15 October 2010

A rather long ramble about listening

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to speak briefly to a group of women about the beauty of storytelling as family history. Oral tradition. Asking, remembering, speaking, hearing, sharing—all aspects of listening. In preparation for the assignment I dug out some old family recordings—one I made of my grandmother singing, back when I was just 8 and trying out my first cassette recorder; another I made of her answering my awkward interview questions, 32 years later; and a cassette my mother recorded for me a few years after I'd left home—a Southern story, to honor Christmas—the only piece of her voice I have left. The first two I mentioned made me laugh out loud and got me singing and sniffling. My mama's tape wiped me out less than a sentence into the thing. It's incredible how powerful just the sound of someone's voice can be. I couldn't listen to Mama's tape yesterday and still be able to concentrate on getting ready for my little class. So, I stuck with Gram's singing and drawling, and the tracks I played for the women to introduce my topic seemed to charm them all. 

Yesterday I also blogged that I'd like to hear your adoption stories; I'd like to even begin recording them next month, if possible. (By the way, did you know that November is National Adoption Month? Neither did I till today. Synchronicity. Must mean I'm on the right track with this idea.) I am thrilled that a few people have responded, writing bits of their own and others' stories. I hope that some will feel brave and interested enough to share their voices as well. 

Today Rob and I spent three straight hours with a friend, recording him at the outset of what is already proving a strange and romantic international quest for... well, I'm sworn to secrecy for the time being, but I'm hoping some day to persuade him to let me write the screenplay once he's survived and recovered from his journey, has (hopefully) come off conqueror, and feels ready to share his secret and sell the movie rights. 

This evening Rob and I visited our favorite local library and came home as usual with unreadably large armloads of books. (I was trying, on my way out to the car, to imagine how many thousands of pounds of books I've checked out and carried off in my lifetime. I hope when I die I'll get the answer to that question. One of the books Rob happened to spot was a book on music that is really a book about listening. It spoke to me before I even cracked the cover: I love you. You love me. Buy me for your li-bra-ry. Then I read the intro and first essay. Yes, indeed. I already know who's getting this book for Christmas. What I love about it is that right away it started in talking to me about something I've been fuzzling over a while: Why do some people seem so unable or unwilling to listen? And no, I won't exempt myself from the question; sometimes I am guilty of being the non-listener. If it wasn't late and I wasn't writing from my bed with my mama's quilt thrown over me and my laptop, I'd be mining and including some quotes from the book right now.

I am excited to help my sister-in-law and two friends record some oral history in a few weeks. The more listening and facilitating I do, the more I want to do. Rob has started calling us recordists. I've suggested sound hunters, and that applies sometimes, but it seems that we are merely becoming listeners. Nobody's paying us to do this yet(?), and really, I almost feel I should be paying others for the privilege of hearing their stories. Maybe listening itself is at least partial payment. 

Other interesting listening moments today:
  • While recording our friend, capturing as well the sound of a (our) whining dog, and of Rob's parents talking in our backyard
  • Hearing another person's hidden fear
  • Horses in fields on either side of the road, running excitedly to parallel clearings, waiting and listening to yet other horses approaching, clop-clop-clopping far off down the pavement, with riders astride
  • Allowing ourselves to be engaged by an old man on the Jordan River Parkway Trail and hearing his reminiscences about photographing sunsets, canoeing, traveling, and his big plans to develop museums and science centers around Utah Lake as well as historical monuments along the Provo River Trail 
  • Walking on one of the last quiet country roads in our town, stopping right in the middle and listening to the wind, the bugs and other animals, and the falling night
  • Paying attention to body signals
  • Paying attention to brain alarms
  • Receiving comfort
  • Noticing body language, hearing the unspoken, understanding subtext
  • Weighing options and saying yes to simplicity
  • Catspeak
  • Appreciating the hush of my old knitting needles made of some material that doesn't click when it meets itself
  • Unpacking the car late at night, being surprised by two small boys razor scootering down the middle of our street, one of them calling me by name


~j. said...

I loved getting to listen with you this summer. Many thanks for that opportunity.

Sweet Capture said...

Listening is definitely a lost art. Thank you for reminding us all to take the time not only to listen but to ask questions.

Some of my listening moments today were: the sound of a wood saw as my son and his friend/co-worker worked at building some cabinets in our garage; the hum of a ceramic heater; computer games being played in the basement; the happy whimpers of a welcoming puppy as we returned home from an appointment; and the swish of our windshield wipers as they pushed away the falling snow.

Jamie said...

Thanks for listening to me via cyberspace today. I felt that hug, I really did. I can't wait to hear your responses to my most recent message. Sometimes you are my air, girl...thanks again for kindly sharing my burdens...

Becca said...

Listening is one of your specialties, whether or not the mics are on and tapes are rolling.