In 1995, the band Goo Goo Dolls achieved a high degree of popularity with a slow rock-ballad called “Name,” which was one of my favorite songs of that tumultuous year. Among the many lines of that song is one particular line that I have had the cause to remember and reflect upon often in the course of my life: “Letters that you never meant to send get lost or thrown away.” For those of us that write as often as I do, we might think that the worst thing that could possibly happen to something that we wrote would be to be forgotten and lost and consigned to oblivion. In some cases, though, that is the best-case scenario, and the fact that an ill-advised writing did not language in obscurity ends up being the worst-case scenario that makes life horribly difficult and complicated and often unpleasant.
Sometimes, it’s hard to know what one was thinking when one wrote certain things. The way that events happen forces one to think long and hard over the months that follow that a little bit more thought before one wrote would have been a very good thing. For example, I once read a book that I knew was against the law in the place where I lived, and I knew that to say anything about it was unwise, probably illegal, and possibly harmful to me. Yet, despite all of this, I felt compelled to speak out, hoping that my relative obscurity would save me from any adverse outcomes. That was not to be the case, as the short bit of writing I had done on the book got found by the author of the offending book, who then used my short blurb as a way to highlight the political pressure that he was facing, which put me under much heavier scrutiny than I desired for myself. To be honest, I have found the scrutiny one receives for one’s writing to be intense and often unpleasant, but being under compulsion it has not stopped me from writing even if it has made me rather anxious and concerned about the reception that my writings will get.
Sometimes that anxiety does no good, however. Some months ago, in a time of great personal stress, I wrote a letter seeking clarification about where someone else stood in the matter, and seeking to make my own position (as delicate as it was) more plain. The letter did not serve its intended purpose in any sense of the word. Rather than clearing things up, it muddied them a fair bit and made them far worse. Worse yet, being on paper, it spread to an alarming sort of audience and made my life very complicated. The spread of its contents, and the implications of those contents, continues to haunt my life and make it vastly more complicated. In retrospect, it would have been far wiser not to have written anything at all, not to have exposed myself to the ridicule of others in such a fashion, or to have made myself such an object of worthy and serious concern to others.
It is not easy for other people to judge our intentions very well. Our motives and intents of the heart are usually well-hidden, known only by God, and sometimes we hide them so well we do not recognize our own mixture of intents and purposes in a particular action. There are times when our only self-defense is silence (lyrics paraphrased from another one of my favorite songs), and given that silence does not come naturally at all, this means that in some situations I tend not to have any good defense because I am condemned by the words that have proceeded from my own mouth or pen. No doubt this is true for anyone who is creative, having to face the fact that one’s creations tell on ourselves . If we are people of integrity we must accept the responsibility that comes from this, even if we don’t like it very much.