The need to know
Rose and I are in an outdoor public restroom, trying to take care of business without pondering too deeply the dark, wet stain on the concrete floor. Rose is singing cheerily in an invented language she calls Spanish, though it sounds more like something chickens might speak in private. She gets quiet, her eyes wandering through the graffiti sharpied across the cinderblock walls like we’re at the hallowed museum of outhouse art.
“Who drew that picture?” Rose asks about a sketch of a woman smoking, her eyes at half mast. “Do you think a teenager drew it? Who is that lady? Does she like smoking? Is she falling asleep? Do you think she’s happy?” Before I can answer, the yarn of her questions fully unravels, wrapping around our feet, tethering us here.
Rose has what I think of as a “Need to Know” personality. Information is a like a wide, swirling storm; if you don’t stand outside with your mouth open in receiving mode, you’re sure to miss something crucial. Rose wakes up every morning and slides an empty tray under the door of my consciousness, expecting it returned brimming with answers.
“What’s her name?” Rose asks in a voice reserved for deaf grandmas, about the woman I just greeted but whose name I can’t remember. Embarrassment blooms like a tulip in the suddenly quiet room. “Why can’t you remember her name? Do you like her? Does she have any kids? Do her kids look like me?” Sometimes it feels like Rose is simply dangling the extrovert’s fishing line: I am acknowledged, therefore I am.
“It’s wonderful that she’s so curious,” my mom says in that magnanimous, slightly removed way of grandparents who aren’t awoken at 6am with questions unspooling into the darkness of morning.
And it is wonderful. Right? To be so curious that questions trip over themselves just to launch off your tongue, even if we’re in the women’s locker room, and she’s asking in her stage voice, “Did you know some girls wear undies that are ACTUALLY JUST STRINGS?”
There are the sticky questions that require dissection with moral tweezers: Is it bad that they have a mean sticker about Obama on their car? There are the anxious questions: Are you going to talk to anyone at the store? And, the unanswerable questions, the questions that turn your brain inside out and leave you with blinking cartoon-character X’s across the eyeballs. Rose asks, “Does Beehead (our cat) know we’re having dinner right now?” “What did we do the day after yesterday?” “When is Piano Man coming on the radio?” My mind revs and sputters.
It’s also true that the question mark doesn’t fall far from the tree. My own conversational style has been called “probing.” I deeply trust the power of a well-placed question. Last week, a friend asked me such thoughtful questions about a current writing project that my own unexpected answers became a beacon lighting the way towards my next step. Perhaps someday Rose will be a life coach, therapist, investigative reporter, detective, or writer, her astute questions unravelling whole worlds of insights for the benefit of others.
Putting inquisitiveness to work: This letter is to Dan’s Aunt Roberta, asking questions about Dan’s dad, the grandpa they’ll never meet.
“What do you think?” I lob back to Rose in the suspect bathroom.
“I think the lady’s happy. I can tell by her eyelashes.”
Rose returns to her Spanish chicken-song, adding a kicky little dance step. I fold her small hand into my big one and we walk out into the bright sun.
ps: this is a great blog post on the art of asking good questions.