Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dangerous wake

While reading my bi-monthly Total Funds for Writers this morning I came across this quote: "Same goes for your writing, your writer's voice, your presence. Everyone has opinions. Some folks gun their motors anywhere, oblivious to the hurt and destruction they leave in their wake. Some flaunt that voice more loudly in chats and on blogs. Just because there's fewer people in the room, doesn't mean damage isn't done.

Whatever you write, wherever you speak, however you wish to say your piece, take heed of the setting, the attendees, the baby ducks, docks and turtles. Because after you move on, you leave an impression. You can leave the cove intact or you can leave wreckage. Better yet, you can leave it
a better place.

Because you have a point, doesn't necessarily mean you have to make it. You'd be amazed at who watches from the bushes when you rev your engine a little too much."

She was talking about a fisherman who revved his outboard motor and raced out of the little cove near her home, leaving a dangerous wake that left destruction in its path. Writers are prone to the same thing and I am not immune. I came face to face with a dangerous wake I had left without knowing. I didn't deliberately throttle the engine to high or pop the clutch and peel out across someone's prize azaleas, but what I wrote affected someone adversely. I didn't find out about what had happened for more than two weeks but when I noticed the person's absence I asked for answers. I'm still not sure what to do about the answer since I have no idea what upset the person so much, just that she was upset, and because of one of my posts. I don't expect people to always agree with me because not everyone experiences life in the same way. To me, that is a given. But I do hope that when something I write offends or upsets someone they bring the matter to my attention and tell me how they were affected. Unfortunately, that seldom happens.

The post in this instance is one I wrote about a toxic relationship between a friend and his fiancee. That particular post was helpful to someone close to me in illustrating what he couldn't see up close and moved him to make a change in his life, a big change. He ended a toxic and abusive relationship. He said I changed his perceptions of something he had taken for granted in a relationship where he had felt trapped for so long. The choice to end his relationship was not an easy one and it has caused some problems with his friends and family, and in his relationship with his church, but he says he does not regret it. And there have been responses from other people who thanked me for opening their eyes and getting them to take a good hard look at their own relationships. But to find out that same post had upset someone in any way makes me wonder if I hadn't revved the engine and left a dangerous wake.

It took me many years to be able to speak up and speak out when something was wrong and, as a journalist, I have often been faced with the decision of whether or not to write a story that would put someone's pain and despair on display. Sometimes I chose not to write the story in deference to the person's feelings, although other journalists chose differently.

After seeing what happens to authors who take on their critics and prove themselves to be spiteful, small and oblivious to anything but their own egos and needs, I think twice when I answer a critic who makes personal attacks. I have opted instead to share the facts and leave personal commentary out of the mix so people can make their own decisions. Not all writers feel or act the same way, but what kind of world would it be if everyone were the same? In essence, I endeavor to leave a small wake, always aware that even a small pebble dropped into a pond makes waves that affects everything and touches all shores eventually, as I obviously did last month. Now I wonder what I can do to make things right even as I realize that no matter what I do or say I cannot take away anyone's distress or pain so long after the fact -- if at all -- and certainly not knowing the exact nature of their distress.

I can only think before I write and accept whatever comes with grace, even if what comes is criticism. I learn something new every day and incorporate that knowledge into who I am. For better or worse, I am a work in progress and mistakes and shortfalls are inevitable. If you have come looking for an oracle or perfection, look elsewhere; you will not find it here. What you will find is an honest heart and an open mind searching for meaning and answers.

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