It’s not for lack of material

5 May

So I’m sitting here at my fave coffee place.  It’s this quaint old converted veggie stand gone coffee shop and well, let’s just say it’s outdoors.  The “indoor” area is basically outdoor only there are bathtubs with bamboo growing out of them that stand in for “walls” and the roof is a tarp.  Cool, right?

I had delusions about sitting in the sun and writing industriously. Instead, I’m all hopped on the  Americano I’ve managed to milk for several hours while writing…nothing, and talking with almost every person that even enters my peripheral vision, aaannnnnd reading other people’s blogs.  And, believe me, it’s not for lack of material that I haven’t written.  Nor for lack of time because, other than some residual stickiness from my morning grapefruit, time is all I’ve got on my hands.  Until, of course, this godforsaken cast comes off and I return to work and then I’ll regret not using this time wisely…but I think I’m off track, if I actually had one to begin with.

This caffeinated rambling reminds me of two things:  One of my least favorite instructors in grad school told me–not so gently (after a traumatizing class critique of not my greatest work in the world)–that the reason I don’t write isn’t because I have no material it’s my  focus that’s lacking.  And my most favorite teacher stressed the importance of remembering I am writing for an audience now.  Aw, christ.  So here I am attempting to weave something out of nothing, you know, really max out on meaty content. But, I’m now two hundred and sixty something words in and…

Still.  No.  Focus.  Or meat.  And my poor audience…hang in there.  Being mid-afternoon now, the coffee shop crowd has thinned.  I’d say if I had to pick a topic of the day it would be the importance of listening, not only as a writer but also as a human being in relationship with other human beings.  Tell the truth, don’t you feel all special and warm and fuzzy when you feel listened to and heard?

But listening takes skill and practice.  It is so much more than words flying out of someone’s mouth into your ears.  It’s more than preparing your reply or phasing out into the backdrop of your mind so you can remember the details of the story you are going to tell as soon as this person in front of you stops talking.  It’s not like jump rope, when you stand gauging revolutions for just the right time to jump in with whatever you’re scheming up instead of listening.  I’ve never done these things, because I’m lying an expert listener.  I imagine this is how it goes though.  Anyhow,  where was I?

In preschool, listening is basically part of the curriculum.  Because it’s important!  Just like using tissues to extract things from your nose.  And focusing on your current task.  In writing, listening is not only important but it’s also a tool for information gathering, a way to pick up new ideas for new pieces, and a connection to other human beings.  And what’s cool, if you’re having an antisocial day as I sometimes do, you can listen without engaging just by being out in public.  It’s kind of like parallel play, only for adults.  Imagine just listening for one whole day(that means no talking).  With a notepad.  And pen.

There is psychology and science behind more than just the physical act of listening.  And there’s how you process information.  And of course the fact that we’re all our own individuals with unique life experiences that create our own personal filter and influence the way we hear what is being said and how it affects us versus how it might affect someone else.  Google perception and top-down/bottom-up processing if you feel like it.  It’s dense and fascinating if you like the hard stuff.  In the meantime, here’s my favorite story of the day (and I have aliens, human anatomy, dating woes, and many others to choose from!):

So, I was getting stoned one night.  And I only had like…two hits.  But I swear, I was looking at the plants in my house and I started staring at this fern and all the sudden it totally had a face! And it looked like an old man.  Then it looked like my grandpa.  Swear!  And so I just started talking to him and telling him what’s been happening in my life. It was cool.

Okay, so this folks, is part of the reason we writers have a duty to listen.  Not only because there is Pulitzer Prize winning material out there (like you read above) but also because there are perfectly sane grown men out there talking to ferns and god only knows what else…

See you tomorrow.


4 Responses to “It’s not for lack of material”

  1. Andrea Parker May 6, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    I do think listening pays off a lot in human relationships. It reminds me of my dad, who always listened.

  2. Kathy May 6, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    Heather….your blog is great and hysterically funny. Keep up the great work!!! I can’t wait to hear what WOMEN are talking about out there…

  3. Joan Lambert Bailey May 6, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    You’re so right about listening. It’s one of the most difficult things to do, but so important.

  4. Su-sieee! Mac May 7, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    When I was a high school senior, hundreds of years ago, my psychology teacher told me that I shouldn’t be a writer because I ramble too much. She was right, but I still write. Ha! I get a kick reading your words. Keep on! Oh, yeah, I’m a fellow blogathoner. 🙂

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