Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dangling Participles and Empty Promises

Her e-mail came out of the blue, and cut straight to the point.  “You did become a writer” it said…and that was it. After fifty years it was one line and then she signed her name and said she wanted to be ‘friends’ on Facebook. Rather curious, I thought. My interest was piqued. Yet it never turned out the way I thought it would.

To this day, I still don’t know why.

But that brief exchange several years ago did get me to thinking about other folks who have somehow given me one impression then failed to follow-through or delivered something entirely different.

Case in point:

A skipper I met once had a habit of recruiting crewmembers for his sailboat on Lake Superior.  When we first met and he asked if I would be interested in ‘crewing’ for him, I was thrilled at the thought of sailing Gitche Gumee.  He promised to call but he never did. When I met him a second time he asked the same question and again I responded in kind.

It was only after I commented on our meeting to a mutual friend that I was laughed at and told that ‘the skipper’ had a habit of recruiting anytime he met someone new.  He had never once followed through with his promise of taking new recruits on the high seas. Turns out it was just a social crutch he used to spice up his conversation instead of contributing something of substance.

Then there was the fellow I worked with on a local cable program.  This city employee was bright, gregarious and could spin a tale and talk-the-talk on a moment’s notice. He was a delight to work with and always came through when taping a cable program featuring various city departments.

The problem was his total inability to ever follow through on anything and everything he promised to do.  His word meant less than nothing. He couldn’t be depended on tie his own shoes even if he promised to do so.

I came to appreciate his talent as a cable program host and understood that it came right along with his lack of follow-through.  Those were his two intrinsic characteristics that I had to deal with whenever we worked together.

Another case in point was an occasional visitor of ours to Palm Springs.  She loved the area and was always talking about purchasing a condo there. We would often check out ‘open houses’ on the way back to the airport. She talked and talked but never once seriously made an offer to buy here.

I came to realize it was just part of her routine dialogue and she never meant a word of it.  The sad thing is that I don’t think she even realized what she was saying. It was like a farmer at the coffee shop complaining about commodity prices…something they do without even thinking.

Several folks in Palm Springs have a routine greeting for us upon our return to the desert.  “We must get together for lunch sometime soon” they all exclaim. But it never happens. I’ve come to accept that it’s just an evasive comment that has become a habit on their part. In much the same manner of meeting someone new at a party and declaring an interest in getting together soon… even though you both know it will never happen.

I am fascinated by some people’s inability or unwillingness to keep their word or simply follow-through on promises made.  We sometimes see false bravado in young men or small children. It’s part of their growing into adulthood. How is it that some adults haven’t been able to shake off that habit of somehow believing what they say to be true when we (and I suspect they) know it isn’t so? It turns out that speaking one’s mind and meaning it are not always intrinsically connected with the truth.

And as for that first cryptic message from an old friend, I was never able to decipher her true intent.

Her message had come at a most opportune time since I was in the midst of writing my first novel “Love in the A Shau.”  (First edition).  Turns out that she, along with several other women, were my avatars for the female protagonist in that novel. I thought her initial message might be an opportunity to get her perspective on that period in our lives and hopefully more research material for my book. It didn’t turn out quite that way.

I sent her a long letter outlining the background of my story, the characters I was developing, and my enthusiasm for the project and requested her input on the project.  Then I awaited her feedback.

Her response a few weeks later was simply a two-line e-mail, which read something to the effect: ‘I am back in town now.  I got your letter and photos. Thanks.’

While I wasn’t expecting a long dissertation on my project, I had hoped for more than her cursory response.  A friend of mine explained it best. He said: “What you sent her was ‘an invitation to respond’ and what you got…was her response.”

My interpersonal radar has gotten much better over time.  I’m more adept at detecting false bravado and bull…oney from my fellow man. The other sex is something entirely different. I would be remiss if I said I understood why some folks say what they do and then act entirely different. If there is a message hidden among their semantics, I am missing it entirely.

So I guess I’ll just continue to plod along making friends where I can and hope that what they tell me in the course of normal conversation has some basis in truth and we can go on from there.

I like to think of it as being open and honest…or at least my version of that reality.

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