One of the wonderful things about words is that they leave a little something to the imagination – even the words black and white are not black and white, as you know if you have ever shopped for black fabric or white paint.
I love to knit, crochet, and spin, and spend a good deal of time either doing one of those things, or writing about doing one of those things, so I tend to interpret most words in the way that they relate to my craft. But of course, others who do not do what I do, do not always interpret the same words the same way.
I became aware of this phenomenon some years ago at my then local watering hole. The bartender, a man named Liam, often whiled away the afternoons doing the newspaper crossword puzzles – in ink. One evening he was carrying on about what had to be an error in the puzzle. The clue was “historical sewer”; the answer had only four letters. Even though he had two of those four letters filled in, it didn’t make sense to him. A sewer was what used water went into, wasn’t it? The only word he could think of for historical sewer was aqueduct – and that had a hell of a lot more letters than four. After listening to him carry on for a bit I asked him to hand me the paper and the pen, and I wrote in R-O-S-S. Historical sewer as in “one who sews” – Betsy Ross. He didn’t carry on much less after I gave him the answer – he still thought it was a pretty stupid clue. And I did comment that in the entertainment industry, those who sewed costumes were called stitchers to avoid that very confusion.
Fast forward a few years to an online forum. It was for magazine writers, and I had noticed that its denizens were incredibly helpful about sharing information with one another. I was so new to writing professionally that I didn’t have much to offer, but jumped at the chance when I could. So one afternoon someone posted in inquiry looking for sources on fiber, I was the first to leap into the fray to offer help – what kind of fiber was she talking about? Crochet, knitting, spinning, plant fiber or animal? Quilters, stitchers, farmers of fiber animals? I had an endless list of possible sources for her! Turns out she was writing on dietary fiber – I was thinking merino, she was thinking broccoli. She did thank me for offering to help, though.
Last week it happened again. I was driving my daughter home from dance class when a billboard caught my eye. The photo was of a gray-haired woman, and the headline was something along the lines of “I bet you didn’t know that Grandma had a stash.” “Well of course she has a stash”, I thought, stash being what knitters and crocheters call the yarn stuffed into their closets for future work. “She isn’t going to run to the yarn store every time she wants to start a new project. I bet at her age it’s a pretty great stash at that. But why are we talking about this on a billboard?” Turns out there were some pill bottles in the photo in front of Grandma, and the billboard’s sponsors were warning about prescription drug abuse among the elderly. Whoops – I missed the point entirely the first few times I drove by.
We are often told when judging information to consider the source. I am here to tell you that when we are imparting information, we need to consider the recipient as well. Now, if you will excuse me, I am heading off to spend some quality time with my stash.
About Mary Beth
Causes Mary Beth Temple Supports
Project Linus, Habitat for Humanity, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids