. The fact that you didn’t send her a scathing reply is admirable, and I don’t know if I would have such self control.
Hi, <>Adrienne<>! I’m actually quite hot-tempered in “real” life. Even with my column, when I get an email from someone who clearly doesn’t get my point (separate from whether they disagree with it, which — like you — I don’t mind and may even welcome), I have to literally ignore it for a little while to give me time to calm down. I’ve gotten some scathing letters to the editor written about me (a few weeks ago a reader wrote in and called me “uneducated,” in response to a column I wrote in late December), and in those situations I skim the letter quickly, then don’t look at it again for a few days. By the time I get back to it, I’ve calmed down and can think clearly, meaning that I’ve come to the realization that it’s not worth stewing over and wasting any more time on it. I’m hoping that means I’ll live longer, too. 😉>>By the way, I’m hoping that also means that if and when I ever get my novel published, this thick skin I’m developing will serve me well when the inevitable bad reviews come pouring in. Yes, I have my share of crippling self-doubt.>>Cheers,>Marjorie
having your work read by a public means that they write you when they don’t like what you write but remain silent when they do. (pardon my sentence construction i’m just writing as i think). >>i used to feel that way when people criticized what i did. i especially hated the personal attacks, the one that doesn’t have to do with the work but everything to do with the person. but i guess as time passes by, you learn to deal with it even in the context of small communities. and as long as you know that what you’re doing is right then it shouldn’t be too bad.>>as for people not getting it, maybe they’re not the witty types who see humor in sarcasm.>>look at it this way. if they’re taking time to write, then (1) they’re reading what you write even if they’re reading it wrong; (2) they’re taking time to react to what you wrote so it’s that important to them; and (3) they’re reading what you wrote! hehe.
<>Amee<>, I like the way you think. 😉>>Yes, I’m very pleased that at least I <>am<> being read, even if the responses aren’t especially kind. I actually enjoy getting responses from people who don’t agree with me — sometimes vehemently so — but who are able to articulate <>why<> they don’t and give me coherent arguments that articulate their point of view. I learn from them as much as I hope they learn from me.>>I absolutely stand by what I write and what I believe in, and with every column I write, I find myself becoming, shall we say, braver and more honest in expressing my opinion, even if the subject is something as controversial as gay marriage. That development, of course, can only mean one thing: the more pointed and direct my column, the more controversial it will be. >>But then again, perhaps that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m a big fan of Colin Wilson and want to emulate his ambition of using his writing to get people to <>think<>. If what I write encourages some pretty earnest — dare I say <>heated<> — discussions, well, as a writer, that should make me pretty darn proud. >>And hey, you’re right. <>Any<> response is better than none, I suppose. >>Cheers,>Marjorie
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