March 24, 2011
It’s like this: people tell me things.
Deep dark secrets.
Childhood tales of woe.
Things they haven’t told anyone else – until now.
Or just, you know, the garden variety overshare.
Yes, I am one of those people to whom people tell their troubles and secrets, great and small.
My Mom jokes that I look like a giant ear, and that’s the reason that, every so often, people tell me their lives.
In fact, it’s a familial affliction. The same thing happens to my Mom and brother. A family of big ears.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when, where or why it happens that people verbally vomit, I mean, share their lives with me. Although my brother and I do often marvel at the timing.
Really? Now? In line at the grocery store? You’re telling me about your ruptured anal fissure, here?
I mean we don’t say that – we’re busy listening – but that’s the thought bubble above our heads.
Actually, I’ve been an ear all my life. I spent many hours of my childhood playing within earshot of my Mom and her friends having coffee and talking – playing bridge and talking, you get the idea. Their conversations covered everything from kids (“When Michael was little, he swallowed a marble. Took four days to reappear.”) to marriage (“I think it was John leaving the bedroom at 4 am, although all I saw was the back of his head, so who can be sure?”) to neighborhood gossip spoken in hushed tones (“Well you know she gambles.”)
I suppose the trips to my Mom’s family reunions every summer were also good training – with all of my grandmother’s siblings doling out advice and telling stories about their younger years in the third person. (As in Aunt Jane saying, “Honey, when Aunt Jane was a little girl…”) Mmhmm.
Perhaps being an ear is simply an occupational hazard of being a writer. Better than heartbreaking depression and alcoholism I suppose. (That’s a joke. I’m a writer, kids. I joke.)
What keeps me curious is not just what people choose to share (or omit) – but how they choose to share it. Does their voice rise during a critical point in the story? Do they use their hands to illustrate a point or add emphasis? Why choose this word instead of that?
The great news is that we, as human beings, have not, as has been reported, given up our storytelling culture. In fact, I’d argue it’s alive and well – and very apt to share – especially when you’re the slightest bit hung over and just want to get your coffee and paper and sit quietly.
But maybe that’s just my Sunday morning.