As a music major at Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music in the mid 70s, (we just said Griz-boom), I had frequent contact with Chairman of the Music Department, Roger Rose. He taught several Bible classes and music classes. He scheduled student song-leaders for the school’s chapel services. He was my vocal coach, the one I’d answer to as I designed, rehearsed and performed my Sr. Recital. He recommended, placed me, then supervised my internship with a church in Muskegon, Michigan.
Roger and his wife, Donna, shared an office in the music suite. His desk was just inside the door, hers further in, against the outside wall. We music majors knew that if the door was open, we could step inside to ask our questions, or drop off a paper or piece of music. If it was closed, eye contact through the tall narrow window would give us permission to knock and interrupt. No connection? Leave it with the music secretary.
I noticed after several drop in visits, that whenever I stood at his desk, he capped his pen.
Interesting, I thought.
Mr. Rose wrote with a Parker Systemark,
a new but affordable pen at the time, used by our presidents to sign bills into law.
The ink flowed more freely than a regular ball point pen and the lines were darker, while being more durable than a fountain pen.
I could hear the cap click into place, what seemed like every time our conversations began.
Finally, my curiosity begging to know, I asked him. “Mr. Rose, it seems each time I stop by, you cap your pen while we’re saying Hi.”
“Yes, yes I do,” he nodded, “and I bet you’re wondering why.”
He leaned forward a bit over whatever it was he’d been writing. “You see, as long as this pen is un-capped, there are thoughts in this head,” he pointed to his shock of thick, salt & pepper hair, “trying to get onto this page,” he motioned, pointing to his yellow legal pad. I could see a partially written sheet before him. Several sheets, apparently full, were stacked upside down to his left. “So I cap it.
Set it down. Phil’s here, hold that thought. The brain knows it can’t get thoughts onto paper right now, so we focus on what it is you and I are saying.”
I don’t remember how I responded, exactly, but I was impressed. I began doing likewise, and lo & behold, it worked! Capping my pen became a silent self-gesture to put my thoughts on hold while I have company. I still use the technique today.
(Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve uncapped it a few times to non-verbally tell someone our conversation has gone on long enough. Occasionally it worked.)
Later, I adapted the principle, and began to reach up and click off my monitor when a guest would enter my office and start a conversation. I’d lift my hands from the keyboard and turn to face them.
“Hold that thought; we have company.”
Today there are a few more adaptations. I close the cover on my tablet to help me listen better.
I consciously turn my phone upside down on the table or desk while I talk with someone, or drop it into my blazer’s inside pocket. I don’t want to be distracted by pop-ups or blinking LEDs telling me something important just arrived.
“No, be present in the conversation in front of you. Cap that thought. Focus.”