Anyway is an adverb. I am not fond of adverbs. My first drafts are peppered with them until I go back over the text and score most of them out. I like the sentence to have made an impact without the insertion of an amplifier although there are exceptions. ‘Anyway’ is different. Anyway is often pregnant with unspoken or even unconscious meaning. When I am listening to a conversation while wearing my professional hat as a psychotherapist then the modest ‘anyway’ deserves both thoughtful attention and subsequent but sensitive deconstruction.
Anyway is not a word I am conscious of hearing frequently in daily or domestic discourse, but perhaps that is because I am not listening with the same qualities of interpretative attentiveness that I apply when I am being employed to listen in my professional role. I could be distracted into a monologue on the different types of listening we all employ but today I will stay with the role that the ubiquitous adverb ‘anyway’ assumes in my consulting room. Then, the frequency and throwaway emphasis of the word, ‘anyway’ makes me prick up my ears, even if I keep my mouth closed. At least temporarily.
The employment of ‘anyway’, usually comes as the speaker’s emotion, or energy trails off … ‘anyway’ is used to shut up the listener, ME and if possible to ward off further inquiry. The matter is now to be closed. It is followed by an invisible and bold FULL STOP.I imagine if there was to be a subsequent statement it would be along the lines of, ‘I Don’t want to take this matter any further, it is too full of unresolvable ‘stuff’. If there is to be any subsequent comment it has to be urged out rather like applying forceps which is undesirable in both the literal sense and in the metaphoric birth of a thought.
I regard this modest adverb as among, if not the most pregnantword that I hear in my consulting room. Yes, to my ears the modesty or frown of ‘anyway’ is deceptive and misleading. It is also paradoxical. While the word should be an invitation to open up discussion and an exploration of the freight it, (anyway) is carrying within it … let alone the unconscious resistances to that freight, it is most commonly used as a warning to me that the conversation has reached a vertiginous and premature conclusion. I say ‘vertiginous’ because to trespass further into the speaker’s viscera, or psyche, unless negotiated with great caution will risk being my transgression into forbidden heights of repression. When the word ‘anyway’ is used in a therapeutic context it is almost always an unconscious sign that the recoiling ‘Way’ needs to be brought out of the forest and into the light. Anyway is a defensive, or even a defiant signal to me that it is pointless, too complex, or even unsavoury for the speaker to tolerate any further deconstruction of their throwaway.
Yesterday, let alone every other day, I recall two people bringing our discussion to a defensive halt by ending their sentence, ‘anyway’. As I write the word again I realise that whereas the literal word attempts to open up different paths of being or discourse – which wayshould I take, or will all paths anyway lead to the same place, or too many ways diverge in a yellow, and in this case jaundiced wood, I am being warned off. Trespassers will be prosecuted!
In one instance the speaker was reluctantly describing some indistinct physical symptoms to me regarding their digestion. I went on to enquire whether we were talking about their stomach or their gut. Their response referred to the fact that they didn’t know where one started and the other ended. I explained and asked if it was possible for more description about the precise location of the problem. They shielded themselves from my scope: “It’s an outcome of constipation if you really have to persist into lurid detail.” And more sternly still, ‘but that’s quite enough of that anyway.’
In a second example I was talking to someone about their sons addiction and complaint that he felt ‘depersonalised’. Inevitably, they were feeling distress and guilt. I suggested that they put the guilt to one side and tried to imagine what their son’s feelings might be when he was in hibernation and where he had found the label depersonalisation. I asked if we could focus on questions and not answers. They replied that they had seen the film Beautiful Boy over the weekend and that this had accelerated their anxiety about their son. They looked towards me with a hopeless expression: ‘It’s so hard to understand how this can happen, happen in our family, to us, so impossible to unravel, we could spend hours talking about it (then a clear loss of attention or appetite to continue the subject) … accompanied only by a muttered, ‘anyway’.
In neither employment was ‘anyway’ an invitation to me to enter into further investigation. It had as yet a reproachful beat. ‘Anyway’ is a curious adverb as far from emphasising the verb to which it is attached it seems to have a hidden life of its own. If you are attending to the speaker the employment of anyway seems to imply not so much a secret agenda as a loneliness in the speaker. The bundle or freight of the unspoken that ‘anyway’ carries within – as the voice trails away – leaves both the speaker and the spoken to alone.
Something is too complex, too tiresome, or maybe too multifaceted, regretful, shameful or almost secret to be shared. It could be that the speaker is to lazy to want to unravel the clue. ‘Anyway’, unlike most other adverbs which usually do little more than undermine the impact of their verb, it always a clue. It introduces an agenda, or an unconscious clue all of its own making… Yes, well…anyway.