Learning to Listen

Several years ago, I realized I needed to hone my listening skills.  I was enrolled in a high-residency full-time MFA program, working full time at a demanding job, and commuting about 100 miles to work and back.  My teachers warned me that working full-time while pursuing my MFA would be difficult if not impossible.  “You are juggling too many balls,” I was told.  “They are all going to come crashing down.”  To me, it didn’t seem impossible at all.  I had accomplished my BA while raising three children by myself and working at least half-time.   I was good at juggling; even though an occasional ball would drop now and then, I always got the rhythm going again.  Quitting my job wasn’t an option, and I was determined to complete the thing I had journeyed from Washington State to New York to do: finish my BA in writing and complete my MFA.

My time was limited. The reading lists were long, and my writing assignments filled every spare moment I had.  In order to complete the assigned readings, I had to be creative and utilize every minute.  I discovered audio books, and I started listening to the audio version of any books on my reading lists I could find.  I was sure to have the printed books also, but if I could find the audio version, I listened.  During my commute,  I listened. Any time I was in the car, I listened.  I listened early in the mornings and late into the evenings when everyone was asleep.

moby

The first book I listened to was Moby Dick by Herman Melville. What a challenge it was to have twenty-four hours of intense, dense listening ahead of me!  I would be driving along and suddenly realize I had missed an entire section – pages of reading.  My unfocused mind wandered, and I daydreamed.  I couldn’t navigate my way back to the place where I had stopped listening, especially while driving.  I usually didn’t even know at what point I had drifted off.  I couldn’t push the ‘rewind’ button because there wasn’t one.   Starting from the beginning was not an option because I had no time.  I had to learn to listen.  I had to keep my mind from straying.  It took practice and discipline, but I have learned to love this form of ‘reading.’  Now, almost every book I buy is in audio form.  Sometimes I also buy the printed or Kindle version, but I continue to listen.  My favorite way to experience a book is to listen.  My mind still wanders, and I find myself daydreaming, but I have become more attentive and am quicker to notice my mental wanderings.  I don’t miss as much.  I am able to reel my attention back and focus.

Listening to books has helped me to be more attentive to the world around me.  I pay closer attention to the things I hear.  I am an eavesdropper.  When I walk into a store or go to a flea market or take a walk down a busy street, I listen for interesting sound-bytes.  I love listening to the things people say.  I have a Twitter feed where I ‘tweet’ the things I overhear @laurieschaffler.  This motivates me to listen.  Plus, I want to record and remember what I hear.  Maybe someday I can turn my listenings into a beautiful poem!

 

 

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