Meditation on Communication


My dad was an excellent communicator — to me, anyway. One example? He was very worried about my mom’s repressed attitude toward sex and didn’t want me to grow up with it. He started hiding Kraft Caramels in his sock drawer (top drawer). I, of course, discovered this stash and would sneak some. Then he started hiding some of the racier novels in there — Fanny Hill, The Carpetbaggers, Moll Flanders for example. I got that message. “MAK, read these.”

I think we need to know someone very very very well to communicate with them that clearly.

I’ve been thinking lately how difficult communication actually is. We hear or read each other with all kinds of stuff between us and the “speaker” and some of that depends on how we feel at that particular moment and the general impression we have of the speaker/writer. I think we are inescapably in a giant echo chamber all the time which, at various levels, reflects ourselves back at us. And we call that echo “another person.” In my case, the less open and forthright the person is in general, the more likely I am to interpret their communication. The people I like most are the most open, but even then another person’s openness is partly my subjective impression.

And us? We change all the time. Our moods, impressions, experiences, health — wow.

Animals? Bear didn’t want her breakfast this morning. How do I know? She didn’t eat it. That is incredibly clear communication, what ISN’T clear is why. There are so many ways to look at that, so many conclusions to which I could leap, but I know my dog and sometimes that’s what she does. She might want it in a couple of hours. She might not. She might eat it for supper. I won’t know why without taking her to an animal interpreter (vet). My experience with dogs tells me that sometimes dogs just aren’t hungry, and I start with that.

I try to be as clear with life as my dogs are, but it’s impossible. When my hip started hurting I was terrified. Why? Previous experience. The pain and fear borne of experience spread a nearly impenetrable cloud between me and other possibilities. It led me to think about joint replacements and how I felt when the prosthesis in that hip was “installed.” I remembered a phone conversation with the surgeon when I was driving to school one morning. “And I’ll be able to run after this?”

“Oh yeah. You will.” Well, I wasn’t… It wasn’t the surgeon’s fault.

I realize now that the doctor who would do the hip resurfacing was selling his services as much as reassuring me. He was selling youth and he told me what I wanted to hear. Other surgeons had said, “Well, you’ll be able to garden,” and they were trying to talk me out of hip resurfacing and persuade me to have a total hip replacement. I don’t regret what I chose. It’s been far far far more like a natural hip than the total hip replacement on my left hip. And, if I am going to have a new one, it will be far easier than replacing a total hip replacement.

Looking at the possibility of having that prosthesis (15 years old) removed (that can’t be easy) and replaced, I saw that far more clearly than I did 15 years ago when I was 54 11/12ths. For one thing, joint replacement is a big business now with all us baby-boomers falling apart and unwilling to grow old. Youth is one of the marketing tools. There is fine print, though, the whisper, that says, “Be gentle with this thing if you want it to last.”

Anyway, I’m getting X-rays next week. I need information that is beyond interpretation. That’s what we really want with communication. When I see the pictures, I will know.

Words have meanings, but the meaning they have for the speaker/writer might not be what we “hear.” They might be what we want to hear while reality is shouting at us loud and clear, ‘Hey sweet cheeks!’

Still, Yeats was right,

But O, sick children of the world, 
Of all the many changing things 
In dreary dancing past us whirled, 
To the cracked tune that Chronos sings, 
Words alone are certain good. 
Where are now the warring kings, 
Word be-mockers? — By the Rood
Where are now the warring kings? 
An idle word is now their glory, 
By the stammering schoolboy said, 
Reading some entangled story: Whole poem here…

But so was Caliban… “You taught me language; and my profit on ‘t 
Is, I know how to curse: the red plague rid you, 
For learning me your language.”

– William Shakespeare The Tempest

P.S. Bear finally ate her breakfast…

25 thoughts on “Meditation on Communication

  1. This post evokes lots of hope — hope that Bear is ok (I’m glad to see that she has eaten her breakfast) — hope that pictures will be more clear than words and your hip will not need further attention at this time — and, most of all, hope that others hear our words as we intended them (something that I am struggling with at the moment).

    • I hope the same, Janet. My hip is a LOT better than it was, but it’s still not right.

      I’ve accepted that there are people who will remain ciphers to me and others who will never see/hear me; their minds are made up. Also, that most people, in order to be accepted by others, will conceal things. It’s almost like that old Billy Joel song, “The Stranger.” I guess we can only keep trying… ❤️

  2. The clarity of communication is all important. Sometimes it is easier to communicate with our dogs, even though they speak another language, than it is to communicate with some humans who share our language. Ophelia said to tell Bear there are some days where she hopes for something different for breakfast, so she skips it until she realizes nothing like a caramel is coming along.

    • “🐾💕🍔🍪!!!!” (for Ophelia from Bear)

      I think I’m better at “dog” than at “human.” That said, Bear and Teddy seem to understand complete sentences at this point. I’m sure Ophelia does, too.” Right now I’m having to tell them way too often, “We can’t take a walk, guys. I’m at LEAST as sorry as you are.”

      I think sometimes I surprise people by what I say. I’ve learned since moving here that people expect certain elements in a conversation. At the recent tea party there was chat for 40 minutes before anyone said anything of any meaning to them (or me). I get it. What’s being communicated is like wolves telling each other, “I’m not going to attack you. I’m predictable and from the same pack.”

      • I am sure they are disappointed, but I think dogs realize when things are not quite right and can be understanding.

        Interesting how sometimes conversations start with small talk until a certain comfort level is reached.

  3. My wife goes in for her 2nd knee replacement on Sept.30. I’ll probably follow with my first knee replacement within a year.

    I remember 30 years ago when I tore the meniscus in my knee that when I asked the surgeon if I’d be able to run and climb rocks again soon. He said, “Oh sure! Within a few weeks.”. I was never able to run or go rock climbing or even hike a long downhill grade without serious pain and it never really recovered. (I did got good at putting up with pain and swelling in my knee.) At least it was better than before the surgery Giving me unrealistic expectations made me feel good in the moment but hurt in the long term.. It will be the first knee I replace.

    There is a powerful incentive to tell other people what they want to hear rather than a painful reality.

    • The incentive is $$$$. I was told that the resurfacing might need revision in 15 years but no one really knew because none of the people who’d had that surgery had had it very long.

      I tore my ACL in 1992. It healed (no surgery because no insurance). It did pretty well and I ran on it for a decade longer. It still does pretty well, but that leg is bowed because of the displacement of my femur and tibia. I have been told I need both knees replaced, but I figure if they don’t hurt (they don’t) and I’m doing OK, it’s not happening.

      With my hip surgery in 2018 they had a hard time bringing me up out of anesthesia. I think some little part of me had said, “Fuck this shit.” I needed oxygen for almost 2 weeks after. I kept “trying” to die.

      It’s not the party they like to make it out to be.

      • Money is important… but I think there’s a lot more . I have really good medical with Kaiser (wife is a former nurse there) and anything they do is essentially free to me. Kaiser has an interest in keeping their costs low.

        Even without the $$$$ incentive, doctors are humans too. Many of them have a great deal of ego and will tell you the best possible outcome as the most likely outcome because they believe in their superiority.

        There’s also a desire to minimize negativity on the part of the patient. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news or even less than optimal news. They want the patient to be happy even if “somewhat less than perfect but better than it is” is the realistic way to look at something.

        An unhappy patient makes the doctor less than happy and doctors have a higher than average rate of depression, Probably from all the unhappy news they have to deliver and all the unhappy outcomes they have to cope with. Unrealistic optimism may be a reaction to that.

        • I don’t know. I think money and building a reputation are two big incentives — from our point of view orthopedic surgeons are healers (and they are) but I saw the factory floor where my last hip surgery was done. Very very very interesting Star Trekky place. And I learned that my doc would do 8 hip replacements that day. I was the first.

          My perspective was one thing; his was another. When I look at the websites for a doc who might understand the rare prosthesis in my right hip I’ve seen a LOT of straight up marketing. That didn’t exist back in 2004 because “we” (this immense generation) wasn’t in the marketplace (yet). There is a LOT of competition. My doc in 2004 was trying to build up the little hospital in Mt. Shasta as a location for joint replacement. I don’t know if that happened or not. I’m glad I went there and got what I got. It was absolutely the best place for me to be, inaccessible as it was at the time (still?) Who wouldn’t get better with Mt. Shasta outside their hospital room window? The day after my surgery was my birthday and I was feted with champagne, balloons and presents. It was awesome. Several of his operations went south later, though, mostly because he was willing to try it on higher risk patients — older people. There’s an age cut off for it for a good reason. The next year I was invited to come back and star in a promotional video. I only paid $3000 for that surgery; my insurance (thanks State of CA) paid the rest.

          It’s all OK with me. I’m jaded enough to know that the main reward is no pain, continued mobility and independence. I also know now how much that means; pretty much everything to me. I didn’t understand that when I was 54. I thought running was the whole world. ❤️

  4. I have often (only half-jokingly) said that my field is English-to-English translation. Many people just can’t hear each other. I frequently rephrase other peoples’ words so the intended audience can understand. I have one person that I can’t hear. I swear that person uses language as only an approximation of meaning.

    • I like people who use language for entertainment or to say something. The phenomenon of small-talk as a way to oil the gears of neutral and sanitized social interaction is really weird for me; it’s not meant to say anything. I have a sense of humor that most people around me here don’t get. It’s very off-putting for them because then they feel stupid or think I’m bizarre — neither of which is a result I want. Consequently, I’m pretty unpopular here in the back of beyond. Luddites? 😉 I don’t think so. Just different from me… Like a neighbor was going to give my friend either some cow manure or horse manure and I said, “So he’s a politician?” sigh….

  5. The talk around here (over 55 community) often starts off with joint replacements and who just had one or advice for those who are planning one. My sister is home recovering from a total (right) hip replacement and was told she would be back driving in a month. I think they told her what she wanted to hear. I agree, it’s most often about the money. The baby boomers are lined up for new joints in numbers not seen before. I know it’s cynical, but it’s a business and the insurance companies are running it. I hope you get the data/answers you need to make the best decision for your hip. I’m a big fan of multiple opinions and multiple questions about such things which drives doctors crazy…but…oh well! I am very grateful my joints are okay for now.
    Communication can be extremely difficult – at least it feels that way. Maybe it’s because as I get older I have less patience (& energy) to wade through that often tedious small talk. And then there are people who I need to “translate” what they are “really saying” first. I am quite good at it and have my mother to thank for developing that skill. Your dad leaving you the books – what a hoot. My favorite friends are the ones I know will be direct, yet kind. Don’t need to second guess them!

    • She will be driving in a month if it’s her left hip, she drives an automatic, and she’s off the narcotics. I just think about how much medical school must have cost those guys. I don’t mind the money since I’m not paying it (having already paid it, ha ha) and it’s true; the insurance companies ARE running it. y

      Oh what people are really saying? That’s so hard. I have to go home and think about it then it’ll hit me. Sometimes MONTHS or YEARS later like when my neighbor said, “You don’t talk about the same things other people. Do.” Well, I guess not. But really, who would say that?? 🤪🤣

      • It’s her right hip unfortunately. So it may be more of a challenge.
        Oh, yes, what are they REALLY saying? And it does sometimes take a LONG time to decipher some stuff. The hardest time for me is when I have to translate in real time. 😜

        • Six weeks until I could drive (when I had surgery on my right leg). But it was not the same exact procedure. The challenge is the restrictions on how much you can bend your leg for the first six weeks, and that can put a damper on the driving. It’s an amazing procedure, though, as long as the person does all the rehab conscientiously and the pre-hab. Minimally invasive hip replacement is an awesome procedure. If that’s what she’s having, it’s a 4 inch incision. It does heal pretty quickly. Graphic photos on this post but that might be useful, too. ❤️

          Here’s the run down: https://marthakennedy.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/are-you-thinking-of-having-a-hip-replacement/

          • She had it done a month ago, was in a rehab place for 2 weeks and still needs a walker. Unfortunately she is also quite overweight which may slow down progress. Thanks for the link and info! ❤️

            • Wow. I wish her the best. ❤️ Needing a walker after two weeks is pretty normal. They don’t do much significant rehab until the 3rd or 4th week, when people start feeling better, and no serious PT until six weeks.

  6. Communication – to clarify or obfuscate – it can go either way and we are left to puzzle it out. Some folks are just better at breaking the cipher. I can observe a rat and can catch many of the signals – we communicate well, same with cats and most dogs… and mice of course. They are much simpler communicators compared to people. Most animals don’t have “hidden” agendas!!

  7. MAK,…This is saved in my notes. This is one of my favorite pieces (it’s so HARD to choose). My head was nodding-my heart was too (heart nods?). Thank you for your openness. That was one of the first things that made me want to follow you (and so many other reasons). Finley stopped eating at her “normal” times. Hee breakfast/lunch/dinner are now scarfed down at nearly bedtime. She snuggles so close to me that I can barely separate us. She just knows. Life has been an adjustment for us both. Everything is open to interpretation. I’m wiser now. And a bit more skeptical, or AWARE, of miscommunication mingling with someone’s motivation. Whatever you choose, I hope you can literally say, “Hip hip hooray!” You deserve it! Much love from Finn and me. 💛💕❤️

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