I find myself counting between responses in 3/4 or 4/4 time: I can see the orchestra in my mind of eighth notes and quarter notes, as I try to find the conversational rhythm, those pauses between statements and breaks in between. I was in choir for years, so conducting myself isn’t a exactly a new skill; I just never expected to use it to help myself manage unfamiliar social situations. Strangely enough though, my listening for people’s speech patterns and lengths of pauses helps me to be more mindful of my own conversational style. I even wrote a poem about this process while sitting at open mike night yesterday:
In this listening along, there’s a moment where one sees the conductor motion toward you to play: I answer the question or respond as needed. I watch the music [pace of the conversation], so I know when to come in — noting my entrance, right after I meet my professor’s eyes. By making direct eye contact, which is something I tend to avoid in lecture style classes where it’s just easier to listen without adding extraneous visual stimuli, it’s as if I’m asking permission to join the discussion. So far, this strategy is working relatively well in class: I feel slightly more comfortable speaking my mind and tend to be less likely to interrupt fellow students’ sentence. Missing those nonverbal cues sometimes leads to interrupting if I’m not conscious of this tendency.
Conversational patterns and rhythms became part of my existence without my realizing it. Novel situations are the hardest for me. It’s like playing with a new music ensemble for the first time — first rehearsals are difficult for everyone.
A wise friend to whom I was venting this week reminded me to “Continue to self monitor what the ‘music’ of the room is. What instrument am I? Think beyond yourself during this process — more than just me in this orchestra.” She embraced my metaphor for the confusion I felt in finding my place in novel social environments and helped me to process through the situation before saying that.
So I suppose for now, to quote Natalie from Next to Normal as she sings “Maybe”:
“I don’t need a life that’s normal
That’s way too far away
But something next to normal
Would be okay
Yeah, something next to normal
That’s the thing I’d like to try
Close enough to normal
To get by”