Monday, June 02, 2014

Words Spoken, Words Written

I went to lunch recently with a group of former co-workers. It was nice to see them all, and the conversation was spirited. Let's make that "their conversation was spirited." I mostly just sat there, saying nothing. They were all bubbly as freshly-poured champagne and I felt like stale beer. I listen to conversations but almost never have anything to contribute to them.

Our ability to communicate is one of the things that separates us from the other animals. Humans generally employ two basic forms of communicating: oral and written, and the majority of us are fairly equally adept at both. Unfortunately, like with everything else in my life, I am not in the majority. I start to speak, realize I'm not saying what I want to say or meant to say, or realize after I've said it that I meant to add something in mid sentence. But once out of my mouth, that's it. No re-do's. No edits.

And it certainly doesn’t help that my speech is becoming increasingly unintelligible, thanks to the residuals from my 2003 bout with tongue cancer. Lately, the unintelligibility factor seems to be increasing to the point where even my best friend—who has, to my great embarrassment, to act as my interpreter in restaurants and shops—has difficulty at times. I’m meeting with a speech therapist next week in hopes of….something.

Writing is a different thing entirely. When I write, I can—and do—go on and on to the point that it's hard to shut me up. But that's just it: there is no one to shut me up. I can say whatever I feel like saying whenever I feel like saying it and if I want to stop in mid sentence and contemplate my navel for ten minutes before picking up the next word, I can do it...and no one will know. I can think of what I want to say before I say it, and if I don't like what I've said, I can go back and change it. Because written words are not "time sensitive," they  can be changed at leisure any time before sending them on their way, and when they appear in print they give the hopeful impression of flowing smoothly and effortlessly, without pause or interruption. Writing allows options simply not possible in verbal speech. With some effort I can appear, to someone reading my words, to be alternately (or simultaneously) wise or witty, fey or profound. When I write, I can be the life of the party, hoping the  reader will not notice it is a party of one. Switch me to verbal communication involving more than one other person and all bets are off.

In social situations, where verbal communication is required, I have always rated an overall 3 on a 10 scale. The only subject about which I feel remotely qualified to talk is myself...which you may already have noticed. If I do get up enough courage to lob a poorly-phrased conversational grenade into a crowd, there's usually a dull "thud" as it hits the floor, a brief moment of utter silence, and then everyone resumes where they left off. (One of my favorite cartoons, with which I identify totally, shows a group of men sitting around talking. One is saying, "Well, look, we're four intelligent guys...five, if you count George, here." Guess who sees himself as George?) The more I can limit myself to written communication, the better off I am.

Writing provides a degree of insularity—a protective cocoon, if you will—being in a situation where I have to depend on speaking does not. I have always been pretty insular. I do not really know—nor have I ever known—how to live easily in the "real" world outside my own mind, and for the most part am seldom really very comfortable there. But mental insularity and physical insularity are two very different things. I can get along fairly well when communicating in writing. But when physical activity is involved, I tend to go right back to Square One. Any time I am faced with a challenge  requiring even the most elementary degree of physical dexterity, or the manipulation of anything involving technology or moving parts, I'm doomed. Since neither talk nor writing is much help in tasks requiring physical action pretty much condemns me. I've often said that were I the last human being left on earth, I wouldn't survive longer than a week. 

My abilities to communicate in writing form perhaps the strongest cord keeping me from feeling totally disassociated from the world and those around me; that and my ingrained belief that you, too, at some level inside your own mind and/or at one point or another in your life, harbor or have harbored similar feelings. The real primary difference between me and everyone else, then, is that I am simply more openly aware of my sense of isolation than others, and have no hesitation in admitting it. I am fascinated...obsessed...with those tiny details of what makes us human. Standing off to one side of the mainstream perhaps allows me to see things others swept along with belonging to and being a part of the world may miss. I enjoy writing about things it apparently never occurs to other people to pay conscious attention to, or which they prefer to keep to themselves.

So I shall continue to use the written word to present myself as some laboratory-specimen frog spread out on the dissecting table, hoping you might take a look at my exposed nerves and organs, and recognize our similarities. 

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

One of the issues I have in writing comedy is that when I'm around other people familiar with my work, there is an expectation that my verbal repartee will match my writing. What they don't realize is that it takes several drafts and lots of trial and error to come up with what I do. I don't have that luxury in verbal communication.

Maybe that's why I tend to not do much in the way of public events when asked, like parties and such. I feel awkward and that I 'have' to match the intensity in my own stories, just in real life.

Sometimes you want to just sit there and be enjoyed for your presence and not your entertainment value.