Sometimes the quiet focused conversation you need to address vexations is best done on a page, between yourself and an imagined reader. In a tense real-time conversation about things that trouble us, tempers can quickly become inflamed. As soon as people feel defensive it becomes a tit for tat pissing contest between righteously offended parties instead of a productive conversation. People will sometimes expect much more from you than they do from themselves.
“You made them feel defensive! No wonder they attacked you!” a crying loved one will conclude afterwards, when anger erupts and all attempts at peacemaking have been angrily batted away. Your loved one will be too upset to help you much at that point and you will strain things between you by continuing to try to puzzle through it aloud.
So, a blank page. And the opportunity to finish the thoughts angry, upset people won’t let you finish, a time to puzzle through, find and state a difficult thing clearly without static, interruption, endless challenges before you complete a sentence.
Look, right here I can pause (with no pause showing), in a way that’s impossible to do when someone is indignant at something you are saying, will not hear it, glares and angrily points to your inability to control your emotions.
Anger happens between people when there is hurt. In my experience, when you are upset, the best thing to do is start with a thought and a blank page. Look how many times you can stop, read, reflect, remove a distracting word, add a sentence that clarifies what you need to express, to make your thoughts and feelings understood. The primary benefit of this exercise, this struggle toward clarity, is for yourself, I have learned.
Others will not often be persuaded, by even the most gentle statement of something they don’t want to hear, are incapable of hearing. It is hard to read something intended to make you question your own certainty, the rightness of your own behavior. We live in a defensive, competitive society, a litigious culture. In this place, if you have a problem, be prepared for a battle, even if (or especially if, perhaps) you write with the dispassionate mildness of a sage.
“See, you’re using your talent and training, and fifty years of daily practice, to get an advantage over me because you don’t have the courage to confront me to my face!”
Be under no illusions about anyone else being influenced or moved by what you write, no matter how carefully you try to treat their injured feelings. I had a tremendously long email correspondence with an argumentative old friend who had exploded at me several times, angrily hanging up on me the last time we spoke, after firing off a string of curses. Some, perhaps many, would have pronounced the friendship dead at that point, but. realizing he’d been at the end of his rope, I tried to patiently lay out the tensions between us, trace what had led to his anger, point to ways we could repair our frayed friendship and become better friends to each other.
He wrote back thanking me for my patience, and for showing him understanding instead of anger or blame, but told me he still didn’t grasp what I was actually trying to say and therefore was unable to respond to any of it. He asked me to try to make it clear for him. I clarified each thought I’d sent him, in detail. He thanked me for my efforts, but indicated he was still at such a loss that he was unable to respond to any point I’d raised. Perhaps if I dropped the mildness mask, he suggested, and just honestly and directly told him why I’d been upset with him (I had, but not in a way this longtime lawyer could understand, apparently). When I did, he was outraged and claimed to have read all of my long emails again “searching in vain for the slightest clue” about why’d I’d been so upset, though I was certainly making my anger at him clear. Case closed. I gave him the last word.
You may write something so clear that in the writing of it you finally understand a thing that has been too painful to confront. The beloved child you have been carrying on your back for so long, the kid who hasn’t been responding when you talk to her, is actually dead. The most beautiful poem ever written will not bring her back.