Lean In... For Two Reasons

Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Recently I marched with 10,000 others in my city's "March For Our Lives" protest. I went with two friends--both women are notoriously kindhearted. I've seen these ladies snubbed. I've seen them slighted. When they're mistreated, they invariably try to craft reasons why the snubber/ignore-er is treating them as less-than-worthwhile people.

I'm a teacher, so this sign especially appealed to me.
A couple of weeks ago my 8th graders asked me, "Mrs. R,
when are you going to bring a gun to school?"
I replied, "To keep you safe, I'm not going to bring a gun."

I'm not like my two friends. I only have one cheek. If you slap it, I'm gone. There's no way I'm gonna turn so you can slap me again.

At the march we ran into someone my two friends had met before... and even they couldn't make excuses for how adept she was at turning the focus of every single conversation onto herself. What will Sioux think of her? they wondered.

They weren't surprised.

When another friend met up with us and asked about a recent writing retreat I'd organized, Mrs. All-About-Herself chimed in and said, "Oh, I've led many writing retreats. And I teach graduate classes at Webster University." The woman yammered some more, but I'd already tuned out. Her face was expressionless as a piece of granite. She was waiting for me to bow down in admiration, I think.

She was disappointed.

I connected this moment to my life as a writer in a couple of ways.

How much do we learn if we're not open to others? Writers eavesdrop. They observe. They ask questions. We pick up so many quirks and details when we pay attention to others. Spending more time being quiet and listening, and less time talking about ourselves will help us create characters, along with learning about the world that surrounds us.

 How can we live a truly writerly life if we're always tooting our own horn?
I belong to a writing critique group with some well-known local writers. They've won contests and been published in hundreds of places and have done speaking gigs about writing. And boy, can these women make words sing.

Never do I hear them talk endlessly about themselves. When they hear of a call for submissions, they share it. When they get something published, they mention it (for sure) but they also usually mention the revising help they got from the group. When one of us talks about an experience, the rest of us are leaning in, listening closely... and then we're asking follow-up questions.

Am I saying priceless pearls would have dropped out of my mouth if that woman asked me about my writing retreats? Definitely not. But perhaps if we'd genuinely conversed, both of us would have learned something.

So when someone else is talking, lean in and listen... even if they're strangers sitting at a nearby restaurant table. (However, if you do that, be sneaky and unobtrusive about it. I once eavesdropped on a group at a winery. When one of them noticed me, she screamed, "That woman is writing down everything we say," and then I had to run to a faraway table. Quickly.)

Lean in... and learn.

Sioux Roslawski is a mom and grammy who believes that arms are for hugging... they're not something that should be available in assault versions for ordinary citizens. She's a teacher who believes is arming educators with more books, more pencils and smaller class sizes... not with pistols. Sioux's also a dog rescuer, and if you'd like to read more of her stuff, head to her blog.


Margo Dill said...

This is so true, Sioux! I think that is hysterical that you got caught writing down dialogue--I hope it was juicy.

Writers have to listen and think and experience--not just write.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--It wasn't quite hysterical when it happened. I was a bit frightened (momentarily).

Mary Horner said...

So true, we learn from each other and the best writers I know are open to the ideas and help from others, along with sharing ideas and opportunities. I also love that you were caught writing down their dialogue. It made me laugh, but how did she know?

Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--I figured they were so "hydrated" with wine, they wouldn't notice. I was wrong. I guess she saw me write something down every time somebody in their group said something... and then I would just sit there, writing nothing, when there was a lull in their conversation.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Oh my gosh, I find this so funny! I guess you need to get all mission impossible with it and pretend you're writing when there's a lull in their conversation. You are a hardcore writer, Sioux! :)

Renee Roberson said...

That winery story is classic, Sioux! Love it. I hope I don't come across this way to people. I like to think I'm a good listener and don't talk about myself too much to people, but it's always good to take a step back and gain new perspective.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Angela--Next time I will try that--write even when there's a lull.

Renee--It just proves I don't have to be under the influence of anything in order to do something silly.

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