During a recent and *ahem* much needed cleaning of my house, I came across a CD from my teenage years –Sinead O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.
Hoo-boy, I wore this one out in my senior year. Giddy, I took it to the car and proceeded to sing along until my voice gave out. I still had the CD in when picking my sister, Karina, up from work one day. We blissed out in nostalgia while listening to Nothing Compares to You until during the caterwauling, Karina turns to me and says, “You know our neighbor Bert* thought this song was about her singing to her mama.”
Hold the phone.
Me: “Hold the phone. Whaa?”
Karina: “Yup. He thought she was singing to her mama.”
Me: swerving to avoid hitting the curb. “Is he insane? Why the fuck would he think that? And more importantly, is he insane?”
Karina: “It’s that line, ‘All the flowers that you planted mama.’”
Me: “Yeah it’s, ‘all the flowers that you planted mama!’ Not, ‘all the flowers that you planted, mama.’”
Karina: “Well, I know that! I’m just telling you what HE thought.”
Me: “So the ‘I could put my arms around every boy I see; they’d only remind me of you' is what? Some Oedipus complex??”
Karina: “He got stuck on the Mama line.”
Me: “So when he was signing along (cuz EVERYONE sings along to Nothing Compares to You) he was thinking, “Nothing compares to you, MAMA!!! Bert, I never knew...” Commence with evil sister cackling.
ACK!!! Aside from my childhood neighbor’s very disturbing views on acceptable mama lamentations, one has to wonder over the power of a comma. Slip one in and you have a Greek tragedy on your hands.
And then there is the notion of interpretation. Clearly, not everyone is going to interpret your words the way you want them to. Yes, this example is…extreme, but even so interpretation is an open thing.
What does this mean to us as writers?
Well, this isn’t the deepest post in the world. But I do think that it highlights an important truth: the story, how it is interpreted, what people think of it, is completely out of our control. We may get good reviews, bad reviews, people may think we’re devil worshipers if we use “God damn” or think our love song is an ode to mama. It is out of our control. There is power in that. Because at the end of the day, if you did your best, that is all you can do. A bad review or criticism of your work sucks but once you're done with the writing, it’s done. That’s all she wrote. Literally.
So try not to worry about what other people think. Focus on your job; writing the best story you can.
I’ll leave you with a bit of Sinead. I’d forgotten how powerful this video is. And could the girl rock a shaved head or what?
*Names have been changed to protect the ignorant.