Tales of a recovering blabbermouth

I've always been the person who talks too much. What I didn't realize was how much I was drowning out

Topics: Mortifying Disclosures, Life stories,

Tales of a recovering blabbermouth

I was 6 when I first began to worry that a person’s death came not at a certain age, but when you used up the words allotted to you. This thought filled me with panic, but it did nothing to deter me from a life of verbosity.

I have always known I talk too much, because people have always told me. They say, “You talk too much.” When they’re not feeling kind, they also say things like, “Don’t you ever shut up?” A boyfriend once looked over at me during a party, and just when I thought he was going to tell me he loved me, he said, “Can you just shut your mouth? Even for a minute?” We’re not together anymore.

I have sensed, as I’ve gotten older, that my loquaciousness isn’t always interpreted as bubbly or enthusiastic, as it was when I was younger. I have sensed that it has become toxic, and certainly annoying. In college, when my roommate and a few friends returned from dinner out, I asked how the evening went. My roommate said, “You wouldn’t have liked it. It was really laid back and nice.” She wasn’t being mean when she said that. I think she didn’t think of me, maybe rightfully so, as someone who could enjoy a relaxed evening.

My husband’s main complaint about me is that I won’t let him finish a sentence. I say it’s my excitement for the conversation, my interest in discourse. He says he just wants to get a word in. But this isn’t a story about marriage, or about my college roommate. This is a story about mortifying disclosures, and so I will tell you about rock bottom.

Each winter, I travel from Los Angeles to New York to meet with editors I write for during the year. Some are lingering lunches, where the editor and I find we have a lot in common or a great deal we want to work on together; some are quick “put a face to the name, no, I don’t love that idea but send me others” coffees. And sometimes, you meet an editor you really like, and who seems to like you back, but you only have time for a quick sip before that editor must return to her deadlines.

I knew my meeting with Sarah, my Salon editor, was going to be an example of the last kind of meeting. The Salon staff is lean, and the output, as you know, is copious. So when my editor gave me a coffee shop to meet at, I was 15 minutes early, found a table, and checked my email while I waited.

When she walked through the door five minutes late, looking a little harried, I waited for her to spot me. The minute she did, a big smile spread across her face. She was older than I thought she would be, and dressed a little on the uptight side, but that just goes to show how weird email-only relationships are. We get along well, this editor and I do. And so I stood up, and — what the hell, right? — I gave her a big hug. She hugged me back.

She sat down and apologized for being late. I told her it was no big deal and, to put her at ease, I told her of a horrifying time I’d shown up late for something. Then, I started talking ideas. I had an idea about Ikea, how it’s come to represent the interchangeability of our society — after all, isn’t it weird that we’re all buying disposable furniture now? As I told her an anecdote about meeting a friend at Ikea recently, she just let me talk and talk. She must really like me, I thought. Five whole minutes must have passed. Finally, I leaned in, put my hands on her hands — yes, we’re that close! — and I told her the punchline of the story: “And Sarah, I’d been waiting at the Ikea in Burbank, but the entire time, she was at the one in Carson!”

Her brow furrowed and she blinked. Uh-oh. Was I not supposed to talk about Ikea?

“My name isn’t Sarah,” she said.

My heart sank. My face flushed red. What the hell had I done?

Jeannette was her name, actually, and she was not five minutes late to see me. She was five minutes late to see a woman named Jin Wong.

Now, I don’t look like a Jin Wong, but Jeannette, who probably knew that, hadn’t had a chance to let me know that I probably wasn’t who she was looking for. I apologized profusely. The Asian woman at the next table, who kept glancing at her watch and then at the door, was grateful to finally meet her expected companion.

Five minutes later, a harried woman burst through the door. She looked around. “Taffy?” she asked.

“Is your name Sarah?” I asked, gun-shy.

“I’m sorry I’m late.”


I would like to tell you I immediately learned the lesson about talking too much. But I didn’t. Instead, I told Sarah all about the last five minutes, even interrupting Jeannette and Jin’s now cozy meeting to introduce everyone, as if they cared. Sarah and I went on to have a meeting — we got along the way I thought we would, the way Jeannette and I didn’t seem like we were going to. All was saved.

But I couldn’t escape the implications of what had happened. I had talked so much that I didn’t realize who I was talking to. I didn’t note that she wasn’t interested, or that she was possibly confused by what I was saying. I was speaking for an audience; I was concocting the next thing I’d say. But here’s what I wasn’t doing: listening.

Since my meeting with Sarah, I’ve been uneasy. What am I missing when I won’t shut up? Why won’t I shut up? Sure, I’m avoiding uncomfortable silence. But the things I say aren’t just to defend against vast voids of silence. They’re to communicate. I’m addicted to communication. My entire life, I have been dedicated to somehow getting my point across to the people I care about, to make them understand what I mean.

I suspect it started when I was very young, and I took quite to heart the PSA-broadcast idea that bottling up feelings would make you sick. As a teenager, I’d watch “My So-Called Life” and “thirtysomething” and shout in frustration at the TV because people weren’t saying what they meant; they’d speak in innuendo. It always ended in misunderstanding and a stunted realization of desire. Life is too short, I’d shout. Say what you mean!

I considered it a great gift to those I’m close with that I did this. But maybe, along the way, I stopped understanding what was important to say, and what could be gained just by thinking before speaking. Somehow, I didn’t realize that in my attempt to make sure my friends and family knew me, really knew me, that not everything I thought or realized was important.

Listening is the new gift I give to people I know. And it’s been rewarding in more ways than you’d think. For so long, I’ve only written personal essays, but lately, I’ve been writing more reported stories about interesting things that have nothing to do with me. Because here’s the thing: When you talk only about yourself, you never learn anything new.

And so I’ve been learning a lot lately. Not just from the people who insert things in between the long monologues I give. But from everyone. I’ve realized some people need a moment to formulate what they want to say. For so long, I took that silence as my cue to jump in. But that’s not always the best use of quiet. Instead, I’m starting to understand the people around me better. I am late to learn that that is just as important as making sure they understand me.

Oh, and Ikea? I did look into that story, and I still think a piece on people buying disposable furniture is a good one. (What do you think, Sarah?)

Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She will not be posting the link to this particular essay onto her Facebook page.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Self, Redbook, and other publications.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>