I was a late talker, but as my mother oft lamented, once I started, I never shut up. In just Year 1 at school, at the tender age of just five years, the teacher was forced to call in the headmistress of the primary school to escort me out of the classroom because of my incessant chatter. Certainly, I can’t remember what I was talking about or to whom I was talking, but my glowing memory recalls that the headmistress literally kicked me in the backside as she pushed me out of the room. I was supposed to stand alone outside, but with tears cascading down my cheeks, I upped and walked out of school bound for home. A whole two kms away. When I arrived on our doorstep, my mother was stunned; my eyes bloodshot and puffy as I spilled forth with the events of the morning. It was only lunchtime. Trying to console me, my mother also chastised me, but when my father came home that evening after work and learned of my misdemeanour, (my bum was still black and bruised from the boot in my backside), he was furious, not at me, but the headmistress. (She would have been suspended in today’s bullying clime!) The next morning, my father drove me to school, marched to the headmistress’ office, and proceeded to vent his spleen on my behalf. Suffice to say I was readmitted to my class and the headmistress never troubled me again. Neither did the teacher. I can’t remember if I continued to talk my way through the rest of the school year or whether I was coolly contrite, but no misfortune ever repeated itself, at least not until I was in high school where my chattering in class caught up with me again.

I was too often bored with the rituals of desk sitting and taking notes from the blackboard and instead, would talk idly about my latest boy crush or bitch about the teacher (and occasionally, a girl who was no longer a friend) and on more times than I can recall, I was ushered out of the classroom to stand alone in the corridor. School was a great social pastime, but the antics of academia never attracted me and my school report always focused on my inability to apply myself in class. But I achieved well in exams, when I crammed all the wisdom of world wars and frogs’ legs into my brain to regurgitate on paper when required. The teachers were in some ways powerless to restrain me, and with good marks, their warnings to curb my chatter wafted straight out of the window.

Talking was a way of life; at university too (how else do we really get to know people?) and assisted in creating my career choice as a journalist. I loved talking to people, finding out innermost secrets and tall tales of experience, where I believed I could apply my addiction to the spoken word with succinct sincerity. But was I a good listener? And moreover, was anyone really listening to me? Was anybody really hearing what I was saying? A psychology book I once read wrote that listening was intensely hard work, involving profound concentration and mental energy, and that most of us didn’t listen intently because it was simply too difficult. Our minds were lazy, more attuned to frivolity and fun than the boldness of our brains. And so often we could be preoccupied with other more personal problems (albeit unconsciously) than what was unravelling before us. For me, listening also implies an emotional empathy; albeit silent no doubt, that engages the participants in an intimacy that transcends mere verbiage. There’s a connection; a shared togetherness that surpasses a superficial string of sentences. But we understand each other and we’re on the same wavelength.

I’ve always loved words, playing Scrabble with my mother as a young girl and at times, amusing myself by reading the Dictionary, but have pondered too often whether actions speak louder than words. Is talk cheap? Do we really give our utmost attention to the people we talk to or are we glib conversationalists that plays havoc with our memories so we too often recant, “I can’t remember” what was said. By you or me. It’s an indicative insight into how people operate; are they concentrating and really listening or are they locked into a pretense of communication where their minds wander and scatter in the surroundings. In this perspective, what’s the point of talking? Why bother expending the energy to another when that other is elsewhere? Or simply isn’t interested? Tune out and turn off; we all do it when we’re bored as I did in the classroom. But what of our behaviour; our actions that can betray our spoken (or written) words all too often? Are we helpless hypocrites, saying one thing and doing something completely different? And what is for real? Maybe the hermits among us, who live alone and spend much time alone, see through our ignominy; perceive our perjury and call us for the liars we can all be at times.

Words can be so complex; albeit extremely powerful depending on the context. But usually, we take them for granted without thinking, sometimes using them so incorrectly (at least, as the Dictionaries define them) as talking is just something that comes naturally; it’s the way we talk and the way we use words that can catch us out. But do we comprehend the words others use? Sure, we think we do but too often we’re projecting our definitions of the words onto others when their understanding of the words might be entirely different to our own. And do we always know what we mean? Do we know what someone means when they use the word love? Or family? Or hate? Because what we understand those words to mean might be totally different to how the speaker understands them. Therein lies the problem of real communication; real conversation when we’re often talking at cross purposes because we have different meanings, different understandings, for so many words. (Maybe it should be compulsory to read dictionaries at school!) That’s the challenge of language; the singular discourse of semantics; what do we really mean when we speak? Or when we write? Do you stop and interrupt someone speaking every couple of minutes to ask them what they really mean? We are supposed to love our families and they are supposed to love us but how is that ‘love’ played out? Most of us have our own unique interpretation of love so that we can be at odds over the use of the word. Is the word loaded as a throw of the dice? Laced with misunderstandings and confusion? Lucky in love, we say, but what’s that about? Or if I love a strong coffee am I using the wrong word? I learned about some of the complexities of language when I was living in Spain and studying Spanish (yes, I had a young Spanol lover to assist me) and was trying to find the Spanish equivalent for the word –infatuated. In many of the Spanish dictionaries I searched for the word and it wasn’t in any of them; was there no Spanish feeling like this? How did they express that emotion? I never did find out. The closest I could come up was ‘in love’ – but that didn’t match the way I was feeling.

Despite all the myriad of questions for which there are no definitive answers, I’m still garrulous, but as I’ve grown a bit wiser (I hope) in my advancing years, I am more particular about whom I try to converse with and really communicate with. I’ve learned the hard way (not to mention in a disappointing and hurtful way) that some people will never be on my wavelength; they’re not really listening because they’re not really interested in what I say or how I feel. It’s simply idle chit chat to pass the time. And that’s something I’m not much interested these days. Yes, there are times for laughter and fun; to gossip harmlessly and make small talk for the sake of sanity. But there are more times in my life now when I want my friends to listen as I try to listen; to be empathic and switched on to what I’m saying, even if I stumble over finding the right words to say it. That’s what I love about people; (there’s that word, again!) we can all be full of surprises – and speaking out is still my favourite playtime. May words continue to enchant us and keep us enslaved to help us discover the real essence of each and every one of us. Talk is certainly not cheap!