Michele Norris speaks during a January 9, 2019 event for the Rosenbach Museum and Library held at the Free Library of Philadelphia's Parkway Central Branch.
I’d blame all the football overtimes for the delay in delivery of this edition of the Dispatches, but it’s actually because my body decided it wanted time to truly recover from being sick. (Apparently keeping the temperature in the apartment warmer than usual helps with this too.)
Let’s get to it...
How do you listen?
Yes, seriously. Think about how you’d normally answer that question. Now, be honest about how often you actually let yourself do so. It’s tough. It’s also been more important to my survival than anything else.
It’s how I edit myself. I read the words on the page or the screen as I’d say them, intonations, hesitations, all of it. It’s also how I edit others. I hear how they’d say it as I read their words, making it easier to suggest changes or mark it up. It’s a reason I lean on the Oxford comma so much; the need to pause is as important and necessary one.
It’s how I move through the world. I spend more time listening to the words or the orchestration of a musical piece or a poem than I probably should. My time in the South taught me the need for space and observation in a way I’d already recognized while growing up in New York but didn’t really appreciate.
It’s why I make lists. It helps me recognize the conversation going on in my head about priorities and not simply letting those thoughts linger for too long.
It’s how I take the temperature of the room. We don’t like to enjoy the pause or to embrace the idea of it allowing us to listen for what’s not there as much as. It allows for figuring out the reason the noise or the lack thereof is made in the first place.
We’ve made time a scarcity only because we want as much of it as possible. What happens when we simply embrace what’s there instead of always wondering, “What if..?” It’s easier to say than to do, especially as we don’t always like to embrace the problem before us.
If I want people to listen carefully, it means modeling my expectations. There’s constantly a need to pause and allow the scene to play out. There are also times when we probably need to act on whatever our gut tells us. I’m happy I trusted my gut a couple of weeks ago.
The picture up at the top tells part of the story. I was invited to go to dinner afterward with Michele Norris and others. While I didn’t get a chance to talk with her for long (though her talk about the 13th Amendment was incredible), it was the conversation I did get to have that let my desire to explore listening more grow.
Among the others seated at the table that night were the founding executive producer of American Bandstand and the namesake of Temple University’s College of Media and Communication, Lew Klein, and his wife Janet. I sat next to Janet. She’s a former member of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and they were dear friends of the namesake of my current place of employment. Besides getting to hear some great stories about Mr. Lenfest, I got a chance to get into a rather deep conversation with her about the difference between being a journalist and being a communicator. By the end of the evening, Mrs. Klein had convinced me it was easier for a communicator to perform an act of journalism than it is for a journalist to be a communicator. Whether it was her intention to do so or not is another matter, but I’ve definitely held that conversation - and her husband’s best wishes for my future success - close in recent days.
It’s amazing how much most professions are based on listening and how few actually practice the craft well. My time in hospitality taught me more about listening than I thought possible. I’d argue there are similar stories from those who’ve worked in restaurants or as bartenders. There’s a need to give space, but not too much, for contemplation. There’s a need to read the room even as nothing’s been verbalized. The first response can be the best, but there may be ways to approach it less frantically and achieve better results depending on the situation.
We often say we’re listening, but we’re not; we’re simply letting it be background noise for whatever we hope (or want) to happen. We also jump to conclusions without all the facts, or without letting ourselves trust what we may know anecdotally. Given the last 24 hours, I’ve seen many not take pause and take that extra time because we want it to fit into the narrative we seek.
What do you think about all of this? (This doesn’t really work if I don’t ask questions and hope for responses now, does it?) Let me know by sending a reply. I promise I’ll actually write back - it’s a goal of mine to do more often this year. If you think someone else may want to reply, forward it to them.
The playlist | JSK FTW
I decided it was finally time to share a Spotify playlist of some of the songs that helped shape my experience while out west at Stanford last year. This means two things: 1) my fellow cohort members now have a taste of what was going on whenever I was wearing my earbuds; 2) the playlist order should give you an idea of what I was listening to as I drove Palm Drive one last time before the start of #mydrivetosomewhere post-fellowship. Considering what I wrote above, it may be a conversation starter. The first few are in a specific order. After that... (And yes, it starts with a toccata.)
Other random thoughts:
Ten years ago today I was standing alongside the Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the WWII Memorial in Washington. Barack Obama took the Presidential oath of office and spoke of his hopes and dreams for the country. I also attended a standing room only Flickr post-Inaugural meetup (thanks, Upcoming archive! BTW, check out the new version of Andy Baio’s massive events calendar/planning tool).
(Incidentally, my Flickr-housed, Creative Commons-licensed photo of former Birmingham mayor Larry Langford saw a lot of use in Birmingham last week upon news of his death.)
President Obama’s words resonated that day and remained with me since. I remember listening to what was said and wondering what it’d mean long term. They’re worth reflecting upon as the loudest continue to drown out the masses.
March 18 will be the 25th anniversary of the release of the motion picture The Paper. (Yes, it’s been 25 years and it’s still THE best film about the daily news cycle ever. Period.) I plan to watch it with people, somewhere, somehow. It’s awesome. No scene stands out to me more about listening than this one in Michael Keaton’s character’s office.
I’ll be spending some of my free time catching up on the second season of Alan Alda’s podcast, Clear and Vivid: Conversations about connecting and communicating. The first season debuted shortly after I co-facilitated a session at SRCCON in Minneapolis about vulnerability as a strategy for news. I got a head’s up from a couple of the attendees about the podcast as a result and still others after I’d already listened to a couple of episodes. I also need to play a few over again, just some note taking needs to occur in between my regular tasks. That’s the plan for tomorrow as the idea of wind chills at 0°F just doesn’t seem that appealing...
Bonus: Warriors fans rejoice - BOOGIE’S BACK!!! 🏀 🕺🏀 - https://www.nbcsports.com/bayarea/video/boogie-lays-hammer-clippers-his-warriors-debut
That’s it for now. Stay warm out there. I hope to hear from some of you soon.