Friday, September 18, 2009

Talk talk, all we do is talk talk

Two weeks ago, I road-tripped to see Dave Matthews Band with a childhood friend. When I returned to Seattle, I had a houseguest in town for a music festival. After he left, I had a day alone before I flew cross-country. There, in New Jersey and then Delaware and back to New Jersey, I was with a couple housefuls of people for a week-plus.

I felt like I had a radio in my head that couldn’t be turned off.

I suddenly realized why I was screaming in my skull. I hadn’t been alone for more than 24 hours in two weeks when I’m usually alone most of the time. Some days, I talk to a neighborhood barista and that’s it. While I adore my friends and can’t get enough of our sidewinding conversations, I am not trained these days to run the convo course. I can go at it in sprints but I get winded halfway through a marathon.

When I lived on the East Coast, I shone in situations where five conversations were simultaneously going on. I took it as a point of pride to follow all the threads. It was sport.

But it wasn’t connected. It was more about showing off than tuning in. I have been working to change this. And I know I’m different. When someone cuts me off, I can’t take it. I often just shut down and let them talk, figuring it’s more important to them to drone on than for me to interrupt. But I’m equally aggravated when someone isn’t listening to me. I don’t always have something important to say, but I am talking.

I know I do it, too. I might be working on the computer or watching crap Bravo TV (you know what shows I’m talking about) and zone out. I didn’t used to do this. I've been on high alert for most of my life. As a kid in an alcoholic household, I learned to multitask, doing homework, watching TV with the family, and always listening, listening, listening for something that required a laugh, a comment, or a trip to the kitchen for another highball. I guess my coping strategies have slowly melted away. I don’t need to split my mind into different compartments, I don’t need to always impress. Rather, I want to connect, to feel that ripple that flows through my body and causes my eyes to tear up when I am absolutely on the same page, wavelength, whatever you want to call it, with someone. That’s when the white noise stops and I can hear everything crystal clear.



mduette said...

I go through similar feelings, but for different reasons. (I, too, grew up in an alcoholic household, where I was also constantly interrupted..and still am) My daily life I'm in mommy mode..there is a constant level of chatter. But by bedtime I am itching for decompression, and time to be in my own head. And, insomnia aside, I tend to stay up way later than I should, just to enjoy my own stillness.

Kevin said...

I also spend a lot of time by myself, then feel a little overwhelmed when thrust into groups of people. I share your peeve, "When someone cuts me off, I can’t take it. I often just shut down..." So when someone else in a conversation is speaking and I have something truly relevant to interject, I find myself muttering this mantra under my breath: "say it...say it...say it...", trying to be polite and not interrupt. But by the time I can squeeze my word in edge-wise, the topic has already changed and I have missed the opportunity. Why must people feel that they need to dominate the conversation all the time? I spent a few months earlier this year unemployed, and at first was in withdrawal from the constant human contact all day at work. Within a few weeks I was reveling in the solace and realized that only about 20% of my daily "communication" with others was actually worthwhile. The rest was simply filling the time with noise. At my new job, I am often accused of being "too quiet". I was flattered when one of my favorite managers defended me the other day, commenting that I was "...the owl among a pack of magpies. Everyone should be more thoughtful about what they are saying!" I suppose that is why I prefer writing to talking these days. It's one way communication. Sure, you can ignore me just as if I were speaking to you, but at least I won't know it!

A sampling of my books