all ears


“These stories don’t mean anything if you’ve got no one to tell them to…” -Brandi Carlile

Chatty Kathy. Blabbin’ Betsy. Mouth Almighty. Big Mouth. Loud Mouth. Any & All Mouth. That’s who I am. A talker. And perhaps you are, too. We are the ramblers, rambling and forgetting mid-ramble just what the point of our rambling was. We know that if we just keep talking and tossing words either we’ll get back to the relevant topic or the audience will fall asleep. We recognize the glazed, sleep-walking eyes, anxious tooth chewing lip, and long, defeated sighs of the people we talk at. We’re loud, not oblivious. They are not interested in all the hearing we demand of them. They are exhausted by our relentless verbage. But we persevere, O! Mighty Motor Mouths! We speak on!

The Universe has a way of balancing things out, though. I assumed it cosmic justice when at a young age I began attracting an uncanny number of equally loquacious folks. The only thing a loud mouth hates more than silence is another loud mouth. There were too many years with me and a fellow talker in  battles of skill and endurance, each one waiting for the other to pause for air so that we might stab an interrupting sentence into the conversation and emerge victorious. Time sanded and wore me down, and little by little I broke down and shut up.

I spent cumulative weeks as a teen listening to my father repeat the same ten stories. Yes, the time when your dad’s friend rode in the back of a hearse to scare the bejesus out of neighborhood kids. Yes, the time you got stupid drunk outside the Army base in Germany. Yes, too, I could already tell you the color of the curtain rod your mom bought your brother for his birthday. I could tell you, also, the various imaginary games he enjoyed with said rod, the best gift a boy could ask for.  I know the name and hair style and family history of your high school sweetheart. You’ve already touched on the time your mom stormed to your high school when she found pot in your bedroom. I mostly wanted to get to the part of his stories that involved him giving me $20 and a ride to the mall. I mostly wanted him to just stop all the words.

My dad spent a part of his latest visit sharing the same stories. And it occurred to me, four-minutes in to a doozy of a discussion about his childhood, that I could start hearing. When I really listened, I actually heard. The story about his mother being kind to the colored lawn boy was precisely the same. She would bring him lemonade and let him in the house and didn’t pay no damn mind to what anyone of that time and place thought about her. But what I heard this time was my dad feeling loudly “Listen. I need you to know how wonderful my mother was. Listen. I need you to know how much I loved her. I need you to know”.  It only took three-hundred repetitions for me to know.

On any dinner date my husband gives me stern eyes across the table. Refilling dinner rolls, the waitress begins to drop small breadcrumbs of stories. She would like me to follow that trail and open up a full discussion. My husband’s expression begs me “No. Don’t you dare ask her to elaborate”. But he already knows I will ask.  She absolutely will elaborate all over this corner booth. So we lose a little alone time. But we learned about her musician boyfriend and her plans for future tattoos paid for with well-saved tips and her thoughts on the sports game playing on a TV over the bar and how she can’t do short hair because she feels her neck isn’t right to pull it off. I can’t tell you what I’ll do with any of that information, but I’m glad I heard it because she’s glad I listened.

At the grocery store the same cashier tells me the same thing about her same toddler every week. I do not think she remembers me or the previous thirty-two times she shared the boy’s love of Spiderman, but every week we do the Talk-Talk Tango. I pay. She talks. I scoot and slide around to her side of the vestibule to not make the next 10 customers wait. She talks. Eventually she will need a lunch break and I’ll make my exit with hot milk jugs and thawed frozen pizzas in tow thinking “I know how you delivered your baby and what his favorite color is, too, boo. I hear you.”

As a public service to friends, family, and the State of Tennessee, I began sharing my redundant stories on this blog. That’s 2-million minutes of local ear-life spared. Dear reader, you should consider subscription to this site the greatest charitable act of your life thus far. I’ve forced so many people hear me over the years that it’s only fair for me to listen. But what was once due diligence, serving my listening time for crimes against innocent ears, has transformed into a love. Prison changed me, y’all. At some point I stopped listening as a favor and started listening for enjoyment.

Without listening, I would never know that Holly, the nail salon lady, wants to be cast on Survivor.  She is a hard-working single mom whose children are growing up to appreciate every time she walks early to work, skips dinner to save food. I could’ve stared silently at the pastel pictures of manicures as she polished my hands. But then I’d never know that she was the product of an American soldier and a Vietnamese cleaning lady, that this mix of races would  make her a leper to her peers. I’d never get to see her eyes water sweetly as she told of her step-father leaving work to walk to the schoolyard every afternoon so that she wouldn’t have to eat lunch and play and face the bullying alone. I tip her too much when I leave, and I am embarrassed because this is the only too-small  gesture I know to say thank you for letting me listen.

Without listening, I would’ve kept walking out of the fitness room last week when an old neighbor man asked me if I like to read. I would’ve spent my rare free time getting a list of things done, but instead I stopped, turned around, took a seat on a weight machine, and opened the floodgates with a “Yes. Yes I do.” The next 45 minutes could’ve mopped my floors or folded my laundry or made for one hell of a nap, but I wouldn’t know about this book he just read which reminds him of this time he met a young, homeless girl while overseas which led to him starting a medical charity and doing something meaningful with his life which gives him comfort now that he is going through surgeries to treat the cancer inside him.

Though I  resisted with all my might and mouth, I’m finally glad I’ve (sometimes, once in a while, on a Tuesday) managed to skillfully shut my pie hole. I can say I’m all ears and mean it. No really. Here are my ears just to hear you.  There are no real strangers, just people with stories ripe for the telling. If I can just hush, I get to meet them. I get to be a storyteller who is constantly told fresh stories. I’m finally recognizing it’s a good, good thing when The Loud Mouth is forced to listen.

Where my Verbose Veronicas/ Mouthy Marys/ Garrulous Garys at?

Tell me your stories!


48 thoughts on “all ears

  1. Excellent post. I am a “go, go, go” person, and I so need this reminder. The repetitive stories are actually a great way to memorize them, right? I’m so grateful for the family stories I heard over and over.. now they are part of my story. (stopping in from SITS)

    1. As a teen I wasn’t grateful for much of anything. I am definitely appreciating now that I can have those stories to hold onto and share as my kid gets older! Thanks for reading!

  2. Listening is a skill, it means you’re truly in the present moment. It is so important to be able to really listen to another person. My mom is 80 now and basically tells me the same stories every day about her past but I am grateful because I want to be able to remember the details so I can tell my own kids one day.

    1. I’m getting to that place with my dad in particular now. As a dumb teenager, I think the only conversation I’d be interested in was a cute boy telling me how cute I am. In which case I’m sure I’d say “No. Really. Please do go on…. for hours”. I had that feeling during his last visit, of thankfulness, just glad I’ve been told these stories so much that I will never, ever forget them.

  3. Just don’t change the name of this blog to “The Listenings.” It just wouldn’t seem right.

    I’m a talker once you get to know me, but am very reserved with people I don’t know. I tell stories on my blog, too, sometimes.

    1. Haha. That’d be a pretty boring blog, eh? I could just make all the titles “I’m Listening…” and leave the rest of the post blank. 🙂

  4. Oh I love how you describe what your father was really trying to say without actually saying it. I’m more outspoken here in space than I am in real time.

    1. Hi, Sandra! I’m hearing that from a lot of readers. More outspoken in their writing than in real life. I’m working on shifting my loud mouth around, spread it out evenly. I definitely need to write more and give my friends/family/ husband/ dog a break.

  5. I picked up some talkativeness from my mom, who could charm a paper bag if she felt like it. It is for this reason that folks are sometimes surprised when I say I’m an introvert. I have to remind it’s it the same as sing shy; rather, I can’t go nearly as long as my mom before I feel as tired as if I had just run a marathon. Which is why I blog–it’s only half as tiring!

    1. I can’t stand the idea of working out, but in terms of talking? I CAN GO FOR DAYSSSSSSS! The blog helps spread the wordiness around so the locals won’t go completely crazy 🙂

  6. Just please tell me your dad did not drop you off at the Bellevue mall. I believe that could count as child abuse in our neck of the woods

    1. Ha! It WAS the Bellevue mall. Back when it had stores and was open to the public… oh, and before that guy got stabbed there. They had a Claire’s where I could by fake bling and an American Eagle where I could pay a lot of money for shredded jeans. Pretty much, Dumb Teen Paradise!

  7. This is just lovely, Tori. You have developed the story teller’s ear! Can you transform each of those stories into something that has a beginning, middle, and end, and then polish them, and then pull them together into a collection? Voila! It may take a few years but it should be worth it.

    1. At the rate I’m being told stories from random strangers, I can have a big, meaty collection in no time. The waitresses thoughts on tattoos could take up at least 20 pages 🙂

  8. I’m not much a talker–at least not to folks I don’t know well. But I wish I had listened more closely and retained the stories my dad and grandmothers told. Still, I love to be around folks like you who talk a lot, as I love to listen and laugh.

    Not-Chatty in Ecuador,

    1. I love hearing from some of you guys how you aren’t big talkers! You are so open with your writing and your life via the blog that I would’ve guessed we were ALL a bunch of loud mouths. I’m working on shifting more of my Loud Mouth to my writing. I need to blog more often… and my poor husband’s ears could use a break!

    1. Teach my your ways, Leslie! I’m just getting to the point where I can calm myself down enough to listen. I’m definitely not great at it, yet!

    1. Working on it. I needed to use the word Kerfuffle so badly yesterday that I interrupted any and every conversation around me just to drop that word bomb 🙂

  9. Loved this: “The only thing a loud mouth hates more than silence is another loud mouth!”

    Since I like to write, I try to be a good listener. Listening, without thinking about the next thing that I’m going to say, is important to developing realistic characters in my stories. I think that, as you found out about your Dad’s stories, hearing what’s being said between the lines is often just as important as the words coming out of someone’s mouth.

    1. It’s gotten easier with age. Maybe because I’ve already had years and years to share and re-share a million personal stories, I’m not so anxious to jump in, steal the conversation, and run with it. Still, old habits die hard. I have to really concentrate on shutting up (my mouth & brain) and JUST listen instead. The more I listen the more I’m learning it’s a mutually beneficial thing. They seem relieved to have someone to talk to. I get to get outside of myself and hear all these great histories. Definitely Writer Jackpot!

  10. This is a sweet post, and a good reminder that these delicious bits of life can be overlooked if we don’t slow down and take them in. Life seems more close-knit when we know more about those around us- even if we may not see them again.

    I’m not much of a talker myself… but I’m not that good of a listener, either. Most of the time, I’m stuck inside my head thinking of my to do list or sorting through words and ideas that I can write about.

    1. My husband, friends, family think it’s HILARIOUS that I am the one person who tends to attract these chatterboxes. They know just how badly I’m wired to interrupt, steal the conversation, and run with it. I’m working on chilling out, trying to just listen without the distraction of my noisy brain!

  11. Your dad knows my dad, right? RIGHT?

    I don’t think I will ever arrive at being a good listener. It’s so hard to empty the brain and really focus on what another person is saying, all the layers. So few people do it anymore.

    The best stories are the ones like yours at the gym, where the man told you personal things because he sensed you would hear him.

    1. I’m working on it. Some days I’m more resistant than others. I find myself making deep, yoga breath sounds in my mind to calm my chatty self. Most of the time I want to talk so badly I have to fidget with my hands or bite my lip!

  12. You are freaking me out. Thursday night, I wound up meeting friends at a local establishment, and I was talk-talk-talking about this piece of music the friend next to me and I are learning for a choral concert in June, and the friend to my right said it was great that I have something I’m so passionate about, and I said, “Oh, God, I’ll talk forever about it. Long after anybody cares to listen,” at which point Javier, at the other end of the table, interrupted (what choice did he have?) to propose an unrelated toast and I turned to my right and said, “See?” Javier apologized, but it was my fault.

    Also, I described myself as “loquacious” yesterday.

    Stop being in my head.

    But mostly, you’re amazing, and I loved this post because in 24 years you’ve figured out so much more than most people ever do.

    1. Haha.I’m almost 27 (feel like 82). Thanks for age discount 🙂 I’ll take it! Your dinner conversation sounds all too familiar. I’ve been that girl (almost all of the time), taking up the talk space! I think it’s such a natural, personality-based thing that it’s tough to stop. I get almost physically uncomfortable making myself be quiet!

  13. This hits so close to home! I am a total chat-machine, but recently found my listening skills mostly comprised of listening for pauses where I could insert the reply I’d been forming in my head. Gross. I’ve been working harder on rocking out open-ended questions and genuine curiosity, and it is shifting everything in the best possible way.

    1. We’re like Loud Mouth With Desire To Listen twins! I feel a little like I missed out on some amazing conversation over the years of nonstop talking. Trying to catch up on it now!

  14. Fun post! And, wow, you cover so much ground. Made me smile, think and laugh. I’d say that covers the bases nicely.

    Once a rambler, always a rambler! Or, in my case, a silly old goat.

    Chris from sillyoldgoat.com

    Ps was fun reading all the comments, too 😉

  15. Hi Tori – have just stumbled on your blog and love it! Unfortunately I am a bit like you used to be – I have been known to tell the same story 10 times to the same people. One of the reasons I started a blog (on Friday – eek) was simply to have someone else to tell these same stories to as my friends are on the verge of killing me!

    Will try and remember to listen next time!


  16. Oh grief! I’m like your father. I tell my children the same stories over and over again, as if it’s new and they need to hear it. My favourite is telling them about when they were kids and comparing them to their children. Bleh! Will tell the stories on my blog, but not sure I can shut my trap too much. I like the comments where the repetitive stories were appreciated so it can be passed on to the next generation. Nice.

  17. I thought that the art of listening was long dead and buried. The very fact that you take out the time to actually listen not just hear, really listen makes me really happy! I love your blog. Hakuna Matata!
    A.A. 🙂

  18. Love this post! In my family, I’m known as the energizer bunny. I especially love your verbiage in the opening paragraph. I found myself picking up the pace, spiraling into a rambling-like state. Not sure if that was intentional or not, but very clever I must say!

Ramble on, little rambler...

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