Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Art of Conversation

… lives on! Sometimes heads raise up from the self-enclosed worlds of screened phones and people look each other in the eye and talk. And then keep talking without getting drawn back to the phone! It can happen! And it did to me yesterday.

Though I’m perfectly at home talking in front of a group of 10, 100 or 1,000 and equally at home getting a group—any group—moving and singing and playing music, as your airplane seatmate, I’m the introverted guy perfectly happy to read, watch a movie, do a Crostic puzzle without a single word of greeting. Talking to strangers is not my go-to default. But I’m happy to respond.

So while reading a bit of Willa Cather’s My Antonia standing at the bus stop, a woman came up to me and said, “I read that book!!” “Really?” I said. “It doesn’t seem to be that well-known.” “Well, that’s because I’m from Nebraska. Everyone in Nebraska has read that book.” 

And on we went, talking about the Nebraskan countryside, its seasons, her more conservative family still living there, the idea of an American exchange-program where San Francisco folks live with a Nebraska family for 6 months and vice-versa. When the bus came, we actually sat down next to each other and continued the conversation. She found out I was a music teacher, I found out she was a nurse and just started work at the Jewish Home for the Aged, where I had just five minutes ago finished playing piano. “Oh, that was you? I was thinking my sister should be singing those songs you were playing—she loves that music!” So on the conversation went, ending with my giving her my “card” and telling her sister to get in touch with me if she wanted to join the weekly sing. Turns out that she (my conversational partner) lives in my neighborhood and that sparked yet more talk about the places we liked and the changes we had seen. She got off the bus before me and that was that. No weird male-female undertones, no expectation to meet again, just a pleasant talk between two strangers that seems so rare these days. 

The next day, went on a short hike with my daughter and as we discussed current books we were reading, she told me about Malcom Gladwell’s latest. The title? Talking to Strangers!!! (Exclamation points mine). Turns out the theme is not quite what I’m talking about here (though still interesting), but the serendipity was striking. 

I suppose in some way this Blog is a bit like talking to strangers. Me confessing all sorts of things to people I mostly have never met. But of course, the missing piece is the actually conversation where I get to hear your stories. So, dear readers, if we ever have the good fortune to meet (and I believe I have met some of you), it will be your turn to talk to me and I’ll be happy to listen. At least for the equivalent of some 2500 blogposts. 

Looking forward to it!

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