Lost in Translation

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The blogging world is a giant playground for writers. So many different lives and voices and stories clamoring for attention.

There are young people and old, athletes and chefs, people who are ill and those seeking health, writers and engineers, cheerleaders for every cause and those who want to chronicle the lives of their children, their goats and their pets.

So many people want to tap us on the shoulder and say, “Hey, you’ll never believe what I just figured out!” I’m guilty of this as well. But I suspect many of the recipients of this wisdom roll their eyes like my teenager during one of my lectures.

She magically translates all my words through a filter of age, experience and hormones. So if I say, for example, “You need to clean your room,” the teenager hears, “I think your room should be spotless, because otherwise a neighborhood committee might inspect it someday or because some new, mutant disease is breeding under the bed.” An observation that six-inch heels look painful becomes “Tennis shoes are the height of fashion and should be worn at all times.” A suggestion to find and focus on a few passions translates to “It’s great if you spend all your time shopping for clothes or hanging out with your boyfriend.”

The same magic happens when I talk to my husband. If I say, “I had a really bad day today,” he hears, “I have a problem, and I need you to fix it.”

This translating occurs across all generations and races and classes. I heard an interview with the late Mike Wallace the other day in which his son Chris asked his father how he felt about getting old. As someone teetering on the edge of seniordom, I waited for Mike Wallace to say he’d found new serenity or wisdom or deeper relationships. Instead he pointed to his hearing aids, his failing eyesight and his pacemaker. “I hate it,” he said flatly. I can only imagine his reaction when he read advice from middle-aged baby boomers about growing old gracefully.

Many experiences must be lived to be understood. You can read a thousand parenting blogs, but until you are responsible for a tiny person’s life, you don’t really know the fear that can keep you up nights. Until someone you love dies, you don’t really know how it sets you apart from other people. So many times I’ve given someone advice or thought I understood something, then reached that point myself and realized I was wrong.

I sometimes think it’s possible to tell the age of any blogger by reading their posts. Twenty-somethings are idealistic and often sure they’re right. Thirty-somethings are preoccupied with their careers and families. Forty-somethings are busy creating and trying to leave their mark on the world. Those in their fifties seem more tolerant. They’re reinventing their dreams. Those in their sixties often look back. Bloggers over seventy are explorers who still like to learn and make new connections.

But the wonderful thing about blogging is that it draws all these people into conversation. Where else will you find a 50-year-old housewife discussing life and politics and books with a 20-year-old programmer half a world away or a 90-year-old ex-rancher the next state over? In our day-to-day lives we tend to interact with people like ourselves, but the online world is much wider.

We may not get what everyone is saying, but at least we’re talking.