Posts Tagged ‘listening’

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the art of conversation.

May 20, 2012

On Thursday evening I was waiting to meet Toby and Said in Starbucks in Westfield after work. I had my frappuccino, my copy of L’Officiel Hommes Italia (I had bought the Italian version rather than my usual French version in order to practise my Italian – I have been doing my Italian course for 3 weeks and I feel it’s going well, although I am still finding it hard to avoid thinking and speaking in Spanish) and my iPod in. I had serendipitously commandeered three comfy armchairs around a table, and was settling in to read. However, the cafe was getting busy and Toby and Said were running late due to traffic and transport. A pretty Asian lady in a blue coat came up to me and asked if anyone was sitting with me. Now, I could hardly say “I’m sorry, my friends are coming” because I didn’t know when they would arrive – as it happened, I ended up waiting for another half an hour before they arrived. So I said “No, go ahead and take the chairs.” The woman flopped down in the seat and exhaled loudly, before exclaiming “They should make places in here (i.e. Westfield) where you can sleep for half an hour!” I smiled and agreed, and soon she was joined by her equally pretty friend, who sat in the other vacant armchair. For a while, we didn’t converse, but somehow we eventually started talking. About shopping, about London (the first lady maintained that London used to have “quiet areas, but now there are so many people everywhere, you can’t escape them!”) and about iPhone apps. We even talked about finances and relationships, and somehow we passed the time amiably chatting. Their friend showed up and they introduced her to me, and although I didn’t know these women, I felt included and comfortable. It was an unusual situation, and when Toby and Said finally arrived, they wore slightly amused and surprised expressions on their faces as I bade the women farewell.

I explained how we had ended up talking, and I realised that while it was cute that “I had made Starbucks friends”, in the past this kind of situation probably wasn’t so uncommon. When you’re on a plane or on a bus and someone sits next to you, in the past we didn’t have iPods and other devices with headphones to cut ourselves off so effectively from the rest of the world. Ok, we might have been reading a book and people might have interpreted that as someone not particularly wanting to engage in conversation, but it didn’t render us incommunicado from the world outside in the same way – and we probably didn’t regard someone new wanting to talk to us as an entirely unreasonable intrusion on our privacy. Although a lot of people harp on about the youth of today communicating so wholly via social media that they no longer have (or necessarily need) conversational skills in the real world, I don’t think that I hold with that anti-technology, anti-modern view. People are either socially confident and equipped with skills to handle face-to-face interactions, or they’re not. Me and my friends use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. – but we also enjoy talking face to face and venturing out into the big wide world.

As someone who has always been good at learning languages, the hardest and most nerve-wracking aspect of studying a new language is always speaking and listening – being able to successfully navigate a real-time, real-life interaction and find the words and sentences to express my needs and opinions. It takes practice, perseverance and a certain acceptance of making mistakes and learning from them. We can’t be afraid that we’re going to mess up from time to time – because that is definitely going to happen, and when we ask for help, correct ourselves and re-establish our confidence is when we learn. In much the same way, people can’t be afraid of making a social blunder even in their first / only language – it’s a totally understandable fear, but if we acquiesce to that fear, then we end up staying in hiding behind that array of screens never to conquer our social unease. The art of conversation is something that some people have much stronger skills in than others – but everyone can practise and hone those skills. We are all human, and at the end of the day physically being with one another isn’t the only way, but it is the ultimate one.

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run(a)way.

June 9, 2010

Monday night, after one more argument with my mother over the dinner table where I should really know better than to voice an opinion contrary to that of my parents’, even if that opinion is backed up by fact and knowledge from my university studies rather than jaded cynicism and hearsay, I decided it was all too much and left home for 2 days.  My father was ambivalent during the whole row, my mother decided I had a “problem” with her and refused to listen to her (despite the fact I expressed my opinions in a calm manner, balancing positives with negatives; these opinions were talked over or dismissed at each turn); that I had suddenly “flipped out” despite the fact that she, not I, was the one raising their voice; that how could my feelings be hurt by her, if she’d had her feelings hurt by me? As if only one person can feel wounded by another at any one time.  I said that over the course of the year, I had learned that the only time I ever argued or was in a toxic atmosphere was at home with my parents, that I have the ability to make friends time and again and therefore there can’t be anything wrong with me, that I would no longer let my parents make me feel ugly.  I left to give myself some space, and I am more than grateful to Toby and Mike for providing me refuge, and to all of my friends for understanding and for saying that I was right, and not crazy.

People say that “friends are the family you can choose”. Others say that “blood is thicker than water”.  It is true that I will never not love my family: my mother and I were inseparable during my early years and we got each other through the dictatorship, misery and abuse (verbal, mental, very rarely physical) my father wreaked on our lives.  I won’t forget that.  Neither do I hate my father, although he doesn’t love me: he’s never known how to be a father, but at the age of 16 I finally realised that hating him still meant that he had some power over me.  I saw him weakened after one too many accidents on his bicycle – watching my father crippled, being wheeled in a wheelchair, having to help him go to the toilet in hospital made me realise that his power was all an illusion, and that if I didn’t submit to his subjugation, there was little he could do to truly hurt me.  Since those epiphanies, I’ve been able to forgive him for my childhood, and at times I know that his lack of attachment to me makes him almost an objective source, and occasionally a better source of advice or confidant than my fiercely feisty but heavily biased mother (if I have issues and neuroses, I most certainly learned them from her).  He’s not a bad person and I don’t think he ever meant to be, he’s just imperfect.  My mother is imperfect too, and just as I rebelled against my father, I’m now fighting a battle to establish myself as an intelligent human being against and apart from my mother, who unwittingly (unlike my father’s deliberate past sabotage) threatens my intellect and independence fairly often.  Her timing is off however: I’m 24 and after university not once but twice, and a gradually-formed but steadfast collection of true friends, I’m stronger than ever.  So I won’t take shit from either of them. I don’t need to.

I came home this afternoon with some trepidation: as much as I am strong now, I’m not invincible, and if I had been kicked out I don’t know how I would afford to live elsewhere until my job at Cirencester kicked in (my first salary payment won’t come through until mid-September, and my bursary won’t keep me going until then, especially if I’m juggling rent with driving lessons and tests, which are indispensable at this point).  Financially, I just can’t afford to be out of this house; emotionally, if they said goodbye, I’d walk out and never come back because my pride would not let me do otherwise.  I’d be shooting myself in the foot, but I’d do it with resilience in my eye.  However, I’d rather not have to shoot myself in the foot 😉 My mother is giving me the silent treatment: even though I don’t think I was in the wrong, before leaving on Monday night I apologised for “getting heated”. My mother did not, does not apologise unless hell has frozen over or unless she’s actually not done anything wrong.  My father is pretending like nothing ever happened, and is playing piggy in the middle of our fury; because there are 3 of us in our family, one of us is usually stuck in the middle / left outside alone (delete as appropriate) while the other two bait and infuriate.  Usually, I’m the third wheel to my parents’ storms.  So I can understand my father feeling relieved that he’s off the hook for a little while.  My stubbornness, identical to my mother’s (I won’t lie: we have a lot of similarities and I have had to reprogramme myself to eliminate some of her neuroses and pessimism ingrained in my psyche at a young age – they’re not all gone yet), means that our arctic silence will persist at least a week or two.  I don’t want this, I don’t want to be locked in war, and yet as a child I always surrendered to the silent treatment.  Not only am I not in the wrong, but I have apologised for my foibles in the argument.  I have nothing else to say: my mother evidently feels she is impeccable.  So what else is there to say or do, other than go on and wait for everything to subside?

Once everything is financially stabilised, I will be gone from here.  It’ll take only a few months I believe: my life is slotting into place and in my mid-20s, it’s been long overdue for me to be out of home.  Returning from my undergraduate degree, it was really difficult getting used to living under my parents again; over the past year when I’ve been going to UWE, their relationship seems to have destabilised to the point that I prefer to be alone or out than endure the atmosphere.  Perhaps it’s partly just natural for me, as an adult, to want my own independence too.  It is within reach now, I just have to bide my time a little longer and keep looking to the sky. Hopefully, when I achieve my goals, with some perspective and space my parents will be happy for me.  And if not, then that’s okay too, because I will be happy for myself and I have enough people who care about me that I feel healthy.  I can do this 🙂

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escape.

October 19, 2009

I am tired of being treated like a leper.  I am tired of not being asked how I am or how my day went.  I am tired of being made to feel like I am not permitted to speak or make any noise in your presence, except in order to answer your questions or support your arguments.  I am tired of being told to be quiet and stop singing during the day, only to have to listen to the sounds of you fighting in the night.  I am tired of of being made to feel uncomfortable in the midst of your baggage.  I am tired of being accused of never listening to you, when you bombard me with so much speech that I finally have to tune out your voice in order to save my sanity.  I am tired of being made to feel that I should be neither seen nor heard, and only trotted out on an occasion when you need to feel proud of yourselves that you raised a son like me.  I am tired of being asked to move from one room to another because “I don’t belong there”, when in reality I don’t belong anywhere at all according to you, and you only want to displace me that little bit extra to make me feel more insecure.  I am tired of being misunderstood or misdiagnosed, which just proves how little you know me, love me and care about who I truly am rather than the version of who you think I am.  I am tired of being punished for having my own opinion.  I am tired of being made the scapegoat when I dare to disagree with your views which you present as gospel or unshakeable fact.  I am tired of biting my tongue.  I am tired of feeling miserable and worthless.  I am tired of wondering why I am never good enough for you, when I am more than good enough for absolutely everyone else.  I am tired of being made to feel like I am the problem.  I am tired of being on the verge of tears only to never cry.

One day, I will never warn you, but I am going to find somewhere else to live and to be.  I’m already working on it.  Then I will pack my shit, change my number, and vanish. Y0u will never see me or hear from me again.  I deserve to be free, and I finally will be. And I will not miss you.

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disinterest.

August 21, 2009

In the dating game over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about men, and I’ve learned a lot about myself.  It has yet to really get me anywhere, but as much as dating should be about romance, about clicking with someone, about personalities coming together, sparks flying and the potential for love, it seems to be more of a transaction.  What am I to you?  Who am I to you?  What can I do for you?  What opportunities do I provide, what I can I get in return?  I’m not interested in relationships of convenience, and perhaps that is why I haven’t really had much dating success.  I either become blinded by my feelings, or jaded and clinical about the whole affair.  Here’s a brief examination of what people seem to what from me:

Sex : Most of the time, a promising exchange of ideas all seems to dissipate once you get me into your bed.  If they haven’t lost interest after the first night (I’m not that easy, and have only given it up once on the first date), then they suddenly disappear once they finally get some sexual interaction.  Not because I’m not any good (I am confident of this – I’m sure I’m not the best lover ever, but I know what I am doing well enough to elicit… the desired response), but just because I’ve fulfilled their need.  People tell me I am sexy, I am beautiful, I am this or that, but once we’ve done the deed, I apparently stop being those things and become “just another guy” or another conquest.  So silly me for thinking that there might have been something more, that I’m more than a mouth or a body to you.  I tell myself time and again that I should just use people for sex myself, but I can’t roll that way – I can’t do it.  Perhaps I’m not that jaded yet.

Trophy boyfriend : I am not bad-looking, I have some designer clothes and jewellery, I have plenty of friends and a couple of guys have enjoyed the fact that I seem to be reasonably popular and ‘cool’ (whatever that means).  Yes, I listen to music, I read books, I go to clubs, I am pretty sociable.  I also work hard, am educated and have thoughts in my head, but that seems to pass certain guys by.  They want to buy me things (far too soon, in one guy’s case – one meeting and he buys me something from the Britney concert he went to – I never found out what it was because I decided to end it once I found out; it was too intense for me! He was a bit of a stalker anyway…) and show me off, but I’m not going to be paraded as your ‘better half’ just to give you extra social clout.  Step your game up and take an interest in me for who I am, because I do the same for you.

Friendship : Obviously, a big part of a relationship is establishing a firm friendship between the two of you. But one of the things I find most difficult is when I date people who suddenly reveal they already have partners and just want to be friends.  By this time, I am the kind of person who might have fallen for them and am inventing scenarios in my head (of course, I keep that part to myself).  To have this shot down, when I reasonably assumed that because we were on a date, we were both single (!!!), means I need to majorly readjust my priorities and my attitude.  I manage to do it, but it bruises my heart somewhat because I get my hopes up (perhaps, again, I should know better by now) only to have them dashed.  Usually, it’s the perfect-seeming ones who already turn out to be attached – it figures, I guess.  Does that say anything about me being single though, that I am not that good a catch?  I like to think that of course it doesn’t, but sometimes it niggles away at me.

Emotional crutch : All too often, I find that guys quickly reveal that they have certain problems in their lives and they share what is going on.  More than once, I’ve dealt with guys with mental health problems, and I like to think I’m a pretty good listener and pretty compassionate.  I try to be there for them and understand as much as I can.  I give space when needed, I am ready to talk when they’re ready to talk.  But after a while, I begin to feel that “I’m depressed” is being used as an excuse to pick me up when they want me, and then drop me when they don’t.  I find myself wondering, “What about my needs?  There are two of us here… why are you waiting for me to text you?  Why does it take me asking you how you are?  Why can’t you pick up the phone, I have feelings too.  Just because you’re depressed doesn’t mean that I am happy 100% of the time.”  I apologise if it sounds slightly childish, but at the end of the day it is true.  It takes two to make a relationship work, and if there’s no room for me beyond being an agony uncle / sounding board for all your problems (however valid they might be), then I’m sorry but that just isn’t enough for me.

I’m still trying to figure out how to not let myself be sucked in by different guys, but it seems like every few months I learn a new trick – the hard way.  There are lots of ruses and games that people play in order to get what they want from you.  I have learned to lose interest more quickly and cut guys off if their play becomes too desperate / blatant, but is there any advice for being able to spot the bad ones more quickly?  It would save a lot of drama and some heartache too if everyone just wore a badge saying “Hi! I am looking for… I am interested in… I am not seeking…”  At least it would be honest.  But then, as they say, sometimes it’s all about the chase…

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no good advice.

July 26, 2009

I’ve always been someone to whom people have come to for advice, or to listen to their problems or whatever’s been going on with them.  As good as I am at talking (which is very!), I am a good listener and I try to keep a balanced perspective as much as is possible so I can evaluate people’s problems fairly and give the best support that I can.  And quite often, the best form of support isn’t advice where you tell them to do something specific, but rather where you just lay out their options in front of them, some possible scenarios of what might happen depending on what they choose to do, and then just leave it up to them.  That’s what I was trained to do in Peer Support and I fully stand by it.  Although I accept that sometimes people may know better than me, I try to listen to what people say and observe what is happening around me, and then choose whether to take certain pieces of advice or go my own way.

Nevertheless, in view of the rapidity with which my life appears to be falling apart and going the very opposite of whatever “according to plan” is, I don’t really feel that I’m the right person for people to come to for advice.  I feel hypocritical talking about relationships because my track record is pretty bad; I feel strange applying for a Careers Guidance course because if anyone could use some serious careers guidance, it is me!  But my friends assure me that I am “rational” and “have a sensible head on my shoulders”; I like to think they are right, and that I was brought up well and I’ve observed the world around me enough to know what is right and what is wrong (though the lines so often blur).  I think it stems from the fact that my advice works so well for other people, but when it comes my turn to take this advice, it’s so much more difficult… That, and the fact I seem to attract people who are batshit crazy (in a variety of ways!).

So I wanted to write this piece of advice down that I dispensed today… it goes against my usual strategy of “hard to get”, and it is an attempt to counteract the stressing of “what if” and strategising behind when to send texts and how many kisses to put at the end of them.  These things are important, but they haven’t gotten me anywhere… the only thing that’s been proved right (and all my friends proved wrong) lately is my paranoia!  So I want to make a record of this, in case it might help somebody, and hopefully I’ll learn to follow it too… :

Just do what you think is right, and do whatever is rational to you.  Men are so random and crazy, they can turn on and off at the flick of a switch, and disappear and reappear at will. So just be yourself, and don’t limit yourself to one of them until you’re sure they are at least temporarily committed to you.

It’s not a long piece of advice, but I imagine at certain moments I’ll find it a bitter pill to swallow. The job of my friends, and of you guys who are reading (hah, I bet you didn’t know you’d signed up for this!), is to make me swallow this pill when necessary… because the pill is, in reality, a vitamin.

(Thankyou to Nick and Hannah for making me blog this 🙂 – please give their blogs a visit, they’re both talented writers!)