“A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are or what they want.” — David Whyte
First thing you should know about me is that I distrust glib people. You know: over-talkers, overexplainers, gossipy gits who love to dish the dirt and spread manure everywhere.
People who adore the sound of their own voice.
I probably was an over-talker when I was younger, but I’m older now. I don’t need to explain or tell you everything. I’ve become reserved. I measure my words out carefully. It just feels better at the end of the day.
It’s not that I don’t have something to say. These days I feel the old pull toward conversation — I ache for it, if that’s even possible. Some of my friends were the best conversationalists. They knew how to bring up an old subject deftly, or gingerly venture into new ground. One such friend was Mark Luebker, from the college I attended in 1981. I recall driving to Mark’s house late one night after a particularly troublesome college event — I think it was the awards night for the school paper, where I left empty-handed — and Mark was at the ready with a pot of coffee in the kitchen. We talked until dawn — no kidding. It was a beautiful conversation: back and forth about politics and music (Springsteen being our mutual obsession at the time) and art and relationships. Everything our hearts held dear. I still remember smiling to myself driving west as the morning sun warmed my back.
Anyway, these days I overhear people’s cellphone conversations…
“ — Whut?”
“Where you at?”
“I dunno. You?”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“Don’t call me again.”
…and you get the picture.
Why would anyone subject themselves to this? I’d hang up in a heartbeat.
Then there’s the other side of the coin: the emailers, the direct messagers, the texters. The disappearing act on the other end of the “digital conversation.” Maybe people are doing this because it seems to feel safer. Maybe it’s a staccato form of modern communication, along with ghosting and whatever new and bizarre behavior humans devise. I don’t know.
I like to hear another person’s voice. Breathing, intonation, pauses, and even busywork on the other end of the line. I like to ask questions. I like to hear responses. Even gaps of silence are telling. It’s human and comforting.
We seem to be disappearing under the hot, heavy (and itchy) blanket of social media.
It’s suffocating and obnoxious.
I don’t enjoy it. And I get less out of it with every passing year.
Am I ahead of the curve? I don’t know.
I just know I enjoy biking and walking, seeing and being in the world. And I realize I need to reach out to people more, to risk conversation. Invite a new friend to coffee. Join someone for a cultural event or political fundraiser. Find ways to add my voice (and probably more importantly, my ear) to what’s going on.
The biggest step in this experiment will be launching my first class this fall. I’m concerned about how I will manage a room full of conversationalists — even rogue talkers — so that we’re able to do the work I’m setting out in the syllabus. It’s more than ironic to me that the core of it includes the Socratic method — something I need more skill at.
It will take some practice, no doubt.
But everything worthwhile takes work.