Some Things I Never Thought I’d Say

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Recently I got an email that was supposed to be congratulating me on a good review, but the writer managed to make it clear that she personally had some reservations about my work.

Immediately I clicked reply and began typing a sarcastic response.

As I worded and reworded my indignant sentences, a thought appeared at the edges of my consciousness. Did I really want to start a fight?

Maybe … I should consult a third party for advice.

Maybe … I should take a deep breath.

Maybe … while I was taking that breath, the third party would write back saying what I already knew, that nobody else thought any of that stuff and there was no need to flail my tiny fists.

Maybe … that old advice about counting to ten.

Maybe … I wouldn’t send my reply at all.

And in fact, I did not. I left the message in the Drafts folder and within a day or two found I felt absolutely no need to reply to the email. All that steam had evaporated; I didn’t care.

I still can’t quite believe I didn’t send it! I am a person who has been living with the effects of her impatience and lack of impulse control since the day she couldn’t wait any longer for The Big Ones to change her diaper and took care of it herself. Impatience has made me efficient, timely and productive; it has also made me rude, half-baked, clumsy, irritable, impolitic, and a bull in the china shop of romance. The only good thing about how quick I am to flare up is how quick I am to get over it. Holding grudges requires far too much focus.

For people like me, and there are many of us, medicated and not, the instantaneousness of the Send button in email programs has been a serious problem. It has never been easier to cause trouble, start fights, flirt, blurt, spill the beans, send out messages with errors and typos, sign off with hugs and kisses to your contractor and the school principal. Humiliations large and small await at the click of a mouse. At least with drunk dialing you had to be drunk and you had to dial.

A friend in California called the other day to report her imminent death from embarrassment — called mortification for a reason — because she had accidentally pressed Reply All to a mass email from a friend about his art opening with a note she’d intended for just one person on the list. It said something along the lines of “if he can find someone to buy this crap, more power to him.”

Oh dear, oh dear. Time heals all wounds, but stop checking your watch because time does not hurry, and no matter how desperately we sometimes wish it were otherwise, it only goes in one direction. There are enough irreversible accidents and relentlessly unfolding losses without adding to the list. Prudence is something I never admired as a virtue but too many broken things can’t be fixed, too many messes can’t be cleaned up. From an unnecessary thin-skinned email to infinity.

The more time you spend with time, the more respect you have for it. Perhaps this why, in general, young people are more impatient than old people, though it’s the old ones whose meters are running out.

The longest five minutes I’ve ever experienced (like, say, in savasana at the end of the yoga class or the time I temporarily lost my kids in a grocery store) was not really all that long. All the times my head almost exploded while standing in a line or sitting at a meeting, and here my head still is, more or less intact. Sometimes it’s interesting to see what happens if you don’t do anything, if you just keep your mouth shut. I assume for many people this is a totally obvious cliche, but for me it’s breaking news.

I am very, very familiar with waiting as a form of torture. Now I wonder if it is also something else.

Perhaps I’ll sit back and find out.

Marion Winik

Marion Winik

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik writes Bohemian Rhapsody on the first Wednesday of the month. She is the author of "First Comes Love," and, forthcoming in fall 2018, "The Baltimore Book of the Dead." She is the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her monthly email at marionwinik.com.
Marion Winik


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27 COMMENTS

  1. Best line (besides the drunk dialing one):

    “The more time you spend with time, the more respect you have for it.”

    Lovely, Marion. Positively Heraclitean!

  2. I Love it and can totally relate; holding grudges requires FAR too much focus!!
    This is so brilliantly funny, Marion.

  3. Always great. I did something similar in the reply all…+ about a volunteer to him/her that was supposed to go only to my supervisor. My language both times were relatively genteel but still incredibly embarrassing. Also recently sent out a batch of cover letters w/CVs that were not proofed. Ugh.

  4. As a public service, may I please add: Down with “Reply All”!

    Except for excruciatingly rare cases, there is no reason to hit “Reply All.” It is one of the most egregious internet sins of the modern age.

    I especially love it when somebody sends out an announcement of congratulations or condolences about someone to 50 people, and those recipients feel the need to let everyone know how noble and sensitive they are by hitting “Reply All.” Aaargh. (You should be burying the addresses in the “Bcc” line anyway instead of piling them all into the “To” line.)

    And yes, I took time before I wrote this comment.

    • Thanks for introducing me to Roz Warren per your reply to her. You are right. She is great My endorphin level has been raised by reading her as it is when I read your stuff. Gary

  5. Oh. Lord. Save. Me. From. My. Own. Mouth. Marion, it’s good to know I’m not the only one. When even someone so obviously brilliant, wonderful, valuable, and interesting as you has this same pitfall, it feels like mine can be dealt with. Guess I’ll put off setting myself free in the woods to live my days out alone where I can’t hurt anyone for a few more days. Thank you. Really. Thank you.

  6. Patience is usually a virtue but don’t let those put you on holdniks completely off the hook, though that does veer into the things I can control territory.
    What great art has come out of impulsiveness? Let’s not get too analytical, go over and over? But what about the decisions made quickly result in the most happiness?
    Taking the time to be careful is worthwhile but sometimes….oh who knows. There’s just not enough time.

    • I had an argument with my sisters years ago and decided I would no longer communicate with them. My oldest sister I missed immediately and my younger sister soon after. Still feeling like an arse. Bollocks

    • okay san – you just reminded me on email that i used to be too impatient to have sex! you would tell me these stories of how you were in bed for three days and I would be like five minutes, okay, where’s my laptop? see – patience is SEXY!

  7. Marion, when I was about 13 or 14 I babysat for a little boy about a year old. He used to have to ask me, in perfectly clear English, to please change his diaper. His fingers couldn’t manage those safety pins. I wonder now if he remembers that and if he was embarrassed at the time. I am way too impulsive, but counting to 10 doesn’t do it. What sometimes happens is my ADD kicks in at just the right moment and I’m on to something else!

  8. Marion – your words resonate with me! Thank you for writing this lovely reflection. I shared it on FB.
    It took me years to learn the above relationship to time and patience. I inflicted my need to make my point, correct others’ thinking and stand up for what I think no matter the circumstances, on others for many years. I give maturity a lot of credit for my mellow-ness. I am much more at peace and much happier and I have more friends than i did when I had to “be right”. Of course, we stand up against injustice, of course we stand up for the marginalized – – but there are so many times when patience, kindness and a willingness to examine another person’s viewpoint will get us much further along the patch of mutual understanding – – and even maybe gently influence another persons thinking.

    • This really is a great explanation of what it means to “mellow.” Maybe that is what is happening to me. I look forward! xoxo to you zf

  9. Interesting comment: ” Sometimes it’s interesting to see what happens if you don’t do anything, if you just keep your mouth shut. I assume for many people this is a totally obvious cliche, but for me it’s breaking news.”

    I have experienced this many times. When there is quiet or patient presence, the Universe seems to solve the problems effortlessly better than our words might have.

  10. Marion –

    I just read your last four pieces in a row (bingeing, you might say), and either grinned hugely or laughed out loud for all of them.

    You’ve been one of my favorite writers for years now – sometimes I can’t help but share your work with my ex, even (and that’s sayin’ somethin’!).

    Michael

  11. I’ve come to find that the people who I admire the most, are those who are not quick to start a blitzkrieg style battle… people who choose honest and solid words after receiving an accusatory smack down. I admire them, although, I am not one of them… not naturally, anyway… but, I’m trying. It. is. not. easy. As passive as they seem, they are, to me, the strongest people, going. I have to say, that the rare occasions during my life when I did hold my tongue, when I DID let go (of course, this was after my mid-twenties and after art school where criticism follows EVERY word and action)… I still feel the riches (from my plight) and have regained some very special relationships. Good luck Marion and this is a fantastic column!

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