Principle #6: Both writer and reader seek the release of blocked emotions within the safety of the written page. This is accompanied by a feeling of re-emergence and the seeing of things differently for ourselves. LOVE THE RESULTS.
Remember the myth of the private screening room. Let’s say you’re there by yourself late one night. Youre piece (from your storyboard) is just concluding…with one of those poignant freeze frames used by foreign movies in the fifties. You sit tired, but pleased as the footlights come up. From curtains on the side I walk out to the center of the stage, then to its edge. I beckon you to come, take a seat in the front row for a few minutes. “Let’s talk. No lecture or writing or role playing exercises tonight.” It’s just the two of us heart to heart.
Perhaps I tell you one last anecdote to put you at ease. Something like this–After my separation I signed up for a free introductory massage at a health club I belonged to. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the person giving the massage was an attractive young woman. I got up on her table and as she began working on my shoulders she said, “You know, you remind me of someone.” I thought to myself: Wow, now I’m going to get some clue as to how the opposite sex views me. She said, “But, I can’t think who it is.” My mind was racing. I thought to myself: It’s Bond, James Bond…I’m Sean Connery as James Bond. She went on with the massage. Ten minutes later as I was talking away about writing, she said, “I wish I could think of who it is you remind me of.” Hemingway, I thought, Hemingway in his late forties. I gave her my “Charlie, where the hell are ya!” Hemingway imitation. But she didn’t bite. Later as she was finishing up–and I was feeling pretty loose by then–she suddenly said, “I’ve got it, I know who you remind me of!” Full of expectation I looked at this beautiful young twenty year old. She said, “You remind me of…Santa Clause.” Well, it’s not Christmas and I’m not Santa Clause, but I do have a big present for you with regard to success and how you see yourself, as a writer.
Everywhere I go people are talking. In stores, in movies, on planes, in lobbies, at meetings. The trouble is, most of them aren’t listening. And, to be listened to, is a human need we all have. We solve it in many different ways. We hire someone to listen to us–an attorney, psychotherapist, marriage counselor. Professional salespeople know they are most likely to get an order if they can get the prospect to do the talking, and they do this by listening. We hire employees to listen (a two-way mirror test showed that the prospect most likely to get a job was the one where the interviewer did most of the talking). We run for offices in organizations, we teach, we even put on seminars to get people to listen to us. We get married to have someone listen to us, even have children in the hopes that they will listen. I have a friend who’s expecting his first child, they know it will be a boy. He said to me, I can hardly wait, I have so much I want to tell my son. I thought, I’ll let him discover the truth of that for himself. And, kids need someone to listen. I remember teaching adolescents. There would be a parent-teacher conference and I’d say to the mother, “It sounds like Gary is interested in going on into electronics.” She’d say, “What, he talks? He hasn’t said one word in the last three years around the house.” This is the boy I’m trying to shoo out of the class room at 6 at night so I can go home. I used to think this was terrible until I had my own son, who as a teenager lived in the attic and came and went by night.
A psychologist in California thirty years ago had a rather intriguing idea. He said, if it’s so important to have someone listen to us, why don’t we pair up and make a little compact: You listen to me for a half hour and I’ll listen to you for a half hour. That’s it. No special degrees in psychology, high priced hourly bills, special offices. You listen to me, I’ll listen to you. Of course it does depend on some common sense listening skills. He named seven or eight, and over the years these have made their way into industry and education. What are they?
A good listener is attentive, shows genuine interest in the speaker, asks questions. Gives you their time, doesn’t say, “I can listen to you and sign these reports too.” He or she doesn’t interrupt. A good listener is non-judgmental. That’s hard for parents, not to jump in with, “When I was your age I’d have….” It’s so easy to assume your child is asking for advice, when all that child wants is someone to hear them out.
I know from interviewing people for employment, you can come on very strong, like, ‘Why should you get this position instead of the person who walked out of the door?” Or you can begin with easier things, such as, “How did you become interested in this field or where did you go to school?” A good listener empathizes and is patient…waiting in silence, not rushing the speaker.
Harvey Jakins, the California psychologist I mentioned earlier, developed a theory around this art of listening. He said that we’re born with a wonderful intelligence that gives us the ability to come up with brand-new, accurate responses for each of hundreds of situations we face every day–none of which are exactly like previous things we’ve experienced. We’re capable of taking in all the information of a situation, comparing it with information from past experiences, noting the similarities, noting the differences, and putting together a response that’s modified enough to fit the new situation well.
Not that there aren’t occasional problems. The ability to come up with fresh, new answers gets interrupted by stress, emotion, and pain. Any kind of physical hurt or emotional hurt interrupts the process. Under those situations, information coming in, which is ordinarily handled very easily, doesn’t get sorted out. It congeals; it blocks; it becomes a record of distressed feelings and the shutting down of our thinking. But, nature has provided us with a simple way of untangling this clogged information and discharging its accompanying feelings of stress. All we have to do is relive the experience by talking it out.
He gives an example of a very young child separated from his mother while shopping. The lost child becomes hysterical. A stranger comes by and says, “Don’t cry, we’ll find your mother.” But the next time that boy experiences a loss–a girl friend drops him or a close relative dies–the pain will revert back to that earlier bad experience. When that child was lost, all the love and security in his world was suddenly gone, perhaps forever. What better reason could anyone possibly have to cry? The crying, the letting out of those emotions, is a healthy thing. The stranger unwittingly stops a very healing process. Expressing our emotions helps heal our psyche–much as, say, bleeding helps clean a physical wound. But the damage can be undone, if later the child is allowed to tearfully tell his experience to his mother or someone else who listens acceptingly. And that can be done at any time, even many years later.