Friday, February 17, 2006

Waxing Preferentially Loquacious in my own Blog

I don't remember how old I was when I learned to read, but I think it was at a fairly normal age. What was unusual, I guess, is how quickly and how well I learned to read aloud. I could pronounce large and difficult words on-the-fly and also learned quickly to develop a certain cadence; a natural flow of words.

To this day, if I am reading aloud, my eyes are always a few words ahead of my mouth, so that, when I get to them with my mouth, my brain has already processed them. I don't try to make this happen. It just does. Maybe I'm some sort of reading savant.

When I was 7 or 8 I remember being at the home of our neighbor Diane Zaske...

(why do I remember her name? -- you'll have to wait on that answer, since my status as something of a memory savant will probably be the subject of a future blog)

I was at their house playing with her two kids, around my age, but younger. She had a couple friends over and was playing cards or something. I was absent-mindedly reading the front page of her newspaper as it sat on the kitchen table. She asked me what I was doing, so I told her. She was incredulous that I, as a 7 year old, could read the front page of a newspaper. She tested me on a couple word meanings. Then, she asked me to do something that would become a defining moment of sorts: she asked me to read out loud.

I don't have any memory of doing this earlier in life, although I suppose I must have in kindergarten or 1st grade.

I don't remember what the stories were in the news that day. I don't remember how long I read -- a few minutes probably. What I do remember is her awe at my ability. She had me read some more from the front page; the back page; the sports. I was a showpiece for her to coo over and praise. She pointed my skills out to her friends. She called my mom and dad and told them how amazing it was. She went nuts over my ability to not just read, but read with pronunciation, articulation, and comprehension beyond my years.

I have always enjoyed reading. I like being told stories, whether it is someone reading to me, or me reading to myself with various voices inside my head for the different characters.

But since that day at the Zaske's, in school or in other settings, I have always enjoyed reading aloud. Especially when it has resulted in praise. It has made me feel valuable and "better than" others who couldn't read as well. I probably looked down my nose a few times at kids who weren't as good at reading, but there were plenty of things I was not good at for which I endured playground ridicule, so I don't think I lorded it over anyone for too long, or too ruthlessly.

This praise-loving led to appreciating the praise I received when I was not reading aloud, but simply speaking my mind. I'm not as well read as others I know, but I've always been fairly good at articulating, in some detail, what is going on in my head or heart.

I used to be a regular listener to Dr. Laura. As caustic as she can be, one of the things I appreciated about her rapport with callers was her refusal of "I don't know" as an answer. She would often tell callers who gave that as an answer to stop, think, and then respond -- instead of just blurting out "I don't know" as some sort of cop-out or excuse.

Likewise, I almost never say "I don't know" when asked something. If it is a feeling or thought question, I think and then respond with my feelings or thoughts. If it is a factual question and I truly don't know the answer, then I will often give an "educated guess" (read: pull an answer out of thin air (or elsewhere) and speak with a confident tone of voice). If it is a work-related matter and a patient is asking me a medical question and I don't know the answer, then I will say "I don't know, but I will find the answer and get back to you".

Along the way in life, I somehow learned words are the best way to communicate. Researchers now tell us only about 7% communication comes from the actual words/content. (55% comes from body language and 38% comes from tone of voice).

What this means, is that if someone does not understand me, I have often considered it my fault -- if I could just articulate more clearly or in more detail the nuances of the situation/feelings/etc then the other person would truly understand.

I learned being misunderstood means feeling hurt and rejected, or someone else feels that way. Since neither of those is nice, I have learned to overuse words up-front; to over-communicate so as to avoid any possibility of miscommunication.

If you haven't picked this up by now then God bless your naivete: I'm wordy. Verbose. Loquacious.

Strunk and White say "Omit needless words" but I have always found it easier to say in 500 words what others can say in 50 (or 5!).

Where once I found praise for my ability to articulate, I now found friends and family members getting glassy-eyed, slack-jawed, or worse: angry. I began to receive comments like:
Get to the point!
Stop rambling!
Do you even have a point?
What the hell does that have to do with anything?
or just
From these and other (more loving) comments I've learned that not everyone shares my fascination with words, word pictures, stories, analogies, parables, and the like. I've learned that, at times, brevity helps. Being concise can be good.

When people tried to "help me" by telling me I should learn to get to the point more quickly, and avoid using stories and analogies, it hurt. When these same people tried to tell me they loved me, it never clicked. I would think "How can you love me if you want me to be different?" I felt betrayed and used and manipulated.

But then one day I read something that helped me get a more clear perspective. It was printed, of all places, on a bumper sticker. It said this:
Jesus loves me exactly the way I am.
He just loves me too much to let me stay this way!
That helped me see the love others were trying to express in helping me become a better communicator.

I think I have come a long way in my ability to avoid overcommunicating. Now I am more able to let the words fall where they may, and deal with any misunderstandings which arise. This has not always been fun or easy, but it has actually helped me become even more articulate, more loving, and more mature.

But you know what?

I still love words. I love to write them and craft them into stories. I think I am more articulate as a writer than a speaker. With speaking, at least extemporaneously, there is little or no editing on-the-fly. With writing I can save draft copies and change syntax, structure, and content -- waiting until it is truly what I want it to be before giving it to anyone.

That's why I love blogging. I can say as much as I want, on whatever topic I want, using as many stories as I want (the stories I think are relevant).

And if someone says "wow -- your blog is too wordy" then I can either delete their comment, or tell them not to read the blog then.

See, while I've grown up some and reduced my normal word-count in day-to-day communications, I still sometimes feel the condescension of less wordy people. Not the people really close to me (just in case you were wondering if it is you, it probably isn't -- but just in case, please think twice the next time you feel yourself getting glassy-eyed. Maybe I'm just getting to the really good part!).

I get the impression these less-wordy people are "putting up with" me -- "enduring" me. That doesn't feel good at all. It feels pretty crappy, to tell you the truth. It feels the exact opposite of what I felt in Diane Zaske's kitchen 33 years ago. Instead of feeling valued and appreciated I feel belittled and pushed away.

So in my blog, it helps me and I like it -- getting to say as much as I want on whatever topic. Using whatever words I want, being as redundant as I want. Being as repetitive as I want. Just because I can. I can talk and tell stories and no one gets to say "hurry it up and get to the point" because it is my own space and if they don't like it they can leave.

I guess the bottom line is this: I want to be liked not "in spite of" how I communicate, but because of how I communicate. Or at the very least "aside from" how I communicate -- like it is a non-issue.

In my blog I get that. It is mainly for me. If others read it, that is fine, but it is mainly for me. And I like me. I like me because of how I communicate.

~ Keith


Sicilian said...

Love reading blogs. Thought we were in the same age range category when I saw the batman pics. You are wordy friend, but in your profession, it probably comes in pretty handy.
I think you have some interesting thoughts. May hear more fom me when I've mulled them over.

Can Opener Boy said...

Sweet! Thanks for stopping by. Once you've mulled things over, I look forward to hearing more from you!

~ cob