Twenty-five years ago, I got my first apartment in the city. It was a ground floor studio, perched above the intersection of Union and Van Ness. Despite the constant hum of traffic, I loved the neighborhood, its mournful foghorns, and the quiet that descended every Sunday evening. I would sleep undisturbed until around midnight, when I’d be jolted awake by the sound of shaking, crashing, jingling.

After three months, I stuck my head out the window to see what was causing this weekly disturbance. I spotted a man in dirty clothes with long hair and a matted beard. He was wrestling with the newspaper vending machine, trying to shake the coins free. I opened the window and yelled, “Hey! Stop that! Some of us have work tomorrow morning!” Unconcerned, he continued. “Hey!” I repeated, feeling brave.

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womenwhosubmit, writing

Left or Right

When the new neighbors moved in across the street, Major Charles Cornelius McWilton counted two hippie parents and two small children. One, a babe in arms; the other, a little girl who was past toddling, and well into running. Though retired, Major McWilton continued to live a highly ordered life and was none too pleased about these new arrivals.

The husband had a shifty look about him, with that wide tie and bushy mustache. The wife wore a shapeless muumuu every day. She also left her long, lank hair hanging down in her eyes. She probably hadn’t seen the inside of a beauty salon in her entire life.

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The Predetermined Path

“I’ll be right back,” the doctor told me. My feet in stirrups, my sit-bones teetering over the metal edge of the table, my lower back and upper ass stuck to the paper sheet. Call me hysterical, but I do not much enjoy the spread-eagle position while my gynecologist leaves unexpectedly to do something mysterious elsewhere.

I know I shouldn’t have, but I’d stayed up late the night before, reading everything on WebMD about the fertility-confirming procedure I was having, called a hysterosalpingogram. Vast numbers of Internet commenters warned me it could be painful. Very painful. Like screaming painful.

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The hidden message

Try as I might, I struggle to hide my emotions. I have dimples and I blush like nobody’s business. My cheeks give everything away.

At this morning’s monthly videoconference, a beloved colleague hailed me via instant message. It lightened my mood considerably. “I SEE YOUR DIMPLES!” she wrote.

We were both onscreen with about 39 other people. I’m sure no one else was looking at me except her. But I still tried to keep a poker face. No dice.

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The empty vessel

As a researcher, I’m trying to get better at losing myself.

I see my job as creating open space for other people’s words and stories. I do this by bringing as little of myself as possible into the interactions I have with interviewees.

It’s not like I say nothing; quite the converse. I practice active listening. I aim to provide well-timed, brief, and contextual prompts, so that those I’m speaking to can figure out what it is they have to say.

As I examine my motivations, it’s hard to distinguish. Do I employ manipulation, or is it allowing? Am I getting people to open up? Or am I trying to get people to like me? Trust me?

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