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!