ead Letter Office is a column of letters written by Todd Hutlock to a friend named Jimmy, who may or may not exist. The column details real-life experiences regarding work, life, and how Hutlock's obsession with music runs them both.
Someone said something to me the other day and it really has gotten me thinking of late. We were discussing some topic and I wasn’t getting the point, or more than likely, I was just too thick to grasp it. Things were starting to get a bit frustrating for both of us, and she said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I’ll have to say it to you through music—that’s your language; it’s what you understand.”
At first I thought it was sort of an insult—it was saying that I am emotionally stunted and incapable of proper communication—but after reflecting on it, I think I got that it was merely a statement of fact: My brain processes certain things—feelings and emotions and situations and the like—better and more concretely through music and lyrics than through plain spoken English. It is what it is, and I can hardly argue with it because I know it’s true. But is that a good or a bad thing, ultimately? This is where the internal debate began.
On the one hand, sometimes I think that things like this have made me into the social misfit that I am today, you know? Like, how on earth can I be expected to make friends and forge relationships if the only thing I really understand is Elvis Costello couplets? (Yes, I’m overstating it, but you see where I’m going here, I hope.)
But on the other hand, when I do find that rare person who, for lack of a better term “speaks my language” it has been a rush beyond belief, a totally fulfilling feeling that I am not alone in the world. It’s something like wandering around in the middle of some foreign country for a week where you don’t understand a word of what’s being said around you, and suddenly bumping into someone who not only can converse with you fluently, but is from your hometown. It is such a blissful relief, that feeling that someone out there “gets” you. And there are a couple of them out there, and I think they know who they are.
Thinking back on it now, though, I wonder how many things I’ve said to people in my past that have just flown right over their heads, and how many things might be different in my life if I weren’t like this. It is sort of a handicap, when you think about it. It’s not that I can’t express myself in plain old English if I want to—I mean, I do write and edit it all day long for a living—but I almost think that because written English is my profession, I am even more encouraged to get away from it in my personal life, and hence this rift between what I can and cannot express and understand like a normal person has been growing over the years. Perhaps because it is the tool of my trade, I have made myself emotionally detached from it and I need to have that little something extra to make me actually feel anything? Has working with words made me numb to them in everyday usage? I suspect so, sadly.
But now, I have decided to simply resign myself to all of this, and roll with the experience and for once in my life just not worry about it. I’ll continue to converse freely with my traditional English speaking friends, relatives, and co-workers, certainly, and I’m sure I’ll get just as much out of them as I always have (or haven’t, as the case may be). But now, I am ready to fully embrace those select few who can talk to me on that other level; those people who will get it when I say, “You must think me very naïve” and know just what I mean, and are just as likely to say back to me, “Taken as true.” Sure, my average conversation will continue to be just that—average. But such is life: it can’t all be a party, right?
So yes, it might be monumentally fucked up that someone can say things to me of variable emotional importance and have them bounce right off of me as if I were made of stone, and yet I can glean the exact meaning of what they’re trying to say from KISS or Belle & Sebastian or Prefab Sprout or Shonen Knife, even. But I’ve given up trying to change it, and now I’ll just have to work with what I’ve got. Hopefully my mother will be proud that I’ve finally mastered that second language.
Your man in the Midwest,