Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Have Nothing to Say

I am normally what most would consider a very conversational person. Perhaps that statement isn't completely true. At times I can be quite conversational. I also experience periods where silence is my better friend. Over time I have come to appreciate holding my tongue when I would normally converse. There are certain circumstances when I feel that my audience views me as their audience for one way communication. There are times when a self proclaimed expert must refute the things you know to be true. Sometimes people ask a question and then trail off somewhere into the first 30 seconds of your reply. At times they even begin another conversation altogether, leaving you holding the proverbial bag of assholes. I don't like how those situations make me feel. I wish to neither dominate nor be dominated. I will not neglect and hope that I will not be neglected. Communication is two way or no way.

End of story.....

Or is it?
When I hold my tongue it feels as if I might burst. My idea bubbles and froths in its struggle to relieve itself of its physical burden. Unspoken, it sours. I replay the instance over and over again. This isn't metaphoric, now mind you. I've been known to recite conversation dialogue when I assume no one is listening. I know, I'm an odd duck. What it always comes down to is that I wasn't as important to the other person as whatever it was that held their attention. I don't think many people enjoy that feeling.

In preschool I stuck a magnet into a light socket. The end of the magnet turned brown and I always wondered if it would have shocked me if I had inserted the other end instead. Did polarity matter, or was the outcome a complete fluke hinged on some unknown variable?

When I was in Military Basic Training for the Air Force, we were tasked with putting together part of a training area for the troops who would come after us. We filled sand bags, put up tents, and were attacked by an army of bugs under the blistering Texas sun. It was hell and there was no escaping it. We were pigs, wallowing in the dust, lost in the malaise of our insignificance. Out of nowhere another trainee appeared next to me and began asking what he should do. He punctuated each question with 'Sir' though we were peers in all ways imaginable. The guy wasn't in my flight, I'd never seen him before. It seemed odd to me at the time just how powerful that word was. It made me feel... empowered. It was a sign of respect. One that, of my own accounting, I had neither earned nor requested.

In November of 2000 I moved up to Alaska with my wife and one year old daughter. A friend from Basic was supposed to pick us up at the airport and ferry us to the base 45 minutes away. We waited for hours but he never showed. He didn't answer his phone. I must have left 10 voicemails. I felt like a failure. I had moved my small family so far from home and put my trust in someone who may very well have been incapable of coming through. I hated him for it, but it was just a reflection of my own self loathing for allowing it to happen in the first place.

I gave the sermon in front of around 1700 people one Sunday across two services. I blundered badly. It was a disaster, but such a success at the same time. "This kid's got potential!" "He's really going places." "Young man, that was quite impressive." I was exhilarated. The real lesson, however, came after a significant amount of time and reflection. There was a message, but many of my examples and attempts at humor were adolescent and half-baked. Time would prove my anecdotes to be nothing more than rubbish. That isn't to say I didn't learn a great deal from that conversation. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Who is Brady Frost? Why does he go by his middle name? Does that ever give him pains? What does he want to do when he grows up? Has he known disappointment? What of success? While the answers to these questions mean a lot to me, they don't always hold the same value for others. My magnet story is a scientific impossibility to some. Others think of a hot day in Texas and take a mental nap. Alaska? I went there once. One mention of anything remotely related to religion will get the goose of many a listener, effectively shutting them up like a disturbed clam.


Jim Murdoch said...

Never quite sure how to take the con- in conversation. Is it ‘opposite’ as in contrary or ‘across’ as in convey and what about the con- in conserve? I like to think about blogs as conversations albeit short ones: you open a topic, I reply like I’m doing just now and then you comment on my response. The problem comes, as is quite often the case where people are from very different cultures, where I can’t relate to what you’re saying – I was never in the armed forces and have never been to Alaska (although I have addressed large groups of people) – and so I try and find common ground and – hopefully – provide a different perspective. You can have no idea what other people will relate to. This is true of writing – we’ve talked before about how readers complete a piece of writing – and it’s also true in conversation. You’ve raised several issues in this post, some of which I’ve ignored because they either don’t interest me, don’t seem as important as some others or because I don’t feel qualified to comment on them, e.g. I don’t have a middle name and so I have no idea why you might choose to use it. I have known people who have gone by their middle names – it’s a common practice in my wife’s family – but I’ve never heard her talk about any identity crises that’s name-related. We read to know we’re not alone (C S Lewis) but be also read to discover new things and I would get bored if I just read about things that I had experience of. You write about what interests you and I’ll try and understand what you’re going through by filtering it through my own experiences: I’ll learn a bit from you and you’ll learn a bit from me. As the Bible says: “Iron by iron is sharpened, and a man sharpens the face of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). I don’t have much interest in getting embroiled in religious discussions (that part of my life is shut and will remain shut) but just because I don’t talk about it doesn’t mean I don’t have a degree of insight. The great thing about blogs is that I can’t interrupt you. I can stop listening, wander off and do something else but (thankfully) you’ll never be aware that I have. And I’m sure there will be those who do that with both of us. But all we really need is one person to “return the ball … once in a while” as Didi said to Gogo.

Unknown said...

I've heard it said that all conversation is an act of deceit. That could be true, but I try not to be that pessimistic.

I hope this post didn't come off giving the impression that I have had a particularly bad time talking to other people lately. That really isn't the case. Sure, I do have interactions with a particular set of individuals that always tend to turn out in the same manner. I suppose I just felt like taking a closer look at those interactions. There are implications that also apply to writing, as you pointed out.

I like you, Jim. You always get what I'm hinting at and bring so much more to the table. You've got valuable experience and insight and I truly enjoy reading your comments.

My name is Richard Brady Frost, I've always gone by Brady. It wasn't a choice I made, but a preference of my parents. Of five children, all three boys go by their middle names. It makes things a wee bit more complicated when it comes to military records, drivers licenses, and passports. But, after 31 years it has become a part of who I am. I've never been just Brady, it's always Brady with an awkward introduction.