Listening

Two parents once came up to me after a school board meeting and thanked me profusely. They felt so much better. At the time, I thought I hadn’t done anything. No decision had been made. But I had done something. I had simply let them talk; I listened; I empathized.

Recently, I emailed my former neighbors — rabidly, on the attack — and asked how dare they employ my ex-husband? How dare they pay him cash when he hasn’t paid child support in years? I expected my former neighbors to be defensive and angry, but, instead, the email I received back was kind and thoughtful and incredibly insightful. They’ll likely keep employing him, but at that point, I didn’t even care. Their empathy for me had opened up my heart to be empathetic for their plight, too.

What makes me remember this on a breezy autumn is maybe nothing but my own unhappiness about the adult world, both in general and in particular. Recently, I realized with the work I’m doing now, I could actually pack up and take a geographical cure from my immediate adult world, head somewhere else to work for the next four months. Like, perhaps, a desert cave.

Bad idea, I think. Those former neighbors and I have finally made our peace, and this one is likely to be lasting.

On a withered branch
A crow has alighted:
Nightfall in autumn

— Basho

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Cracking Open the Door on Deafness

In my twenties, I was a typist for a novelist who not only had the misfortune to suffer from severe carpel tunnel, but was also profoundly deaf. The deafness had contributed to her divorce, and she holed in up in her parents’ summer house in rural Vermont. Once a professional musician, she cleaned houses before landing a teaching job and turning to writing children’s literature to make a living.

Sitting side by side with me, she dictated her novel.

One morning, an unfamiliar alarm rang out in her study, so piercingly loud I instinctively bent over. I heard nothing but that sound. Fearing it was a fire alarm, I stood up, panicked. Then I saw the novelist, sitting in her chair, was mystified by my actions. She was entirely oblivious to the noise. To her, that alarm didn’t exist.

A red flashing light on her computer power surge system warned that the power had gone out. I shut down her computer. I explained what had happened. Then I stood there, rattled — both from the physical shock and from my glimpse into her immense silence.

Here’s a line from Susan Orlean’s The Library Book:

… oh my God… do you think there are any conservative librarians?

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Lyndon, Vermont