Saturday, March 12, 2011

Miss Understanding

How I love the blog Confessions of Ignorance, where Seana Graham is "Correcting My Limitless Lack of Knowledge, One Post at a Time." She keeps me from many a parlous mistake, although, alas, I go on and make many mistakes of my own. Hoping to be tactful, compassionate, and kind, I have too often in life said the wrong thing...or, the other side of this coin, been heard wrong. If my legacy were to be remembered as Miss Understanding, well, that, too, would be heard wrong.

I remember working on a board, hoping to solve a sticky personnel problem, and reassuring a colleague that I was "a pretty politic person" and could probably handle it.  I meant "politic" in its political philosophy context, as judicious and having to do with the group's existing policy, looking out for the body politic, doing what's wise for the whole group, with connotations of prudence and being a good citizen. I later realized my colleague heard instead connotations of being "political" in the glad-handing, shrewd sense, saying what needs to be heard to get something done expediently, the cunning sense. The icky feeling of being misunderstood was compounded by the realization that somehow I had confessed to being worse than I probably am.

The ickiness increased when this same person asked me, when I was moving to a small town from the big city of Chicago, if it was to be "a big fish in a small pond." I couldn't answer at first, astonished by the tactlessness of this, and how it had so little to do with our decisions to scale back, live at a slower pace, raise the kids near my parents, and send them to public school. My status in the community was not a concern; feeling part of a community was indeed a goal.

After a short silence, I said, in seeming complicity, "I guess so," which is what I always say now when what I must mean is, "I guess that is the way you see it, yes." My friend and colleague could only see me through the filter of her own literary ambition.

So it was with understanding, delight, and a parlous background feeling of vindication that I learned that poet Arielle Green Bywater (Given) is leaving her fulltime job in Chicago and moving back to Belfast, Maine, where she will feel part of a community that already loves and welcomes her, and live with her family a simpler life. I sense it is a whole-life decision, a  choice to live according to principles and beliefs, and it helps me understand her poem "This is to Find Out About Something" in the book Brute Neighbors in a whole new way. Her poem ends, "Do not end with the wind or grey / that is the name Chicago."

And now I send you to parlous, part 2, Seana's account of a particular misunderstanding involving Santa Cruz, and her sense of the "Pacific being just a small pool."

And I send myself off to enjoy the sunshine and blue sky of this day, and the junior high state volleyball tournament, the joys and pleasures of my little life on this earth in this community, while they are here. They might not be here by 2:45 p.m., as many in Japan suddenly learned in the midst of their daily lives.


Sandy Longhorn said...

Ah, Kathleen, I too often suffer from being Miss Understood when I'm really just trying to say it straight. I applaud you for living a simpler, more fulfilling life. Big fish, little fish...we're all still fragile creatures whirling around on a fragile blue planet.

Kathleen said...

Indeed we are, Sandy. Thank you.

David Wolfgang Hill said...

One of the lousy things about saying something wrong, or having something misunderstood is the difficulty in righting it. The goofy things I say are always charged on the energy of my unreliable emotions, which are firing off of different events in my life or day. As a practicing introvert, I try not to say much, but even so , a good half of it is mindless blather, despite my diligent filtering.

Sometimes if you try to correct a misunderstanding, it is perceived as back pedaling rather than tuning the truth. Might as well leave it out there. "I guess so."

Consequently, I’m taking a vow of silence. Like Holden Caulfield, I plan to pretend to be a deaf mute. Over and out. Not another peep. The lock is ticked. The big freeze. Lips sealed. Quietsville. Icksnay. Slilencio (Spanish for silence). Adios!

seana said...

Thanks for the links, Kathleen. I have to say that misunderstanding has for me often been a much more painful memory than momentary slight of feeling misunderstood. I remember my dad once saying he was nonplussed by a college friend of mine that I had been wanting him to meet. I thought he meant 'unimpressed', and it was only much later that I realized he had been 'confessing' his own vulnerablity rather than putting my friend down. I still feel bad that I jumped to this conclusion. It's not getting the word wrong so much as failing to understand another's intentions that sort of haunts me.

Kathleen said...

What a tender story, Seana, and I identify with the pain of having misunderstood someone's intentions and how we are haunted by harm we've done, or even might have done, unintentionally! Thanks for going to the heart of it.