I have written in the past about the practice of “joining” that my wife and I used to help our young son who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum around age eight. The principle of joining is this: if you want someone’s behavior to change (Sawyer always preferred to talk to himself rather than other people), instead of telling that person over and over to change, you begin joining him in whatever it is he seems to prefer doing. This way, you become friends, and friends are always more willing to go someplace new together than alone. Later I learned to listen to him. This was probably when he really learned to talk. It was our listening to him that showed him what he had to say was worth saying, and so worth learning to say. Yet listening is just another form of joining, because in listening you surrender your imagination to another person’s story. The imagination cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined, so to surrender this powerful tool to another person and his story is ultimately an act of trust.
I have sometimes been stingy with my listening. People don’t always have such good stories to tell. People will tell you stories of how we are all victims, how the government is out to get us, how love isn’t real, how the universe is mechanical and we are all machines, how the publishing world is big and unfriendly. What is one to do? Someone takes you on his narrative journey and leaves you in a hole, and now you must spend so much time finding your way out. Better sometimes just not to listen.
It was Sawyer who taught me another way to listen. What Sawyer said didn’t always make sense, and so I would ask him to clarify what sounded jumbled. All our tragic and wretched and hopeless tales are just jumbled stories. If you listen closely you hear another story beneath them that isn’t being told so clearly. It is the story of someone who wants to be at peace, but feels at war. But to hear it you must believe it yourself, and sometimes such an audience is all a storyteller needs to find his true ending.
Happy New Year!
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.