22 Comments

IN RETROSPECT


PigeonPointCA

Now and then we read something which touches a nerve and makes an impact. Several years ago while immersed in Virginia Woolf’s novel “To The Lighthouse” I saw an unpleasant image of myself and set the book aside for six months. What I saw had embarrassed and even shamed me.

The story revolves around the Ramsey family, their children and guests vacationing on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Told in Woolf’s ‘stream of consciousness’ style I recognized some dodgy traits in Mrs. Ramsey, some of which were unfortunately my own.

One of those habits, common to most of us, is what I have begun calling “staying in our own moment”. A case in point in the Woolf novel involves a stroll through the garden with Mr. Ramsey who is relating his thoughts to his wife, who is happily entangled in her own thoughts, unaware and uninterested in what Mr. R seems to find important.

Our ideas seem to take precedence over others far too often. I realized that I am guilty of this as well as being impatient for someone else to finish their opinion so that I can offer my own far superior one.

Are we all only half-listening? Will others like us more when they hear what we have to say? Are we more important than they are?

The advent of the smart phone gave people the excuse to stay in the same room with other living organisms without actually having to talk or listen to them. Whole groups can sit in silence, heads bent over their own device while a single speaker regurgitates his thoughts.

It’s not a pretty picture, and I don’t know the answer, but I’m working on it.

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22 comments on “IN RETROSPECT

  1. I am guilty of that, far worse even! I quarter listen and it annoys H so much. I do try and look at her intently but fall prey to already formulating my own stupid opinion, but…I am working on it. There is hope I might conquer this selfish trait.
    One good thing is that no IPhone is shrieking away in our house. It is rarer now to get a call as years go by. When we do, I get anxious. I check the weather in Finland and Bali, and that’s about the limit of our device usage.

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  2. Au contraire, Kayti. You are a wonderful listener and interested in what everyone has to say … or you fake it pretty well ;-]

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  3. In my opinion, reading “To the Lighthouse” or any other Virginia Woolf novel is like purchasing an indulgence–it buys you forgiveness for a multitude of sins. We are only human, Kayti, and therefore selfish at times. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

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  4. Hi Aunt Kayti,
    I left a long comment but I see it is not here. Not sure what is going on with my reader, etc.
    Love,
    Cheri

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  5. I’ve been guilty of the same. I think it probably applies to many of us. Recently I have been making a conscious effort to hold my tongue and listen. It’s a work in progress.

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  6. I studied To the Lighthouse at school and I am a great fan of Virginnia Wolf, the lighthouse in question was very close to where I was brought up in Cornwall. Notice how I have done the same thing, turned it around to be all about Me and not even acknowledged your attempts to right this failing. I try very hard to pay attention to others and will try even harder now. Your writing is so wonderfully observed I think you must do an awful lot of listening!

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    • You may remember the uncomplimentary thoughts Lily Briscoe had about Mrs. Ramsey in the book. As I read them I saw myself and realized it was ME. If I say now that I have improved in those respects it will show that I have a long way to go.
      Other people’s stories are far more interesting than any I can think of.
      I love your part of the country! I have a lovely painting of Cornwall sheep in my dining room.

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  7. I’ve read “The Waves,” but not “To the Lighthouse.” You’ve made me want to read it — not because of any presumed comparison between you and Mrs. Ramsey, but only because no one’s ever made it sound even vaguely interesting to me.

    Years ago, some sociologist defined what he called the perfect “duologue” — two television sets, turned on and facing one another. That’s the dynamic you’re talking about. We’re all good at blathering on, and not always so good at listening. I’m reminded of cocktail parties, where the person you’re talking to is looking over your shoulder, scanning the room to see if there’s someone more “important” to talk to.

    As for smart phones and other gadgets, I’ve heard all the reasons they’re useful, and I’ve nothing against them as tools. But evidence is piling up that constantly turning to the phones, the search engines, and the apps to make our way through life is short-circuiting our ability to be purposeful problem-solvers, let alone good conversationalists.

    That’s part of the reason I still use paper maps, still have a flip phone, text only to customers who demand it, and still (can you see me blushing in shame?) use Windows Vista. But I can do everything I want or need to do, and when I can’t, I learn what I need to learn.

    I had to work really hard to break myself of the habit of correcting my mother, when she started getting names, dates, or other tidbits wrong. If it was a doctor’s appointment, or an upcoming birthday, that was one thing. Otherwise? No need to prove myself right by proving her wrong. 🙂

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  8. You see the cocktail party conversationalist in all parts of society. They are the same people who allow themselves to be introduced to you each time you meet even if it carries over for ten years. Their interest is clearly elsewhere. The “oneupmanship” talker always has a smarter, cuter and more talented child, and whatever they have just done is more fun than your life. All symptoms of low self esteem. I am always embarrassed for people who need to tell me how good they are, or how much other people think of them.

    Growing up and going to a different school each year, as I have written, I was always the outsider, so it was easy to keep my mouth shut. No one asked or cared what I thought anyway!

    I love the vision of two televisions chatting away at each other.

    It’s interesting how the short term memory works. The events from the past can be clear as day, but yesterday is a fog. I wonder if someday yesterday will be clear to us too. My husband has a phenomenal memory for people, places and event from years ago, but his short term is getting shorter. As Cheri can attest, he has clear memory of he and her father’s activities from five years old on and loves to remind us all often.

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  9. Love this as I sit on Bart with head down scrolling. We have turned into a strange culture!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  10. I find as we age, my husband and I both seem to be in our own heads more than we used to be when we both worked and didn’t spend as much time together. Sometimes we call each other on it, and sometimes we don’t. But we both reserve morning coffee and evening dinner then a walk as a time when we try to fully attend, which is a bit of a struggle sometimes; so I’m working on it as well.

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  11. We have been retired for over 25 years so it’s a nice feeling, but not conducive to listening all the time. I admit to being a bit annoyed when he clearly isn’t listening to my all -important news.

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  12. Oh Kayti, I really don’t think that I should own up to being selfish, and I’m sure I’m getting worse as I get older. ‘It’ is always about me. [Sigh] I try to be empathetic to others, I really do. I’ll have to try harder.

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