To be misunderstood is one of the more difficult experiences we all face. It happens to every one of us at one time or another. How one deals with it speaks to both our self-confidence, and our willingness to take a risk. Will we continue to reach out in a positive way, despite having been judged incorrectly, or will we subside into silence and resentment?
Writing about Cody and his difficulties in the ring last week turned out to be a mixed blessing. While most of my readers understood my intentions for trying hard to keep him in the obedience ring, (with success there being defined as having fun), there were a few others who misunderstood me and thus wrote with diplomatic protests.
They expressed concern that I was using the medication for Cody’s seizures as a way of making sure that he was ring ready. Worrying that I was making a poor choice for him, one said, “I’d choose health over competition every time.” And I agree with that assessment. I just don’t think it applies to Cody’s situation or my decisions for him.
I always enjoy hearing from my readers and I always respond, even if they have something uncomfortable to say, and I wanted these few to understand our situation particularly and entirely. So I sat down and replied. Explaining that Cody would die without his seizure medication, I said that treating him had nothing to do with working together in the obedience ring. We could retire from competition and he would still have to swallow those five capsules twice a day.
Considering the replies I got to my explanations, I believe that I at last made Cody’s situation clear, and everyone who was concerned felt relief that the choices for him were good ones. And I, really, could only be grateful that people cared enough for my dog that they were willing to write and challenge my decisions.
A writer always takes a big risk when he or she sits down to try and communicate, to make herself susceptible to the judgments of others–especially those of us who offer up our own lives as examples to which we hope most readers will relate. In my three memoirs, and certainly with this newsletter, I have never hesitated to delve into the details and truths of my own life, with the hope that my candor will help others, or stimulate them to think about their own lives. Or sometimes, maybe, to have a big belly laugh. It’s what I do, how and why I do it, and I’d never consider anything else.
Taking the risk of writing about your life is something like climbing a tree that is heavily laden with a lot of fruit without a ladder. It may be dangerous, but the reward is rich. As my friend and the author Erica Jong says:
“No one ever found wisdom without also being a fool. Writers, alas, have to be fools in public, while the rest of the human race can cover its tracks.”
This quote really cracks me up because it is so true, and I keep it above my desk, right where I can see it when I am in the process of being vulnerable.
On the other hand, though I can respond to newsletter readers and fans of my longer works, whatever their comments may be, I am not allowed to defend my foolishness with reviewers. And that is hard. You always want to say to someone who is safely sitting there making harsh judgments about others: “you didn’t get it,” or especially, “you’re wrong!”
But it just isn’t done–somehow transgressing against the ethical code and politesse of publishing. A writer just has to grin and bear the slights of the reviewing audience, and simply be happy and glad to have had the opportunity to get his ideas out there for people to chew on. You may be criticized, you may be a fool, but you have a voice and you are heard.
So, I say that after you’ve licked your wounds, try to let go of your defenses, celebrate misunderstandings, and then reach out to reconnect. (Provided you are not dealing with a reviewer!) Forge new understandings with those you care about and watch how they respond. It’s pretty remarkable. All of us want to know that our words have meaning. When you show that you’ve actually listened, you enrich your relationship. And sometimes, even, laugh about it all together.
P. S. For those who are curious about how the weekend in the obedience ring went for Cody and me, I can report back that he did not “qualify” for a leg either time, preferring to bound to me in an overjoyed sprint rather than to drop, and to trot merrily through the broad jump rather than to leap over it. We did indeed look like giddy fools in public, but I nevertheless rewarded him with lots of smiles, and the hard body thumps he loves so much. We left the ring happy with each other, and happy to be working together once again. He has, however, earned himself the new nickname of G.B. While these initials do stand for “Good Boy,” they also work well as the equally accurate “Goof Ball!”