Purposeful Engagement

Taking Notes

There are some names I rarely speak out loud. It is not because of the power they may invoke, in some kind of Voldemortian way. No, these names I don’t speak out loud because (lean close so I can whisper) I am not so sure I am right.

Is it Laurie or Laura? Rob? Ron?

I smile and I don’t blink because blinking might make me seem unsure of myself. How many conversations can you have with someone before it is entirely inappropriate to ask, I’m sorry, but what is your name again?

We had a neighbor once- best neighbor just ever- and my husband and I both had too many smiling-across-the-fence conversations with this man to ask him his name. People who worked with my husband knew this man, too, played golf with this man, and couldn’t tell us his name. It was at our daughter’s first birthday party (yes, he was there, we were that friendly with this guy) that the right person finally saw him and said his name loud enough for us to hear.

If we are so careful with names, why not with other things that come out of our ever-flapping lips?

I try not to mentally edit people when they speak. I sometimes fail. It’s not grammar, no, not even vocabulary. But some things call for a brevity that seems to pulse away from our grasp like smoke from a candle.

More matter, less art, as Hamlet’s mother Gertrude said, and who can blame her, her son sure did like to hear himself talk.

Saul Bellow, in More Die of Heartbreak, said it this way:

If you venture to think in America, you also feel an obligation to provide a historical sketch to go with it, to authenticate or legitimize your thoughts. So it’s one moment of flashing insight and then a quarter of an hour of pedantry and tiresome elaboration– academic gabble. Locke to Freud with stops at local stations like Bentham and Kierkegaard. One has to feel sorry for people in such an explanatory bind. Or else (a better alternative) one can develop an eye for the comical side of this.

Now, with that nugget tucked into your mental pocket, make your way to your local Facebook page and just go ahead and click a link. Carry your newly minted quote to the comment section, and you’ll see.

The more we repeat ourselves, the more likely we are to wear down the line we imagined we have drawn in the sand. Over and over, like an eroding shoreline, the same questions asked, the same requests made, the same stones worried over until they are smooth.

I find myself holding back from conversations just to keep from doing nothing more than adding to the noise.

Some people less inclined to listen will simply hear less from me. I’m not going to fight to get my foot in the door of their soliloquy.

But holding back can be its own bad habit, I guess. I fall into a rhythm of listening, and then, of drifting. I find I don’t have answers I’m happy with. And what kind of silly soul is strumming its discontent with the answers in her hands when she has failed to articulate a question?

Bellow writes at a later point in the book:

Of course, we all have these thoughts today instead of prayers. And we think these thoughts are serious and we take pride in our ability to think, to elaborate ideas, so we go round and round in consciousness like this. However, they don’t get us anywhere; our speculations are like a stationary bicycle…These proliferating thoughts have more affinity to insomnia than to mental progress. Oscillations of the mental substance is what they are, ever-increasing jitters.

I beat back and forth between the two, the thinking, the talking, and it’s endless, and I wonder, how much worth does a voice have if I don’t have the discernment to know when and how to use it? The right to a voice doesn’t mean we don’t have to make the choice of when to use it.

I opt for silence.

Then I see my girl, sweet Chloe, who cannot talk, and how she is so sure to share with those around her all she cannot say, but wishes she could. Sit next to her at the table and her hand will land on yours, she will squeeze it, you will know. She loves you, simple as that and not a word between you.

So, how powerful am I letting my silence be?

Or am I just choosing what is, for me, the easy way out?

Whose eyes am I not looking in to because there is a part of me that shrinks at the intimacy? Oh, I can think of times I have trained my eyes down because sometimes looking up is more like reaching out and holding that hand.

And what of the words? If the door to Chloe’s words was suddenly flung open, would a torrent burst forth, or would she have known, with all this time to temper, just what she would say?

How much do I take for granted this power I have over what I say and do not say, treating it so flippantly, so thoughtlessly, opening and closing the curtain on this sonant peep show, I who do not abide the games people seem determined to play?


Part of me is always taking notes, but I shouldn’t let that keep me from purposeful engagement, from conversational give and take, from being a friend.

What about you? How do you strike a balance in your interactions?


4 thoughts on “Purposeful Engagement”

  1. Wow, Alli. One of your best pieces yet. So much to think about here. I think most times I will just say what is most encouraging, you know, “the bright side of things.” I probably do this as much for me as I do for them, because to discuss the crappy possibilities of life is a downer. Is this the right way to go? Maybe not, I’m not sure. I think maybe sometimes it’s better not to say anything and just listen. But again, there is a line, right? Sometimes people need us to look into their eyes, or take their hand, and know someone is there for them, they need the encouragement that comes from that intimacy. And the encouragement that comes from that intimacy is not always saying the positive or encouraging thing. Sometimes it is taking that hand and acknowledging their grief or sorrow, or sometimes it’s taking that hand and saying nothing at all.

    1. Well said. I think it comes down to what or who the moment is about. Conversation should be about enlightenment of both parties, not just a space to share everything we ever thought about something. It could also be about building- building of our understanding of each other, and also of relationship.

  2. Great post. I’m horrible at names. My mind is always wandering, someone says “doctor ” and bam everything fades away and I’m thinking….what time is that appt.; did I schedule a follow up? Or worse, I see something that I find interesting…architecture or the way the light hits something…and I have to examine it….how will this fit in my book, there’s something here I have to remember, even if it’s just the feeling….what words will I use to show what I am seeing/feeling and which character’s voice, totally just walking away from a conversation. I get lost with the conversations of my characters that pop in my head. It’s a sickness, really and there’s no cure but to give in and get it over with or explode.

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