In the last two years I’ve been learning to listen. First, I had to truly realize that I had absolutely no idea how to do so. Over the steady decline of my marriage, the complaint had often been leveled at me. I don’t know if it was the booze (also yes) or the steadily growing resentments and general self-righteous indignation that made the conviction so clear, but however ironically, the first thing I resolutely failed to listen to was that I did not know how to listen.

You know when you say something and it congeals in the air directly out of your mouth as a grossly hypocritical fact that self-defeats itself? Interrupting someone to scream “I am listening!” at the top of your lungs is one of those.

Perhaps my most important personal ritual, more than meditation, prayer, meetings, talking to others, tea (and that shit’s my lifeblood), sex, even sunlight, has been morning pages. The relationship I’ve developed with myself through the process of writing, by hand, stream of consciousness, for three full pages each day (often not in the morning, although I do prefer to do them then) has been the most powerful experience of my life.

Morning pages have been my therapy. They have given me permission to articulate so many things that I would have dismissed and thought too benign or too messianic to give voice too, and have all led me into a deeper relationship with myself and with the world.

But they have also taught me that the best place to do that kind of exploration IS on the page, by myself. Before this kind of writing, I had no personal outlet. I was able to process and feel some emotions while listening to music, especially when drugs were involved, but frankly that was and still does seem quite monochrome compared to my experiences in after transition (although the effects of estrogen on emotional and somatic experience are subjects for another article).

Through the process of watching myself think I’m able to see patterns that allow me to understand the feelings and larger needs behind the thoughts. I realized that I have been doing this with people my entire life. I’ve attempted to use conversation as my personal blank page. A place to hear my thoughts so that I can see them for what they are.

The problem is, there’s someone else involved. I never asked if they’d like to be my personal therapist. I never asked if I could work someone out out loud. All of these conversation were started in some pretense of mutual conversation. More importantly, many of them, if not most of them, were with people I actually liked and was interested in. For years I’ve been confused that my intentions and interest doesn’t seem to come across to others. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t listening.

The solution for me is two fold. The first is that I do need time and space to work through my thoughts and feelings, which underscores the importance of morning pages, therapy, and writing, music, and other creative practices generally. The second is the constant reminder that the value of I find in relation to others is never in my own thoughts, its in their perspective and willingness to share it. I can teach myself whatever I have to teach on the page, but if I want to learn from others, I have to close my mouth, quiet my mind, and allow myself to be drawn into the world of others.