© 2014 jen

Shazbot: Listening, Laughing & Healing

When I was in grade school I had a Flash Gordon lunch box that my mom bought for me on clearance. I loved it for a few days, until I saw my friend’s lunch box. Then I wanted a Mork & Mindy lunch box, like my friend had. I used to watch Mork & Mindy regularly and practice the handshake (nanoo nanoo). I remember thinking that if I could grow up and meet a zany “alien” guy like Mork my life would be better. I wondered if my life might be better just owning the lunch box.

Then a few days ago, almost as soon as I returned from a beach weekend with friends, my husband told me of Robin Williams’s death and I thought about that lunch box. How I thought things could be so easily fixed and made happy again when I was young.

Some things aren’t so easily fixed, like depression, back problems, and so many other ailments and illnesses.

This summer has been a weird one. I was in a car accident June 17 and my back is still messed up. It’s getting better by the day, but I’m still not back to normal yet.

Sometimes things are really complex and nuanced, with no easy solutions.

This summer has been full of life and death and pain, in my mind and body. I had a friend who died early in the summer. That death really stuck with me, and then I was in a car accident, and now I can feel the shadow of this new death on my back.

Am I too sensitive? Maybe.


Or maybe it’s when we stop caring about the deaths of others that there is a problem.

The idea that death seems like a better solution to some than living anymore, even when it seems you have it all, is just too sad for me to shake.

Death shakes me to the core on so many levels – probably the biggest one is how normal it is.

Everything ends. I’m so good at beginnings and I really suck at endings, mostly accepting them. I don’t want things, or people’s lives, to end. Especially people I care about and admire.

All of this: recent deaths, my back and my feelings are coming together and making me feel softer. I don’t even want to be tough. I don’t have the energy for it. The idea of even accidentally hurting someone and adding to their pain seems terrible. I want to be tender and real.

Tenderness keeps coming up for me this summer. One way I’m acting on my tender feelings is through becoming a better listener.

photo5My friend Kaira showing off a temporary tattoo of Portland.

My good friend Kaira came to visit me last week and we had a great time together. I asked her at one point if I seem different from the way I used to be when we were young and were very close. She said I’m so similar in so many ways except that I’m quieter than I used to be (at least some of the time). I have been noticing this too.

I spend a lot more time listening than I ever used to.

I have to say that now that I’m really practicing listening I realize just how simplistically I used to view listening. I think most people do this. I used to think that listening meant being quiet for a bit, hearing the other person, and then – it’s my turn to talk. I’d share my opinions and judgments with the other person in the form of advice, wisdom and insights.

I feel that we humans all want to fix things, and the desire to offer input comes from a place of wanting to help, but often it just isn’t helpful. We want problems to be short and sweet, and to make it all happy again, but things just aren’t like that most of the time in the real world.

Problems tend to linger, even if every helpful friend offers great advice. How we feel about our problems can affect our moods negatively and we can really become bummed out about the state of things.

The truth is, for me anyway, I’m rarely looking for judgment, advice, etc. from my friends and suspect most people aren’t either. What I’m looking for is a connection and understanding. I’m looking for kindness. If there is something I really need to hear from a friend I need it to be delivered with the utmost of kindness and, better yet, humor. These are the things I want to receive and I think it’s what most people want.

When another friend recently messaged me that her boyfriend broke up with her, I called her on the phone and she talked for a long time. I didn’t offer one piece of advice. I didn’t tell her my ideas of what she should do. I just listened and asked her a couple of questions to help her sort out her own feelings, which felt to me like the kindest and most useful thing I could give to her. She didn’t need me to fix anything for her. She didn’t need my opinions and she didn’t ask me for any. She needed to be given the space to share her feelings and sort out how she was feeling. I gave her the biggest gift I have to offer: my time, without judgment, and with me holding the space open for her, so she could put her own pieces together.

photo3Lady silhouettes at sunset.

After the last few weeks of practicing real listening, not fixing, not advising, I find myself wondering if giving advice and making judgments in general about what another person should do is mostly something that satisfies the one giving advice, more so than it satisfies the one receiving it. And the only time it’s close to even, with the giver and receiver both feeling satisfied, is when the one with the problem has asked the one giving advice specifically for an opinion.

Listening makes me feel softer too. Not interrupting. Not even clarifying right away, just letting whatever the other person says be permissible. Maybe asking a question or two when the person is all done explaining, but never taking away the other person’s need to have the floor. It’s a rare place to go to just listen and not fix. It requires self control. You may need to bite your tongue. It takes concentration to stay on task mentally for real empathetic listening.

I’m still learning to be a good listener. I gave unsolicited advice to a friend a few days ago. I felt like it was implied that she wanted my help, but on closer inspection it could have been unwelcome. I’m no expert yet, but I’m getting closer by the day.

Listening to other people’s lives and pains is such an important part of friendship. I feel so lucky to give and receive true listening in so many of my friendships. Some of my best friends throughout my life have been great listeners. It’s a quality I really admire.

If we can’t have life without pain and death, thank goodness for time with friends, listening and laughing. Here is a collection of  photos from my weekend away with a group of ladies I love to laugh with. I feel like getaway weekends aren’t a luxury – they are a necessity for getting through life. I really find that a group of women and their laughter is one of the best antidotes to pain.


“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.” ― Audrey Hepburn


“Sometimes crying or laughing are the only options left, and laughing feels better right now.”
― Veronica Roth


“The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.” ― Mark Twain

rock-throwingDon’t you throw rocks at your friends when you are on the beach? I jokingly said, “Hey, this rock wall seems like a good place for a rock throwing montage.” Beth said, “Me, I’ll throw rocks!” And then this series was made. Ridiculous!

 Thanks Ladies!





  1. Posted August 17, 2014 at 8:00 pm | #

    Nice one.

    • Posted August 18, 2014 at 7:12 am | #

      Thank you, Jo! xo

  2. Jenny Masaoy
    Posted August 17, 2014 at 10:24 pm | #

    I am always grateful to read your insightful words, thank you for sharing both your wisdom, and your writing talent.

    My heart sang when I read these words. I am lucky I do have friends who are all this for me, (and oddly, even my closest siblings can’t seem to figure this out.) I am very blessed.

    “The truth is, for me anyway, I’m rarely looking for judgment, advice, etc. from my friends and suspect most people aren’t either. What I’m looking for is a connection and understanding. I’m looking for kindness. If there is something I really need to hear from a friend I need it to be delivered with the utmost of kindness and, better yet, humor. These are the things I want to receive and I think it’s what most people want.”

    The contents of this nutshell, so aptly put by you, are really all I want anymore at all in my life. I’m sensitive, too.

    Feel better!

    • Posted August 18, 2014 at 7:12 am | #

      Thanks Jenny! xo

  3. Posted August 22, 2014 at 12:46 pm | #

    I agree that often times when people give advice they’re often satisfying themselves. Occasionally, there is a good time to give advice. I’ve had to learn to listen for those times, as I’ve grown up with people who don’t really want advice when they complain. They typically just want someone to hear them.