Journal / On Writing

Do You Love (or Detest) Public Speaking?

Here’s the thing: I don’t talk much, not usually. I live on the receiving end of talkers, folks like Mama, who seem to have a limitless river of words flowing from somewhere deep within them, a reservoir of words just tumbling from their tongues and into our listening ears. These folks fascinate me. Sometimes, they scare me. On other days, their incessant stream of words exhausts me. These are the kind who don’t need time or space to process what they’re going to say, nor, for that matter, even frequent intakes of oxygen. One of my best features as a newspaper reporter (recorder?) was an ability to listen; indeed, a lifelong practice of listening and not saying much, except the obligatory mmm hmmms (accompanied by wide, round eyes that always appear curious) still earns me the Listener label. But sometimes…sometimes when The Talkers are talking and believing that I am soaking up their every word (and I am sure that, somewhere in my body, in a cluster of nerves and cells, I am)…sometimes, the spaces in my head take me somewhere else without any effort on my part, and suddenly I am worlds away, eons– no travel time recorded. I come back the same mysterious way. Rarely does The Talker realize that I had left, and so I return to taking in (absorbing and computing) what she is saying. If speaking comes as a result of taking what we have heard and learned, processing it through our individual lenses and then regurgitating it as speech, it is no wonder my own is halting. My processor is faulty. Word pictures come easily. Phrases pop up on the screen inside my head. Full-bodied, fleshed-out sentences, however, do not. No, each phrase or word lodging itself in my brain is a little island, separated by water, unable to connect. The older I get, these islands become glaciers, impressive in construction, but melting nonetheless. And so, I speak—if I speak—in semicolons and dashes; yes, I speak in parentheses and ellipses, yearning for the tuned listener who can finally understand.


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