My sister informed me once, when I, as a young adult, was puzzling over communication problems with my parents, that my style was to keep really quiet for a long time, and then suddenly drop a bomb before retreating to the hills. I must admit, she was right. I probably still do that. I imagine a therapist would call it stuffing one’s emotions, and then exploding.
My dad was a good model for this. Whenever he was angry, you could feel it in the air. You didn’t have to see his face. He didn’t have to slam a door, or curse, or throw something (though he was likely to do any or all of those things, eventually). The molecules of the atmosphere changed. They became dense and agitated.
Why couldn’t he just say “I’m upset about xyz”? Why can’t I do that now? How can something so simple be so difficult?
Of course, we all communicate all the time, whether it’s with direct statements, action or inaction, tone of voice, or facial expressions. But what I longed for as a child was the words – validation, dialogue, a map of letters to lead the way.
When I was about four, we were making a family trip up the east coast. Dad was fed up with all the bickering between the children, and at one point he informed us, “If you don’t behave, I’m going to turn this car around and go home.” I was sitting in between Mom and Dad in the front seat. I peered up at him, I’m sure with brow furrowed, and said, “I wish you would.”
This statement was made before I began overthinking everything. It was before I began editing myself to the point of silence, which would ultimately be interrupted by an explosion of exclamation points. I’d like to get back to that unedited place, the purity of the four-year-old mind.
I don’t talk a lot around many people. Sometimes my reason is as basic as believing that so much is just not worth saying. Sometimes it’s because I know the person I’m with doesn’t really want to listen, they just want to talk -- frequently about things I don’t want to hear about (how many times they vomited or had diarrhea overnight, how terrible the world is, today’s headlines, last night’s TV shows).
So much of our communication is superfluous; maybe that’s why I’m an editor. I remember how incredibly irritated I felt while visiting the Taj Mahal in 1997. My travel companion kept saying, “It’s so beautiful,” over and over again, as if this had some meaning, as if I couldn’t see, as if she didn’t have a brain.
I prefer communication that, well, communicates something, and yes, I realize this is completely subjective. In other words, your comments about farts are disgusting, while mine are hilarious.
Communication is an intimate act. It involves trust, release, give and take. Connecting with someone in a way that makes me want to pour out everything that I’ve been holding in is liberating, exciting, and very rare. When it occurs, I feel like one of those rapid-fire irrigation systems that shoots like a machine gun. Whoosh whoosh whoosh splatsplatsplatsplatsplatsplat! And if you come away wet and grinning, like a kid who’s just run through a sprinkler in July, I’ve succeeded, which is another rush.
So round up those six kids, two parents, and the maid, and let’s meet in the den. We’ve got some talking to do.
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