I recently presented at the Beyond the Love conference in Columbus, Ohio. One of the two classes Justin and I taught there was on managing boundaries in polyamory. As part of that topic, we used a model of control where everything falls into one of three buckets:
- Things we can control.
- What we can influence.
- Things we cannot control.
During that talk, we gave many examples that fell into various buckets. As one of those, Justin talked about the challenges of being married to a writer. That he can’t control how others view him once I’ve written about him. An essay is simply a snapshot, after all, and we all know that not every photo that’s taken of us is flattering. Especially in a blog that’s known for presenting moments of interpersonal conflict as teaching examples.
I listened with great interest as he spoke, knowing that it can’t be easy. And also relating, in my way, to that process.
It’s been about a year since Poly.Land started to gain a large readership. Once it grew, I began to get messages from readers that would say things like Look at how your words are being used with links to various forum discussions in which people were arguing over one of my topics. And not always kindly or civilly with one another.
That’s interesting. Thanks for sharing, I would reply.
Doesn’t it bother you that people are using your words as weapons? they wrote back.
But I knew as I sat there that it’s possible to weaponize practically anything. People read what they want to into things. I had control over the exact words I chose to express myself with — but as far as how it was interpreted? Well, that was definitely beyond my immediate control.
Writing is basically like this. You can say what you want, but you don’t control where it goes, how it’s applied, once it’s out there. After all, Nietzsche’s philosophy was coopted by the Nazis, fed by the fervor of his overzealous sister.
Naive, Not Native
And that’s just misapplication, not even scratching the surface of full-on misinterpretation, which happens all the time.
I still remember, vividly, the first time I realized how easily, powerfully, and reliably that language can be misinterpreted.
I was sitting in Mrs. Quimby’s seventh grade homeroom typing a short story onto our class computer (a privilege I’d earned for good behavior) when a classmate came up and asked me what I was working on.
I let him read what I was writing.
He flipped out on me. “NATIVE FOOL?! THAT’S RACIST.” And started to chew me out.
“It’s naive,” I said. “Naive. No T.”
“You’re a racist, you’re a racist,” one of his friends was singing.
I shook my head, sighed painfully. And explained what the word “naive” meant.
They didn’t believe me. Thought I was covering my tracks. I had to fetch them a dictionary. And look it up the old-fashioned way. In the actual book.
It took an awfully long time. Enough that I ran out of computer time.
I don’t think I ever finished writing that story.
Although it probably wasn’t very good. “Naive fool” is a bit overkill.