Monday, September 6, 2010

Let's Talk - Written August 3rd, 2010 and re-posted due to Lisa's prodding

The sun is setting again, as it always does. The living room is pitch black, except for my computer screen,the light coming in through the window, which only gets half way across the room, and the few things it reaches which are illuminated: a slight silver.

A few moments ago, the clouds in the sky were a nice hot pink. My Dad likes when the sky lights up at sunset. He also likes the moon at any time of the day or night, and whenever I'm away and we talk, the first thing we discuss is the weather. There's something comforting to knowing that we'll discuss the weather first, and always--like an English ice-breaker before any real conversation. It's the most important thing, discussed at length, and then pressed to the bottom of the rest of our conversation, like padding.

In high school, a friend of mine told me that I made conversation an art form. It was his way of saying I could create a conversation out of anything. He was right: I can. It's meaningless to me whether it was a compliment or merely something to say (I've ruled out that it may have been an insult, as Josh Tarquinio was never one to insult people--least of all to their faces.) because it helped me realize it. But in high school, I wasn't fully aware of it.

There are a lot of forms of talking. Mindless talking I've never been particularly fond of. I'm not very good at chatting. That's what people do in semi-large groups at bars, or before church on Sunday. 'Chatters' just want to know what's up, what you've been up to, and what you're planning on doing. I am not a chatterer because I don't really have anything to 'chat' about. I'm also not a gossiper. Gossiping is a form of chatting where people talk about other people, telling stories about them, (scandalous or otherwise) that are either true or false--either works. Although, I sometimes am intrigued by mindless gossip, I feel bad spreading it and so it usually ends with me. I'm also not a nervous talker. Nervous talkers are people who talks to fill the empty space. A rule of thumb: only the first of every four sentences out of a nervous talker's mouth is ever of any value, the rest are merely ways of restating the first. I do not pretend to have covered a comprehensive list of the forms of 'talking'--I'm sure you can think of more--but these are the ones that come to mind first.

Some people are great talkers: whether by chatting or gossiping. I am not. Try either with me, and said 'conversation' will last about 2 minutes. I will proceed by telling you that nothing is really new. Yes, I'm still working at the same place. No, I don't go back to school until August. Yes, Caitlin is going into high school this year. And then, I'm done.

But there is a higher art of talking: the art of conversation. I am a conversationalist, and thereby interested in anything that can effectively be brought into and linked to the conversation at hand. (Also, being a conversationalist means I am biased to thinking conversation is a higher art--you are free to disagree, which I would be glad to discuss with you.)

There are some wonderful aspects to full conversations. Those, I will discuss later. There are also some . . . drawbacks . . . to being fully convinced--as I sometimes am--that conversation is the only way to communicate.

To discuss this further, I must bring your thoughts back to chatting. Even as a conversationalist, I recognize that there is nothing wrong with chatting. This post is not a knock on those who 'chat'. I much prefer people communicate through chatting than 1.) not communicating at all, 2.) yelling, 3.) layers of repeated misunderstandings. And anyway, I think most of the chatterers I've met (who aren't simultaneously nervous talkers--which is a really really awful combination) are very interesting people. For as long as they enjoy talking about their life and the things they're up to, I genuinely enjoy listening.

Examples. My best friend is more of a chatterer than I am; I think it's what she learned how to do first. What with 8 siblings, I'm sure her family was always discussing what was new with everyone. It was necessary. And there's a lot of value in 'catching up.' If it were up to me (thank heavens it isn't), I would have wonderful conversations with people whose names I would never find out. Chatting is how you find out what people are doing in life. It's socially expected for you to chat with people. After spending hours with a friend, my mother will often question me on what's new in their life. Most of these questions I fail to answer, and in her disappointment and slight annoyance that I spent 7 hours with the person and can't seem to answer a single question, I realize, 'I spent 7 hours with that person and I can't answer a single question.' Their favorite cat could have died, and I wouldn't know. They could be moving to Alaska in 3 days, and I'd have no way of keeping in contact because I didn't even know they were moving. These are not favorable situations to be in.

I am also aware that some people just have more to say than I do. They lead more interesting lives. My friend Janice is one of the best story-tellers I know--she can make a full story out of almost any occurrence and make the third time you've heard it just as entertaining as the first. She always had so much to say to me, and apart from loving every minute of it, I was consistently interested in what she had to say. We weren't having a conversation, she was telling me about her life and there are a lot of important things about listening.

For a lot of people 'chatting' for hours on end becomes a bit meaningless. I mean, after all, what do you really know about a person when all you really know is what they've been up to? I think you learn loads more about someone by having a real conversation with them. Conversation opens up a lot of doors, but there is a sort of art to it. All conversations should begin with 'padding' or 'flow' material (also known as 'chatting'). You just can't start a good conversation with out a little bit of chatting. People tend to take advantage of conversational padding, and they often dismiss it as unnecessary--especially when talking to an old, or good friend. But it also acts like cream to a conversation, it keeps it thick, and full, but soft and flowing. My father and I start with the weather, or random pieces of unimportant information like how dirty the carpet at the movie theatre is. It gets things started, it even sets a mood. But you're not meant to stay in one place--the chatting is meant to progress. My friend Heidi, who is one of my favorite people to frequently converse with, is a question-asker. She can ask you what color your dining room walls are and soon you're having a conversation. Friends Melissa and Lisa from London are also conversationalists: Melissa enjoys conversing about people--not gossiping, there's a difference--she likes gathering her information from things she's learned about the people she knows and building off of that, so she might first talk about an interesting person she met; Lisa and I seem to gravitate toward literature or food and as conversational padding, we might first discuss what we've most recently read or ate. This is important: this does not mean that the whole conversation that follows is about people, or literature or food, or how dirty carpets can become. It is simply the padding for the conversation.

So what's the point? Well, I was thinking originally--what am I good at and why the heck does it matter? The only thing I'm very good at is conversation. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter, but it matters to me because it's all I'm good at. Following? For me, having a good conversation is as therapeutic as a good cry (without having to use as many tissues) or sitting in a hallway (without the need for a hallway).

But besides that, conversations make you think. And hopefully they help you work things out in your head so you're ready to change, to be better. Some people, like my good friend Jake--who I criticized today for this--don't like my tendencies to prod for conversation. I do that to him, mostly because he's the most interesting person I've ever met and continued to find interesting after six years (apart from my sister, Rachel, who becomes more interesting to me by the day--in a good way). I think he fails to realize that my questions are not to force him to think (although, they are, actually--so, I take that back), but to start a conversation. I like having conversations with him because he's one of my favorite people. I like making him think because he says the most worthwhile things when he's thinking. Like nuggets of conversational gold. When and if I get these gold nuggets out of him, I physically smile. I criticized him today because, through my prodding, he told me he no longer wanted to think about it (he does this to me often--which is cruel--hence the unnecessary criticism). He said if he continued talking about it he'd thinking about it all day. My first thought was: why should I care? My second thought was: would that be so bad? My third thought was: actually thinking about things, getting to the root of them, is what I do day in and day out--its exhausting, yes, but it's what moves us to change. My fourth thought was: I'm ready for Jake to change. He isn't. Well point. He ended up telling me what he was thinking about, by the way, which I count as a win. Sometimes criticism works, but only if used sparingly.

Sometimes you meet people you just want to talk to for the rest of your life.

One day, the world will see the beauty in the art of conversation. Here I am, to begin pointing it out.