How to Keep a Bridge Quiet When in the Car

There is nothing like writing a book to illuminate just how awful a communicator you are.

I think everyone should do it. Not only for the (eventual) resounding joy of completing such an accomplishment, but also to recalibrate your ego—bring it down to a more palatable level.

Like bug height.

And it’s only at such a degree that you will see the crucial minutia—the details, the complexities, the nuances that exist beneath the large umbrella encompassing the process of conveying information. Yes, the granular level is critical; the grammar that contains all the basic linguistic units that make up our parts of speech, but there is so much more than the study of the classes of words, their inflections, and their functions and relations in each sentence.

Of course, to see that “so much more” collection, one must pull back the lens to include a big, broad perspective. One must don the panoramic glasses of an omniscient deity, let’s say, providing you the opportunity to view your work from every angle and from great heights.

I’m not so sure I’ve ever met a human who embodies the ability to do all of the above, for if you ever have the chance to experience publishing a book in a traditional manner, you begin to see that there should be countless names given credit as author, and not just one boldly inked above the title.

Let me explain. I think writing a book is a metaphor for factory work. Rarely, do we find one person who wears every hat. Creating something—for instance, a widget—typically requires an interconnected tapestry of relationships. Even if you hang your own shingle stating you’re a one-man band baker, it’s doubtful you’re also the grain farmer, the mill grinder, and the manufacturer of the oven, right?

The last box I tick off on the completion list of “book writing” is to craft an acknowledgement page. Over the years, I have learned to keep a checklist, as there is nothing more worrisome than coming to that moment when this write-up is due, and you’re wracking your brain for Who else? Who else? Oh fudge, there are surely more!

There are. I’m not kidding when I state that I would like to include some grade school English teachers who taught me the basics, and also highlight others whom I hold at fault for not drilling more into my brain. I suppose one could lasso in any individual who aided you whilst learning language, but it’s mostly considered a slight not to include one’s parents, so we’re mostly covered there.

The factory work of book writing is where we could state that our earliest teachers are the manufacturers of the raw ingredients. They provide the schooling that leads to the recognition of a collection of sounds, which are assigned to various letters. Placed together and in dictated order, they form a syntactic unit.

I see myself as the widget maker—utilizing all those syntactic units. Once possessed of all those units—or words—I churn them out and pray they have a functional purpose. Whether to educate or entertain, the person who soon purchases those words will, optimistically speaking, find them worth the expense.

That widget is then inspected by upper management for design flaws, operational errors, and defects of any nature. Upper management includes editors, proofreaders, and interior designers. The widget gets sent back to the production room floor a lot. A LOT.

Then that widget is enrobed in fashionable, eye-catchy wrapping. Photographers, graphic artists, models, and designers first all huddle in some stylish conference room and bemoan the fact that it will be near impossible to convey the “idea” of the widget, unless upper management can make the “idea” a better one. Upper management sends the widget back to the production room floor.

The floor operator (that’s me) has no one to complain to, as she is not unionized and really just hopes for a paycheck and therefore, straps on her elfin cap once more and gets to work.

Eventually, either the widget is acceptable to upper management and the creatives, or someone shoves it through inspection as they can’t stand to look at it one second longer.

The larger point is that we’re all involved in trying to communicate something to others. Something we feel is worth the slight distraction from whatever other activity those others may be engrossed in.

Us: “HEY!” (Now, someone holds up the widget)

Others: “Huh?” … “Oh, I get it.”

Us: “Our work is done.”

But getting to the “done” part is arduous—and, oftentimes, sadly unsuccessful.

Communicating is hard. Telling people what you think, how you feel, what you see and believe should not be that difficult with all the tools at our disposal, and yet, because of inflection or syntax, those threads are open to interpretation.

Every proofreader (but mostly those having worked on my books) will tell you that we give meaning and emphasis to words and phrases where we absolutely shouldn’t. I am at an Olympian level when it comes to misplaced modifiers.

Example: Being a lover of bridges, this one was gorgeously swoopy.

There. I just made a bridge a lover of bridges. (facepalm)

Back to the larger, larger point—I trust my readers to know what I mean, not what I say. And I ask them for forgiveness and also not to laugh at the parts that I did not intend to be hilarious, like making bridges anthropomorphic.

I think, as humans, we all have ample experiences to point to where we’re finding dialogue, and communication writ large, to be more challenging than ever. Whether attempting to pair the perfect emoji to replace words (often fails), sifting through media opinions hiding as facts (often succeeds), or trying to decipher what code level color the CDC has stamped as today’s mask needs (usually epic blunders), time is an important element one must employ on both ends for success.

Well, maybe time to communicate, time to interpret, and time for a stiff drink if we manage to botch up the babel.

I stand by my suggestion that everyone gives it a shot though—a shot at writing a book. It will flood you with a sense of thoughtfulness as you spend countless months and years attempting to craft content that will be unforgettable. It will highlight the value of cooperation as the team of factory workers by your side pour their souls into attempting to re-craft your content so that it will be readable, enjoyable, and all errors will be “forgettable.” And lastly, it will provide you with an opportunity to say something without being interrupted—as this always happens to me whenever I’m in a car with a bridge and they just blurt out their enthusiasm for overpass architecture.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Communicate or Consternate: the Power of your Tongue

No one will complain that you made something easy to understand.

This was a slide I read while watching a Keynote speaker address members of the American Distilling Institute—a conference I attended this week. He also mentioned that someone had stolen his antidepressant medicine that morning and that he hoped whoever did it was happy with their decision.

For weeks leading up to the summit I felt my enthusiasm grow. It started like most of my decisions to attend an event such as this; I justify it by pointing out to myself and others how much I was going to learn and extol how it is worth the expense, time, and energy to appear.

Then, as the sessions and speakers are more fully revealed in the days before arrival, I grow in fevered pitch with an eagerness that verges on eye-roll worthy, mainly because I’ve become convinced that this one meeting will be wholly instrumental and pivotal to my growth both professionally and personally.

Except the most transformative opportunity offered is typically when I come across a booth at the Expo where some cosplayer Lady of the Lake is handing out plastic swords as well as lapel stickers that say, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.” I then cover my current lapel sticker from the previous booth that said, “Be like a postage stamp. Stick to something until you get there.”

Alas, the one thing that appears repeatedly throughout the three-day event is proof of how many of us fumble with the sagacious quote above. I become aware that some speakers were selected to lecture at the conference not for their ease of communicating complicated data, rather for accolades granted, accomplishments trumpeted, or they won an arm-wrestling tournament with the conference coordinator on some drunken night, and this was in the kitty.

Don’t misunderstand, there were countless inspiring speakers, but more often than not, the art of communication is something many of us struggle with every single day—whether it’s in the performance of our job description, or we’re chatting with an everyday Joe, newly met or longtime known. It’s a captivating experience to encounter someone or listen to them lecture and find they are silver-tongued and eloquent, but curiously, I’ve occasionally found that the more learned they are, the more unintelligible they may be.

As an example, I filed into a lecture hall, along with about 150 other attendees, all of us excited to hear the most up-to-date and innovative information on how yeast can become our newest BFF, if we truly understand its deepest desires. The professor of brewing science at a far-flung institution began with an apology: “I am about to squish eight hours of university lectures into 45 minutes. Most of it will be intelligible only to those of you with a masters in biochemistry. And onward!”

Only onward was not where most of us went with the professor. Most of us looked around the room to gauge how many of us had a masters in biochemistry and were enjoying the microscopic photos of the principal structures of aerobically grown distilling yeast cells, the table summary of the Embden-Meyerhof-Parnas metabolic pathway, and charts highlighting the biosynthesis of amino acids. I quickly realized that yeast and I were likely never going to exchange interlocking jewelry with one another.

My intention was not to sit in on a university lecture far beyond my wheelhouse and fume with frustration over wasted time, rather I had presumed—based on the title—that I might listen, take notes, and then bring home some data to our head distiller that said, if we switch to this yeast, we’ll have bigger yields, or if we utilize this enzyme, we’ll have bigger yields, or the word “yeast” is Sanskrit for, “to seethe or boil,” therefore they may benefit from a few anger management sessions if we’re hoping to see bigger yields.

I think you get my point.

Our takeaway from any exchange is one we hope to capitalize on if we’re in a business setting, or delight in, if we’re feeling out a new friend.

I am particularly good at wholly forgetting who I am when introducing myself to fellow attendees or approaching speakers I want to congratulate after a worthy session. I think my best words are often, “umm … I, uhh …” and something inaudible as I glance down to check my own name tag for identification. Rarely do I recall the pithy pitch I’d practiced in the bathroom mirror just before leaving the hotel that day. I’d be better off handing the person a QR code to scan at their convenience that will bring them to an interactive website with a pull-down menu to pick and choose from.

It also does not help that a “distiller’s” convention starts off every day with a boozy breakfast and a bucketful of hazmat level tastings to fully appreciate some of the latest trends, so I am going to attribute my inarticulate blundering as only the result of that full strength participation enthusiasm I bring to every conference and not general incompetence, okay?

The big picture is that maybe some of us need a little extra help “reading the room” these days. Maybe our messaging skills are rusty, our presentations inefficacious, maybe our wording falls short when trying to explain to people how effective we can be by using words like inefficacious to describe things.

Maybe it would be helpful if a room moderator would communicate to the conference attendees as soon as they discover a speaker is a no-show, rather than assume everyone will figure it out after thirty minutes of speculatively waiting. Some of us take longer to “read the room” than others.

Ultimately, most peoples’ desires are to be heard, to be comprehended, to be deemed adept at relaying vital and useful information to those who choose to listen to them. But for those who really don’t care, may I suggest an introductory slide of benefit?

I am only responsible for what I say—not for what you understand.

If I see this up front, I’ll happily head back to the boozy breakfast for a second round and spend the hour practicing my own high-proof pitch.

~ Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.