The last two weeks have been rough. Policing in the aftermath of the murders in Moncton has been challenging, but we’re keeping on as best we can. There has been an out-pouring of public support, which makes the burdens a little easier to bear, and I’ve found myself getting emotional at work. One comment, made by an elderly man who happened to be passing me on a rainy sidewalk while I was working on something, almost brought me to tears.
He asked me, “Well, Laddie, you got your head above water?”
I said, “Yes, sir, I’m trying.”
He touched me on the shoulder as he passed, just the lightest brush of his gnarled fingers. “Glad to hear it, son. You make me proud.”
I’m not entirely certain what he was referring to, but it didn’t matter.
I’ve always taken my work life seriously, but after Moncton I’m just a little more cautious than I was before. I am still courteous, and do my best to be patient, but I find myself giving people just a little less space, being a little more abrupt in my responses.
I had an incident at work this week, that saw a man try very enthusiastically to do harm to me and one of my constables. We came out on top, but if I’d been a little less quick, or a little less decisive, we would have probably gotten very seriously hurt, or worse. By the end of the incident I was badly out of breath and had a deep lactic burn in all of my major muscle groups, and I said to myself, as I say at the end of every confrontation that leaves me sucking wind, “I need to train harder.”
I very rarely miss a workout, but they are often approached with varying levels of enthusiasm, and I am not above taking the easy way out (“I don’t need to do squats today”, or “Wind-sprints are for crazy people”). So, I re-evaluated my training program and made a few fiery adjustments.
Yesterday, after hammering through a workout so hard I had serious difficulty lifting my arms, I was walking on the treadmill and browsing through Youtube, trying to find some new songs to add to my gym playlist. I came across a song by a band called Skillet, and you can listen to it here.
While listening to the band, I had a strange, powerful, visceral reaction. The song struck something in me, way down in the center of my chest, like a plucked guitar string. I don’t know if I was over-emotional because of the year I’ve had (the passing of my father, etc), the events of the past few weeks, or the idea that I could have been killed on the side of the road in Whalley at five o’clock in the morning, but I was a flooded with over-powering emotion.
The song made me think about a lot of things. It made me think about how much I miss my Dad. It made me think about my wife, and how she has stuck to me without wavering through the plethora of shit we’ve had thrown at us. It made me think about my friends and my coworkers (who are, in many cases, one and the same), and how we’ve banded together to face the storms that always keep swirling around us. As the song hammered through my earphones I didn’t know if I should shout, or cry, or maybe throw shit and yell at inanimate objects. My reaction to it was so strong that I had to sit on a mat in the corner of the gym and calm down for a little while.
As I sat, I felt like there was a story in the song and if I could lay my finger upon it, then perhaps I could get a hold of myself. I sat there for twenty minutes or so, pretending to stretch, and finally gave up and went home.
Later that afternoon, I pounced on my wife the moment she walked through the door and made her sit down and listen to the song that had so deeply affected me. She is used to me doing these kinds of things, and so sat patiently, and listened to it beginning to end. When it was over, and I was raving about how awesome it was, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “yeah, it’s okay.”
This, obviously, was not the reaction I had expected.
Whatever the story in the song was, it certainly was not speaking to my wife. As much as I wanted to point at her and say she was wrong, that would be a huge fallacy. She wasn’t wrong, she just didn’t hear what I did.
This got me thinking to how subjective stories in general are, whether it be a written work or the story in a song. I’ve had some fantastic reactions to my work from people who have read it, and others kinda shrug their shoulders and say “it could use some work.” My publisher thinks I rock (otherwise they’d not have printed my schlock), but I sent the same story to thirty other people, all of whom sent me form letters or cut/paste emails that contained different variations of, “Dear author, please piss off.”
Does a negative reaction to my story make someone wrong? My initial opinion, while I’m in the throes of self-pity at being rejected, is certainly to say they are, but the truth is that they just didn’t feel it the way I hoped they would.
Stories – songs, novels, poetry, spoken word – is all about emotion; you have to evoke emotion in your reader. Sometimes you’re going to pluck that right chord, like the band Skillet did when I listened to their song and wanted to cry, and sometimes you’re going to miss and get nothing but a bunch of noise.
If you can get your reader to experience a fraction of the emotion I did while listening to that song, then you will be doing very well, I think. But what’s more important, your reader will be doing well, too.
As always, thanks for reading.