We live in a culture and time of Listen to Me.
Listen, we preference our statements to family, friends, and strangers. Did you hear me? We ask when someone doesn’t do as we request. Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? We jokingly parrot into our third ears (cell phones) and are piqued to shrieking if there’s a connection hiccup, a dim signal, a garbled word. But stop a minute. Hush yourself and think about it: if each of us is talking, how can the other ever be the listener?
I’m a storyteller. That’s my craft, my profession and my passion. Every hour of my life (wake to sleep) is dedicated to the business of stringing together words and telling a story. The odd paradox of being a writer is that it’s imperative that we be listeners first.
Seek to hear
Just this past week I was at the doctor’s office. My technician is from Poland. We’d had our introductory meeting last month when I moved to Chicago. Then, she’d asked me what I did for a living, and I told her I wrote books.
When I arrived for this second visit, she met me in the exam room, “I’m reading your book! The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico!” She took a vacation to the island this summer and was interested in learning more. While she went about her medical checklist, she said she was fascinated by the similarities between my young protagonist’s dream of “making it to America” and her own growing up.
As it happened, I was physically in a position where I couldn’t do the talking—couldn’t tell her about my mom, titis and abuelita, about my family farm in Aibonito, about the food and the music and all the wonders of Puerto Rican culture. All the stuff that I’d grown accustomed to chatting about when someone brought up the book. So instead, I turned the tables on myself. I became the listener.
“Tell me about growing up in Poland, how you came to be in Chicago,” I said. [Read more…]