Sunday, September 30, 2018

Listening Without Judgement


I spent three days up north this last week. My husband had to go for work, and he invited me along. Of course, then he grumbles about how he has to work, while I get to drive to all my favorite places, photograph my favorite buildings, and drink wine by the lake on a beautiful early fall afternoon.

While up north, I planned to do the second of five Listening exercises:

"Seek out a public or urban environment - a local coffee shop, a busy street corner, your rooftop. Again, for 10 minutes listen to the sounds around you. Try to take it all in, with equal value, without judgement. What do you notice?"

I planned to do this at the coffee shop where I wrote the very last Coffee Shop Chronicle in the series, way back in April of 2015. Surely, one of the mornings it would rain while I was up north, it was in the forecast.


The mornings generally started cloudy with a hint of the promised rain, but usually by nine o'clock the sun started to peek through. Then the rural farmsteads of Leelanau Peninsula called much louder than sitting in a coffee shop.


As luck would have it though, I had to meet my husband on the last day at a coffee shop in downtown Manistee. His sales rep. was dropping him off and I would pick him up to begin our two hour drive home. I arrived early, exhausted from my morning of photographing farm buildings and wandering cold, windy beaches. Since this coffee shop also serves sandwiches and soup, I figured I would eat lunch there and complete the listening exercise at the same time.


When I use to write the Coffee Shop Chronicles, I engaged in two creative skills - observation and eavesdropping. So I guess listening has been a bigger part of my writing life than I thought.

The hard part of this exercise is the No Judgement, that's all the Coffee Shop Chronicles were was judgement, yes funny judgement, but judgement all the same. And as I sat down with my bowl of Pasta Fagioli soup, two ladies at the other end of the shot-gun style cafe did nothing to help me let go of it. They were sitting next to each other at a small round table each talking animatedly on their phones to other people.


I really wanted a table in the window, but both were full. So I sat as close as I could hoping that eventually one of the gentleman would leave. As I was eating my soup, one of them got up, but he was just going to get a refill on his coffee. What I noticed about him was his camouflage shorts and his camouflage Crocs.


Just as I was finishing my soup, the quiet guy directly behind me at the other window table got up and left. I quickly gathered my purse, phone, tiny notebook, empty soup bowl and scooted over to his relatively clean, empty table. I wanted to make sure to beat the two ladies sitting at the table next to me, in case they had the same idea.

I brought my empty soup bowl to the dirty dishes pan, returned to my table and readied myself for ten minutes of judgement free listening.

I set the timer on my phone, cradled my bent head in one of my hands, and closed my eyes. These are the things I heard:

  • The radio - I did not recognize the song. 
  • The two ladies just below me talking to each other.
  • The buzz of the cooler holding bottles of pop for sale that was right behind the two ladies.
  • Ice being scooped into plastic glasses.
  • The voices of the two girls working behind the counter.
  • Camo Croc guy behind me snapping his 3-ring binder shut.
  • Clink of the dirty dishes being taken out of the bin.
  • One of the ladies below me telling a story about somebody knocking on her screen door and she demonstrated by knocking on the wood table.
  • Pans banging behind the counter.
  • My pen tapping on the table as I was getting anxious for the ten minutes to be done.
  • The whoosh of the front door opening and closing. 
  • The building of steam for the latte machine.
  • Me chewing a potato chip.
  • Chair legs scraping across the wood floor.
  • The two ladies getting up and leaving - I could hear much better once they left. 
  • The ding of my timer going off. 
The ten minutes really went faster than I expected. I did feel a little weird trying to sit there with my eyes closed, although I kept my head bent most of the time.

I was surprised at all the sounds I could pick out, given that the ladies' conversation seemed to be the predominant noise. The only sound I was wrong about was Camo Crocs guy's 3-ring binder. It was really a three-hole punch.

Up next is Exercise Number Three:

Find a natural/green space within your town or city - a public park or garden or a tree in your yard. Close your eyes and listen for 15 minutes this time. How is the quality of sound different in this location compared to the location in exercise #2?

And I thought ten minutes was kind of long...but...I do have a place in mind.

8 comments:

Karen Lakis said...

Okay - I really need to try these listening exercises. The one at home will be easy - we're kind of weird in that most of our evenings at home are quiet, neither of us very interested in television. This one will be more challenging for me, but I think my train might be the perfect place to give it a try - I have lots of opportunity for that. You cracked me up in your first paragraph - in Glen's defense, I'd be grumbling, too. I mean really - wine outdoors on a beautiful autumn afternoon - how awesome is that!?!?! I also chuckled a little at your pen tapping. I would have had a hard time doing this without judgment with the two ladies nearby...

Lynne said...

I had good intentions but I have failed.
I am doing some physical therapy . . .
There is one session when I am on my own.
I go this Tuesday again.
I will be listening.

(I was judging the ”two ladies!”)

Cathy H. said...

So good to be with you in a coffee shop again! Great job of listening. Listening isn't easy as thoughts creep in and we forget we are supposed to be listening! I'll be looking forward to the next installment!

rebecca haegele said...

The two ladies could make their own story. I was on Leelanau Peninsula! I wish I had more time to spend there. I had a three hour trek to and from my husband's work so it was a quick visit as I had the rental car. But at least I saw some of it. I would have loved to have taken the road down along the west side and explored. Sadly, it is unlikely we will get up that way again. SInce Dow and DuPont merged he will be working for DuPont when they separate again in spring. He is working less and less with the Dow side each day.

Michelle B said...

Looks like you had a great couple of days. I can see why your husband could be a little jealous. :) Your listening exercises are a good reminder to quiet my own thinking and listen to everything I am missing because I am just not paying attention.

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Carola Bartz said...

Well, I was certainly judging those two ladies! I'm not sure I could do such an exercise in a coffee shop, although it would be really interesting. How do you remember all the sounds after the exercise? If I would do that I certainly would forget at least a third of the sounds to write down.
Of course your husband was a bit jealous - I would be, too!

Electric | Journal said...

An interesting challenge... I'm not sure how non-judgmental I would have been with the two ladies. I seem to be a magnet for people who are loud in public. Maybe I should do this challenge! I look forward to the next installment.