Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Communication secrets’ Category

The Journalism-Poetry Connection

In Communication secrets, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on October 16, 2011 at 7:00 am

I don’t know how it happened but I use poetry when I write journalism and journalism when I write fiction.

Writing in two different disciplines provides a fertile ground for fresh writing, as well as a keener eye for editing.

I write a news or feature article following the upside down triangle formula I learned in the four journalism classes I took – put the most important information on top with a tie-in quote to conclude the article.

At first, I felt stiff and awkward writing within confines. But after a few years, I saw that I used material from my notes and my observations to weave in descriptions, quotes and the four W’s and H to tell what happened or to give both sides of a story.

I had stopped writing word after word, like a reader who learns how to read whole sentences and paragraphs in a glance. I began to hear my poetic voice call through the outer ridges of the formula, compelling me to listen.

Now, I write with my ear, trying to knead in rhythm into my use of language. I want what I write to have musicality alongside the message.

Writing fictional stories and novels influenced me to play with storytelling in my journalism – I try to describe settings and atmosphere, as well as provide a sense of plot in how I tell the story.

On the other side of the fulcrum, my journalism influences my fiction. I want to be tight and concise in my writing, whether it’s a poem or a story. I want to be accurate, so I do research to find the exact word or description I want to use. I’ve learned how to write fast (think deadline pressure), not giving credence to my critical editor’s voice until later.

With both disciplines, I’ve learned to notice and observe, to go deeper with my questions and curiosities, to listen not just to words but to the noise of life and to both play with and take seriously my love affair with words.

“Kindergarten Crybaby”

In Communication secrets, Finding friends, Separation Anxiety, Shyness on August 28, 2011 at 7:00 am

Though I don’t have children, I’ve had the chance to witness the first day of kindergarten a few times as a reporter for my hometown newspaper.

Every time I cover the separation anxiety between parents and their five-year-olds, I’m reminded of my own “trauma.” I didn’t just cry on the first day of school, I screamed and clung to my mother for the first week – but I got over it and turned my tears into dreading the end of the school year and having to say goodbye to my teachers.

In my hometown, school for students in grades K-5 started on Wednesday. A staff photographer and I went to a kindergarten class to search for crying children. The photographer found a father trying to comfort his son, who buried his face against his father’s chest.

Once inside the classroom, the boy huddled against the wall near his desk, wrapping his arms around his knees, continuing his crying jag for the 45 minutes we were there.

I tried to get a quote from the 5-year-old, but despite my investigative efforts, he wasn’t about to talk, not even when the photographer commented on his new shoes.

The boy, I figured, might have had a case of separation anxiety, just like I did.

I don’t know the cause of his, but mine derived from my shyness. Shyness can result from the fear of entering a new situation, in contrast to familiarity with the known that provides safety and comfort.

New to the school world, I felt anxious about finding friends and not having anyone to play with at recess. I was hesitant to talk. I made little eye contact. And I felt insecure and unlikable.

My “friend” across the street who went to another school called me “kindergarten crybaby,” and if I had been more confident, I would have said “no thanks” to her meanness.

As an adult, I can get teary eyed next to the crying kindergartners, but I know I have turned it all around to the point where I really can’t say I’m shy. There are few situations where I feel uncomfortable. I know how to start a conversation. And I can look people in the eye.

EmBARKing into Conversations

In Coffee shops, Communication secrets, Exercise, Seeking pets on June 5, 2011 at 8:31 am

Eating, exercising and not being shy, all in a healthy way, can be a bit much for one week.

First, I ate fruit salad and lettuce leaf salad and did not eat ice cream or chocolate.

Second, I went to the gym, did aerobics or went on a walk every day, well except for Tuesday.

And third, I talked with someone outside my comfort zone, w-a-y outside of it, though I’m not sure if the conversation actually counts toward breaking my shyness barriers. I’ve seen this man, let’s call him C., around my neighborhood, and my flirty dachshund barked at him as he stood a half-block away.

Zoey was sitting atop a coffee shop patio table while I read a book before I had to go into work for a late shift Wednesday. I said, “I’m sorry. She just wants you to pet her.”

My mini-D wants everyone to pet her.

C put out his cigarette and came over to pet her, but I felt wary, noticing his bedraggled clothing and missing teeth. Wanting to be polite, I asked him about his work (odd jobs), and he told me about getting kicked out of his apartment because of some downtown reconstruction.

“Animals seem to like me,” he said.

I started to feel safe in C’s presence, looking over at Zoey’s expression of ecstasy as he rubbed her ears.

“Dogs are a good judge of character,” he said.

A few months ago, Zoey met another person and would not stop her ferocious barking, seeming to have read something not right in him. And with C, she was seeking his attention.

C asked to have a seat, and I nodded. We talked for five more minutes about where we went to high school, what we do for work and the weather until I had to leave for the office.

I walked away from that experience realizing that I was being a bit judgmental about C’s appearance. But at the same time as a woman, I always have to be wary whenever I’m out in public, day or night. It’s just how it is. Even in a small city.

I guess that’s why it is good to have a dog more aware of the unspoken aspects of communication.

The Risk List

In Communication secrets, Shyness, Talking on May 15, 2011 at 8:20 am

I wanted to call this man who I like, and I thought, oh, it’s Saturday night, so I won’t do that. What if it looks like I don’t have plans? The not taking a risk is something I sometimes do – I like to come up with an excuse to remain comfortable in my shyness shell. It’s easier than putting myself out there on the I-might-get-rejected ledge.

My challenge for this past week was to come up with a list of things that could help me break apart the shell. Some of the things I’ve already tried, and a few are things I know about. But I tell myself I don’t want to do them, or I come up with avoidance tactics.

Here’s my Get Over Your Shyness Advice List:

  • If you meet someone new or are sitting next to them at a dinner party, say “hi” and introduce yourself. The worst thing that could happen is they could say their name and turn away. So what? It’s their loss, right?
  • When you start talking, ask questions about the other person’s interests and don’t focus too much on your own. You already know about yourself but could learn from listening to someone else.
  • Try not to worry about what other people think. What you think about yourself is what counts.
  • If starting a conversation seems overwhelming, pretend you’re in a different role, such as a reporter who’s paid to ask questions.
  • Or you could pretend you have an assignment to talk to someone new and if you don’t, you get an unsatisfactory mark.
  • If someone seems not interested in you, it’s not like they’re the only person on the planet. It’s likely that someone else will want to talk to you.

Shyness Evaluation

In Communication secrets, Shyness on May 8, 2011 at 7:53 am

I’ve been wondering whether or not my shyness challenge is an effective tool to overcome the last remnants of my being scared of people.

I used to be wallflower shy, probably until I entered college.

I had to work at overcoming my shyness, particularly the insecurity that resulted from being picked on in junior high and somewhat in high school. I was never bullied, I don’t think, though one girl told me something too awful to repeat.

Back then, I didn’t have the ability to not care what people thought or the wherewithal to push myself to be brave and to start a conversation. I know how to do those things now, at least for the most part.

Part of that knowing came from reading a couple dozen books on communication skills, relationship building and, of course, overcoming shyness. I tried to keep reading so that the knowledge and suggestions would become ingrained. I also practiced being not shy by forcing myself to talk to others and go out to dinners or parties when I’d rather stay home.

What I find strange in all of this is that I keep reading books, more than is necessary for a healthy mind.Readingis much more comfortable than being out in the real world. I’ve built a barrier of words, a castle of paper that keeps me safe and comfortable. I can pretend that the stories I’m reading are a way to live.

I like having things move faster, like conversations and the drama of a story, than real life – a year can be covered in a few pages, instead of 24 hours being 24 hours, especially on Mondays. I can keep up with the pace of reading, but when it comes to being around other people, I have to be on constant alert. When will it be my turn to speak? Will I have something interesting to say? Am I becoming boring?

My challenge for next week is to develop a list of specific things I can do to reach out to others, start a conversation and to experience something new that may be a bit uncomfortable.

The Art of Communicating

In Artists, Communication secrets, Fitting in, Party, Shyness on January 30, 2011 at 8:13 am

I went to an artist’s get-together Friday night and, to my surprise, talked with people almost the entire time. Usually, I find a spot where I look like I’m okay being alone, that way I can be shy and still try, at least somewhat.

I told the artist who hosted the wine and dinner party – I had interviewed her for a features article – that I do oil painting as a hobby. I told her that I’ve been taking classes for four or five years, but I have never sold any of my work. She invited me to her get-together, which was attended by 25 to 30 people, telling me that maybe I could make a connection or two.

One woman I talked to who is in her 50s said she was incredibly shy as a child, just as I was. I told her how I’ve had to teach myself social and communication skills by reading books and, of course, by observing and learning, something I didn’t know how to do as a kid. She said a friend told her that one way to make conversation is by asking questions. She said I was good at that, inquiring about her life and her work. Being a reporter forced me to be more outgoing and taught me how to ask questions to keep a conversation going.

I stayed until 9:30 p.m. and, originally, had planned to go to this new nightclub for this week’s get-out-of-my-comfort-zone challenge. I couldn’t believe myself, but I said, in my head, I’d rather finish this book that I’m reading, and I didn’t want to go to bed late. How silly is that? I said, hey, I can put off my challenge because I did not actually set a time frame around it.

And then I congratulated myself for spending a whole evening talking, and furthermore, I stopped at this Art Lab downtown on Thursday night, where I also talked the entire time. But does that really count if I was talking to people who I interview?

I felt nervous as I walked up the stairs to the artist’s loft for the party, not at the Art Lab, because it felt more like work, even though instead of a pen, I had my dog with me.

This week, I’ve also bee thinking that it’s easier and more comfortable remaining in my shyness shell. I like it here. But I set up this challenge, and I can’t quit. So I’ll have to suck it up and put myself out there. Here I come, slow as a turtle.