I’m a shocking listener.
My coffee making skills are improving; gift-giving isn’t too shabby and making people laugh is reasonably easy when shared experiences and silly jokes are flung about, but being able to shut up for long(ish) periods and let someone else have their fair shake of the sauce bottle is something that continually eludes me.
Actually, elude is copping out lightly, making my problem seem more cuddly-wuddly than it deserves to be. More honest ways to describe it could include ‘overbearing,’ ‘trying far too hard,’ or ‘obviously allergic to companionable silence.’ Yes to them all, sadly, and let’s add the one that seems funny but really truly isn’t: being a bloody annoying show off.
It only takes a few easily-digestible advice columns or first year, week one Psychology to understand that it stems from my desperate need for approval, attention and the spotlight. It takes slightly more than a Cliff notes’ read of Freud or flick through ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ to note that despite already appreciating that my childhood gave me all of those things – as well as love, support, encouragement, freedom and creativity – my selfish behaviour continues.
People often remark about vacuous types who are clearly just waiting for you to stop moving your mouth so that they can jump in and start again. I’ve nodded in recognition, but know via my crawling insides that I’m one of those people. Geez it hurts to write that as I’d much rather be depicted as friendly, caring, sociable and a cheerful ‘front of house’ hostess with the most-ess.
There have been more times than I wish to count that have seen me step outside of myself and witness my almost-hysterical, strident desire to hold sway over a gathering and feel a combined sense of deep shame and an inability to stop it. Usually, taking the dirty dishes out to the kitchen or a change to the dessert course can help break my dinner party domination but only if LC is there to dash in behind me and softly whisper something like, “Kath, this isn’t meant to be nasty but you never give anyone a chance to speak!”
He is always correct. “If there are eight people at the table, it’s best to assume that you should only get one eighth of the conversation space.” My stupid, nasally, look-at-moiye voice.... it's not like I enjoy hearing it, or that anyone has remarked on its melodiousness, but why can't I shut the hell up?
My crest-fallen face always upsets him and he apologises profusely. After twenty years of togetherness shouldn’t still have to do this but he’s been forced to do it time after time and after time and still sees his wife embarrass him, herself and their child with her ‘Look at me! Hear me! LIKE ME! Antics. I’m forty four years old for pharksakes.
Another thing it's long past time to be brutally truthful about is how the sound of laughter is like melted Lindt chocolate being lovingly poured all over my ego, dripping through to every crack and crevice of my painfully shallow and personality-parched body. My soul thrives on it and craves more of it the more it is given. Friends sometimes manage to get a word in and tell entertaining stories of their past or recent adventures or observations, and I barge in, with an Annie Oakley-style, ‘Anything you can do I can do (say, tell, enact, sing, recall, embellish, mimic) better,’ undoubtedly causing guests – and LC – to sit back and eventually give up. It’s impossible to bust through when I'm locked and loaded in full show-off mode.
“For gods’ sake Mum, stop talking and listen to me!” This one hurts the most because it's true.
It's been a struggle writing this blog lately because a lot of what affects or interests me is of a deeply personal nature. It would be a betrayal of the other people involved if I discussed issues that not only concern me but them also. Having a rueful laugh is one thing, but it should only be my flaws that I dissect here at the keyboard.
I need to take my cue from Milly the dog. She sits, she listens and somehow understands what is required of her. A swish of her tail, a raised eyebrow muscle or zany smile as she dashes past in the park says it all.
Chewing gum has always given me a stomach ache (juices flowing, no food arriving = tummy in turmoil) but maybe it would help keep my jabber jaws occupied and other guests able to complete a full sentence or three without a Kath-style conversation crash in. Drinking more might help keep my cake hole under control but only if it's non-alcoholic. Too many fermented fruits or yeasty bubbles just make me worse. Diet coke and water is a viable option as it would also see me visit the bathroom more often, thus creating even more breaks for my buddies.
Seriously though, I owe several hundred people over the past two decades an apology or two.
And more recently, Sapphire. The thing she needs most right now is my ear. And my two arms for a hug. Hugs I can do and will try very hard to offer them more often. And in silence.