Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Writing What You Don't Understand

I've been putting off this press release for days. The researcher's asked me twice about where it is; I've given him vague, half-true responses about overwork and other releases and other deadlines. Here's what's whole-true: I've been putting off writing it because I don't understand it.

I write about high-level science at one of the top universities in the world. No, seriously. The world. I never really understand the science I write about, because it's the state of the art in its field; it's stuff that the scientists themselves are only just beginning to understand after spending their entire careers looking at this one small set of questions. If I could really, truly understand what I was writing about every time, I'd be...too smart. Not-real smart. Impossibly smart.

I am not that smart. I am not even close.

But that's not the kind of "don't understand" I mean here. For every ten releases I write, I am seriously, significantly in the dark on one or two. This time? I wish I could find my way through the vacuum of my complete not-understandingness back to just seriously, significantly in the dark.

It's a little scary, and it's more than a little embarrassing. Because while I'm not impossibly smart, I don't like to admit that I'm stupid. And when it comes to this research, this release...I'm stupid, all right.

The thing is, I've been here before in this job; this is the second, maybe the third, time I've been this lost on a press release. And yet, in the end, I will write the release, and it will, with some work on my part and help from the researcher, make sense. I'll define terms, and look things up, and try to weave the words around in such a way that it makes a comprehensible whole, without drowning my reader in jargon and explanation and just a flood, a verbose avalanche, of words. It'll make sense...and yet, I still won't have a clue what this research is about. I still won't understand it. At all.

It struck me, as I stared at the blank page that should be this release just moments before clicking over here to write this (oh, please...if you didn't realize this post is little more than a procrastination tool by now, you don't know me very well...), that this is a feeling that a lot of us blogging parents have, especially those of you (us? me?) with kids who have special needs. And especially those of you (us? me?) whose kids' needs aren't so easily discerned.

So many of the posts I read--and oh, so many of the posts I write--are exactly this: Descriptions of stuff that's happening, of complex thought and sensory processes playing out before our still-ignorant eyes. In my case, I realize, so often I see what's going on, I watch oh-so-carefully, and I try and try and try to digest it and make sense of it so that I can report on it. And I do...but I don't understand. So often, my child--like many of your children, I know--gets sucked up by that vacuum of my complete not-understandingness.

And yet, in the end, I will write these blog posts, and they will make sense...and yet I still won't have a clue what is going on, what my child is all about. I still won't understand him. At all.

But I'll keep trying. And maybe, after defining my terms and looking things up and weaving my words, I'll make some progress. One can only hope.


Niksmom said...

Oh.my.god. This is the most brilliant and insightful piece of procrastination writing I've ever read. I was nodding my head in complete agreement with the parallel you drew about parenting our children.

Thanks for this; I thought I was crazy. Turns out I'm not alone in this.

Good luck on that release!

TC said...

Awww...Niksmom! Thank you! That takes a whole lot of the sting out of the fact that that frickin' release still isn't anywhere close to written... ;-)

goodfountain said...

What?! We're supposed to understand these kids. Oh shit.

The discipline of writing out the different issues is what helps me kinda sorta process things.

I can't IMAGINE writing uber-sciencey press releases -I'm way less smart than you. :)

AB said...

Do you remember the time we went to an evening at the Museum of Natural History and it was on the Black Space? When we were leaving I, 27 years older said, hmmmm, I have no clue what that was all about and you said neither do I?

However, the next week I went to a seminar at the same place on cockroaches and understood the whole thing. LOL, one needs to live in NYC... as we both did. I don't think you went with me for that one.

Knowing you as I do I am sure you will come through with flying colors.