Monday, February 14, 2005

my talking turtle

When I was little, my mom used to read me my favorite story from a book of American folklore. I still have the book, somewhere in my parents house, and I look through it at the pictures and remember what it was like to be little, and fascinated by my first stories.

At any rate, my favorite story was about a man who talked too much. He told secrets, he gossiped, and in general just ruined everyone's lives with his ceaseless chatter. One day, on the road, he met a turtle. And the turtle told him (here my mom's voice would go higher and slightly nasal, with a twinge of southern accent, something that never failed to delight me) "Appleby, you talk too durn much!" In the end, Appleby learns not to be quiet- but to temper his speech and choose his words wisely.

A random thought occurred to me in bed this morning (they often do that). When I was younger, and shyer, people used to ask me why I said so little. The problem was, for me, not that I didn't have anything to say, or that I was afraid of saying, really, but figuring out when to say. How to get a word in edgewise, in other words. How many times when someone says "you are so quiet!" do they not realize that they themselves are talking too much?

I am guilty of this myself, these days.

In my days of social inaptitude a large group of people in conversation with each other was enough to silence me completely. If indeed I ever had anything to add, I'd always have to wait until there was a pause in the discussion large enough to maneuver a well-sized vehicle through. What generally happened thus was one of two things: either I'd completely lost track of the shifts in dialogue and thus taken the topic back one or two steps, or I'd interjected just at that point when everyone is digesting what's already been said, thus interrupting the process. Naturally awkwardness followed, and it became a vicious cycle. I contributed less and less.

By contrast, with my friends I could be tyrannical in my domination of a conversation. As if having to be quiet for some many others came out in floods at these times. I hated myself for that, too.

So I began to study those whose speech and opinions I admired. I listened carefully to the things people like Grant would say, people whose words everyone valued all the more for their rarity. I took notes on the way Abby could hold forth and command attention. I learned the art of introspective discussion from Davis and the mastery of flirt from Emily (although in that respect I fear I was, and still am, a poor student).

Lately I've been wondering if I'm actually learning anything from anyone, or if I'm just too absorbed in the sound of my own voice and the cadence of my stories to realize that I'm just...talking too durn much. Am I filling silence with unnecessary words? Silence is a terrible thing to waste. So I've begun to feeling like water from a tap, and the people listening are sponges. I feel drained. I'm giving but I'm not taking. Or people are taking but not giving. Or I just don't shut up long enough to replenish.

What I miss about my relationship with Jerry is the fact that we could have a genuine conversation. We'd feed off each other's thoughts and ideas, webbed together intricately, and come away smarter and clearer-headed for it. Now, my conversations feel like blocks. You say something, I say something, you say something, I say something. Are we listening to each other?

All this ties into my semi-self imposed blogging absence, although you can see how that's worked out to be...more of the same. The difference is my time is limited and therefore I can't just blog about anything I want. I try, normally, to be picky about what goes up here, but now I can be even more so. I've taken to writing everything down beforehand, and editing, which is a terribly new and frightening process for me. I don't edit. I just do.

So I'm resolving to be quieter, to listen more carefully, to keep secrets, to give honestly but not decadently, to choose my words, to temper my speech, to edit my stories, to make my silences more effective. I want to learn more, and so again I must be a student.