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Lum: Why I’d rather write than speak

Su Lum
Slumming

I used to be painfully shy around strangers and never raised my hand in school. One day in a college psychology class, the professor asked a question, and one by one the students who ventured to answer were shot down.

I knew the answer and had been trying to overcome my fears of drawing attention, so I timidly lifted my hand and answered the question.

“That is exactly right,” he said. “Would you repeat it?”

Bam. I not only had no idea what I’d said in the answer; I couldn’t even remember what the question had been. I was mortified and, needless to say, took two steps back.

When I was in grammar school (that’s an oxymoron these days, isn’t it?), a first-grade girl was playing a piano piece at a recital when she stopped dead and sat frozen, staring at the sheet music for what seemed like an hour until someone came onstage and led her away.

To this day I can blank out, just like that kid, when I’m playing a bridge hand. Where am I? What’s trump?

It’s sometimes called “flooding” — you zone out, freeze up and can’t think straight.

The other day, Lucy, a friend of mine, stopped by with her son Mike and her 11-year-old grandson, James, who has the mother of all cases of shyness with adults while being voted Mr. Personality in school.

Mike was telling us that James reads a book every other day, and we all, eager to pull James into the conversation, began asking what books he’d read and which he’d liked best, and the more we plied him with questions the more he shut down, so flooded you could almost hear the water running.

Then the exact same thing happened to me. Mike was asking about Audible Books, and I said that its impressive booklist was surprising and so were some of its omissions.

The second those words passed my lips, I knew what was going to happen, and it did. “What were the surprising omissions?” Mike asked.

I had already mentally left the room and was deep in the bowels of my inner computer flinging open file cabinets and rifling through drawers in frantic search for what I knew was in there someplace: the name of even one title that I was surprised not to find in Audible Books.

If Mike had written that question to me instead of asking it, I probably could have come up with a cogent answer right away. If not, there would be time, with no pressure, to leisurely prowl around in those personal computer files and write back the reply, with no one the wiser if it took 10 minutes or an hour.

Stirring in a handful of senile aphasia — when you “lose” words or use the wrong one, like saying “cow” when you meant to say “tree” — just makes getting old that much more delightful.

Actually, it is pretty funny to listen to a bunch of us together trying to hold a conversation.

“I’m reading a really good book.”

“Oh? What’s the title?”

“Hmmm. I can’t remember.”

“Who’s the author?”

“Well, um, ah, I think it begins with an H.”

“What’s it about?”

“Flooding! Flooding!”

Su Lum is a longtime local who has changed some names. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at su@rof.net.


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