I am a social animal. I like being with people and I like talking with them. Lately, I’ve been experiencing a disconnect with others that I find very disconcerting. Somewhere along the line, I’ve lost the art of conversation. Here are some of the typical conversations I’ve had over the past few months.
I’m asked, “What have you been up to?”
What I’ve been up to is spending hours cutting coupons from the stack of fliers that have accumulated on my kitchen counter over the past two months. This is very lame compared to the doing’s of most other people I know, so my standard response is: “Nothing. What about you?”
Or I’m asked, “What’s new?”
This is on the tip of my tongue: “Well, I cleaned the bathroom today. The fumes from the bleach messed with my olfactory nerves, and a result my coffee tasted funny for the rest of the day.” But I bite my tongue and reply: “Nothing. What about with you?”
Sometimes I’m asked this variation: “What have you been doing lately?”
The unvarnished truth is, I’ve been rearranging the dishes in the dishwasher so the place reserved for frying or baking pans is not filled with little cereal bowls. (Jeff, in answer to your question: this reserved frying pan niche is my own personal preference. I have no idea what use the dishwasher manufacturer actually intended for this spot.) My summer has also been spent trying to keep my heels smooth. But I don’t share these exciting tid-bits; I simply say: “Nothing. What about you?”
Not only do my answers disturb me, but I notice the relish and detail with which others answer those questions. Most people can talk at great length about what they and their children have been doing. But my lack of response adds an air of awkwardness to the conversation. What happened to my confabulating skills? How can I have a blog that touts confabulation, yet have forgotten how to do it?
I examine this disconnect, trying to find its source. Maybe if I did more, I’d have more to talk about. But I don’t have time or money to do more than I’m already doing. Seclusion may be the answer. If I don’t talk to people, I don’t have to worry about having conversations.
Then I have an opportunity to talk to a drummer (he’s teaching me to cut lemons and limes properly)and I’m giddy at the thought of a conversation centered on drumming. There are a million questions I’d like to ask. So I take a deep breath and ask him who his favorite drummers are. His response is not the enthusiastic one I’d expected. He names a few and continues cutting lemons. “What do you think of Dave Grohl?” I ask. OK, maybe it’s not the best question, but my conversational skills have been off lately. At least I’m trying.
He doesn’t answer. He simply continues with the demonstration. I swear I can talk and learn to cut lemons at the same time. But that conversation was not meant to be.
I’m disappointed, but it has given me another aspect of the art of conversation to think about. The missing pieces fall into place when I read a few blog posts. I left a comment on Clayriver, and he responded with a question that I had to really think about before I answered. Then I read this post about Passion V. Addiction at What is Forty Two? and I found myself pondering that for a while. In fact, I’m still thinking about the question asked in response to my comment.
And I loved the pondering. And I loved their responses. And I loved the thought of getting a new perspective and sharing mine.
And then I understood. Somehow the art of conversation has been replaced by reciting a laundry list of things we do. I’m not saying that sharing the details of our lives is bad. It’s a great way to connect with others— the gateway for getting to know someone better. But somewhere along the way we lost the exploring and thinking part of conversation.
I’d love to know your thoughts on the formation of the universe (actually, I really am not interested in your thoughts on the formation of the universe, but it sounded good for a second), or why you do or don’t believe in God, or what you think about Quentin Tarantino movies. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing. And if you’re a drummer, there are a million questions I’d like to ask you.
But we’ve become accustomed to ignoring the things that could take us deeper. Even when we try to go beyond discussing what we do, things have become so politicized we’re afraid to talk about them. So we play it safe, and stick to talking about what we do. That’s a tough place to be when you’re cleaning toilets and thinking about the stars.