Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Listen...Can You?!

People talk a lot. I prefer listening. You'd think it was a perfect set-up but it's not. Listening is often under-rated when it comes to its level of difficulty. It's all coming back to me now as I prepare to leave for home. Sitting in the car, right in the middle seat, all alone, I'm looking around me bewildered. My family, you see, is standing around the vehicle, and each one of them is declaring where they will sit and where each of the others should sit...They're postulating and reasoning and gesticulating, and the voices are getting louder. As what started as consideration quickly escalates towards violence, I am reminded of other instances where people have pushed the boundaries.

My colleague in a previous job was a pleasant, efficient lady. We had similiar duties and she loved to talk to me about them and anything else that came up during work. There was only one problem. A few wires in her brain had short-circuited at some point in her life, and she had lost most of her sense of personal space. She'd get so close to you when she was talking that you could see the pores on her face. Magnification, a process that used to interest me, lost all lustre after these encounters. It would take a superhuman effort to focus on her eyes because they'd be so close to yours. As I tried each time to uncross my eyes, I'd wonder if she went through life thinking that most people are sadly cross-eyed. So complete was this woman's need to get up-close that her subconsious had been programmed to compensate for and match any shift in the other person's spatial trajectory. My need to step away and breathe always led us in this totally unromantic dance down the corridor. I'd lead, she'd follow. We did the two-step, the fox trot, the jig. At desperate times, we've even moved through the samba, and touched on a bit of salsa. But nothing worked. My biggest comfort was that she never articulated her 'p's or 't's with any amount of force, so I was saved from the pain of spittle at least. Not that the errant projectile never found its mark.

I found a different type of person waiting for me at my next job, a different sort of challenge. She was a passionate, inspiring woman. Except when she slept through our conversations. Always polite, I never knew if I should stop talking or become a more interesting person. Sometimes she'd wake up and nod and it planted huge seeds of doubt in me. Was she bluffing? Could a sleeping face be a poker face? I never found out. I'd just continue talking, gradually tilting my head and body down and sideways, trying to point my words at her ears as her head slid steadily. When she awoke, we'd both jerk up.

I moved on to a job where my acting prowess was tested sorely. A boss with one foot in the world of movies is not such a great thing. Especially when he got me in the seat opposite him and dropped names and places as easily as the peanuts he was paying me, followed by a look of expectation. 'How awesome am I?', his eyes asked me every other day. How many expressions of admiration or being impressed can I make? Hah! I know the answer to that one. Zillions. One combination is right eyebrow up + lips pressed together + head tilt left 30 degrees. Another is both eyebrows up + mouth half open + 2 nods. The simplest is three rapid blinks + leaning backward. I got so good at it that after I quit, he couldn't live with the void I left behind. I considered his proposal of marriage with awe- a lifetime of that? I refused mainly because I feared my eyebrows would never descend again.

So yeah, all these gurus who talk and talk about the art of talking? I can teach those fellas a thing or two about listening. It's my turn to talk now. Just as soon as my family figure out that any butt can fit in any seat and we finally make it home.

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