Ode on an Audible Audience

Considering one’s audience is an essential part of the writing process. I have spoken of voices guiding me during the writing process. These voices have evolved through my childhood; these voices are not the voices which Norman was taught when he was little. On the one hand, they are part of my construction of audience, and on the other hand, they are the demons and the damned in the hell of my soul: the tormentor and the tormented. (Oh, don’t go calling the archdiocese for an exorcism, or my shrink for an extra heaping helping of Olanzapine, it hasn’t come to either of those extremes, I’m sure I have at least twenty years before that time bomb explodes). Just as the tortured cannot be tortured without a torturer, writing cannot be writing without a reader. (I’m pretty sure writing and torture are the same thing but now I’m preceding myself). Until someone reads what was written, the words are merely momentary insinuations against blissful non-meaning. Writing requires the reception of an audience in order for it to be writing. But when it comes to reception, the devil is in the details, and he bowls a wicked googly. Although I am doing my best to get down there, way down there to the very bottom of everything of lake Schizophrenia (where the silt deposits and the mucky mud, not to mention the ooze whose color and scent defy description, sleep), it is, like everything in this universe, often an exercise in futility, but one which a person like myself, who suffers from mild paranoia, performs every single day of his life ad nauseum. So, despite the muck and the mud, I spend a great deal of time imagining what other people would say in a given circumstance.

This is what my mind does in the first five seconds of the average holiday gathering and why I’m usually an hour late:

Don’t ask him anything personal, because his left lip twinges sadness when he’s forced to smile. If you ask him about how things are going, you are bound to get an answer you don’t want. He never holds back when asked directly, but will suffer silently. Let sleeping dogs lie by omission.
Don’t ask what she’s drinking, she’s clearly past her fifth glass of wine, and will most likely take it as an insinuation about overindulging. Remember what happened with She number three?
How could I forget, and we were asking for a sip.
Same thing.
True True.
Make merry, but not too merry: you know what people will think. Don’t be merriness. Be quasi merriness. A hint. A suggestion. A glimpse of glimmer in the cosmos of chaos.
Compliment him on his shoes, but not in front of him number two, because the shoes of him number two lack luster and you wouldn’t want to offend- you know how he gets.
Everything in moderation, says the moderator of mind, who is neither moderate, nor unreasonable and neither forgives nor forgets. The grinch of the grimace; the glaucous sun rose of the morose moon flower. Do I dare eat a peach? Why not, it’s Christmas.

At first, I cultivated these voices out of necessity, to shield (what was at the time) my too easily bruised ego. In my youth, I disliked speaking with people. I found that such encounters would lead only to my own embarrassment and to the confusion of all parties. I was quick of thought, but slow of speech. As a child, I suffered from several communication disorders (stuttering, stammering, a lisp, dysnomia, dyslexia), all of which grew more pronounced under stress. In an attempt to defend myself during such encounters, I would prepare myself by imagining the things I needed to say before I needed to say them. I would imagine what the other person would say and prepare accordingly. The problem was, I seldom, if ever, had the courage or the chance to say the things I wanted to say in the way that I wanted to say them, but in the rare case that I did, nothing would go the way I thought it would.

Fortunately, that did not stop me from rehearsing those things. I realized that what I thought someone’s reaction would be and what someone’s reaction actually was were often two different things. Two terribly different things. So by the time I got into my second response, I was already far adrift from my original course. So I adjusted. Like a good computer program, I was able to take those experiences and draw more hypotheticals. Reconsider which variables were essential in the situation, and which variables, as trivial as they might seem, were likely to sneak their way into the conversation. I also learned how to shift the currents of conversation to the seas where my point-of-view would most safely sail into the harbor of acceptance.

This is, of course, devious; this is underhanded; this is manipulative ––but, this is the work of a writer. How will you warm cockles of a heart, if you don’t know what warms them? How can you shock, if you don’t know what shocks? How can you offend, if you don’t know what offends? How can you know? How? Of course, getting to this point takes a lot of practice. First you steer your scow, then your sharpie. You work your way up to your yawl and your yacht. People have many more moving parts than sailboats and the winds that move their passions are often far more fickle. If you want to understand audience, you need to understand people. Start with one, then two, then three, so on and so on. You’ll figure it out.

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1 Comment »

  • Horatio Alger says:

    The only way to achieve something is by working hard and telling the truth. Developing a sense of audience is no different.


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