Essay: Stuff a Sock In It

Jan 21, 2017

If you were an alien on vacation to earth, you’d be forgiven for thinking humans never shut up. We talk all the time: right here on radio and on television, on our smartphones, to each other.

Like most of us, Lake Effect essayist Joanne Weintraub is guilty of talking too much. But she’s trying to cut it out:

The meanest boss I ever had—let’s call her Poison Ivy--used to tell me I talked TOO much, TOO loudly and about ALL the wrong things. I STILL remember the times I cried in the bathroom over Ivy's nastiness, and I STILL hope she drops her stupid old smartphone into her bowl of smelly old homemade soup.

But you know what? Ivy had a point. I DO talk too much, and I'm trying to cut it out.

My mother talked too much, which I guess makes me a second-generation blabbermouth.  My dad, like a lot of dads, PROBABLY talked too little. My ex-HUSBAND, on the other hand, talked even more than I do.

So did the old boyfriend who once told me he talked SO much during high school BAND practice that his MUSIC teacher called him MOLTO mouth, which I believe was Illinois Italian for a kid who wouldn’t shut up and play the clarinet.

Of course, we’ve now come to know this condition as TMI. You know: too much information? When people talk about TMI, they usually mean INTIMATE information, like the kind imparted by commercials for little blue pills marketed to romantically challenged silver-haired men. In these cases, TMI could be said to stand for "too much ICK."

But the thing is? We perpetrators and victims of TMI--because often we're BOTH, which I'll get to in a moment---don't necessarily over-share icky or even intimate things. Sometimes we simply say WAY too much about what we bought yesterday In Glendale, what we bought the day before that in Greendale, how we need to go BACK to Greendale or Glendale to return that thing we bought because it was the WRONG thing, and so on. And on. And ON.

Now, here's why I said I'm both a perpetrator and a victim. I don't just bore OTHER people with this bad habit, I often bore myself. Halfway through a description of some dumb movie I just saw, I realize that I don't really need to DWELL on the dumb movie, because it was a DUMB MOVIE. But you know how you sometimes can’t turn OFF a dumb movie, even though you’re afraid it might LITERALLY bore you to death? Sometimes I can't stop talking in the middle of a thought, even though that thought itself is terminally boring.

Even nice people have commented on this. "Oh, Joanne," a dear friend said recently, "you've got a story for everything!" Yup, I do. And sometimes I really need to keep that story to myself.

Another friend gently suggested that, when I ask her a question, it would be nice if I would then be quiet long enough for her to answer it. A little painful to hear, but I needed to hear it.

So, OK: If I KNOW I talk too much, why is it so hard to stop? At the risk of committing TMI at this very moment, I think it’s because I was once, like so many adults, a child. And that child regularly got told that she was too quiet, and that she should speak up. So--long story short, for you fans of irony---she learned how to do just that. And now she can't seem to stop.

But I’m working on it.  It turns out that this takes practice, patience, and a surprising amount of work. But maybe it’s not really all that surprising. Think of that wonderful line by a French philosopher, “I’ve written you a long letter because I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”

And by the way? You can call me a RECOVERING TMI addict. My producer said this essay could run between 500 and 700 words. I brought it in at around 640, safely below the limit. So bear with me. I’m getting there.

Lake Effect essayist Joanne Weintraub is the former TV critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She’s currently a freelance writer and editor.