Thursday, April 4, 2013

MISSION TWO: Conversation

Before you judge too harshly, I must protest: talking is harder than it seems. At least to some.

I cannot totally blame my naturally bashful demeanor on my disease. To be fair, I was always a shy kid. I was the quiet, blushing girl at family reunions that all my elders would lovingly taunt just to see my face turn beet red. Around my immediate family or friends, I could learn to relax and unwind a bit, but I was always a little uptight when it came to divulging personal information: things that were upsetting me, boys I had crushes on, inner emotions, etc. Tears were sin, at least that's what I believed. My sister "Joan" certainly never took issue with letting her emotions run wild, but as for the rest of my family, privacy and discretion were king.

I sometimes attribute this to my Kentuckian sensibilities. As the eternal neutral state, my bluegrass "peeps" seem to be a little more laid back by birth right. Inside all of us there is a fiercly loyal wildcat but also a worn, tired, and comical old man sucking on his pipe on the porch. He rocks in his chair, puffs thoughtfully, and watches the rest of the mad world go by in his peaceful solitude. "What you do don't bother me none. Be true to yourself, and t' Hell with everyone else." It's a sort of don't ask, don't tell, just shrug and go fishin' mentality. Needless to say, as I matured, my seemingly stable, silent nature made me a favorite amongst my friends' parents. They seemed delighted when I was around, hoping that I would be a good influence, because I came off as "sweet" and "well-behaved." I can't speak for the former categorization, but as for the latter, I was pretty much the most morally rigid and self-regulated kid that ever emerged from the Midwest. Where I went, my lazy tongue followed.

The upside to my lackluster speech skills is my continued ability as a listener. By studying people speaking to each other, or about each other, whether stressed out, sad, angry, or indulging in screaming matches, I have developed ways to balance my intonation for every appropriate theme. In a way, it is a manipulation but not a mean-spirited one. Par exemple, Joan and my mother "Kate" used to indulge in intense fights growing up. It was all noise. Both parties were stressed out and certain that they were going unheard. Both were determined to get their points across, prove that they were right, and obtain the last word. What could have been a calm discussion would turn into a competition of increasing volume, until both threw up their hands and marched to separate corners of the house. All the while, I had been sitting there, taking in both sides of the argument, and registering what the actual problem was, while remaining emotionally detached. Then, I would go to Joan and explain the misunderstanding in a way she could understand, so that she would calm down. Then, I would go to Mom and explain the source of Joan's confusion and anger, so she could make her peace with it. They would patch things up and pretend nothing had happened. The end.