This week at The Heatley Cliff, Sher and I talk about how to be a better listener. Sher is a nurse. She works with troubled kids. I don’t mean troubled teens, I mean 7- and 8-year-olds with PTSD and schizophrenia. She is a SAINT. She is also a really good listener. I think this is because she has had professional training and also, possibly, because she is nicer than me.
I think there’s a very good chance that I may be a crap listener, which would be one of the worst character traits to have. It’s not like I don’t care. It’s not like I don’t love the people who are talking to me. I think it’s probably because I am a writer. People edit my work everyday. I am supposed to be concise and thoughtful and I guess I think everyone else should be the same way, too.
Because I am organized and I believe that recognizing there is a problem is the first step in fixing it, here’s how I think I am a crap listener broken down into the categories of the people in my life.
With My Kids:
My 14-year-old rarely talks about her real problems. In point of fact, she rarely talks about anything of substance with me. She mostly talks about her annoying friends. She also asks me for things, A LOT. She’s also great at giving me excuses as to why she hasn’t done or isn’t doing the things I’ve asked her to do. I think it’s quite obvious why I don’t listen to her. In my defense, I do take the time to stop what I’m doing and hear her out when it’s serious. In her defense, I suppose I could be more generous as to what I consider serious.
My 9-year-old likes to give in depth, out of context, line by line plot outlines. Sometimes, it’s about a book. If it’s literary in nature I will nod my head and give the illusion that I am listening. Often times though, it’s about a stupid ass show on Nick or the Disney channel- the kind that I am sure will ultimately lead to the destruction of civilization. Does it make me a bad mother if I don’t care to hear what is happening on Victorious? It’s like 20 minutes later and she’s still talking. Land the damn plane already.
My 2-year-old is often unintelligible. I do my best. I make a lot of eye contact and go, “Really? That’s great!” I figure it’s okay as long as he thinks I’m listening and understanding every word. But it’s not like I can actually do that. He has his own personal language. I don’t think I should be blamed for not speaking it fluently.
With My Husband
My husband, like most straight men in the world, is not the biggest talker. When he talks about his feelings (which is maybe 5% of the time), I do really listen. My husband is super athletic and is into Jack Johnson and the thousand other artists that sound like Jack Johnson. When he talks about some part for his bicycle or what his daily workout was like or about a song with no melody, I tune out. Just like I know he’s tuning me out when I talk about Downton Abbey or knitting. My husband and I are very similar people. Our threshold for bullshit is minimal. We can have a deep meaningful conversation that spans two sentences. This is why we are married.
With My Mom
As is with my 14-year-old, my mom talks a lot about her friends. She also feels that I should have the same emotional connection to her friends as she does. It is not unusual for her to spend half an hour talking about what one of them did and how and who and why. The thing is, I don’t really know these people. Why am I expected to listen intently to this? My mom also talks a lot about the good old days and the people she used to know in the good old days. The extent of people my mom deals with socially is simply exhausting and way too time consuming. While I’m “listening” to her I am also multi tasking. I also find new and incredibly inventive ways to end our conversations politely, otherwise we would be on the phone for 5 hours a day.
With My Dad
My dad is really busy and fairly famous, and he also has no idea how to small talk, at least to me. I generally listen to everything my dad says because he is really wise and gives great advice. He also has the attention span of a gnat. This means our conversations rarely last more than four or five minutes because he gets bored and distracted easily. In this way, he is very much like my husband which is weird but not psychologically unexpected.
With My Sisters
I listen to my sisters most of the time because they have interesting and fascinating lives. They are also really funny and entertaining. I know that my life is not nearly as exciting as theirs. I appreciate it when they act like what my kid ate for breakfast is actually worthy of a conversation or what the lyrics to one of my country songs is. Because they live in LA, there might, possibly be a bit of shallowness to what they find important. However, because they are so good at listening (or pretending to) about my boring ass life, I really make an effort to listen to them in return. Actually, this only goes for two of my sisters. My third sister is harder to get a hold of than the President. I don’t talk much to her.
With My Friends
This is where it gets tricky. Sher is excluded from the equation because we are basically the same person in two bodies and can often communicate without talking, like weirdo twins. I have three kids. I write all day long and deal with words. I have a husband and a song plugger and an agent and an editor and co-writers. I am constantly communicating. It’s difficult for me to have patience with my friends who keep making the same dumb mistakes when it comes to guys. It’s hard for me to have the same conversation over and over again. I’M TIRED. I also find it annoying when my friends who don’t have kids talk about their pets as if it’s the same thing. PETS ARE NOT THE SAME THING AS CHILDREN. Then again, the other mothers I know sometimes act they have given birth to the last remaining kids on earth. I can’t handle it when their kids are ALL they talk about. Also, I almost never talk about my job. I don’t talk about my job because unless you do the same thing as me, I figure you can’t really understand what I might find frustrating about it. And, I am not curing cancer. I am not saving people or making the world a better place. A lot of my friends’ jobs don’t do this either and I find it hard to listen to them when they act as if the world is indeed hanging in the balance if they don’t meet a deadline. You see? I am not a very good listener. Or possibly, I am just really, really impatient.
The great irony here is, because I come from an entertainment family, I do feel like I have to be entertaining in a conversation. I feel the need to fill the conversational space with colourful anecdotes and witty observations. I talk, a lot. I’m afraid of boring people. I’m afraid people won’t think I’m friendly or nice. I overcompensate. In a social situation where I am meeting people for the first time, I practically vomit out stories and words. In that moment, I really care about what they will think about me. But by the time I get home, I feel like an idiot. I feel like an idiot who actually doesn’t care at all what that person thinks of me. I really want to be that enigmatic, mysterious lady. I am the opposite of her. The most I can hope for is that at the very least I am indeed, entertaining. But, I am sure most people think I’m kooky.
The truth is, I fantasize about total silence. My perfect day is one in which I don’t have to speak to anyone, at all. I cannot for see this happening for at least 16 years. Of course, my husband will still be at home, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind at all if I took a vow of silence for a day, or two, or week…
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