please protect me from motormouths
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
“It’s like you have a sign on you that says, ‘Tell me about it,’” Tom marveled.
Something about me attracts people with way too much to say.
I went to a new hairdresser yesterday. He was a lovely young man who did a great job on my hair. However, his monologue started the minute I sat in his chair and didn’t stop until I fled the salon two and a half hours later. Not only that, but he talked fast and he mumbled, forcing me to strain to hear him.
He talked about his techniques, his talents, his artistic aspirations, his job. He left me alone for a while to let my color set up, but soon returned and started poking at my head and talking again. While cutting my hair, he frequently paused to gesticulate with scissors and comb. By the time I got out of there, my head hurt and I was so stressed as to be a danger to myself and others in rush hour traffic.
This was first thing on my mind when I woke this morning and I may choose not to return to the salon because of it. I have ill will towards the guy—perhaps he was nervous about a new customer or felt obligated to entertain me—but I can’t endure that again.
For some reason, I find it impossible to extricate myself from one-sided conversations. I’m a sitting duck for chatterboxes. And chatterboxes seem to know that. I’m a magnet for them.
In similar situations, Tom has a way of staring into the distance and becoming nonresponsive until the chatterbox falls silent. But I do all the wrong things—I make eye contact, encouraging noises and murmur appropriate responses—even as I become increasingly desperate for the words to stop. For the love of god. Please.
Being a good listener and having an ability to draw people out are skills necessary for a reporter. I just don’t know how to put people back again when I’m done.
It’s difficult for me to imagine producing that many words in a stream. I can hold up my end of a conversation and love lively discourse. But I am bumfuzzled by people who can stretch an anecdote to 20 minutes, with digressions to god knows where, around the block a few times, downtown and uptown and crosstown before bringing it home--and then take a deep breath and start again. When a chatterbox starts in on me like that, I’ve lost the battle before it even starts. I go conversationally limp.
My policy is: Say what you have to say and then stop talking. Sometimes I even have to force myself to finish sentences, if I feel the gist has already been aired.
I like the short form, in conversation and writing. That’s one reason I enjoy blogging. (Maybe this is my way of getting my monologue in—but I’d prefer a conversation. Yes, that’s a hint.)
A standard-length newspaper column is 700 words. Love it. David Remnick has a 20,000-word profile of Bill Clinton in the current New Yorker. I couldn’t write that. I’m not even sure I can read it. I’d rather read a book (average 60,000 to 80,000 words). I’d rather write one, too. At least the reader knows what he or she is getting into. Getting ambushed by a 20,000-word magazine piece is like a surprise phone call from a long-winded friend.
And now, I think this blog has gone on too long. So I’ll let you go.
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