Sunday, September 6, 2009

Another Life

By Lisabet Sarai

I've got a kid sister, five years younger than I am. She's the original extrovert. While I was a shy nerd in high school, with my nose buried in a book, she was Miss Popularity. I'm normally a bit afraid of people, feeling awkward and inadequate. In contrast, she has always had millions of friends,or so it seems. Even when she was a baby, she was outrageously friendly. We've got an old home movie of her at about 15 months, climbing out of her wading pool and wandering off, butt naked, to say hello to the construction workers who were installing a new sewer system on our street! We tease her about it now, but I think it was a signature moment, where she revealed the essence of her personality.

Sis (I'll call her Jane here) and I both take after my dad, but we received different gifts. She has his knack for talking to people and putting them at ease, and even more, for listening, making them feel as though they are the most important thing in her universe. I got his skill with words, the ability to sit down and write pages in the time it takes most folks to write a couple of paragraphs.

Jane has had several careers, but all have involved working with people. First she was an environmental educator. Then she moved into the hospitality field, where she served as director of human resources for a number of high-end hotels. I used to listen in awe to her horror stories about the problems she had to deal with in her HR role, human-relations conundrums that required a level of sensitivity, tact, patience and communicative skill that I knew I could never muster.

A few years ago Jane decided to quit the executive grind and start her own business as a personal coach and management consultant. I can't imagine anyone more perfectly suited to this sort of work. Running her own company after years of receiving a salary has been a bit scary for her, but she's doing really well. She knows how to convey important lessons through entertaining activities. She's lively, fun and very wise, too. Her clients rave about her team-building and training programs.

Every now and again she sends me a brochure, a newsletter, a web page or some other promotional text, for suggestions and editing. She's got excellent ideas, but occasionally she will use an incorrect word, or a clumsy sentence structure. She sometimes spells things wrong. I help as much as I can, trying to give her the benefit of my own gift so that she can make the most of her own.

It's difficult to imagine not being a skilled writer. I've been writing creatively since I was five or six, stories and poems and plays. In college and grad school I wrote term papers, journal articles and a 500 page dissertation. In my career as a software engineer, I've composed requirements and design specifications, user manuals, press releases and advertising copy. I've always been the person that could be relied on to sit through a three hour technical meeting and disseminate a set of detailed notes on the content and decisions a few hours later.

Of course, on top of the above, there's my fiction. I've penned six novels and at least fifty short stories in the last ten years. I'm not the most prolific author around, but I honestly can't complain. And to some extent, I take my verbal facility for granted.

If I couldn't write, I would be someone else. I would have a different life. It would affect every aspect of my existence, possibly even my sexuality. I'm not sure that I'd want that life, but if I were forced to swap my writing skill for some other gift, I think I'd ask for Jane's interpersonal abilities. I might even be able to convince myself that what she does with such ease is more significant than my scribbles.

People are more important than words. I have to remind myself of that, every time my husband interrupts me in the middle of a writing session. I'll admit I sometimes feel superior when I review Jane's prose, though she's far more literate than the average American. I'm ashamed of that reaction. Every day, Jane makes a difference in people's lives, helping them become happier and more effective. I don't know that I can honestly say that my writing has such a positive impact, though I'd like to believe that at least it does no harm.

The notion of giving up my ability to write is quite terrifying. But if I had to do so, I'd like to become more of a people person. I'd choose the gift of making people feel comfortable and valued, the way Jane so effortlessly does. She probably takes her ability for granted, too.


  1. Hi Lisabet!

    Really good post. Its the first time I've heard/read you speak of your family.

    Of course I'm much more like you. Compared to someone like your sister, I live more inside my head. This is probably true of you or me or most people who aspire to write. You have to be able to get inside your own head.

    It is a gift to be a people person such as your sister. On the other hand, when you've got to the gift to observe people more from the outside you have the chance to record them in your fiction and maybe obtain a kind of immortality.
    You can write the characters that people will remember and return to.


  2. more writing? I can't even imagine it, but if I didn't write, I would hope the void would be filled with the patience, understanding and complete love to create masterpieces with wood.

    My father is a master carpenter, and watching him work is a true joy and an amazing revelation in what it takes to make things that are not only functional, but beautiful as well. He literally will stare at a piece (or pieces) of wood and I can almost see the gears turning, the vision forming, and then methodically, he gets to work. He has a true gift, and it is one I wish I could have inherited.

    That is what I would want to do if I did not write.

  3. Hi Lisabet,

    One of the attributes of being a good writer is being able to see outstanding qualities in other people, particularly when they're qualities that we don't personally possess with any abundance.

    Your sister sounds like a special person with an incredible ability. It was good to hear about her.


  4. Lisabet,

    You and I are more alike than I'd previously thought. I'm also a social klutz. I would love to be able to feel comfortable talking to people, but I never have. My husband has that gift and it frustrates me to see how easy it is for him. Put him in a room full of strangers, give him half an hour and he'll be telling jokes and yacking with them all. I'd be sitting in the corner trying not to be noticed. LOL

    I dunno, we sure have been coming up with some interesting topics lately. Lovely post and it's nice to 'meet' your sister.


  5. Lisabet - I've seen pictures of you on your website -you rock girl! I sometimes call myself a popular loner because I love the spotlight but I also like to retreat inside my head. The perfect job for me would probably have been an actress or soap opera star. I have this small side business I call 'Tell Me Your Story'
    where I coach students to write spectacular college-essays. I'm the center of their world for a few hours and I love it...Mary Kennedy Eastham, a.k.a. Word Actress

  6. Wonderful post. It just goes to show how everyone's talet, though different, is significant. I'm a writer and extrovert. I can talk to anyone....though I admit, I am probably not too good at the listening sometimes.

    My sister is excellant with artsy skills. She's a wonderful needlepointer, but an even more fantastic quilter. I can't do that. I don't have the mind to sit still and count stitches, though I have done counted crossstitch in the past. I'm humbled by her ability to make such beautiful quilts.

  7. Very interesting to read about your sister, Lisabet. Great post!


  8. Thanks to all for your comments!

    Garce - I don't talk much about my family partly because I don't want to compromise their privacy. But I'm extremely fortunate to have them. They've encouraged me all my life.

    Angela - your reaction is the same as mine, horror at the thought of not being able to write! I do love wood, though, a living material fashioned into things of beauty. Thanks for sharing your answer to our question.

    Ashley - yes, "Jane" is very special. When she was a kid she used to drive me crazy, making fun of my vocabulary! But now we both realize how lucky we are.

    Jude, I never exactly said I was a social klutz...LOL! You know what I mean, though. For me it has always been an effort. For people like Jane, well, it's what they do. Sort of like writing for me.

    Mary- We all love the spotlight, inside our heads!

    Anna - I guess we all should be grateful that we have different skills. Each of us has something rare and special to offer.

    Jenna - Can't wait to hear what you'll say, since this is your topic!

    Hugs to all!


  9. Writing is easy for me. I do humor, children's and some non fiction. I guess that is what is called talent, or so I've been told. I also work with beads making jewelry. I used to be a software engineer in Avionics. I work alone, the corporate life is not me.

    It's good to hear about your family. I am an only kid so I don't have that sibling togetherness.

  10. Hi,"unwriter",

    Yes, I'm really fortunate to have a great relationship with all the members of my family. We are all different (I have a brother, too), but we respect eachother's abilities and choices. When we all get together (fairly rare for geographic reasons) we have a fabulous time.



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