Everyone likes to talk about themselves, writers more than anybody. There’s something satisfying about describing the painful process of shoveling through the thoughts in your mind, flinging handfuls of sludge over your shoulder and hoping nothing good flies out with it.
Maybe it’s just because writers like to talk more period. (Talk in the sense of communicate — some of the very finest writers were mouth-shy. One of the best craftsmen I know stutters when he has to speak to an answering machine.)
New York has forced me to refine my tendencies to speech and silence. I natter less and glower more. I’m also more aware of the efficiencies — and deficiencies — of it all.
My work requires that I be on a conference call (which I secretly refer to as The Neverending Gory) with anywhere between 10-15 people, every day. For eight straight hours. We have a very high pressure job that’s time sensitive down to the hundredth of a second and a non-stop buzzing of noise in both ears that can’t be tuned out or you’ll miss critical information. The amount of chatter and our intense focuses occasionally lead to someone’s (my) joke falling flat or a question (mine) being unanswered. This is a very unusual situation. Imagine having 10 bosses monitoring you constantly and never knowing if they would answer when you asked an important question.
As a humor writer, I have some of the instincts of a stand-up comic. When I make a noise and I hear silence, something in my heart breaks off and goes tinkling to the floor. Being ignored at work (if you can call it that because everyone has a legitimate reason to focus on something else) has taught me to speak only when it’s really necessary. I’m less myself, but it makes everyone else’s life easier.
I called a girl last Sunday. We used to be best friends until we had a falling out my last year of college. In the four years we haven’t spoken, I got a Master’s degree and my first live-in boyfriend. She started teaching ninth-grade algebra at a school for inner-city Boston kids returning to class after dropping out, having babies or any number of disruptive things.
She’d deleted my phone number (I’m ignoring that, having kept hers all this time), so I had to identify myself when she picked up. I used my first and last name, to the person who helped me zip my fat-suit Halloween costume two years in a row. At that moment, more words were strange.
We recited paragraphs of our lives back and forth, taking turns, cracking innocuous jokes — the kind you’d tell your dentist or tax lady — and it felt a little stiff until the end, when I had to go.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“I’m sorry too.”
“Things have really changed for me, especially since I got to New York, and I really miss you and I think you should be part of my life again.”
She was silent.
“I’d like to be friends again, if that’s ok with you.”
“That’s ok,” she said.
“Yeah…. I’m sorry, you have to give me a second.”
She was silently crying.
When we hung up, we used our names, full first, not our old nicknames, but not our last names either. Fewer words were better.