Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Inner Voice Says, "Shut Up and Just Listen"

"You cannot learn much of anything when you are doing all the talking."
                                                                                Lois Stearns Daily     

You lovely devoted followers have undoubtedly noticed that my blogging habits are a bit irregular and undependable.  Sorry about that.  When I started this  blog I was naively under the impression that I could sit down every day of the week and blab incessantly on any subject providing my audience, if not fascinating. at least readable fare without ever developing a cramp in my blabbing muscles.  WRONG.  I had completely forgotten an aspect of my being that I thought I had overcome but that occasionally pokes its ugly head out of the water and spits mud in my eye.  Sometimes I feel  that I have nothing worthwhile to say.  At those times I would rather listen than talk.  It is then that I wend my way through all of your lovely, profound, irreverent  blogs and am both inspired by your brilliances and soothed and reassured by your simplicities. 

 When I was a child I had absolutely no social skills. (can you believe it?)  Even worse, I was in no way cute or adorable in feature or form, an unlovely child, short, pudgy, clumsy,with no graceful ways and with a brow constantly furrowed with worries wondering what bolt of lightning was going to come out of left field and set my bloomers on fire next.  I was agonizingly,  painfully shy and so thin skinned that if a passing dog looked at me unkindly I would want to hide myself behind a tree and weep.  I had one or two neighborhood friends but we related almost accidentally and I still had not a clue about how to engage in the art of conversation.  Thank heaven there were games which required little conversing except for the times when bitter arguments broke out and everyone went home mad.

I got through my young years in the most blundering fashion, sort of staggering down the long hallway of life first bumping into the left hand wall and then crashing into and careening off the right one. It was a painful  sort of existence only lightened and cushioned  slightly by my luck in having an invisible asset.....a fairly extraordinary intelligence.  Once I learned to read my world changed and I had access to as many wonderful friends as I could gobble up from those amazing things called books, but sadly, these friends demanded no interaction on my part so I still did not have a clue about how to relate to real people.

In books, people always seemed to know exactly the right thing to say to each other......and, no matter how I examined the pages and the words, I never could figure out how they could all be so damned clever.   During rare moments when I would fantasize and  timidly interject myself into the plot, just like in life, I could never think of anything worth saying and got myself out of there as quickly as possible, mind blank, trembling and panting with terror.

My education, both High School and College did little to improve my skills.  There were a few times when I could exchange words with someone comfortably on a subject on which I was informed  and passionate about, but generally I found myself half listening to what was  being said while desperately trying to come up with something clever or funny to interject and my success rate ranged from awful to abysmal......consequently I was more or less tolerated because I was a "good kid" or because I was the only one who had a car but not highly rated in the "Life of the  Party" department.  I suffered terrible pangs of insecurity and felt an abject failure as a social being.  And so it went until my 25th year when  I entered into a project that would change my life in innumerable ways......I went into partnership with a ceramist, my new friend Peggy, and joined her in her studio, thereby exposing myself to a completely new (for me) segment of the population.....the Wild Artist Colony of  Los Angeles.

I cannot explain exactly how these new people differed from those I had known up to this point in my life but different they were and, since we always had a succession of drops-ins and kibbitzers, I was even more at a loss about how to shine or even  be accepted as a member of the clan than ever.  I felt like I knew nothing, had nothing worth uttering to contribute and the only way I could prevent exposing my ignorance, lack of sophistication, deficiency in judgment, dearth of talent and general worthlessness as human  being would be to simply shut up and say nothing..........Which I put into practice immediately if not sooner.  My only option was to listen ardently and carefully  to what everyone else said......... to possibly learn something and meanwhile, if I kept my mouth shut, except to ask a pertinent question occasionally, perhaps I could keep anyone from discovering what a schlubb I was. 

The results of my desperate plan were amazing and totally unexpected.  It seemed particularly true when single individuals popped in for a chat seemed they did not mind at all being forced to talk about themselves for hours as long as I kept asking sensitive questions.  I needed to know NOTHING to participate in these chats....I did not need to utter clever phrases.......I did not even have to be funny.......just attentive.  And,to my amazement, a line formed around the  block.

I had found the Sorcerer's Stone.....Though I did not think I was really dead, this was obviously  heaven.  I had discovered a way to fool the public into the illusion  that I was wise without having any wisdom whatsoever,  without any risk of making a fool of myself and without having to expend  any effort since I found that I really WAS interested in what the person was saying.  Because, by some further miracle of miracles, no matter what else they said, they all revealed to me that they had the same agonies, the same or similar demons and the same kinds of insanities that I suffered from. Up to this point in my life it had appeared to me that the rest of the world was completely normal and I was the only one who  was lost and crazy.   Not only did I feel no longer an outcast but I felt that I had finally found a place where I belonged..........I could hide among the crazy, brilliant and unconventional Artists forever and not have to wonder for a moment what I should say next.   "Nothing" was not only acceptable but seemed to be much preferable to "yatayataya"............who knew?

Sadly, I found that this profound truth  does not work when you are confronted with someone who is so insecure and fearful of their image (as I was)  that they cannot risk revealing a morsel of what they have been struggling for years to keep stuffed  in the back of the cupboard.  In such cases it is necessary to do a quick reversal and be the one who confesses and shares bravely.  Two people trying to employ the same strategy makes for unspeakable discomfort not to mention unbearable boredom.  Oy, does it ever.

Unfortunately, over the years I have gotten quite a bit more blabby but I have never forgotten the Main Mantra.....When in Doubt -  Shut Up!


  1. What did Twain say? Something like, "Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and eliminate all doubt?"
    I love this.

  2. There's an australian expression for someone like me whomakes gaffe after gaffe...
    'Only opens her mouth to change feet.'

  3. My father to my mother: "An empty can makes the loudest noise."

  4. YOU may think you have nothing to say; WE know differently ~

  5. I love your posts whenever they appear, I don't mind waiting! I'm always putting my foot in it. At work I keep quiet and then say something fairly smart when everyone else stops talking. My dad taught me that one!

  6. Why are all artists so insecure, unsure, shy, and nervous wrecks. Does this mean I have to wait another twenty years before I fit in like you? Ha, ha...but it's worth it. Anyway, I think you should write a book.

  7. You have just described me. Only I haven't quite figured out how to ask questions yet. Sigh.

  8. Lois, wonderful post....I think we were kindred spirits somewhere along the line...especially the childhood of no social skills. I spend all my time worrying about something or other, oral presentations, tests,dentist appointments etc. I didn't know how to make friends and carried around this feeling of melancholy. Everyone else knew how to make friends and have fun except me. I was too busy worrying about WW3, and duck and cover. In High School I used to go to a discussion group at our church,in all honesty to see boys. I don't think I ever opened my mouth and contributed nothing.What was I thinking...a discussion group in which you just sat there and were too afraid to open your mouth? They must have thought I was simple minded, boring or the shyest person they had ever seen. I don't think I had an opinion about anything at that point. That would come later. Like you I became the most attentive listener and now sometimes I am accused of being a closet interregator, the non-violent kind . I will shut up now....Peace.

  9. I grew up being one of those "Children should be seen and not heard." types.
    Needless to say I had a hard time holding my tongue ( Have you ever tried doing that..I talk funny when I do) anyway..I am old now and I guess I should get out an old sock and stuff it into my mouth..or maybe tie my hands together so I cannot reach the keyboard.
    I always enjoy what you have to say:)

  10. We have shared some similar experiences through life -- many things you said about your childhood I experienced as well. I had coffee with an long-time friend the other day and she talked almost nonstop for almost an hour and I said "Hummm" and "Yeah?" and laughed at the appropriate spots and at the end she thanked me so much for the wonderful conversation. I really hadn't said anything at all. Beautiful post!

  11. Thanks for helping me remove a foot from mouth
    over on mine...
    However I managed to mix the two cartoonists up I shall never know.

  12. Its getting harder and harder these days to find people who actually listen. I attribute it to "talk" radio. You don't have to know anything just outshout the other people. Yuk!

  13. It is in books that most of us find ourselves...and you could never be un-lovely!
    I too am an imposter...don't tell...

  14. I will never cease to be amazed at your ability to write your blog so eloquently...describing your life as it was and is. I sit here, chin in hand, my eyes glued to the screen, reading about my dear friend. I can identify in some areas, but I am not a writer,,I know what I want to say, but somehow it doesn't come out right. So, dear lady. I will be content to read your blog and enjoy each one, leaving the writing ro you. xo