"The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public." – George Jessel
I define public speaking as talking to one or more people I don’t know. Therefore, I classify an interview as a public speaking engagement. Though I haven’t had anything too traumatic happen during an interview, I still find them a little nerve wracking. I’m also frustrated that by time I think of the perfect response the interview has been over for hours—sometimes days. Often the great, “if only I’d said…” epiphanies come to me in the middle of the night when they do absolutely no good at all.
Recently, I ran across an article in nytimes.com by Arthur Krystal, “When Writers Speak,” that made me feel much better about my speaking skills, or lack of them. In the article he talks about watching a 1950s interview with Vladimir Nabokov on YouTube. Discussing Lolita, Nabokov came up with a response that at first impressed Krystal as a clever off the cuff remark. Then he realized that Nabokov was reading off of note cards. Krystal goes on to say:
“Fluent in three languages, he relies on prefabricated responses to talk about his work. Am I disappointed? I am at first, but then I think: writers don’t have to be brilliant conversationalists; it’s not their job to be smart except, of course, when they write.”
But it’s these thoughts that really caught my attention:
"There seems to be a rhythm to writing that catches notes that ordinarily stay out of earshot. At some point between formulating a thought and writing it down falls a nanosecond when the thought becomes a sentence that would, in all likelihood, have a different shape if we were to speak it. This rhythm, not so much heard as felt, occurs only when one is composing; it can’t be simulated in speech, since speaking takes place in real time and depends in part on the person or persons we’re speaking to. Wonderful writers might therefore turn out to be only so-so conversationalists, and people capable of telling great stories waddle like ducks out of water when they attempt to write.
So the next time you hear a writer on the radio or catch him on the tube or watch him on the monitor or find yourself sitting next to him at dinner, remember he isn’t the author of the books you admire; he’s just someone visiting the world outside his study or office or wherever the hell he writes."
And later on in the article:
There’s something about writing, when we regard ourselves as writers, that affects how we think and, inevitably, how we express ourselves. There may be no empirical basis for this, but if, as some scientists claim, different parts of the brain are switched on by our using a pen instead of a computer — and the cognitive differences are greater than what might be expected by the application of different motor skills — then why shouldn’t there be significant differences in brain activity when writing and speaking?
He ends the article with this funny little story:
Speaking of dinner, when the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt told a friend, a Parisian doctor, that he wanted to meet a certifiable lunatic, he was invited to the doctor’s home for supper. A few days later, Humboldt found himself placed at the dinner table between two men. One was polite, somewhat reserved, and didn’t go in for small talk. The other, dressed in ill-matched clothes, chattered away on every subject under the sun, gesticulating wildly, while making horrible faces. When the meal was over, Humboldt turned to his host. “I like your lunatic,” he whispered, indicating the talkative man. The host frowned. “But it’s the other one who’s the lunatic. The man you’re pointing to is Monsieur Honoré de Balzac.”
I found the entire article fascinating and well worth reading if you have a few extra minutes. Also, here is the YouTube interview with Vladimir Nabokov that Arthur Krystal wrote about.
Are there significant differences in your brain activity between when you’re writing and when you’re speaking?
Thanks for stopping by.
Tags: George Jessel, brain activity, public speaking, Lolita, Nabokov , YouTube, Balzac,