Archive for August 17, 2011

On the Blessed Silence of Holding One’s Tongue

I come from a family of readers, talkers, and opinion-sharers – a heritage which goes back at least two generations on my father’s side alone.  Growing up in a household of verbally expressive types, it’s been a life-long struggle for me to learn when to keep my thoughts to myself.  There may be earlier examples, but I vividly recall the third grade trauma of being sent to the principal’s office for being the only one in a gaggle of eight-year-olds dumb enough to blurt out an explanation for how the stall door in the girl’s bathroom got pushed in the wrong direction, to the fatal detriment of its hinge mechanism.

Not favored with innate control over such outbursts of honesty, I rationalize that the incessant proffering of informed sentiments is somehow a more exotic species of rhetoric than garden-variety, cliché-ridden blusterings about “kids today” or the chronically sorry state of politics.  The truth is that being reared in the midst of lively conversationalists may train a person to be uncomfortable with interpersonal silences.  In my case, there was also the need to compete with a vociferous older brother who made himself the center of everyone’s amused attentions with outrageous practical jokes and designed-for-shock-effect proclamations.

Whatever, I somehow ended up being That Person – the pedestrian who calls out a warning to speeders racing madly through residential areas; the viewer who scolds television “reporters” spewing out views instead of news; the disagreeable sort who argues out loud with every pharmaceutical commercial that suggests the answer to any ailment is to pop a pill, never mind the two-page list of dreadful side-effects; the pursed-lip priss, hissing and sputtering as the woman in front of me at Walgreens buys ice cream, potato chips, and energy drinks at inflated drugstore prices with her food stamp card so that she can free up her own cash to purchase multiple packs of cigarettes.

In short, the boor who simply must comment on every aspect of coarse society as it passes by, as in lamenting teenage Walmart shoppers who don’t have the sense not to wear profane tee-shirts at literal eye-level to the cart-sitting toddler they gave birth to at 15. (Wonder what that little one’s first words will be.)  It’s not as if enumerating media lies and social ills does anything in itself to resolve them, but when no one else is speaking up, my ego compels me to provide some kind of narrative.

There are advantages to being mouthy, of course, as when that trait combines with moral outrage to take on a customer service injustice like a dog tackles a chunk of rawhide.  I have a grateful niece who was pressured by a local fitness club rep to sign a contract she hadn’t the experience, at 18, to fully understand.  I took that fight, via telephone, all the way to a top executive in a plush New York office building.  She got her $388.00 back.

I also got my own $10,000.00 surgery covered by taking good notes, doing solid research, standing firm, and threatening to involve local government agencies when the insurer tried to shove me through the “preexisting conditions” loophole in my policy.

But hearing myself drone on day-to-day can be wearisome.  If it wears me out, what must its effect be on those around me?  I don’t want to become the tiresome great aunt whom everybody avoids at family gatherings, although that ship may have already left the harbor.

Like screaming “Idiot!” at every lame-brained driver one encounters, breaking the constant commenting habit remains a challenge, decades after a kindly principal lifted this tearful little blabbermouth onto her lap to sort out  the details of the Reverse-Swinging Stall Door Caper.

This brings me to a book which has sat in my collection for years – nurturing, osmosis-like, dreams of a writing career that got waylaid by eight-to-five job demands and family obligations.  What does Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande, possibly have to do with being a bit too talkative?  Let me explain; I’ll try to keep it brief. (more…)

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August 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm 2 comments


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