Earlier this month I got the chance to be part of Write Club Athens, a local writing, er, competition. It's certainly a competition in part, but it's so much more than that. Rather than attempt to explain it, this is their own description taken from the website:
2 OPPOSING WRITERS.
2 OPPOSING IDEAS.
7 MINUTES APIECE.
AUDIENCE PICKS A WINNER.
Writers compete for cash going to a charity of their choosing.
It was by far one of my favorite things to participate in. It was challenging and exhilarating and slightly terrifying and left me with a vulnerability hangover for - well, maybe I still have one. And if they'll have me, I'll do it again. In a heartbeat. My "bout" was word vs. action. I had two weeks to prepare a 7-minute piece on "word" which could be interpreted any way I deemed fit. So, without further ado, here's my Write Club debut piece . . .
Most days I can’t get a word in edgewise. I am surrounded by a verbose family: in the one I grew up with, the one I married into, and the one my husband and I are now creating with our three kids. We are definitely a family of talkers. Loud talkers. In all fairness, I guess in a day I actually say a lot of things. I spend larger-than-I-ever-imagined-possible chunks of my time saying really intelligent and thought-provoking things like “be a first-time listener” and "put on your shoes" and "use your words" and “really, dude, put on your shoes”. They’re not the deepest, most intellectual, or philosophical statements one could spend their days making. So seven minutes on a stage devoted to me - saying words - that came out of actual thought or feeling - not likely involving instructions to place or re-place any article of clothing on any body part sounds really appealing . . . until I think about it.
What if I get up on this ol’ stage and I ramble on with uninteresting stories that contain a thousand details full of the minutia that has the potential to so quickly cause people to kind of glaaaaze over - you know that look - as their mind wanders to something - anything - more interesting than what’s coming out of my mouth? I mean, that would be entirely possible.
Or worse, what if I get up here and I have nothing to say? Nothing shallow, nothing profound, nothing dull, nothing interesting. Just....nothing. THAT I know, is more possible than I once thought it was. In days like these - days like mine - where my words are spent most often speaking not the deepest things in me, but rather what is required for guiding, and raising, and correcting, and building little people, I can feel like there’s nothing left to say. Those words, while lovely and important and necessary in their own rite, lay a pretty thick layer of mulch on top of other thoughts and feelings and words that might otherwise be said. Sometimes that’s probably okay; sometimes it’s not. It can be hard to really speak. It takes more courage or thinking-through or energy for some of us. And just as hard and strenuous for some others is the listening. It takes a focus and a stillness and an investment to hear. So much of our responses to speaking and hearing come from the internals of our personalities and temperaments; when you couple that with the externals of our schedules and the weight of pressures on us, then the decision of whether we’ll speak or listen is made before we ever even get to the content or our words. In these days of 140 characters or less, we’re hard-pressed to speak and to hear and be heard.
But there’s only so much of that we can take; only so much we can stand of living in our own headspace whether we’re there because we won’t speak or we won’t listen. I mean, even in the life and times of poet laureate - cough - John Mayer something must’ve happened for him to write a refrain that goes on for TWENTY SEVEN TIMES with the words “say what you need to say”.---You hear it now, don’t you? Like a hook in the brain.---But there’s something to it.
Sometimes I do have something profound to say. Sometimes I really do. Then again, a lot of the time I have mostly stuff straight from the mundane and the monotonous and the routine things of life to talk about. But I’m a swirl of all of these things: philosophy and laundry piles and theology and homework and academia and snotty noses and abstraction and paying bills. So if I am all of these, then when I keep the words that tell of these parts of me bottled up - when I swallow them down to such a measure that I’m very nearly choking on them - how can you know me? When you don’t speak your words - or I don’t choose to hear them - how can I know you?
I suppose potential peril lies ahead. I could say too much. You could, too. I could nurture life or I could exact death with the words I speak. When we open our mouths and ears to each other, there’s a risky doorway that opens with them. I mean, what if I just think differently than you? What if I misunderstand you on the first pass and you end up having to meticulously and with frustration restate yourself in a way I might better understand? What if my words offend you? What if your words offend me? Do we stop talking - or listening - because we don’t like the sound?
Mostly, I still want to hear the words. I do. Yours and mine. I want to know us both better. I don’t want to assume we can’t talk and identify with each other because I work from home and you work in an office fulltime; because you’re college-educated and I have a high school diploma; because I am female and you’re male; because I have a marriage and kids and you don't want either; because I believe in Jesus and you never have. I don’t want to rehearse my own answers before we’ve even had a conversation. I just want to hear, and be heard.
I still believe out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. If you’ll risk your heart, I’ll risk mine. Or how about this at least: I’ll risk mine, and you can think about it . . .
In my faith, a single word spoken created entire worlds and set them in motion. I know it sounds antiquated and mythological and to some even beyond foolish. But why not? I mean look what’s been created here, what is being created! What will we create out there?
It’s tough stuff, these words. Edgewise or otherwise. The speaking and the hearing.
So what if I get up on this stage and I have something to say and you’re actually listening? Well....then I’d say... that for seven minutes....on a fading-summer day in August....you and I shared in a miracle together.