Amy Roberts: Quiet quirks
Red Card Roberts
Admittedly, I don’t handle extended periods of silence well. Even when the pause in conversation is brief, I’m not comfortable with it. In fact, a lack of dialogue makes me so nervous, I often attempt to fill the void with a random fact I remember from an episode of Jeopardy or, a story that starts with something like, “this one time, at band camp,” or, as is most commonly the case, wildly inappropriate humor. When there’s a lull in conversation, my ability to make a safe, casual remark about the weather disappears faster than a toupee in a tornado.
Of course, there are times I appreciate silence. Mostly when I’m sleeping or too angry to speak. But I would sooner trust a blind hairdresser before I would trust myself at a social event where the chitchat is limited.
It’s more of a quirk than a disorder, and I think I know how this anxiety developed. When I first started my career as a reporter, I lived in fear of “dead air.” It’s something every journalism student is warned about by every professor in every communications class. It’s what happens when something goes wrong with the audio and anchors back at the station throw it to you live in the field, expecting you to respond. But since you don’t hear them, instead of responding, you just reapply your lipstick or take a call from your mom while on live TV. I have little doubt some of my dead air experiences are now case studies in journalism classes.
Given my aversion to a void in conversation, spending extended time with someone I’ve just met is kind of like Dante’s little known Tenth Circle of Hell. To cope, I will chatter endlessly, attempting to avoid any awkward silence — but that doesn’t mean I won’t make it awkward. (See inappropriate humor notation above.)
Last week I found myself forced to spend an hour with someone I’d just met. When the casual pleasantries were out of the way, “Where are you from? What do you do for fun? Yes, I agree, Trump is an idiot,” I felt the familiar panic of impending dead air start to wave over me. I had nothing else to say to this person, and our appetizers hadn’t even arrived yet.
Before an inappropriate comment could find its way out of my mouth, my lunch companion asked me something that resulted in further silence, though not the normally awkward type.
“What’s at the top of your bucket list?” Was the question directed at me from across the table.
I considered this carefully, trying for several minutes to form an answer.
“I don’t really have a bucket list,” I finally conceded. “My other list, on the other hand, is a good mile long.”
When pressed further, I clarified that my lack of a bucket list was not due to a lack of goals or dreams, rather it was due to a lack of patience. “I don’t put things off for someday,” I tried to explain. “If I want to go on a safari, or SCUBA dive with whale sharks, or write a book, or learn a new language, I just figure it out and make it happen.”
Waiting for anything I want has never been my strong suit. Nor has budgeting. So there are still a couple things I would love to do before I die, but they are largely dependent on my parents not spending all my inheritance. That’s why I am hesitant to put them on the proverbial bucket list. And they certainly aren’t at the top of it.
I suppose it’s a good problem to have. Even now a week after the question was posed, I really can’t think of an experience or achievement I am desperate to check off, other than one day I’d like to be able to tell my friends I met a guy and not follow it up with “never mind” two days later.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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