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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website, PlantingDandelions.com

Toxic

Hi! My name is Svetlana and I am from Ukraine. This is about your article "Call Mrs. Fix-it." I can not stress enough how angry I was reading it! How dare you compare tragedy in Chernobyl and your stupid washing machine? Do you know how many people died in there? How many children were born with birth defects? Children with cancer and leukemia waiting for their turn to die?It was a much bigger tragedy than 911. Why don't you compare your washing machine to what happened on September 11? Shame on you! Or you just mention Chernobyl to show off (Hey, I know what it is! Do you?) What is your biggest problem—house selling?

(edited for spelling and punctuation—you can read the original in the comments section of this post).


Svetlana,

I was sixteen years old and standing in Mr. Gregory's room waiting for math class to begin when I heard about Chernobyl. I remember feeling sick with fear. I remember wondering how many people had died and would die. It was, and remains, horrifying.

Ironically, I scolded my husband for comparing something to a "tsunami" just the other day. People invoke "holocaust" and "Nazi" just as casually, and I have no doubt that before long, September 11 will find its way into the vernacular as a metaphor for miniscule inconveniences. I don't know what the half-life is for human trauma, at what point the reference becomes dilute enough for the culture to re-ingest it without harm, maybe even heal from a hair of the dog that bit; the homeopathy of words.

When I read your comment, I thought, maybe I should have compared it to a meltdown instead, kept it generic, something a writer should avoid (I almost added, "like the plague"). A good writer has to reach past "tree" and grab "sycamore," past "bird" and pick up "crow."

Sometimes we overreach.

I am sorry if my metaphor caused pain. I did not mean to be insensitive to others' suffering. As for my biggest problems, I do not write about them here. But I don't see how the unavoidable fact that somebody, somewhere, is having a better or worse experience, cancels out one's own.

I'm curious to know what the rest of you think.

Labels:

22 Comments:

Blogger Jonivan said...

......as The Circulation of Notes To Self reaches more and more across the globe.


-Jonivan

10:37 AM  
Blogger jenB said...

a little hyperbole in a light hearted context is fine by me. it is NOT possible that you could write it with a mean spirit.

xo

12:40 PM  
Blogger jennifer h said...

She needs to become a regular reader, and to read with an open mind. Your writing has a deep and lovely soul, which she would see if she read more of it.

This was a perfect response to her comment.

12:45 PM  
Blogger jennifer h said...

I just realized that I might not have answered your "what the rest of you think" request.

There are any number of references to disastrous events, and I think it's impossible to avoid them all. I suppose it's telling that when I read your GH article, I didn't even pick out the Chernobyl reference, or note any sense that it was offensive. Which says that events wear a groove inside us and they settle in and become as benign as most other words.

I'm not sure how much time has to pass before it's acceptable to reference such events. Is it okay now to compare something to the fall of the Roman Empire?

1:02 PM  
Blogger Amy U. said...

Having met you and being a regular reader of your work, I would know you couldn't have meant this in any sort of careless or cruel or thoughtless manner.

I hope Svetlana will return to read more of your personal writings here and realize this.

Also, since I haven't read the article entirely I can't say for sure, but I don't usually take offense to this kind of comparison. Some things just hit very close to home for some people.

Assertagirl

1:35 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

Tragedy + time = humor. Unfortunately, the length of time is sometimes difficult to gauge and may vary from person to person.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

A friend sent a link to your blog because she thought I might enjoy it. Go figure. I do.

There are always events and references that will cause pain to some people, while going unnoticed by others. I do my best, as a writer and a person, to be sensitive and to learn from my misjudgments and oversteps, but I've found that I can't always avoid hurting others.

I think you put it beautifully when you said, "A good writer has to reach past 'tree' and grab 'sycamore,' past 'bird' and pick up 'crow.' Sometimes we overreach."

Other people have experienced pain far worse than mine, but that doesn't make mine any less real or less transformative.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Jen K-C said...

As a writer, is it not part or all of your intention to illicit a response, weather negative or positive? Everything I read I don't necessarily agree with. I always feel something. I don't think I have ever held an author hostage due to being offended. If anything I feel invigorated, challenged to agree or disagree.

To discuss the concept of being "offended" would take too long.

I also don't believe that any one person has a foothold on pain. Pain is pain regardless of the details, addiction is addiction regardless of the drug of choice. Death is death. I have learned that just because I am going through a crisis not everyone is in the same place nor do they have to be. Also I still have the emotional and spiritual capacity to help others in my darkest times because I know that I am not the only person to feel pain and if I can be of assistance to others my burden lessens.

Before I step down from my soap box I would like to add that I don't believe your blog to just be a fluffy itemized list of your life in suburbia. It seems to be a great way to exercise your craft. I don't believe it is a window to your soul, perhaps a slit in a curtain looking through a stain glassed window. Either way it entertains me. Thanks.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

I think it is great that you apologized. It says a lot about you. Others would have just laughed it off. That said, if you could go back in time, I would recommend you write the line exactly the same again. Better to be true to your writing and ruffle some feathers than be boring. You could hardly write a poem without making some comparison or description that someone somewhere would consider wrong or unfair (just apologize after, of course).

2:54 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Thanks, Neil. I agree that hurt feelings are sometimes an unavoidable byproduct of sharing my own. But that doesn't mean I don't care when it happens .

It would have been very cheap and easy to reprint the comment with the poor spelling & punctuation, and let that become the focal point for you, but this commenter wasn't being deliberately malicious toward me. She was angry, and had a point to make, and I thought it deserved to be addressed.

I think as the blog genre matures, audiences (and bloggers themselves) will get better at drawing the line between the blogger's public and private domains. Particularly when the writing is very intimate, it is easy to fall into the assumption that you are privy to everything that is going on in that blogger's life. You are not.

One thing that's great about meeting bloggers offline is discovering how much broader their lives are beyond what they choose to put online. Which is saying something when you think about how interesting some of the online lives are.

Jen, thank you for pulling back the curtain a little on your own window. Lovely comment.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Schmutzie said...

I have inadvertently offended readers before, and each time I felt a pang, because the offenses rose out of things I thought little more than innocuous.

I like your response. It is gentle and draws in your own personal experience while validating hers.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

After I read my comment again, I realized that I wasn't being very honest here. Intellectually, I think it is important to remain strong about you content, but in reality -- I would also be very upset if someone wrote that comment on my blog. I'm always worrying about hurting someone's feelings -- it is something I am trying to fight. Even today, I made a joke about Easter, which I'm sure someone will find in bad taste. I try not to go over the line, but to write something funny, you usually have to make fun of something! You have a good heart, so I wouldn't worry too much about your chernobyl line. Svetlana will survive.

I'm going to bookmark this post to remind myself that there are other people reading our blogs, some who could get hurt by soemthing we say.

By the way, your Good Housekeeping article was insulting to men everywhere who don't like to fix things in the house.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Yes, but those bastards had it coming ;-)

4:39 PM  
Blogger HRH said...

I think you handled it well all the way around. Sensitivities exist everywhere. We could all stand still and silent. I think it was amazing of her to write you. I loved your response. Please offend on...

9:19 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I agree that you handled it well, Kyran, and I've been on both ends of that. once I inadvertently hurt the feelings of a flight attendant who wrote me an also very badly-formatted email (with tons of font decorations, all sorts of colors and sizes, oh my!) and, though she had simply taken things vastly out of context in the heat of the news, I did something I rarely do (for angry emailers on the 'work' blogs) and responded to her, apologizing (mostly for the perception, as I truly hadn't said half the things she read into my post).

on the other hand, I've been hurt by off-handed remarks that my friends have made, or blog post topics, simply because I was in a bad place at the time. -- like jen k-c says, the crisis going on in someone's own life mightily colors her perception of others' words. I've realized after a few moments that I was silly to be offended, they had no idea what was going on in my brain right that instant. still, I've held it with me, an undercurrent that colors our relationship, and I have to keep saying to myself, 'it's me! not you!'.

as for the offensive comment, here, I wouldn't have thought that Chernobyl was still so fresh and painful, and it wouldn't have occurred to me to self-edit that reference.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Belinda said...

I think that it's a "slip" I might easily have made, and that if I'd received Svetlana's message, I'd have felt sick and sad, and oh, so sorry, and that you responded with grace and thoroughness, much better than I would have done.

5:31 PM  
Blogger blue milk said...

Hmm it is a horrible feeling to know you hurt someone's feelings.. without even trying.

Good on her for being so gutsy as to email you and tell you how hurt she was and good on you for responding to it calmly and honestly when you were probably feeling defensive.

I love black humour and I know humour can be applied to pretty much every situation (I draw the line at rape and child sexual abuse jokes but I've noticed others don't) and I can think of two rules for comedy about tragedy - a) you have to be VERY funny to risk humour about tragedies, to make the joke worthwhile in spite of the hurt it might cause and b) ideally you only make fun of tragedies which are your own, not someone else's.

Having said all that, man have I put my foot in it on occasion. Live and learn.

7:13 AM  
Blogger karey m. said...

you're beyond gracious...i only needed to read one post to figure out this tiny fact.

no worries, i'm sure. i mean, it's not like you...{insert completely offensive reference point here}

just an awkward attempt at solidarity. best.

7:16 AM  
Blogger cce said...

It's all about how a person handles having offended another, not the offense itself. You have handled yourself admirably and wisely and kindly and Svetlana must be feeling a lot better now about your unintended insult. All this through writing. It's important stuff - this.

7:20 AM  
Blogger blue milk said...

Ouch.

Ok yeah, I don't know where I was going with my point.. was rambling badly.

Hm what was I trying to say? I think I was thinking about black humour, about what can be laughed at and what can't and why? Then I thought about this debate here - http://viv.id.au/blog/?p=1507
I find that attempt at humour extremely offensive but clearly others think differently. What is off bounds and what isn't, but more importantly why do I draw the line?

From there I thought about your use of Chernobyl in a joke. And I compared this, which isn't so personally confronting for me with a joke I do find personally offensive (ie. discussed at link above) and I thought what if Chernobyl was as 'real' for me as it was for Svetlana. And then my head went to the 2 rules of black comedy I devised.(Because when you're as rigid as me comedy should have rules).

Maybe a survivor of Chernobyl can make a joke about their experience and I can't.. and even when survivors of Chernobyl attempt jokes about it they have to be very sure that it's hilarious to be worth the risk at such a dark subject.

Then I thought about how I also idley say "stop being such a Nazi about..." and how I've got a bit to learn there. Cos me, absolutely no experience of the Holocaust or anything like it.

Hope I represented my thought processes a little better now.

11:49 PM  
Blogger paper napkin said...

I think that was a sensitive and smart response, that's what I think. As for Chernobyl, of course someone who is closer will feel it more. The same way that, since I've had children, I can't watch movies about child abduction

5:29 AM  
Blogger Julianne said...

Excellent point about the use of the word, "Nazi." Ever since Seinfeld's Soup Nazi episode that term has rolled nonchalantly off of the tongues of many good storytellers.

There is no uniform statute of limitations for these things and I think you just have to pave your own road and own the consequences.

8:26 PM  

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