MY WEEKLY BLOG
WHAT DO YOU REALLY MEAN?
When I was writing my memoir, I discovered something unexpected.
In order to pen a memoir, you have to dig deep for specific details and images that happened a long time ago. I did a pretty good job of recalling tastes, textures and smells, I enjoyed the discovery, but what surprised me was my ability to remember complete conversations from decades past. If you asked me right now to
tell you what I discussed when I was a teenager, I would have no recall – but when I let my fingers fly across the keyboard, the words just appear.
Maybe even more importantly, I remembered the spaces between
the words. A look that had no voice. A pause that came after a comma. A breath at the end of a paragraph. There is a treasure trove of meaning in silence. Musician, composer and poet Alfred Bendel said, “The word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent.”
When I ghostwrite, I do countless interviews and I don’t take written notes. I tape the conversation so I don’t have to look away from my subject. I turn on the tape, I ask a question, I stay quiet and I watch someone thinking. The truth is that I get more information from what they don’t say than from what they do say. Then, when I transcribe the tapes, I recall someone’s facial expressions, the way they tilted their head to one side and the way they formed their words. I’m able to use those things to capture the gist of what they were trying to say and the voice in which they said it and that’s why they trust me and feel safe opening up.
This blog is about writing but it’s also about active listening so you can hear what someone isn’t saying. How it feels to sit in the stillness. And how badly it feels when someone won’t meet your eye. When someone talks non-stop, I feel frustrated because in most cases, their meaning doesn’t match their words. I was giving an interview online to a woman who never took a breath at the end of a sentence. She just kept on talking. I couldn’t get a word in, so when we were taking a break, I said, “If you would pause at the end of your sentences, it would be easier for me to talk and answer your questions.”
“I don’t like pauses,” she said quickly. “Just interrupt
That isn’t my idea of a constructive conversation. Henry David Thoreau said, “It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear.” I was interviewing a rock and roll star about her relationships, when I said, “Do you feel good about your second marriage?” She shook her head from side of side, indicating “no” while she was saying, “Yes.” So what should I pay attention to? As we continued the interview, I realized that she didn’t want to hurt the man about whom we were speaking by telling the truth. But I got the
There are so many reasons why people don’t say what they mean. I’m not talking about deliberate lying. I’m taking about omissions. The things we want to say but we just can’t. The times someone says “yes” when they mean “no” or “I can’t” when they mean “I won’t.” Maybe they don’t want to expose their feelings or maybe they don’t want to hurt someone they care about. But if you listen carefully, the meaning comes through.
You know how it feels when someone doesn’t meet your eyes when they’re talking to you. I was introduced to a well known comedienne at one of my book signings and when I said hello, she looked over my head and to the right and left of me. FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. She was afraid of missing someone who was more important than I was.
When my students write pieces and read them to the class, I listen with complete attention in order to hear gaps, the places where words or ideas are missing so I can point them out. If my attention wanders, (I have to admit that it does once in a while,) I bring it back as soon as I catch it. My students are counting on me to hear what they’re saying and guide them through a gateway to deeper meaning. That makes paying attention crucial.
I so appreciate a fine wordsmith, someone who has a command
of the language and can say what they mean in an economy of words. But sometimes, words are inadequate to describe the full force of a feeling. While you’re anxiously waiting for a partner to say, “I love you,” he or she might already be saying it in the silence. Words are powerful but a good pause in the right place is golden.