you listen

graffiti of a person talking, maybe shouting, hands around their mouth to magnify their wordsGood morning, all!

I’m a bit scattered today — the pup and I were up early, rushing around, getting ready for an appointment that it turns out wasn’t this morning, is scheduled for next Thursday. Now my energy is all twisted up, churned, and I’m trying to get back in focus. Do you ever have mornings like this?

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Here’s a prompt and a write from last night’s Write Whole workshop. I borrowed a prompt that was offered at the AWA Facilitator’s Training a week or so ago: Write about how to fix something that’s broken. (We took 20 minutes last night; give yourself the time that works for your schedule today, when you write – 10 mins? 30?)

This is what I wrote in response to this prompt:

This is how you fix it: you listen.

You listen.

You listen.

You listen.

You listen.

Listen, then, to your own sharp intake of breath, feel the ache of advice burning your throat, and notice how you are not listening anymore at the moment you are coming up with solutions that no one asked you for, that she didn’t ask you for. Feel yourself swallow the advice, exhale the tension that built in your body when you couldn’t tell her immediately what she should be doing different. Notice, then, how you can relax. Oh, this isn’t my responsibility, you think. Let that fill you, douse your hot veins. Oh, she only asked me to listen.


Understand what kind of work listening is. Listening is not just not talking, listening is also not planning what you’re going to say as soon as she stops to take a breath. Listening isn’t interrupting with scatter clauses of Ok, here’s what you should— wait.

Listening is not making her tell you, again, I don’t want you to fix it. I can fix it. I want you to hear me. I want you to want to hear me.

Listening is more than not talking. Listening is letting all the weight of the words into you, is opening your hands to what’s unholdable, opening your lungs to what’s unbreathable (and yet she holds — yet, she breathes). Listening is a deep and welcoming silence, it’s more than camaraderie — this isn’t about misery loves company. This is work, goddamnit, this is intimate solidarity, this witnessing. This is you shutting up because there are no easy solutions and you offering one up just makes her feel stupid or angry or both —

What she has to offer you is unfixable. There is no fixing the tender brilliance of the story she wants you to hold with her, its claw marks still visible and strange, its head misshapen, chewed on, twisted, it is what it is and it lives in her, holds space behind her heart, between her ribs, under her arms, between her legs; this story is her body, her day, her mind, and you are going to tell her how to fix it? Who do you think you are? Who are you to blaspheme,to run your hard, tossed-off words over this as-yet-unformed thing she is offering?

This is how to listen: Close your mouth. Have no answers. Make eye contact, or don’t. Take deep breaths, especially if she is breathing shallowly. Let yourself be moved, frustrated, uncomfortable. Especially uncomfortable. Understand that there are no easy answers. Understand you can’t fix her. Understand she can. Appreciate this about her. Be overwhelmed by it. Find yourself at a loss for words when, or if, she finally asks what you think she should do. Meet her confusion with your confusion. Have nothing prepared. Be still with the story. Say, I don’t know. What do you think? Listen to how she already has answers — feel pride, amazement, humility, gratitude, and keep listening.

Thank you for your presence with others’ words yesterday, today, tomorrow. Thanks for letting others be present with your words, too.

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