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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quiet

As I approached consulting, I was worried—not surprisingly—that I couldn’t do the job. I worried for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones was noise. More specifically, it was voices. Ambient voices are to my brain what an electromagnetic pulse is to the Starship Enterprise: They are a power drain. They cause total mechanical shut-down. There must be others who have this problem, but I’ll relate some background, for comprehension’s sake.

I come from a large, loud, emotionally incompetent family. My parents were hippies. Religious hippies. Grumpy hippies (I’m looking at you, Dad). They fled California in the late 1960s and hiked around continental Europe carrying their backpacks, a tin campfire pot, some dirty laundry, and not much else. Dad was AWOL from the Army at the time—need I mention?—so he did four months in a German stockade after the excursion. Eventually they returned to the States, got a Volkswagen bus, some road maps, a cooking stove, and, sooner or later, six bewildered and codependent offspring.

I was the last of these offspring.

The house I grew up in was rough on the surface—raucous and busy. But it was quiet at heart, even melancholy. When there weren’t angry words and baseless insults flying around, there were a lot of heavy moods and empty gazing. If you talked freely you were setting yourself up for something. You watched what you said.

So I was an anxious kid, and got stressed easily. My ‘bedroom’ was actually the communal hallway off the living room (small house), so when I got stressed I hid under the kitchen table. Someone asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to? I hid under the kitchen table. Someone laughed and I couldn’t figure out why? I hid under the table. Someone offered me a choice for lunch and I couldn’t decide? Hid under the table.

I spent a lot of time under there.

As I got older, I think I reasoned that my lasting social anxieties existed because of my large, loud, emotionally incompetent family. I then reasoned that I could avoid stress if I avoided people, social gatherings, and noisy, chatty places.

This is where the writing center comes back in.

The first time I sat in on a consultation in our writing center, I was pretty sure I’d signed my own death warrant. There were no walls in the center—only cubicle dividers. There was no privacy—I could hear every word being said in practically every consultation. I couldn’t listen to the consultant I was sitting with, couldn’t listen to the student. I was totally distracted. I went home that day thinking about my family, thinking about noise—thinking about trying to communicate or cogitate or make decisions with everyone talking at once, and I got depressed.

There’s something sort of magical about the writing center, though—about consulting. I’m not confident, and never have been. I’m not straightforward, I’m not decisive, and I’m certainly not tactful. These are deficiencies that silenced me in the past, made me afraid to speak, turned me into a writer—a writer strictly, with no room for dialogue. But it’s different at the writing center. When I go into that (minimally private) cubicle with another writer—with someone who’s written something or must write something—I turn into a conversation machine. It’s a bit of a show, of course, and it may always be a show, but if nothing else I am totally focused on the writer and the work in front of me. It’s a rare and beautiful focus. The voices—those ambient entities that melt my brain and make me want to crawl under a table?—they disappear. It’s almost surreal, the way the voices disappear.

So it’s trite, maybe, but true: My job at the writing center is teaching me how to make quiet out of chaos.


And P.S. to my fellow Boise State consultants: I totally love you guys, and I don’t want you or your voices to disappear. In this post ‘voices’ refers to the general ‘hum’ of the center—a hum that I am actually growing to love.

7 comments:

  1. Aw, Rachael. The more I talk to you, the more awesome I think you are. And you were already at a pretty high level of awesome.

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  2. I'm glad that you are not hiding under the tables in the Writing center. For one, they are small tables. Secondly, you seem to be doing a pretty good job so far, and I can't imagine why you would want to hide from students. Also, the carpet sucks and looks dirty. You don't want to curl up on that crap.

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  3. Wow, Rachael, thanks for sharing. I am obviously a quiet person as all of you at Boise State have noticed, but I experience the same sort of magic when I am in a consultation. I'm not all-knowing or authoritative, but I feel comfortable and safe expressing my thoughts about writing. I think you ought to write more about your childhood; I, for one, am fascinated by the little bit you shared with us. As for consulting, I'm so happy to hear you like it! I'm sure you are making a positive impact. You're an asset to the Center and to 303!

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  4. Rachael, from the comments i think you can see we are all supporting you! I had a hard time with the ambient voices as well and often wish i could bring a radio or something so I have a constant noise to block out thereby making it easier to block out the other voices. i also come from a large extended family who are not quiet at all, but never seemed to be able to cut all the extra voices from my head. i would just listen to snippets of everyones conversations and figure out what they were talking about. Never really talking myself, because for one thing talking was something the adults did, and for another i was never sure if I understood, or pieced together the conversation correctly. So i had a hard time paying attention to the consultation at hand as well at first, but I am getting better about focusing on just one consultation at a time. We will just have to keep each other working to fix our own ambient noise problems! :)

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  5. Justin Lee2:46 PM

    Kudos for bringing some pretty powerful personal experiences to light in this post. Someday we may have to trade horror stories, as my family were about two buckles short of the full straitjacket ensemble. As for your anxieties in regards to your own skills at consulting, have no fear! First of all, I am sure you to a fantastic job. And secondly, all of us, I think, our insecure about our talents on one level or another, even the vaunted veteran staff. I think the whole point of beating the concept of community into us was to give us all a fall-back plan when our egos take a sledgehammer hit. Cue "Lean On Me" and a group hug. :oP

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  6. Thank you very much Rachael for the candid nature of your post, as it hit home pretty straight away with me. Remind me sometime that we have to share horror stories in relation to our various upbringing; it is always a pleasure to play the "my crazy family" game. You have been a pleasure to work with this semester, and your unique outlook and upbringing only enhance how essential you are to the Center. :)

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  7. I'm happy to have found your post. I'm in the midst of training to become a tutor, and although a lot of these posts offer advice that might be helpful once I have more experience under my belt-like what to do when a hearing impaired tutee comes in for help- I haven't been able to relate to any of them on a personal level; yours is the first. I was looking for an inspiring account of a struggle, to be honest, and although it seems like tutoring turned out to be something you're great at, you had doubts of your own. I'm having doubts of my own too. Your story reminded me that the reasons behind those doubts can be, in turn, used to strengthen yourself as a tutor. It also reminded me that it's good to be honest with myself about what I'm doubtful or worried about concerning becoming a successful tutor. There is no superhuman who becomes a perfect tutor after one session. We all have things that we need to work through and challenges we need to overcome.

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