html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: I would also consider Spain. Because it looks like California.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I would also consider Spain. Because it looks like California.

The last native Russian speakers in my family were my great-grandparents, but my Dad studied it for years in college and could talk with his grandmother. When my folks dropped me off at college, my Dad pulled me aside. “I’ll send you on the trip of your choice when you can speak Russian better than me.” Four straight years of Russian class later I called him and told him in Russian that I knew what trip I wanted. I ended up on a school trip to Uzbekistan, which may be one of the few places outside California where I would consider living for a year or two. I like high deserts and breathtakingly beautiful architecture. And very good tomato salads. It was a mixed group of American and Uzbek students; I spoke the most Russian in our group, which wasn’t nearly enough for comfortable conversation. Still, when their English speakers weren’t around, I was the next best thing.

About a week in, on the days when I tried speaking lots of Russian, my head would hurt at the sound. No headache when I overheard Uzbeki or spoke English, but being addressed in Russian hurt enough to bring tears to my eyes. My friend who thinks he knows a thing or two just because he has an MD and a Ph.D. in neurology is going be all “you don’t have nerves in your brain, Meggie.” But I was there and I know what I felt. I didn’t feel anything like it again until the first few weeks of law school, which is why I believe the cliché that they teach you to “think like a lawyer.”

When I took mediation in law school, we did active listening exercises. Before those, I would have told you I was a decent listener, but during those exercises, I realized that active listening felt entirely different. In fact, the only thing that felt similar was trying to follow a difficult proof. During a proof, I’ll concentrate with unwavering focus. No stray thoughts, no peripheral vision, continuous checking whether I understood the last transition and expect the next. It is hard to maintain, but that’s what I have do when I must understand something. When I really listen, that is how.

I’ve been interviewing people for the book. The shortest interview was two hours, tonight. Five hours is about average and people talk continuously. They don’t have to be prompted; they’re utterly compelled to tell their stories. I am fascinated. I love this story. Still, I come out of a long interview nearly completely fried. I’m not listening at 100%, but I’m probably listening at 90-95%, for hours. Another couple days of this and I bet my head would start hurting at nearly any narrative. It may be a good thing I can only come down here for short visits.

8 Comments:

Blogger billo said...

A friend, if caught in a very long 'conversation' (invariably a monologue), would repeat the following words at suitable intervals: Yes, No, Really? How very interesting. A bit like Homer Simpson with those glasses with the eyes painted on them!

Samarkand and Bukhara are spectacular. I hope you write more about them.

12:38 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

If you like high deserts you should go down to Joshua Tree sometime. It's pretty there. A bit crowded though.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous yoyo said...

I thought mediation class was interesting, althought i had studied on conversational theory before so it wasn't exactly new. THe interesting bit was trying to stay impartial. In most interaction you want to convince the other person you're' totally on their side, since few people do well iwth people who disagree (especially if they arne't the hyperverbal competitors who selfselect to lawschool.)

I find the best thing to do is start of with a black, still look on one's face, and as the other person start s to talk and invest int the conversation, feed back others emotions to them through one's facial epxressions. This happens naturally if the person is saying this which interest you.

Usually though you have to ask question the otehr person doesn't 'have ready answers for if you want them to say interestin ghtings.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My head used to hurt so much at the end of the day when I was an exchange student in Berlin. It only takes a 1-hour Chinese lesson to get the same effect, but that may also be due to squinting at elaborate characters in tiny little type.

Dzien dobry!

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

And again, the above comment was me, not this "anonyomous" person. I really don't seem to have the hang of this commenting on blogs thing.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Will said...

You went to law school, play ultimate, and now are an environmental engineer of some sort? I came late to this party and missed all the introductions.

If you like mediation, you should look into collaborative practice. The IACP is a very interesting organization, attempting to promote a new way to resolve disputes.

6:40 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Naw, I'm not a lawyer. But I went to law school.

9:49 AM  
Blogger jens said...

According to this joke, lawyers find it especially easy to hook up.

Bad decision? You be the judge!

12:54 PM  

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