Thursday, August 23, 2012

Never Put in Writing

"Never put in writing anything you don't want people to read."  V.V.Verrill (1913-2005)

That is not the only quotation from my mother indelibly scribed onto my brain but it is most pertinent today and not just for writers. I almost missed my appointed blog date and with only a few hours to spare, I have found a topic worth writing about. (One of my cardinal rules – not from my mother: Write for yourself but don't expect anyone to read it unless there is something of value for them.) So, until noon today, I had no topic. Therefore, no post ready for the midnight launch.

But at noon, I saw one of the scariest and most amazing things. I work in the financial district, many tall buildings, a few that qualify for skyscrapers status. I chose to have lunch on the roof of my building (small in stature compared to others in the area) and take time to work on my current work-in-progress. At a blurry juncture when my brain needed to sort through images and words to find the next step, I looked up and to the south.
On the ledge of a building twenty floors taller than mine, I saw a man washing the windows. He was balanced on his toes, his left hand gripping the top of the window while he scrubbed the panes of glass and wiped them dry with a cloth on his belt. I could see no visible sign of support and I couldn't take my eyes off him. One, for fear he would fall. Two, in abject fascination that he could do this. (I have difficulty walking over grates in the sidewalk, along the pedestrian area of bridges, looking down the 13 floors in the stairwell of my building to the ground floor.) Yet, here was a man hanging on the vertical wall of a 24-story construction with seemingly no way to stop himself from falling.

This is earthquake country. Anything can happen at any time. At last, he went into the room and after a while I saw that he was attached to a webbed belt locked into an eye-hook in the ceiling of the room. Still! Not anything I could do.

I looked around the area and saw two men in a gondola hanging from another building, on two wires that lowered the gondola as they finished one window and moved down to the next. And, on the ornate frontage of another building, another gondola suspended on wires, two men swinging in the air. Whether these two pairs of workers were tethered to their equipment I wasn't able to see. Brave? Foolhardy?

They trusted themselves, their ability and their equipment to keep them safe. (You may have seen photographs of skyscraper construction with men sitting on eye-beams and no visible sign of support – these photos make me weak in the knees!) All they had to trust were themselves and their co-workers. Were there safety nets out of sight of the camera lens?

And here we are, as writers, out on our own individual ledges, trusting ourselves, our ability and equipment to keep us from falling. My mother's edict is even truer today than when I was confined to notebooks and scraps of paper. At least then, someone had to find the notebook, steal it and read it in secret. In today's connected world, every word I put on the screen and upload to the cloud or the social media page, is available to hundreds of thousands of people. If I send my work in an email, I have no control over where that email will end its journey.

Some of us believe this is a grand thing. My mother would disagree. And I, for once, have to agree with her. There are some thoughts that are best kept in notebooks, locked away in drawers for which the keys have been lost. However, we also have to trust the recipients to respect our ownership as well as our freedom to write with honesty and integrity, according to our own beliefs and understanding.


Sandy Cody said...

So true, Leigh. Not only do our words have the potential to reach a huge number of people, they can be transmitted with such frightening speed that it's easy to send off a fleeting thought that you later regret. A nice post and a valuable reminder. By the way, I'm a bit queasy about heights too - unfortunate because my son is a climber.

Leigh Verrill-Rhys said...

Now, I make sure I read over what I've written, not only for errors in spelling and grammar but meaning. The simplest ideas can be misinterpreted by a casual reader.

Thank you for your insights, Sandy.

Gina/Katherine said...

Ah, yes, I learned this lesson the hard way when a disagreement I had with a colleague was being blind cc'd to people without my knowledge or permission. With only one side of the story told, I lost something I will never regain. Would I do it again, if I had it to do over? Probably. Because I firmly had right on my side. But I probably would have found a better way to get my point across. Nowadays, I've learned to wait before I hit "Send," to give myself time to distance myself from my passionate nature and imagine what would happen if someone only read one side of the story again. It was a hard-learned lesson but that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger and smarter.

Sheila Claydon said...

I really identify with this. My motto is write it, save it and then look at it another day. And make sure that you are sending it to the right person when you hit that send key.

A great post Leigh.

Sierra Donovan said...

So true, Leigh. I'm often flabbergasted by some of the posts I see on Facebook -- people venting, often with four-letter words, about something that annoys them. They don't realize how juvenile and petty it makes THEM look.

Leigh Verrill-Rhys said...

Gina, thank you for that. There is such a thing as willful misinterpretation - and that pesky bcc is a deceitful act. I only use it when I send bulk emails about personal or professional events. Good advice from a friend who's been caught by this: Never argue online.

Sheila, another good bit of advice from a lawyer: never put in writing anything you don't want to defend in court.

Sierra, none of us fully realize how accessible what we say on online is. I've heard of people going to jail for sedition and losing their jobs for libeling their employer.

One of the worst things we can do is vent - in some instances, the backlash is vicious. We may have freedom of speech, but we also have to use good judgment.

Thank you everyone for commenting, much appreciated.