The question isn't a new one. How does one write in such a way so that in speaking to the audience one wants, one does no harm to the audience one has? The conundrum is an ancient one, and goes back to antiquity. Read any of Plato's dialogues. He deals with this problem directly, the two-audience problem. But Plato was clever enough to write in such a way as to hide the disturbing deeper truths about life from people who were not equipped to understand them. He fully understood, writing of things of an incendiary nature himself, the dangers of letting a misunderstanding audience overhear radical ideas. There is always the danger they will be misinterpreted, twisted...misused. Words can express truths, but most words are not fully adequate, or even close to adequate, in some cases. And let's be honest, shall we? Most of us are neither as clever, nor as skilled, as Plato, and so we bungle things, mismanage words, make a mess of what we're trying to say, usually when we need to be most delicate and precise in our wording. And that's where the problems begin.
They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them--
This problem with expressing ourselves. We all just want to be heard and understood. It's all about connection. We're all jostling one another in this world; the internet has just become another place to shout to be heard above the rabble, to set oneself apart from the masses, to shine. To burn. And yet, it's not so simple as that, is it? Every human being, from the moment they've had their first miscommunication, to the last well-meaning, but poorly-planned blog post that started a flame war or a mass unfriending, is aware that how things appear in his or her head is not necessarily the exact thing that will come out on a page when put to words; when the ideas are filtered through the constrictions of language.
--words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out.
And that's it. That's the moment you understand that somewhere between the heart and head, there's a breakdown, and somewhere between the head and hands, there's a further breakdown. It's the grown-up version of the Telephone Game played as a child, except the result of the original idea, mangled at the end of the game, isn't the collective giggle of a class full of children—it's hurt feelings and wounded pride, sometimes tears and anger, and at the worst, the very worst of it, a dear friend looking at you with wide-eyed hurt and saying, “I don't even know you...”
But it's more than that, isn't it?
No one wants to be preached to. It's easy to dismiss the ravings of a madman, or the obviously inflammatory posts written by an attention-seeking internet shock jock; it's harder to dismiss a quiet, personal argument given by someone you know and respect. We all have our own personal prejudices about life and the private certainty that what we imagine is the right image; that what we glean from life is the best of it. We fight against anyone who tells us we are wrong; we fight harder if it is a loved one, because it's harder to shake the sting of their words; harder to shake off the creeping doubts and broken confidence. And so, confidences are broken, trust is betrayed, loved ones are hurt and are roused to anger or sadness when they feel a particular friend has perhaps overstepped his or her bounds and written about a subject a bit too close to home. We've all felt the unexpected backlash from writing an inflammatory journal entry. Even if it is our own personal opinion and pertains wholly to us, and the intent was not to harm, there will always be someone, somewhere, who is bruised, and so we feel the stinging slap of their anger, or are blindsided with their hurt. Sometimes, it's a silly reaction we can brush off with a shrug. But sometimes, it's a reaction that causes us genuine pain, as we never intend to hurt the ones we love—though, as they say, we always do. And then, you have the thought that changes everything, forever: They just don't understand...
The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away.
And that's when you start to censor yourself, whether you realize it or not. From that moment on, you will always be writing with an audience in mind, whether purposely or subconsciously. The false idea that your journal is your own personal journal collides with the reality that your personal journal is in a very public space, and anyone can read it if they wish. And if they can read, they can be offended and hurt. And if they can be hurt, they can snipe back, hurt you in turn with their complete lack of understanding. With their disproportionate, or totally off-base reactions, with how simply WRONG they are about you. Because nothing hurts worse than to put your heart out there and get it trampled by an indelicate mind, clumsy mental hands. Nothing is more frustrating than the feeling of screaming into the wind, of wanting to bang your fists against the glass separating you from the world and cry, “This is me! This is who I am! Please, someone, understand me!” in futile, lonely, angry, desperate passion.
And you may make revelations that cost you dearly, only to have someone look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried when you were saying it.
The worst of that, the very worst of it, is when you don't want, don't want but desperately need for someone to understand what you are saying. When you need for that connection to be made, for someone to look you in your darting eyes, and assure you that they get it, that you're not alone, that you're not a horrible person...that you're not crazy. When you drop a confession like a leaden hammer into the midst of the relationship, reveal a truth about you that is so dark and so deep, you can feel your heart beating in your throat, and taste metal, and the seconds before they reply spin out into an eternity where you live and die a thousand times before they speak. When you need for them with a white-hot, all consuming desire, to repeat back to you what you've said in their own words, and find the two match one another like perfectly-meshed halves of a twin set. Sometimes, this happens. But all too often it does not. All too often,the response is anger or hurt. Worse is the confused and slightly-condescending politeness of them trying to swing and missing the mark completely. Or the blank stare. The blank stare of incomprehension, when you can almost hear the fizzle-snap-hiss of something between you breaking and dying, and in that split second, you know nothing will be the same, and you are misunderstood, once again, by someone you hoped never would.
That's the worst, I think.
And oh, God, isn't it? Isn't it the most heartbreaking fucking thing in the world? As someone who thrives on connection, who thrives on forging mental and emotional bridges with others, nothing breaks my heart quite like knowing I'm not understood when it matters most to me. As writers, nothing hurts us more than to know our skill has failed us, that our gift has betrayed us, that our words, our beloved words and human emotions, have turned on us and left us in the cold, alone, in the tick of a second. Once we've been burned by that moment, we never forget it, and so we start to hesitate, to hold back for fear we'll be misinterpreted. We censor ourselves, through shame, through hesitation, through guardedness, through fear. Is it really that we are so afraid we'll hurt others...or that we will fail in our words and become hurt ourselves?
When the secret stays locked inside not for the want of a teller but for the want of an understanding ear. -Stephen King