messages lie in words …. But it’s metamessages that have clout, because they stir emotions, and emotions are the currency of relationships.
So said Deborah Tannen on page 10 of I only say this because I love you (2001).
Tannen wrote “those closest to us have front-row seats to view our faults” yet they also have the proximity to our attributes, gifts but we perpetuate a culture that does not appreciate as much as it deprecates.
A decade ago, I remember how bringing an assets based approach was a welcome salve in the nonprofit/civic sector rather than the continued fixation with being motivated by what was missing or lacking in a place and wanting to be the problem solvers by confronting those things that were missing. But a few workshops in a year full of meetings results in a low concentration. And that short lived attempt to embrace what a place had was challenging to sustain when being critical is easy and familiar and a way that we have been told to treat one another in school, at work, in public spaces, and at home.
Now, I have made it a fixture of naming appreciations for the people i am with on a daily basis, at the end of most of the webinars that I design. And still it is difficult for people to begin with what they like.
Tannen elaborated no messages and metamessages by saying:
message: the meaning of the words and sentences spoken, what anyone with a dictionary and a grammar book could figure out.
metamessage: “the meaning that is not said, what we glean from every aspect of context: the way something is said, who is saying it, or that fact that it is said at all.
Or using another metaphor that “message is the word meaning while metamessage is the heart meaning.” Tanner elaborated by saying how metamessages are implicit and difficult to pinpoint as they are about relationships. Her early suggestion is to distinguish metamessage from message and one way of doing so is metacommunicating or talking about communication, which I suppose is using words to describe the implicit heart emotions.
My answer in the form of a question: what is the ocean?
The ocean was the setting for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The ocean was the bridge to colonize the Americas.
The ocean is the medium for global capitalism.
These were the epiphanies in a conversation with a handful of other people of color earlier this week as I had not thought of the ocean’s role and distinction in these forces with global spread.
Today as I drove along the highway, I did see a whale repeatedly breaching and splashing about off of the coastline. Looking out at the blue expanse, I wondered what humans would need to recognize the enormity of the ocean and settle into the dominating presence that the ocean has over the continents. The ocean hegemony is not how it is perceived by humankind as we are self-focused though there are so many facets beyond comprehension, never mind the depths that are beyond cognition.
The ocean hegemony as the water gave life to all life, the lands arose from the ice and water and the life depends on the cycle f precipitation that depends on the evaporation of all that water out there.
The ocean hegemony is so all-powerful that humans do not register the supreme spot that the ocean holds as infinitum. We are partial to life on land as it is what we know, what we know better, and essentially all that we know even with the limited knowing of ocean matters.
Even in COVID times, the act of checking out a library book is delightful. We could not go inside the local branch. Instead I wrote a few authors and titles on the back of scrap paper that I handed to the librarian as one child walked through the grass and another rode a bicycle back and forth. We waited on the personalized attention as the librarian walked through the stacks pulling the books that we listed. And I saw one more sitting on top of the shelves nearest the door and asked if we could have that cat going cross country (skiing?), too.
Library books and lending are endless gifts of infinite curiosity. For a few years, I have searched for “publisher: Enchanted Lion” and a few series like Mercy Watson [“the porcine wonder”] by Kate DiCamillo, Dodswortb and Duck by Tim Egan, King and Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler and the Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem. I’ve read multiple books (approximately 24 different titles) by these four authors more than 200 in the last three years.
Yesterday’s haul included a few Mercy Watson stories along with books on whales, other marine life and volcanos. It was most special because they were the first library books that we checked out in three months — the longest stretch of not borrowing books in five years.
Now we are back at it in a new library system with no limit on the number of books that we can borrow. But a system that does have late fees, so hopefully I will be more diligent about returning borrowed materials back on time. Better than I was 15 and 20 years ago, when I’d incur late fees but it was paying $.10 a day per book to the libraries and though I never saw the budgets of the library, I never had remorse about paying fees that paid for such a renowned institution.
As I lay down for a second round of snuggles before bedtime, the five year old said:
“Poppa, I have always wanted you to be my roommate.”
I replied by smiling in the dark. I basked in the glow of this sentence as I looked out the window at the silhouette of the trees in the twilight. Then I said:
“I will always have your back. I will always love you even when I’m frustrated, sad, or angry. I will never leave you. You will live with Momma and me until your an adult and you decide where you want to live.”
It was a dignifying for me. I’m moved by the always of five years because these five years have been so enormous and consequential and so quick. And that some facets from a few months ago have been long forgotten. So always is so long.
And, it was a statement of right now. At times, she has the ability to recall some detail or moment or specific from months ago that has not been named and she can bring it up and remember some thing that I forgot. And throughout the day, a five year old can offer immediate feedback about how things are in any exact moment. And that’s what being told that I’m a roommate who has been wanted forever feels like some special love as a father finding my way in these unknowns.
Writing prompt for soon: What is significant about the violence that didn’t happen but we’d been anticipating between 1/6 and 1/20? How were we feeling and managing expectations of what could or might happen?
In the presence of such gifts, gratitude is the intuitive first response. The gratitude flows toward our plant elders and radiates to the rain, to the sunshine, to the improbability of bushes spangled with morsels of sweetness in a world that can be bitter.
Gratitude is so much more than a polite thank you. It is the thread that connects us in a deep relationship, simultaneously physical and spiritual, as our bodies are fed and spirits nourished by the sense of belonging, which is the most vital of foods. Gratitude creates a sense of abundance, the knowing that you have what you need.
Gratitude and abundance get mentioned often though they can mean many different things to different people, which isn’t inherently a problem. It is problematic when a term is so frequently used but not conveying the enormity of what it is meant to express.
We have been told over the last decade or two that having abundance and a change in outlook can change everything. More than having it we are supposed to be abundant. But the trick is to not trick ourselves into saying things that we don’t actually abide by.
And gratitude is an edict we cite though we rarely experience it. Awash in the trends of heightened competitive sensitivity and more economic and social precarity, it is challenging to feel levity.
In recent days, I have been unraveling more of my beliefs about anger. Two days ago: got-headed was a euphemism for violent. Yesterday: my father could not express rage in his home or in public spaces because it was not safe. Today: it is preferable to process anger and resolve anger alone away from others.
As I child, I did not allow myself to feel or express anger or at least that is not what I perceived and understood my feelings as. I opted for sadness rather than anger. I did not trust anger to not be violent or vengeful or lash out at others. Any of those reactions seemed worse than a feeling alone so I didn’t want to experience a feeling that was oriented towards others. Sadness oriented me inside and quieted me so i did not divulge with others.
Isolating anger is curious for me as I wonder if I don’t trust anger as a constructive way of being with others.
Now I experience anger and oftentimes find myself saying words that are lashing out, seeking someone to land on. It still feels untrustworthy and inaccurate. And I don’t know how genuinely what I say demonstrates what I’m feeling. The words that come out in my angry outbursts seem like distractions rather than insightful.
Sadness takes me away from my words and keeps me inside some feelings and many thoughts. I may run through sentences in my heart and head but I’m not trying to persuade or explain to others what feels messy or conflicted or shitty when I’m sad.
It isn’t exact or precise or best. It’s simply where I’m at with my aging relationships with both anger and sadness.
In 1975, Ursula K. Le Guin named the pitiful norms and dominance of othering, blind cultural superiority of men writing science fiction books in an essay called American SF and The Other (pages 93-96 in The Language of the Night).
It’s amazing how pervasive and entrenched this white male complex is:
In general, American SF has asssunmee a permanent hierarchy of superiors and inferiors, with rich, ambitious, aggressive males at the top, then a great gap, and then at the bottom the poor, the uneducated, the faceless masses, and all the women.
Such notions of self and character development enable rape, belittling, disgust, and false senses of supremacy.
If you deny any affinity with another person or kind of person, if you declare it to be wholly different from yourself—as men have done to women, and class has done to class, and nation has done to nation—you may hate or deity it; but in either case you have denied it’s spiritual equality and its human reality. You have made it into a thing, to which the only possible relationship is a power relationship. And this you have fatally impoverished your own reality. You have, in fact, alienated yourself.
These last two sentences are intriguing because they distill what happens when men orient by wanting or having power over. It is a position to prohibits us from getting reciprocity or being able to benefit from learning, and prohibits us from being able to benefit from the experience, wisdom or wealth of others since the experiences and knowledge and resources of others are not seen or seen as only serving some pre-conceived idea of how others will be KF service.