It’s their world, not mine

Listening to Art Buchwald on the radio, being interviewed by Diane Rehm. He’s in a hospice, having refused treatment for kidney disease, so he’s dying. It takes a lot of guts to talk with a guy who’s about to die, but what an interview! Wow. Made me think of so many things.

One was a problem I’m having with a bank that’s been sending me someone else’s statements. The circumstances aren’t important, I’ve been on the phone with them for a few hours over a few days, trying to get them to stop sending me the statements. They’ve even agreed, at times to stop sending them; to no avail, they keep coming, and every time it’s an argument to explain to them that I’m not the guy and I’m not responsible for his business.

During the last call I had this strong feeling that I’m going to die before winning this one. And with that came the realization — it’s their world not mine. They’re like the mountains and the oceans and I’m like a sunny day. They’ll be here torturing people like me, until we die, and then they’ll torture other people, who will die and so on.

33 responses to this post.

  1. […] Essay: It’s their world, not mine.  […]


  2. Just return it to the post office (or mail person) as “address unknown”…isn’t that an old Elvis song?
    Anyway, it then becomes the banks problem. 🙂


  3. Case Proven: A bank is not a eleemosynary institution.


  4. Just tell them he’s died. Tell them you’ve died too. Someone once told me they knew someone who got on the ‘death’ list accidentally and it was a major job to ‘resurrect’ them.


  5. Elvis’s song was “Return to Sender,” which indeed said, “address unknown.”

    “Return to Sendah,” actually, in Elvis’s diction.

    And I agree with the advice, which has worked for me in similar situations.


  6. They’re sending you someone else’s statement with their account data??? Wow. BAD. Easy solution: In your next conversation, point out that they’re violating federal regulations (Reg-D, maybe? I don’t recall now). Then tell them you’re a blogger and remind them what happens when bloggers start running with a good story— MSM will eventually pick up the story and mangle the details and by the end, it’ll be a huge scandal about how they’ve been hacked and how half their customers have lost money. *grin*

    Even better, let them know you’ll be forwarding any new incorrect statements received directly to your friends at the New York Times. Oh, and tell us which bank first so we can short their stock. 🙂


  7. Having spent a few boring years in the banking world I can confirm that sending it back “undeliverable” will send up a bunch of flags and launches a whole new solution set within the bank. The last thing the banks want are accounts without owners. No fees come from them, there’s extra overhead, there’s the question where there are loans attached to it, etc. And that doesn’t even touch on the cost of having to go through the process to escheat the monies.


  8. If you’re getting someone else’s statements, then you must also have their name, right?
    So, how about trying to find that other person and let him/her know what’s happening?
    After all, you’re just annoyed here, but they can sue…


  9. Posted by markr on February 25, 2006 at 9:17 am

    Everybody is telling you what to do. Why do you have to anything? It is not your fault. Why is this person not wondering where his bank statements are?


  10. Markr, I think it’s because they like to kibitz, and didn’t read the piece very carefully, or they don’t trust me, or something else or all of the above.

    I said: “The circumstances aren’t important,” and what that means is, I’m not telling you everything because it’s not germane to the story.

    These people are assuming that because I didn’t say I did something that I didn’t do it. That’s always a bad thing to do. That’s why I say they must not trust me. Feh. Not my problem.


  11. This may also be regarded as kibitzing, and if so, I apologize.

    But blaming readers for not getting the meaning you intended by something you wrote is not unlike blaming customers for finding unknown bugs in a software program. If you want to abstract the problem a layer or two up — “We write shitty prose!”, or “We’re pretty shitty at reading for content!” — again, not unlike the “We write shitty software!” meme — then, fine, I understand that.

    To this observer, though, blaming the reader is just a form of passing the buck. And we know what Harry would say about that.


  12. Imho, weblog readers aren’t customers. To be a customer, value has to be exchanged. Don’t you think? (I do.)


  13. Umm… I didn’t say anything about “customers.” My mistake, I probably wasn’t clear enough.

    I’m talking about people communicating to other people through the act of writing. Communication that is heartfelt, and in a human voice.

    And what I’m saying is, regardless of whether one is a writer of fiction trying to create a character; or the author of a weblog (or a journalist, come to think of it) writing to an audience; or the much less common (and less interesting, imho) company person speaking to a customer; or even a public figure speaking to constituents; regardless of any of those roles, the task, from a writing point of view, is very similar. You create a character, through words. You relate events that happen to this character. You tell what their thoughts are. How effective you are at making the reader see the same thing you do is a measure not only of the reader’s ability, but of the writer’s ability to communicate.

    That’s because regardless of whether the character is “real” or not — that is, whether you’re portraying yourself, or your company, or someone fictional, or someone historical — the pallette, the brushes, the paints, are all the same. It’s always going to be in prose.

    And, in the end, the reader will work from exactly what you tell them. No more, no less. So if readers “make assumptions”, or “don’t read closely”, or whatever… To this reader, those are just excuses for bad writing. If the prose had been more clear, complete, and direct, the reader wouldn’t make those mistakes in the first place.

    And to use your baseball analogy: Maybe the folks in the stands can’t play at an MLB level. But, odds are, if they’re in the stands in the first place, they know how to play ball. They probably play it at home, even if only once or twice a year. Their kids play it at ball games. The overwhelming majority of the time, they’re not “customers”.

    I would say the same thing is true when it comes to reading, writing, and thinking. Maybe they don’t do it at A.S. Byatt’s level, or Dan Gilmor’s, or yours. But they do it.


  14. “But blaming readers for not getting the meaning you intended by something you wrote is not unlike blaming customers”


  15. ““But blaming readers for not getting the meaning you intended by something you wrote is not unlike blaming customers”

    Ah. OK, you’re right, I did say that. Sorry. It was a bad choice of words. “Users”, perhaps? I certainly wasn’t intentionally trying to freight the analogy with the buyer/seller relationship. Again, my fault.

    I still believe my larger points hold.


  16. They’re not really points, they’re your opinions, and that’s fine, I don’t agree.

    In my world the writer is a person who tells you what he thinks and lets everything else fall off from there. This is not television, these are not bedtime stories, they aren’t about you.

    If you can’t be bothered to actually read a three-paragraph short story, and get it right, then I’m sure not going to pretend you’re right.

    If you happened to see me in a restaurant while I’m eating dinner, and you happened to overhear part of my story, but not the whole thing, and then proceeded to address teh whole restaurant, claiming I was wrong, and immoral, and not a nice fellow, and I should stop eating right now and go fix the problem (even though you didn’t hear the whole story, if you had, you’d know you were saying nonsense) I wouldn’t say “Now wait a minute Dave, he’s just like a cusomter or a user and you’d better not tell him he’s wrong.” No indeed, I’d say to my companion, this guy doesn’t trust me, and I’d be being generous at that.

    In my world, the reader is an adult who is responsible for what he or she says.


  17. […] If you canÕt be bothered to actually read a three-paragraph short story, and get it right, then IÕm sure not going to pretend youÕre right. […]


  18. The writer is no more responsible for his readers than he is for the sun rising and setting. The day is there to be enjoyed for what it is, from any perspective. And the words from a writer are likewise assimilated.


  19. Back to the subject: Is this event–responding to the bank’s errant mailings–worthy of my attention and, if so, to what extent? There is a point where ‘enough’ becomes defining.


  20. Sloppy writing is one issue and sloppy reading is quite another. Should James Joyce have dumbed down most of Ulysses and all of Finnegan’s Wake because some readers are too lazy to read properly or, in fact, unaware that the writing is out of their league?


  21. Johan, thank you!

    As someone who enjoys reading a well-crafted work as well as aspiring to be a craftsman, I emphatically don’t want it dumbed-down.

    Aside from that, in this case I actually anticipated the concerns expressed here, the silly part is that the people either didn’t read it slowly enough to see it, or… or what? It was right there in black and white.

    In this medium the readers are part of the art. The real story here is that no one listens. Wasn’t that the point about the bank too? (Yes it was.)


  22. Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got. – Art Buchwald


  23. On the upside, in the long run, even mountains eventually erode away.
    On the downside, to quote John Maynard Keynes, “In the long run, we are all dead”.


  24. Telling the post office or a bank that someone’s died is more complicated than it might initially appear. The post office, for example, wouldn’t stop delivering mail to my dad even after I produced a death certificate.

    Through snow, sleet, hail, and….


  25. “If you happened to see me in a restaurant while I’m eating dinner, and you happened to overhear part of my story, but not the whole thing, and then proceeded to address teh whole restaurant, claiming I was wrong, and immoral, and not a nice fellow, and I should stop eating right now and go fix the problem (even though you didn’t hear the whole story, if you had, you’d know you were saying nonsense) I wouldn’t say “Now wait a minute Dave, he’s just like a cusomter or a user and you’d better not tell him he’s wrong.” No indeed, I’d say to my companion, this guy doesn’t trust me, and I’d be being generous at that.”

    Wow, nice, incredibly poor metaphor. Your metaphor might be a bit more accurate if we were someone sitted at your table, who you were specifically telling the story too, not some random shmoes who happened to overhear some of it. In that scenario, it would seem perfectly plausible that we, sitted at your table, listening to an abridged version of a story, might suggest recourse for your problem, at which point you might say, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve done a bunch of things to fix the problem” as opposed to “Hey, who asked you, I was simple relating an incredibly inane problem with no expectation of response.”


  26. Dave, as an answer to Hal’s comment raising the question of the quality of your writing in this particular post, you wrote: “Imho, weblog readers aren’t customers. To be a customer, value has to be exchanged. Don’t you think? (I do.)”

    Now, beyond the question of who’s to blame for the interpretation of your elliptic initial wording, I find that statement to be a surprising one. Sure, there’s no direct monetary value exchanged (and it’s only because you don’t have ads up on your blog). But I won’t make assumptions, and won’t assume you only refer to monetary value. Then, isn’t there value in the comments readers send you back? Is it just noise or are we having a conversation?


  27. DJ, you’re entitled to your opinion, but it’s my story and my blog, and I think it’s an incredibly good metaphor, esp when people don’t read before judging.

    And we’re not sitting at the same table, not even close. I have no idea who you are. What does DJ stand for? Where do you live, how old are you? What’s your gender? What do you do for a living? All I know is your initials, and truth be told I don’t even know if they’re your initials.

    You’re more of a stranger to me than the random person sitting at the table next to me at a Berkeley restaurant, which is to say you’re a complete total stranger.


  28. Also your quote of me is inaccurate. I never said any such thing. That’s just plain rude.


  29. Dave – I’ve always wanted to comment on posts on one of your other syndicated sites, they’ve always seemed cut off, but it seems like I finally found the place to read. I’ve often dissagreed with your opinions on various things, but possibly because they were out of context quotes.

    but the conversation, the information, and ideas that you’ve written here in the post and comments have sparked a memory for a few years ago.

    I have been writing an book based on events and dreams and stories in my childhood. As a work of fiction that appears to be an autobiographical story, people often just read through the parts that are written and ask, “did that really happen?” as if they had not just read it. As if they skimmed it and said, it’s a nice book, but i bet you made it all up. As if they don’t bother to look into what they were actually reading. As you said it, no one listens. It’s like you’re at a press conference talking about something and someone jumps up and asks exactly something that was answered in what you were just talking about.

    Once again, I may not be at the level you’re writing at, but I keep reading and learning. it’s like watching seven samurai over and over again because you learn more and more each time.


  30. It seems to me the relevant issue is not so much whether readers are paying attention or whether Dave has written “well” or “completely”. Rather, we have a *framing* problem. Most of the comments seem to come from readers who have framed the story as “an annoyance” or “a problem to be solved”, and that completely determines what they pay attention to and how they interpret the story. As I read it, however, the frame Dave was writing in was more like “a vignette about human nature and how people and organizations fail to hear”. Seen that way, the conversation in the comments is a continuation of the story rather than a communal problem-solving session.

    When a listener misses a message that a sender tries to communicate, it’s amazing how frequently the problem comes down to incommensurate frames.

    (Dave’s been around the block a few times. I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew exactly what he was doing.)

    FWIW, the exact same problem plays out in classrooms around the world. A teacher interacts with students from the frame “helping students come to an understanding of the topic”, but students act from the frame “trying to figure out what the teacher wants us to say”, and everyone gets frustrated.


  31. Ian, the title tells you what I thikn is important about the piece. And the opening and closing. These are the usual things in writing that are your cues. However your insight is valuable — we learn more about the reader by seeing what he or she (mostly he) chooses to respond to. Men in particular see everything as a problem to be solved. But I wasn’t looking for a solution, because I don’t believe there is one, other than dying, which is basically what I said. 🙂

    It was something Art Buchwald said that sent me in this direction (funny no one picked up on that part). Diane Rehm asked what he thought of the news from Iraq, and he said basically he’s dying so that’s someone else’s problem. I thought that was fascinating. And relaxing.

    I so totally admire Diane Rehm, by the way, for having the guts to do that interview. She’s my idea of a journalist, a great one.


  32. I’m not sure I’d call it a “choice” (“by seeing what he or she… chooses to resopnd to”). More of an unrecognized assumption. Framing is generally subconscous or pre-conscious, and constrains *what* we think. And causes us to miss clues.

    Deliberately challenging my own framing of something, and looking for alternate frames, is both a choice and a discipline.

    I suspect most people read blogs and the like a whole lot less carefully, with less conscious consideration of interpretations and framing, than they do many other media. Perhaps because many blogs are written a whole lot less carefully, and because many of us skim or speed-read many blog entries per day. Which means that when a good writer does craft something subtle and rich, it often goes unappreciated.

    You’re right, the lead-in about the Buchwald interview was a big clue, but only for someone who takes the time to ask “why was that there?” and challenges their first assumption that you’re just writing stream-of-consciousness.

    The other clue, of course, is the identity of the author. You’re not exactly the type to solicit help dealing with a mundane banking problem. (More likely to change the entire banking system… }8-)


  33. As one of the ignorant readers above who didn’t realize that “circumstances aren’t important” meant that suggestions were unwelcome, I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple days. In the bigger picture, the perceived closeness between authors and their readers in the blogosphere is actually a good thing, and one which shouldn’t be discouraged. Many, many people (including you, Dave) have noted how blogging encourages information sharing when helpful readers offer you information, and it seems like in a bigger “social good” sense, it’s more beneficial to the blogosphere at large to have readers err on the side of offering unsolicited information or suggestions you already know in a constructive manner, vs. admonishing them and discouraging them from offering help in the future. This is even more true given that none of the early posters were criticizing you, just constructively offering suggestions in case they were helpful, and you of course had no obligation whatsoever to act upon any of the suggestions.

    Admittedly, in the sterile medium of the web without the greater context of personal interaction, it’s harder to differentiate when someone is noting a problem as an implicit request for suggestions and when they’re just venting and resignedly whining about a situation. Again, even here, it seems better to err on the side of constructive assistance than on the side of passively observing someone’s frustration without trying to help. To butcher two analogies at once, don’t shoot the Good Samaritan.

    That said, I fully realize this is your site and these are your opinions and preferences, and I can absolutely respect that, so I’ll just be very careful to not offer any unsolicited suggestions in the future. Such a defined and scripted interaction doesn’t seem very Cluetrain-esque though. 🙂


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