The day I met Marilyn
Originally uploaded by malidinapoli.
I consider myself to be a very quiet person. Shy. Introverted. Typical writer type. That's why I was surprised when a co-worker once informed me that you could hear my voice all over the hotel where we worked. Not only was I always talking--I was loud.
Hmmm. That gave me pause, but not quite long enough to actually--err, shut-up.
I'd like to say that I talk loudly because I come from a large family, and I had to speak up in order to be heard. But as an only child, I don't think that one would work. Maybe it's the writer thing. I don't get out much, and when I do, I want to talk.
But mostly I think I speak at an inflated volume when I'm feeling vehemently about something. And it seems I'm in the vehement mood quite often.
I can't tell you how many people my father and I scared away when we debated politics. As the passion rose, so did our voices until we were both screaming and purple. But what the scattered victims of our discussions didn't understand was that the hollaring had nothing to do with anger. It was just emotion--and probably a little showmanship thrown in, too. (We're talking two Leos here, for those who subscribe to astrology.) When we'd exhausted ourselves, we'd return to Mom's pot roast like nothing had occurred.
But after XX years of speaking to be HEARD, I decided to change. And as is often the case with my resolutions, the inspiration was an obituary. Edna Lewis--cook, dress designer, writer, and worker for social justice was remembered in Tuesday's New York Times in an obit I had to clip for my collection.
I loved the story of how this young talented black woman was fired after three hours from the only job she could find when she first arrived in New York City. The job was ironing, and this was a woman clearly not born to iron.
I also loved the sound of her famous recipe for shrimp and grits.
"It's just butter and shirimp, but it requires great butter and great shrimp, and a puddle of that over stoned ground grits," said John T. Edge, the director of the something called The Southern Foodways Alliance. "This pays homage to the frugal south, but it's also worthy of damask cloth." Now that's eating--though with the price of butter and shrimp, I'm not sure how frugal it is.
But it wasn't the recipe for shrimp that changed my life. It was the description of Lewis's manner:
"She just had a very quiet way of speaking and it really engaged you," chef Alice Waters remembered. "Because she was so soft-spoken, you had to listen carefully. There was a kind of intimacy you immediately had."
Well, those words struck a couple of days ago, and I've been practicing my softer tone ever since. Not sure how long it will last because I make resolutions all the time, and usually nature and years of habit quashes them within a week. But I've already learned a few things just from my experiment:
1. You really don't have to shout to be heard. I think I was afraid that if I didn't speak UP, no one would pay attention to what I had to say. Not true! They seem to be listening even more closely.
2. Speaking softly is about much more than talking. It's about courtesy, because if you speak in a low voice, you can't barge into the middle of someone else's sentence. You've got to wait. Thus, in two days, I've found myself becoming a better listener.
3.It's really hard to be curt or blustering or abrasive when speaking quietly.
4. A simple thing like adopting a quiet tone of voice effects changes far beyond itself.
Since I've started, I've felt more composed, more moderate in all things--simply calmer.
I'm telling you: there are some amazing lives recorded on the obituary pages. Some amazing lessons.