Monday, October 16, 2023

Unusual Talents

My daughter Talia’s favorite book is The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. In her own style, Talia is a chip of this old block, caring about how people come together in a more conscious way beyond just randomly hanging out. So whether it’s a family reunion or staff meeting or get together with friends, she has her bag of tricks to get people connected— and it makes all the difference in the world.


Before I left my school, the admin was trying little things at the beginning of staff meetings, but just between you and me, they were so lame. Of the variety of “what (or who) would you take to a dessert island?” or “what color do you feel like today?” At one meeting, I suggested a different kind of question, “How and why did you come to San Francisco?” and the first answer from a fellow teacher astonished us all. It involved an abduction orchestrated by the Mom and a rescue by the Dad. Now that  was an interesting question!


I have my own repertoire I use in my workshops. Like the Old Doc Jones game where you tell a story about yourself right on the edge of belief and then all sing this song:


“Old Doc Jones was a fine old man, fine old man, fine old man.

Old Doc Jones was a fine old man, he told ten thousand lies.”


Then each person in the group has to give a thumbs-up if they thought the story was true, thumbs down if false. And if one detail of the story is false, then it’s a thumbs down. So the storyteller learns the art of lying well by putting in one somewhat plausible detail that didn’t actually happen. Or choosing a story that’s so unbelievable that it can just be told as is. That’s a pretty interesting way to warm up a group.


Backing my car out of my garage yesterday, I thought of another prompt; “What unusual talent or skill do you have?” Most people have something. Wiggling their ears, touching their tongue to their nose, reciting the alphabet backwards, naming all the U.S. Presidents, etc. Don’t you think it would make for a revealing and sometimes hilarious start to a gathering?


For me, I’m very good at backing my car out of a tiny garage, but of course, I can’t easily share that in a group. I once won a pie-eating contest as a kid, but don’t think I’ll do that again. I can name every city where the annual Orff Conference was held starting in 1982 and also telling a detail of what happened there (that’s 42 years and counting repeats, 38 cities), but it doesn’t mean much except to my fellow Orff Conference goers and even then, not so many are interested. So if I had to choose my unique talent in my own prompt, it would be this: Leaf-popping. 


I can take a leaf from a tree, nestle it into the hole created by making an O with my fingers and hit it so that it pops with an explosive sharp sound. It’s something I did a lot as a kid growing up in New Jersey, but have found very few people in my adult life who have mastered this skill. (Though I was astounded to read a book about an Italian man who lived briefly with the Baka Pygmies in the Congolese rainforest and he described them doing the same thing!)


I actually had a friend take a video of me doing it recently that I thought I might post on Youtube as a leaf-popping tutorial, but having just watched it, the sound doesn’t properly capture the explosive pop. So you’ll just have to look me up and we’ll take a walk in the park and I’ll tutor you. I want the skill to live on beyond my mortality, so sign up soon! (Well, not too soon—hope to be popping leaves for at least a couple of decades!)


And what is your unusual talent?


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