During my years in the corporate (and then in the magazine) sector, I would frequently get in trouble with written communication. Specifically, emails sent by me to others.
Someone would take offense at a particular word or the general tone. They would storm into my cubicle and ask, “Why did you say THAT? How can you insinuate THAT?” One short-fuse boss, after a particularly thoughtless email, gathered a meeting, announced publicly that I was a stupid hack and induced a resignation from me (and the CEO had to intervene, arbitrate and calm all the ruffled feathers – clearly, I was of some use to them, then!)
I did wonder. What on earth was wrong? In my mind, I was just doing my job – writing a simple instruction or MoM email.
And it was just not at the workplace. Inadvertently, I would write an email to a friend and she would be reduced to tears (or enraged silence). There would be raised hackles after I reply to a message thread in one of the many writing and travel forums I frequent on the net. It was like I had some covert, deadly intent when I communicated in the written form – but I never did!
Even my husband is a victim (only he is not). We are a typical peaceloving-progressive-but-paranoid-of-falling-into-a-rut couple of this century – we like to have an almighty row once in a while, just to stir up things. But often he gets the upper hand because he knows he will get a scathing email from me THREE DAYS after the event, complete with point by point retorts to his statements during the argument, which he saves in his inbox and taunts me during another future fight 😉
I understood the real reason for this puzzle only after I started writing every day… which has only been the past 3 months.
Words are bloody powerful. For a writer, her words might be her dearest accessory and deadliest weapon. I like to think of it as a razor-sharp knife – something you can use to carve exquisite art out of a pumpkin, or use it to shred skin and bone, causing irreparable damage.
When I was working full time in a day job and writing perhaps once or twice a week, I think this magical knife – that God or Fate or something mysterious had blessed me with – didn’t get as much work as it should have. It grew listless, bored. It developed ennui. It was frequently starved and it often went on a binge on the wrong kind of fodder, when it should have just lightly snacked.
Since I was not using the knife regularly and intensely to create beautiful stories filled with drama and suspense and imagery, it manifested its power on the drab, mundane emails I was writing on a daily basis to my poor, unsuspecting colleagues.
This is why creative artists do not make good 9-to-5 jobsters, sharp businesspeople, or content homemakers. They live with this knife inside their body, within their soul. If they ignore it or don’t give it the right kind of work it is capable of doing, first it goes feral, then it starts cutting the very flesh that’s hosting it. The artist then is puzzled – what is wrong? Why this disenchantment, this emotional block, this terrible disappointment in work, life, even in the previously joyous process of creation?
A knife is a weapon, after all. Even its owner needs to be careful. Most creative artists panic when they could not decipher the reason behind their malady and make it worse by overanalyzing it. Or they don’t give it the attention it needs – in our society, material life typically comes first and there are many other things to take of, like bills and obligations. You then have writers/artists falling into disarray, depression, addiction, substance abuse, or worse.
For the past 3 months, my emails and my communication mode have become brief, non-confrontational, even mellow. Finally, my creative knife has other, better work to do.
What has your knife been doing lately?