After reading a blog by an author who admitted he did not get much from critique groups or workshops when he was a student because he talked too much, I began thinking of the importance of listening.
When I was a youngster, I was shy, self-conscious and quiet in class, but my ears were always open. At an early age, I learned to listen to those who did talk.
What Lies Below the Surface
Like the saying “still waters run deep,” I was like the place where we kids swam, Blue Springs, a hole, some said bottomless, with smooth surface water. It was difficult to know that down deep the spring water boiled up from underground to feed the lake. That was my mind boiling away while on the surface I was quiet and serene.
As a kid I was curious about everything. I devoured books. I had immense wonder about life beyond my isolated little world. I craved adventure. I read books about catching and taming wild stallions. I read about people who lived far away from where I grew up in my large family. I wanted to know how they lived and what they did in their homes.
I wanted to meet the girls in Little Women. I loved Jo and Beth, and cried my eyes out when Beth died. Perhaps my lasting empathy for others developed through reading.
Many, many years later I came to realize that I gave myself permission to feel deeply. I did not hide from my feelings. When I hurt I cried, much to my embarrassment many times. When I was happy I laughed with abandon. Sentimental movies brought out my tissues and my sobs. I was accused of wearing my feelings on my sleeve. I bruised easily. Harsh words cut through me like a knife blade. I took rejection of any kind personally and beat myself up for being stupid, ignorant or lazy. As a teen or a college age student, a broken romance buried me for months. Whether I broke up with him or he with me, I hurt.
I belive my empathy for others came from being still and listening. I listened to my own feelings. I saw and felt the fear and the emotional ache of others when larger kids bullied them, humiliated them. At times I felt the whole world was made up of pain, and I bore it for everyone.
At one point in my adult life I decided to take the Dale Carnegie Course on public speaking. I hoped it would help me get over my shyness, give me self-confidence and help me meet the public in my work. I read the books required for the course and was amazed at the insight I found there. I found out there were others just like me. People who had such a fear of public speaking that they passed out. I was sure that would happen to me if I were ever called on to stand before a group and talk.
After a few meetings, it was not long before I lost most of my fear. Perhaps that was because I realized the others, mostly men, were more frightened of public speaking than I. One man, a friend of my brother, surprised me. I thought, because he was a successful business man, he would have no trouble speaking publicly. However, I learned that the greatest fear of most people is that of speaking before a large group.
We were taught that the most important thing we had to do was just be ourselves. Don’t put on airs or try to impress others. "Just be the same person you are when you stand before an audience as you are to your spouse, your kids or your friends." Those wise words from our instructor hit home.
The second thing I learned was to listen. When someone in our group stood and gave his five-minute talk, we gave him our undivided attention. That helped him relax and do his best. The more we listened the more we learned about each other. We began to feel like a little family. I find this happens in my writing classes, especially memoir classes.
In one of Dale Carnegie’s books he writes about the importance of listening.
“When you listen well, and let others talk, they will go away saying you are a wonderful conversationalist.”
While listening we aren’t thinking of what we want to say, how we are affecting our listener, we have the easy task of seeing the speaker, reading the speakers’ mannerisms, and taking in his words, roiling them around in our minds and seeing the real person before us.
As a school teacher I saw that children, who wouldn’t be quiet and listen, were the students who usually made the worst grades. Listening is an art we must perfect if we are to attain excellence in relationships, in our work and especially in writing.
When we stop listening, we stop learning. We stop being a good conversationalist. When we refuse to listen we close out those we might learn from, those who could offer us just what we need.
Link: Never too Late to Change Your Life
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So not only did you teach me about writing memoir, you also taught me about reading and thinking about how others write memoir. Thank you so much! Rebecca