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Archive for March, 2011

First topic: What does your name mean/come from? Do you think having your name has affected who you are?

My name means listener, and a listener I was. Until I discovered theater, I sat on the edge of everything, listening to the world, barely speaking. My loud family—two funny, handsome brothers with big voices of their own, and smart, opinionated parents—meant there was no need for me to speak. No one ever told me to be quiet; I just came out that way and saw no reason to change. And I guess because of this quiet nature, people came to me when they needed an ear. I couldn’t understand that the act of listening was enough; I thought that by hearing a problem, I was signing on to solve it. I listened to others’ problems and made them my own. I soaked it all in and never let it out. I was silent, somber, full. Not unhappy, but not balanced, and worries filled me.
I would have exploded, I think, if theater hadn’t let the lid off me. Appropriately, I fell into theater at Natural Helpers camp, where I was sent in seventh after many classmates listed me as someone they could tell their troubles to. I was training to be a peer listener.

I had act in a sketch at camp, role-playing about how to solve other people’s problems without losing ourselves. To speak in front of so many people terrified me, even with a script. But I was okay at it, I guess, and a teacher, a sweet teacher whose name I have forgotten but to whom I owe so much, encouraged me to try out for the spring play at school. And I became Waitress #2 in You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Werewolf. And everything began to change.
I sang out. I spoke up. For thirteen years. I wrote, too; I had so many words, I lent them to others, and the words I found came alive on the stage.

Art by ky_olsen; used under a Creative Commons license. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ky_olsen/3133347219/

But I adopted the persona of a theater kid, too, which meant that sometimes I was too loud to listen to anyone else. And I rehearsed my words and spent Saturdays in voice lessons and forgot about the worries of others. The pendulum had swung the other way. I was a loud kid, a free kid, present.

I tried at times to find that quiet girl. I went to college for psychology, training to be a listener, going back to my name and my roots. It didn’t stick. I loved my English and writing classes far more. I listened to others’ stories, but I didn’t have to solve the problems in them; I scrutinized them,but just for symbols, and all that was at stake was a grade.
Now, again I listen to others’ stories, at my day job as an editor. My job is to see what the writer has said, hear what he is trying to say, and build a bridge between the two with commas and clarity and gentle suggestions of new phrases.

Have I come full circle, back to the girl who only listens? Hardly. I am quick to complain about any small thing to my blessedly patient friends. I remind myself to listen, of that saying about the two to one ratio. I remind myself to balance. Listening and caring won’t eclipse my own needs. My diaphragm was strengthened by years of voice lessons; I’m too loud now to ever be silenced.

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