Privilege Blog

The Quieting Mind, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:02am

Tell me a story, I do believe my words are worn out.

Are you busy? It’s so funny, I can go three months without talking in-depth and in-person to anyone but my husband and family. Maybe even half a year. But these past few weeks people have been visiting and I’ve had conversations – some profound, some companionable, some both, all wonderful – full of in-depth talk. Is it fall? Is this the retired person’s version of Back To School? Goodness knows I’ve been learning.

Also I’m in a place, maybe some of you have been here too, where a longtime online group is at a turning point. The turning point requires, unsurprisingly, talk. Although there of course I mean typing, but still, words.

I love to say words. I cannot imagine that’s a surprise. And yet one of the tasks of my adult life has been to learn to listen. To learn to hear painful or scary feelings from another. To learn to actively stop, look at the person across the table and wait. To learn to hold a model of a friend and their reactions and needs in my mind even as I process my own.

Sometimes I have felt as though I have lacked a certain set of neural circuitry, that now I’m trying to build it up. As though with any luck I might replace my fraying fast-talking fast-thinking capabilities with something slower and more responsive. Like I said, with any luck.

So if you have a story, I’m listening. Perhaps a recent insight. Maybe a small message to the world. Or we could all just sit here quietly, together.

Have a good weekend.




66 Responses

  1. I relate so strongly to this fatigue this morning, and I am keen to see what responses your honest post we’ll elicit. I’m so conscious of how drastically our patterns of communication have changed over our lifetimes, several distinct “eras” for me — marked by social and geographic context, by changing technologies, by changes from work to child-rearing to school to work. And now retirement amidst a backdrop of social media (and yes, the communities formed here very much at a turning point) combined with geographic move combined with grandparenthood… No stories, much less answers, but keen to hear other perspectives.

    1. @Frances, Yes, I was sort of myopic, writing this, but of course there is so much social and technological change behind my fatigue. I wonder how many people feel this – and I’m not talking about Twitter tired, like, NO MOAR YELLING, I mean tired even in the context of relationships and communications that we value.

  2. Funny, I was just thinking about how few phone conversations I have now; I much rather have in-depth conversations in person. I used to talk for hours on the phone with loved ones. Now, we communicate by texts and emails until we get together, which isn’t often enough. My first thought is it’s so much easier to text or email when my energies are elsewhere, but I’m no busier now than I’ve ever been and I used to relish long phone conversations. Thank you for another interesting post.

    1. @Leslie Karliss, You are welcome. I have a decades-long friendship, I’ve mentioned it before, sustained almost solely over the phone, for the last 5-10 years. We talk so often, long calls, short calls, it’s a novel unto itself. And have most of us really given that up? Seems so. You are welcome. Thank you for adding in more depth.

  3. We might move (from New England) so I just had a day in Seattle & and a bit more then one in Tucson – trying to get a sense of place and of how I might feel to live in that place for the next 7-8 yrs as my kids finish school. I met a truly perfect-for-me real estate agent with whom I shared the somewhat profound (for me) realization that I may not be a “forever house” person. I feel like I learned a teeny bit more, maybe ruled out Tucson (but wow is it stunning), maybe ruled in the Pacific NW (although gray-ness). Mostly I am now trying to think of my day to day as a primary parent (husband is a pilot) and what part do I want to prioritize for the next time block…much mulling. As always I loved being in the west, soaking up the giant sky and the suns rays.

    1. @Jb, That is a lot to mull – and I remember coming home after a year spent in London – I was 11 – and being struck by how exactly giant the sky is here. The color of blue. Good luck with your move – and I feel like “forever house” is not by any means a necessary goal. Adventures continue:).

  4. Your lack of words is likely a result of the daily writing and deadline that you have imposed on your book…it may be draining your energies and creative juices. Sounds to me that you may need a break…?

    I just spent the last two days with a long time friend who moved away about 10 years ago…we try to see each other several times a year and inbetween those “real life visits” we talk on the phone or email…this past year we were unable to see each other due to her health and so we relied on technology to keep in touch…after two days of chatting, laughing, eating meals and drinking wine together I feel re-energized and encouraged that our friendship is still strong and intact.

    Hope that your weekend will provide opportunities for you to recharge.

    1. @Leslie Anne Lord, I am so glad that you and your friend had fun!

      And oddly, this time of visitors and in-person meetings has come exactly during the time that I’m not working on the book. As advised, I have let it sit, and don’t plan to pick it up until mid-October. Maybe the universe parted and left me this gap to step through into talking IRL, to take it back up again:).

  5. My lesson of late about words is it’s often more important what I don’t say than what I do say. This requires effort from me- to remain quiet.

    And the old adage ‘speech is silver but silence is golden’. I do love the silence.

  6. As a lover of silence, I see no problem with just talking to your family. So lovely to be outside and listen to birds, crickets etc. no man sounds.

    Enjoy a peaceful weekend.

    1. @MaryAnne, Aw:). It was just unusual, after a career which required boatloads of talking and meetings etc., to find myself so solitary, to come to enjoy it, and then to have this sudden flood of human contact.

      Almost like the world wanted to teach me a happy lesson.

  7. I’ve always been a good listener and someone who reads between the lines. I’m also not quick on my feet as I am a deep thinker – quick responses are not my forte, generally speaking – I have to think about it. Often the words I’m looking for are just beneath the surface and I cannot connect with them until I read something or someone else says something and I have a light bulb moment – “that’s it! those are the words I was looking for.” I’m a much better writer than speaker, I think, as writing gives you time to gather your thoughts and consider your response. That being said, I used to have long conversations on the phone . . . . then came texting . . . . then came the death of my oldest son. After losing my son, I no longer want to talk on the phone (although I do have to answer the phone at work – but that isn’t a choice). My choice is to email or text or see someone in person. I just “can’t” have long phone conversations anymore and I won’t. Will that change – who knows? A profound loss makes for a seismic shift and nothing is the same ever again – this may just be one of those things that will never be the same.

    1. @Jeannine, I am so sorry you lost your son. Thank you so much for bringing your experience here. I hope that some of the people in your life listen as well as you do, read between your lines, offer you connection in ways that comfort you as much as is possible. I am so, so, sorry.

  8. I visited a friend in the hospital today. She has a pulmonary embolism. Just a week ago, she was on a 16 hour flight. So–if you are flying, do all you can to prevent a blood clot–compression stockings or socks, walking on the plane every couple of hours. My friend did all of this, but still got this terrible condition. She is going to be ok, but it is a bit scary.

    1. @Susan D, Thanks for the reminder. I am glad your friend is OK, I just read an account of a paleontologist who was in Siberia and nearly died from deep vein thrombosis. Something to watch out for.

  9. I am comfortable with silence and don’t enjoy talking on the phone for more than a few minutes.
    Lisa your perception of yourself as someone who lacks the “neural circuatary” surpises me a bit. I must say I have often felt held by your responses to readers including my own. So it’s interesting to know that this does not come easy for you. I do think a blog requires a leap that many could not make because one must reveal the self in a public way.

    1. @luci, I am glad that my responses feel that they hold you. Writing gives me the pause I need to collect myself, to answer from the philosophy I have about the world, rather than my own emotional reactions. Not that I am here without emotion, just that I can stay more centered in compassion and gratitude.

      All the while let me acknowledge I am nothing like a saint, and am prone to blurting and strong emotions when I’m talking:).

  10. I’m at an altogether different life stage – my daughter is four and my son is two, and we are expecting twins in January. There’s a certain amount of terror in that last development – we had planned the third baby but the fourth was an unexpected bonus – and it’s sparked something of an existential crisis in my thinking.

    We’re still very much in the frantic, full-on, life development phase, working hard (and in my case, stressful) jobs while raising small children – and to add a certain amount of madness, we’ve also been building an extension on our house (and running a small hobby farm).

    I feel like I have gone a very long way down a very particular track, and occasionally I feel a kind of panicked claustrophobia at the prospect that this is my life; and simultaneously the most tremendous guilt at the thought. It’s not that I don’t love all of it (and them), but I feel some degree of inescapable pressure in every aspect of my life, and the certain knowledge that it is only going to increase for the foreseeable.

    1. @Elizabeth,

      Dear Elizabeth – I replied to you below, with the general comments, but I mistakenly wrote it to “Lee Ann.” If you read it, I hope my reply gives you a little lift. Love, Victoire

    2. @Elizabeth, I can imagine what this feels like. I can see, from my friends with larger families, and from having grown up with four, that dynamics change a lot. However, in my experience, larger families are wonderful. More work when they are little, but, when you get older, such comfort and such a sense of expanded identity. You become your own culture, your own little nation-state;). But I also understand how daunting it must feel right now. It does get better. And almost nothing is inescapable – the thing is making the space to figure out what really works for you. Hard to know where to get more help when you are in the thick of things, also hard to know what to give up. I hope you feel free to listen to yourself. I read a quotation on Facebook, which ordinarily I abhor, but this struck a chord: “You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy.”

    3. @Elizabeth, Elizabeth, my daughter was just three when my twin sons were born. At that time I made the decision to stay home. Please note I was working a retail job, not a career. For me I needed to focused on my children and attempting to run a household without a pressure of an outside job. When my children were in elementary school, I returned to the work force. I did join the YMCA so the kids could take kids classes and I could have some adult interaction. It was immensely helpful. I hope all will go well with your family and that you find what you need to do to get some space.

    4. Thank you, Lisa and Marilyn Leslie, for your generous and thoughtful replies. I feel this whole thread is a testament to the immense power of telling your story, whatever it may be at this moment in time, and being heard.

      A final note – I feel like I’m part of a tidal wave that is engulfing many of my generation’s young women. Unlike (most of?) our mothers, the economic and social reality is that we will work – and work bloody hard – while raising small children. Certainly, the crazy Australian housing market makes it basically essential to have two incomes.

      I deeply grateful that we also have fairly sensible legal protections for parents, which mean that both my husband and I were able to negotiate working part-time without any real cost to our professional standing. We both believe passionately in being around as much as we can for these crucial early years – so we have worked out how little we can live on, and how much work we really must do, and have structured our lives accordingly. In our case, that means (after an initial year of me being home full time for each baby) I’m home one day, he’s home two, and the kids have two days of daycare.

      The balance is okay – although it leaves precious little time for household-maintenance and no time at all for each other. But I cannot overemphasise the psychic stress of feeling constantly rushed, constantly unavailable for someone or something with a genuine demand on my time. I am at work, giving complex and difficult legal advice; a child is sick, and I can’t get there. I am at home; and also on the phone to a client, explaining how I won’t get to their urgent request until after bedtime. I am always overstretched, always running at full tilt, and yet still always, ALWAYS feeling guilty about what I’m not doing, who I’m letting down.

      And I’m not alone – so many young women I know feel like this. How do we fix it? I’ve no idea – maybe it’s too late. But it sure does help to share how it feels. Thank you all.

  11. First to Jeannine-I too lost my older son and life has not been the same. Each loss is personal and unique. No comparisons. But my heart breaks for you. Anything you feel, think, or dream is ok. You are a mother of all mothers. Peace.

    And to Lisa-My desk has a note in front of me that says ” I love the sound you make when you shut up”….a good reminder to let silence reign. I also carry small cards that say “stop talking”. I have not given one out but they are apropos in some situations and fun to have..if just for my own amusement.

    1. @Lee Ann,
      Thank you for your kind words, Lee Ann. They echo my thoughts to you and I convey the same message to those I meet who have lost a child – do what you have to do, do what you can, and be kind to yourself as you move forward as it’s a tough road and all we can do is the best we can.

    2. @Lee Ann, I am so sorry you have lost your son. Thank you for giving comfort despite your grief. It is a great kindness to do so.

      And there was a television show where the doctor says to people, “Stop talking.” Can’t remember what it was called, but, that has been also a helpful reminder;).

  12. So, I have resumed an old past time: needlepoint. My self-calming way of coping with the fatigue of which you speak. Some days I just feel talked out. Needlepointing for me is meditative. I focus in and tune out the world. There is no pressure or expectation attached to it whatsoever. I do it however long I like and literally sense the anxiety dissipating as I stitch.

  13. I have always thought that typed words are best for when I need to edit and be concise in expressing myself. When I talk with dear friends on the phone it is entirely the opposite. I don’t have to edit and the give and take of the conversation can be a joyful ride. I am a very good listener, frequently reminding myself I have two ears and one mouth – I should listen twice as much as I talk!
    I don’t talk on the phone as much as I used to, but I find a good phone conversation to be much more satisfying than a long chain of texts.
    And yes, I make time for these conversations because it’s the only way to keep the relationships from my past in my present life.

    1. @Audrie, Two ears and one mouth:). I too much prefer a long phone conversation to a long chain of texts. Do you find you make phones calls from the car? I talk to my best friend on my drives around town, to the point that when she answers my call sometimes she will say, “And where are you going now?” That makes it then a joyful ride in so many ways.

  14. Perhaps because I am a just retired political science professor, I find talking to people these days often stressful. People ask for my opinion on politics and policy issues, and it’s very hard in today’s world to find the right words to either politely deflect or comment briefly without setting off an unintended storm. Even friends with whom I agree tend toward diatribes that just wear me out. I have not figured out a solution that allows me to stay active and not overwhelmed, but I’m working on it.

    1. Oh, @Lynn, I can only imagine how draining it would be to be called upon all the time these days for your expertise. Everyone’s so outraged, and so many facts are argued, I know everyone is trying to educate themselves and you must be besieged like a water fountain in the desert.

  15. Dear dear Lee Ann –

    Relax! This is your life right now, and for the “foreseeable” – but it is NOT your whole life. These 5-10 years of craziness (4 under 5 – yikes!) will give you more than you realize, and they are part of the gift you will be giving the world and yourself when you re-surface.

    Try to take a little time each day for yourself – meditating, journaling, reading, breathing – and a little special time with each child. Plus a moment (or more!) with your husband – who will probably need it more than he wants to admit.

    These years with your children are so precious – let them sustain you.

    1. Dear Victoire – thank you for your beautiful, encouraging words – they made me cry in the best possible way (likely somewhat affected too by my twin-load of hormones…!)

      Part of my present difficulty is that constant struggle between planning/hoping/dreading/dreaming which has been so central to my academic and professional successes, and actually being here in my here and now, with all its joys and frustrations. Of course I have struggled to get that balance right all my life, but I feel most acutely guilty about in this particular phase.

      To hear your stories too, Lee Ann and Jeannine, is a salutary reminder of the fleeting, precious, imperfect wonder of motherhood and of this time – thank you.

    2. @Victoire, Thank you so much for stepping in with these words of comfort. You of course knew my mother when she had three under 8, right? And then my youngest sister was born 2 years later. Elizabeth, I think for many women whose career is about concepts, stepping into full-on motherhood requires a lot of context-switching and I feel for you and am also pretty sure you are doing a great job. So many ways to be a good mother.

  16. I tend to be a people person. I can strike up a conversation easily with most. Sometimes, I find a smile acknowledging a complete stranger can result in a pleasant exchange. That said, the same smile can also cause a person to retreat. That’s okay. In today’s world there is a lot going on in an individual’s life and actions and reactions vary widely. I tend to communicate/bond best with self-confident people. People that are comfortable in their own skin. On the downside, I tend to be impatient with people that lack self-confidence and come across as very guarded and less than genuine.

    1. @Susan, Negotiating differing communication styles can be excruciatingly difficult. That said, I think a smile at a stranger is almost always good:).

  17. Oh, I just made a terrible mistake! I meant to write “Elizabeth,” not “Lee Ann” – and given the topic, I hope I have not caused any undue anguish.

    And to Jeannine, Shawn, and Lee Ann – my heart goes out to you all, and I have no words of wisdom to offer, just deep sympathy and hope for some sort of peace.

    Please accept my heartfelt apologies for my error..

  18. I regularly take communication breaks. This includes social media.

    The only people I talk with on the phone are my sons, and those conversations are at their request, sometimes after a few texts. I do enjoy in-person conversations as long as the week is not too dense with them (sociable introvert speaking). Recently I have been following up on my intentions to see people with whom we’ve said “we should get together sometime”. It’s fun and leads in sometimes unexpected directions.

    I don’t think any of this has changed over the course of my life except for the introduction of texting, which I find quite handy. And I got over my phone phobia a long time ago.

    1. @Cathy, I think you have a very clear and reasoned understanding of what kinds of interactions with other people you enjoy, and yet you don’t stick in a rut per se. I imagine it leads to a sense of peace.

  19. Hearing comes easily to me although truly listening takes an act of will and concentration…I am distracted too easily. However, I have found great comfort and pleasure over the past decade in writing and receiving letters-yes snail mail. Sometimes I hand write them with a genuine fountain pen on good stationery (particularly if these are thank you acknowledgements). More often I use word processing on my PC. Two of my correspondents are in their 90s, two ( college classmates) are in their 60s and one is still an undergraduate. We all love the written word (sometimes we embed photos). I should add that my 90+ year old friends are not computer literate so email is not an option. Nevertheless we all cherish this aspect of our communion. Writing a letter is also a form of reflection that enriches both parties.

    1. @Karen Gaylin, I know some others who love hand-written letters. I’ve been typing so long it’s now hard for me to write by hand! But your tradition and history with these women sounds wonderful to me. And to share this with women over 90 is irreplaceable.

  20. Yesterday, I was too fatigued to even comment after reading your post. I notice a sense of “exhaustion”, mentally, emotionally, and physically, in most of my friends, and of course, in myself.

    I really haven’t come to any conclusions as to why, but I’m at a moment where I feel like I just don’t have a lot to give out.

    I read about how re-energizing a 10 day silent retreat is… the moment it sounds good.

    1. @KSL, A retreat would be nice. Maybe just a silent weekend – am not quite sure how truly introverted I’ve become. Lol, as they say. Sorry you are depleted. I’m now thinking the USA political situation is adding to our drained state.

    2. I wasn’t going to mention the political stuff, but now I will. It’s a constant underlying current that is running through me at all times, and draining my battery. I’m not alone in this – so many friends feel the same way.

    3. @KSL, No you are not alone. People who operate from a generous spirit are hit the hardest, I think. You, KSL, are finding a way to counter your own despair by donating proceeds from your work to public services; it must feel good to be donating fruits of your spirit outward into the world through your beautiful work. I worry for so many depleted spirits over this land…

  21. I enjoy silence more and more. Sitting, looking out of the window in the morning, hot cup of tea, maybe a cat looking out too: I love this. Driving along with Mr Green, both of us quite silent, listening to the radio, looking at the world as it goes by. Sometimes I feel I have said just about everything on certain subjects and sometimes I long for new things to talk about. Talking on the phone happens a lot less now but messaging, texting, blogging, FB, insta – they all open up so many new avenues. But I do think it is fine to just shut up and be. Frankly, I wish a lot of people would do just that.

    1. @Flo, I will post it here. Very beautiful and very apt. Maybe I longed for quiet, and the stories of others, because I did not know what was happening in my heart.

      [ A ]

      Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
      By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
      The great geese hoot northward.

      I could not see them, there being no moon
      And the stars sparse. I heard them.

      I did not know what was happening in my heart.

      It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
      Therefore they were going north.

      The sound was passing northward.

      [ B ]

      Tell me a story.

    2. [B] -con’t

      Tell me a story.

      In this century, and moment, of mania,
      Tell me a story.

      Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.

      The name of the story will be Time,
      But you must not pronounce its name.

      Tell me a story of deep delight.

  22. Just last night my husband and I had a conversation, while sitting in our rocking chairs (I am not kidding) on our front porch with our martinis (I am really not kidding). We pondered the absence of front porches on newer homes and the absence of people sitting on the few front porches that seem to remain. I think the evolution towards using “back yards” and patios, coupled with social media and other distractions have turned us into a people who tend to interact much less frequently with our neighbors. And I wonder if that situation – where we once exchanged polite pleasantries and learned of each others trials and tribulations – has been replaced with texting and FBing, where we all strive to be heard louder than the other person, and where our opinions are always right because there is no real exchange of ideas.

    1. @Cynthia Blaylock, I think rocking chairs and front porches are highly underrated in many parts of the world. Sounds lovely to me. In my cul-de-sac the other day all 4 neighbors wound up chatting on one of our driveways. It was blissful and of no consequence in a good way. And I have always been a fan of a good gin martin;)i.

  23. (…feel free to put in junk…)

    …increasing electrical activity…increasing rapidity of changes… acclimatizing. accommodating, updating, mutating,…

    …just want to leave the current on…sit in a corner and observe…

    …just want to redirect the current…and observe…

    …but, I get so tired of all the “selfies”…

    …what to do with them…file…new folder…why…too many…increasing the chaos…

    …can delete…ahhhh…respite…

    …for a while…

    …cloud overhead…

    1. @Saeh, Not remotely putting this in trash. I feel like you’ve added one more piece to our discussion on words, communication, and vehicles for both:). Thank you.

  24. I am here in the Antipodes and I am guessing that most of you are in the Americas. Anyway, I concur with the general feeling of overwhelm and fatigue. I have not caught up with ‘friends’ for months. I am so unreliable (due to work demands, and I have been ill twice over the last 2 months and it’s taking it’s toll on my energy reserves) that I can’t even hold down a coffee date with the girl 3 doors down. I am not inclined to share my thoughts with anyone right now. I communicate with my family, my husband and daughter both have their own mental issues – my husband has a deep seated melancholic depression and is a true introvert – my 25 year old daughter requires constant reassurance that her world is ok and she will have enough oxygen, food, money, love and won’t be sacked – this is usually by text at any and all times of the day, and random. Fortunately as I work for myself, I can often reply, unless I’m with someone for work. When I first took on this job 3.5 years ago, I found it isolating and was desperate for a friend or work colleague to chat with and share the day and the happenings, but now I quite like being alone and not having to fill each moment with chit chat. Oh the thought of chit chat…. Not interested. Life is full with my job and my family. I took myself off FB 2.5 years ago and never been happier. This is a new phase in my life, one where I have let go of my social expectations of myself and am finding peace with just being alone. I enjoy my own company. If I have the opportunity to go make-up or clothes shopping, I just enjoy doing it alone. I will go have lunch or afternoon tea alone. No-one to explain to. No-one to answer to. Just. Me. I can’t get enough of it and can’t seem to recharge my batteries right now. Silence is Golden.

    1. @TJ, Beautifully put. I am sorry your husband struggles, we take on the struggles of our loved ones. And taking care of the emotional needs of adult children is surely a thing unto itself.

  25. Amazing post…..Much food for thought….I need to backtrack and read each post once again. Thx for this!

  26. My quick-thinking, global-picture, problem-solving, managerial self is being held in abeyance at the moment. She is still there, always will be, but needs to be quiet for a moment. I think the world’s demands grew too great and she lost touch with that part that needs to slow down and listen. Sometimes circumstances drive us one way or another.

    I see a lot of my own quick-thinking, too fast, impatient, and too-sharp thinking in my grandson. It is a good thing, but I also see how he grows bored, his mind wanders when he deems others too slow, he gets ahead, and sometimes loses details that are important to others. In many ways he reminds me of myself at that age. I wonder if I can model an easier path, or if he just has to figure it out on his own. I hope a little of both.

  27. I do feel the more we connect online through texts and social media, the less we feel a connection. I was telling my husband last night that I continue to feel a deep longing to be part of a group of friends where none exists. Everyone is busy it seems but the keeping in touch is done while waiting in line somewhere or (for men, yes, I know it’s a generalized statement) on a porcelain device where most news is read. I’m also finding when grandchildren come into play in people’s lives many friendships change and fade away but today I’m meeting a friend for lunch and we’ll sit there for 3 hours and talk about nothing remotely significant in the scheme of the world and we’ll both walk away totally refreshed and healed and then text each other within the hour and say how wonderful it was and happy our souls are. I think something spiritual, psychological and physical happens when we look into the eyes of another. That is where the true connection happens.

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