(I was planning to read this at our last meeting but I couldn't make it - so here it is! Comments welcome, M)
For many years I was what I called a ‘communications trainer’, specialising in tutoring presentations, interview techniques, negotiations, selling, and so on. It came as a complete shock to discover recently that I was actually teaching people to be extremely poor communicators! For whilst I had been concentrating on showing people how to listen effectively, I wasn’t really listening myself – at least not to other people. What I was listening to, very effectively indeed, was a constant, highly compelling internal dialogue which was far more important to me than anything anyone else had to say.
We humans find real communication very difficult because we all have this internal dialogue which we cannot ignore. It runs our lives, in fact, blocking what we don’t want to hear, what doesn’t ‘fit’ with our preconceived ideas.
Do you have a conversation with anyone in your life during which one or both parties repeats the same sentences again and again? In fact the dialogue could probably run by itself if we took the people out!
Here at our Writers’ Group we have an opportunity to create a whole new version of ourselves every time we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. In our everyday home and working lives there are people who think they know us. We even, foolishly, think we know ourselves. And what do we do when we think we know something? We cease to listen (‘heard it all before’ syndrome). We may think we are listening, but we’re not responding to each other, rather to the internal dialogue going on in our heads (‘why is he saying that?’ ‘did I leave the iron on?’ I wonder if my bum looks big in these trousers?’)
We can’t switch this conversation off, no matter how hard we try.
Fortunately this doesn’t happen quite so much when we are being given new information. Our antennae automatically adjust to novelty, paying attention to the new data – it’s a basic survival technique. And we do stop listening to our internal voice (at least for a while) when we are creating, or generating new language. Here at Writers’, every time we create a new story, poem or article, we are reinventing ourselves, too. We are no longer the personality we display to our circle of family, friends, colleagues, or even to ourselves. We are the source of new paradigms, the gods of new worlds, the artists of new canvasses.
When I write about canoeing down an African river you don’t listen for me as the Maureen who keeps getting lost on the N332, but as an intrepid explorer. When my neighbour in Guernsey wrote beautiful poetry about sunsets over the cliffs, no one listened for the brow-beaten wife of an alcoholic bully, but for a sensitive, highly articulate and powerful woman.
And so we create multiple identities for ourselves. We know very little about each others’ so-called ‘real’ lives when we come together to share our work around the table - we respond to the new identities we adopt. And the delight we experience in responding to these identities is nothing less than the thrill of acknowledging the process of creation. We may go home to our routine chores, but for two hours every week we are all-powerful, bringing forth new possibilities into a thrilling universe.