Monday, August 20, 2012

It's All in the Angle

Something I don’t talk about very much is that I produce and host a weekly radio program. Though I don’t get paid, it offers me the opportunity to speak to all kinds of interesting people I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to meet, and an hour of air time every week to do whatever I want with.

It’s a venue I use for personal development; to practice deep listening and presence of mind, among other things. After 13 years of this, you can imagine how much work I’ve had to do! Though I’ve come a long way, I am still working with the ongoing challenge of discovering what my questions are – and how to position them in a way that stimulates responsiveness on the part of my guest.

Sometimes it just flows out of me. Someone I am interviewing, who has done a lot of media – people on major book promotion tours, for example – tells me they found my questions more interesting than they’re used to, and I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.  

But other times, the right question eludes me. It’s there, just below the surface, but I can’t get to it. I spit something out that is a cross between a botched crossword puzzle and verbal diarrhea.

The one thing I have learned is this: the angle you take with a question plays a big factor in determining the kind of answer (or result) you get.

And so it applies to everything, I think.

Take the popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. To break the cycle, we might try a different approach or another way “in”. It may not get the result our stubborn ass is insisting on, but it will definitely shed light on the matter.

It can be anything – a project at the office; a writing piece; a creative venture; a conversation with a friend. We need a good cry or we’re learning a new skill. Whatever it is, we’re blocked. Or we’ve hit a plateau. It’s not moving the way we want it to. What would a “side door” approach look like?

I think about this a lot. I remember being at an African music festival once where I got talking to a Jamaican man. We were speaking in English, then at one point, a friend of his passed by and they broke into patois – a rather musical, Jamaican dialect I am familiar with and have always loved the feel of. When his friend left, I asked him about it. I was curious what made him go into patois, because his friend spoke English too, and they were both Canadian. Was it habit? Familiarity?

His answer was so interesting I never forgot it. He said that patois allows him to express emotions he can’t express in English.

When I think of my “side door” metaphor, I think of that.

What inspired this post is a blog I read last week called the Delight of Handwriting: one writer’s thoughts on how she can easily access thoughts and feelings using a fountain pen and a piece of paper that she just can’t access on a keyboard. It was so beautifully written she’s had hundreds of comments. People talking about how writing longhand helps them to slow down; how they miss the luxurious sensuality of the fountain pen’s edge against the page. How we’ve allowed technology to distance us from the things that connect us. And since many of her readers are British, I am learning that calligraphy is actually taught in London schools. Imagine that! And here I am, having written since I was five years old – and I’ve never used a fountain pen. I didn’t even know they still existed. My idea of a nice pen is the Ultra BIC Round Stic Grip.

Now, a whole new world has opened up for me. How will my writing experience change with a fountain pen, or something different than I’m accustomed to? One reader spoke fondly of rollerballs – I might well start with one of those. Or I might find out more about those pens that actually mold to the hand that is using them.

I imagine it’s similar to painting with oil versus painting with acrylics. The materials, the approach – they each have their own way of providing access. As any good photographer will tell you, it’s all in the angle you take. It’s a mantra I try to adopt with almost everything.

Go back to the basics. Switch it up. Find another way in. It’s all in the angle.

I’m still learning.