Meta-blog note: If a blog post can be made with links, what Scalzi calls a “conduit blog,” then maybe a post could be made with quotes.
Got conversation? And growth too?
Like Oprah Winfrey, I have my talk preferences, which have changed down the years, as my life and character have changed. Here’s what Oprah said in her monthly (last page) What I Know For Sure in O, The Oprah Magazine, for February 2018:
“What defines me is answering the call to Truth—capital T—in every moment.That’s why small talk makes me jittery. It feels fake, like we’re just pretending to have conversation. I have such an aversion to it, I go numb inside. I can’t look people in the eye because the whole time I’m thinking it’s so beneath us to be talking about trivial things when our world is burning.”
Make no mistake: Oprah is not sadly serious. She wouldn’t mind laughter with her non-trivial talk. On page 105, with RuPaul:
“Fascinated by his ability to defy categorization and spark vital conversation about identity, Oprah sat down with the 57-year-old for a much-needed kiki*.”
Defined: “*A laugh-filled chat between friends.”
I picture Oprah’s social beverage being a coffee. On the other hand, speaking of Oprah’s “trivial things,” some folks go in for pure mindless fun over beer. Take cartoonist and essayist Tom Krieder, in his book of essays We learn nothing:
“While responsible people were working… my friends and I were spending whole days drinking bottomless pitchers of mimosas or Bloody Marys and laughing till we wept on decks overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. (page 26) …Nick and I once wrecked our friend Gabe’s entire dining room laughing at something one of us had said, whirling around and toppling over and clutching desperately at tablecloths and knickknack shelves, like a couple of robots gone berserk, yet the next morning neither of us could remember what had been so funny.” (page 27)
The last time I had friends for laughter every time we met was when I was among two outcasts in high school chemistry class. The good students all sat at the tables at the front; we three perched at a high black lab table and amused ourselves mightily, as a sort of compensation, because we were barely passing. (This was queer because in my head I was still a wall flower) Years later I would graduate university, but back then, lucky to get a C-, I was a messed up kid.
Kreider is a university graduate too, as are most essayists. Years into the real world, he re-connected with a professor:
“Spending time with him was not like spending time with most of my friends, a lazy relief from life, hanging out for hours drinking beers and thinking up funny things to say; it was an intellectual workout, hard and exhilarating, like reading Conrad or listening to a Beethoven quartet. …You were not wasting time. And if that sense of seriousness and purpose occasionally felt like an imposition, it also turned out to be something for which I’d secretly been starved.” (page 95)
What I wish to focus on today is Krieder’s line, “You were not wasting time.” It resonates. Today I can relax and waste time, but once I was more like Oprah, and so were my friends. At university, before I was actually a student myself, I once heard Lisa telling us how happy she was to have spend part of her Saturday just lying on the floor listening to an entire album! Her joy, I am sure, was not that she could take time away from studying, (no one studied on Saturday) but that she could bring herself to take so much time away from her “shoulds.”
“… that oppressive sense of obligation that ruins so much of our lives, the nagging worry that we really ought to be doing something productive instead.” (page 25)
For Lisa, her “sense of obligation” was surely her driving urge to get her act together, get normal and live up to her productive potential. No-time-for-small talk. One day, a few years later, we would meet on the bus. She would inform me I could get counselling on a sliding scale at the Grace Women’s Hospital, kindly alerting me to this opportunity because my problems were obvious to her, just as her urgent sense of obligation had been obvious to me, as both of us were in the same storm-tossed boat.
Another person on the bus to being functional was my housewife friend, Lynn, from my self-help group. I will never forget Lynn being so happy to tell me that one day she and some other ladies, after a yoga class, had just hung out for coffee and talked of trivial nothing—and she felt so fine with that! So she went home and went, “Yahoo!”
I can still relate to that previous version of Lynn because, as former Calgarian Joni Mitchel sings, I can see “both sides now.” I know I am on the sunnier side of the hill, at last, because a warrior I once served with, (In Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry) now a social worker, said to me over coffee, “You are a success story.” (Yahoo!)
Today I am “recovered” enough to simply hang out, just like all those “normies” with their charmed lives and half decent childhoods. Yes, but even as I am conversing, while passing for normal, calmly wasting time, inside my head a clock is tick-tick-ticking.
East of Eden
~We Learn Nothing by Tom Kreider subtitled Essays and Cartoons, free press, 2012. Here’s a review by a blogger whom I correspond with by e-mail.
~It’s no secret Oprah has a past. We like her, we don’t pity her. Like you and I, she has things to offer others.
~What if Lisa, now my age, were here? I would softly say Joni Mitchel has grown gracefully, like us. Here’s Joni’s mature, weathered version of the song she composed in her youth, Both Sides Now, intended for listeners with patience. Goes good with wine when it’s dark out. Not so good for young “surfers” who frantically click on links.
… And if you do have your wine, willing to be present, then here is Dame Judy Dench, in 2010, singing at the proms, being in the moment.