When you’re caught in the current, you don’t notice how far you’ve traveled. At some point, you’re bound to look up. How did I get here?
There are nights, the really bad nights, when I can’t run away from that question. This happens most frequently when I’m in my tiny, soulless, white-walled room in Älmhult. The idea was to have a writing spot, a place to be detached and type it all out once a week. A refuge for creativity it is not. A year or so later and apparently I’ve only knocked out about 25 pages total. That’s when it hits, looking up at the awful fluorescent tube overhead, surrounded by the dee-doo-dee-doo of impending train announcements.
How did I get here? In one way, by listening. Here’s one thing I managed from that room earlier this year.—
To Mrs. Carol:
Sometime in early high school, no older than 15 or so, mom convinced you to take a chance on me. I loaned a foot pedal, learned the formatting ropes, slid on the headphones and put my foot down.
People ate their words. They coughed. They said things I didn’t understand. They probably lied. Most of all, they paused…started a new sentence before one was done…and boy, uh, did they say uhmm.
Verbatim – that was the way it should be. At times I’d have to take off the headphones, turn the volume to max and fill the front room of our house with their crackly voices. What in the hell are you trying to say? Rewind. Play. Rewind. Rewind. Rewind. Play. I’d torture myself just trying to get it right. Storm away from the computer. Scream at the top of my lungs. Slam the keyboard into the desk. WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?
I didn’t realize the road I was driving myself down with that pedal. Now it all makes sense. I wanted to get it right. I wanted their words to be perfect, for their voices to be heard, for someone to listen and get it right. Medicine, insurance, legal nonsense – it trained me.
In later years, I still made ends meet listening. From the chance you gave me, I got another job working for an entertainment reporter. He didn’t pay as well, but the subject matter was more interesting and higher profile. Directors, actors, musicians, writers. For hours every week, this guy in New York gave a random Baton Rouge girl the chance to be somewhere else, the privilege of information and the link toward whatever was next. And in those hours, I learned the sound of disappointment from unprepared and stupid questions alongside the full-bodied answers of a genuine connection. I could feel it when he’d struck gold or hit rock bottom.
So I learned what it was to be ready and not to waste people’s time. And nobody, nobody, wanted to be misquoted. They were trusting me to get them. With everything I’ve done, I’ve leaned too much on listening, on that machine for being the record until I’ve transcribed the data to words. But it’s gotten me where I am and, I’d like to think, the reputation for getting it right. I’ve never had anyone complain about me missing the beat on a quote. Verbatim – that was the way it should be.
And now, so far away, it was you who never missed a beat. You’d be on my ass faster than my own mother if I hadn’t blogged recently enough. Maybe that’s because I’m at a loss without other people’s words, without their stories to get right. Or that’s the excuse I tell myself.
Since childhood I’ve been a good listener. You taught me listening could be lucrative. You taught me the value of words—of stopping to think before speaking—because what comes out of your mouth, well, that’s verbatim. Most of all, you encouraged the sound of my own voice.
I’ve been struggling to hear my voice lately, so I just needed to remind myself it’s still there somewhere. And to tell you I’m still here, lest I be chided from the other side for not blogging often enough. It’s always been easy for the water to take me.