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Posts Tagged ‘conversation’

becoming wise book sunflowers tea

After I read Krista Tippett’s memoir Becoming Wise last spring, I did something I’d intended to do for a long time: subscribed to her weekly On Being podcast, which is the foundation for her book. I quickly realized a few things: one, the podcast is fascinating and lovely (as I expected). And two, I could never hope to stay “caught up.”

I wasn’t trying to listen to the whole On Being archive – that would take years. But even the current episodes, each nearly an hour long, ask for more time than I sometimes have (at least in one long spell). They also, critically, ask for my attention: these are not conversations during which you can zone out. Krista and her conversation partners – who are poets, physicists, activists, musicians and above all, deeply thoughtful people – are fully engaged in their talks about the big questions of being human. As a listener, I don’t want to miss anything.

My solution? I have been listening slowly.

I’ll turn on an episode of On Being while I cook dinner, some nights: peeling carrots, chopping peppers, stirring a pot of soup on the stove. I’ll listen to a chunk or two – 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there – while I’m running errands in the car, baking a batch of scones, or folding laundry. My head has to be in the right place: open, curious, sometimes a little melancholy. (The episodes, while they wrestle with real and sometimes insoluble issues, always leave me feeling heartened about the state of the world – and usually jotting down the title of a book written or recommended by that week’s guest.)

Generally, I hit the pause button at least once during an episode: when dinner is ready, or it’s time to go pick up my husband from work, or I arrive at yoga class or the library. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to an entire episode at once. But I’m coming to prefer it that way. These conversations contain so much that’s worth mulling over. They are slow, wise, witty, sometimes meandering. And they reward slow listening.

Some of my favorite episodes so far have featured Mary Karr, Michael Longley, Maria Popova and Naomi Shihab Nye. But there’s a wealth of honest, thought-provoking, warmhearted conversation to be found in the On Being archive. If you’re looking for an antidote to the rapid-fire headlines, I’d recommend listening – slowly.

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Heartened

red gold leaves ground

By the brilliant, joyful student performance of In the Heights I saw at Berklee College of Music on Friday night. And the powerful, lovely original song the cast performed after the curtain call (written by Zaid Tabani, who played Usnavi and is wicked talented).

By the wise, thoughtful voices of faculty members at my workplace, who are drawing on their expertise and experience to help make sense of what happened and what is next.

By conversations with friends and strangers, and the quiet sense that we are taking care of each other in small ways.

By the gentle, steadying atmosphere at my local yoga studio, where I have been showing up more frequently this month.

By the conversation I overheard the other day between two young men, one of whom is a playwright, about the responsibility and power of art and artists at a time like this.

By the friendly, supportive, determined conversations on Twitter and elsewhere that have helped me process my feelings and also figure out a few practical things to do. (First and foremost: so much listening.)

By the oak leaves in every shade of gold, red, russet and deep brown. I was afraid we wouldn’t have much color after a dry, hot summer, but the trees this fall are stunning.

By a brief conversation I had with the mayor of Providence, R.I., about the good work being done in government at the local level. (He was visiting campus for a conference, and probably has no idea how much his words encouraged me.)

By the spindly, twinkly “giving trees” on the steps of Memorial Church in Harvard Yard, covered in messages of hope. (And this separate message of hope, below.)

refugees welcome sign trees

Nearly two weeks post-election and it still feels like a new, fragile reality around here. We are heading into the holidays, which I love, but also into the shortest and darkest days of the year, which are hard for me. (I have never been more ready for Advent, which, for me, is a way to look the darkness steadily in the face and then light candles against it.)

I am still sad, frustrated and heartbroken, but I’ve also found myself heartened by the glimmers of hope I shared above. We have – I keep saying – so much work to do. As we move forward together (and head into Thanksgiving week here in the U.S.), I’d love to hear what is bolstering you up, these days.

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between you and me beach

A colleague’s new haircut. The results of the latest presidential debate. The next round of frigid winter weather. Small talk.

The best type of Girl Scout cookies. Real estate prices in Boston. The vagaries of the office microwave. Small talk. 

Weekend plans. The PowerBall jackpot. The merits of various restaurants or dog breeds. Small talk.

Small talk often gets a bad rap these days – especially among introverts. We like to think of ourselves as deep, sensitive, thoughtful souls whose true brilliance can’t possibly be captured in a brief exchange on trivial topics like the ones above. But honestly, the longer I am an adult, the more I believe that small talk is a necessary skill to build and hone.

I’m a true introvert, and my preferred form of conversation is long and deep and wide-ranging, preferably with a dear friend. But that isn’t always possible, especially in a professional setting, or a gathering of friends where I don’t know everyone. I’d often rather hide in a corner if I’m feeling shy or uncomfortable, but I frequently find myself making small talk instead, whether it’s to tamp down my own anxiety or put someone else at ease.

Recently, I’ve found myself in a lot of social situations with new people: greeting visitors at church, meeting work colleagues for the first time, attending a party where I knew the hosts but almost none of the other guests. I didn’t have to carry the entire conversation in these instances, but in each case, I made the effort to ask a few questions or throw out a comment on a topic of general interest. And it helped.

To be clear, I’m no expert on wine or property taxes or long-distance cycling. But a brief conversation on each of these subjects has helped me build bridges with brand-new acquaintances. (Bonus: one of those bridges led to a conversation about mystery novels, a topic I adore.)

Small talk – those tiny, seemingly inconsequential interactions sparked by comments such as “It’s cold out there today” or “I like your scarf” – can be more than a social lubricant among strangers. It’s often the first building block of a real relationship. And in a world where we all reflexively pull out our smartphones to avoid uncomfortable moments, it’s often noticeable by its absence.

I’m on the lookout for ways to bring more gumption into my life this year, and making small talk often requires it of me. I’m sometimes afraid my comments will fall flat – and, let’s be honest, they occasionally do. But I’m almost always glad I made the effort.

If I’m lucky, I’ve done more than mitigate my own nervousness: I’ve also put someone else at ease, or enjoyed a moment of human connection. That’s worth a little trivia, or a little embarrassment. Small talk is definitely a skill worth keeping in my conversational arsenal.

How do you feel about small talk?

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just talking

In high school, I used to go out with my guy friends and just talk. You couldn’t call them dates, as I was never really romantically involved with any of the six guys I considered my best friends. But I could be found with one of them nearly every weekend, going out to dinner, grabbing a granita at the Ground Floor, driving around in Jon’s green Grand Am or listening to Ross King in Adam’s truck.

My sister and her friends ran in a herd (they still do), and they’d descend on people’s houses in groups of twelve or fifteen, or go to the movies, or to a birthday party. Betsy always had a ready answer when my parents asked, “So what did y’all do?”. I would usually shrug and say, “We just…talked.” And I loved it that way.

I did the same thing in college, first with Tori and Joy and Jenness, then with the whole crew in Oxford, then after we got back with the House 9 girls and Bethany and Jeremiah, spending hours discussing life and love, faith and Broadway musicals, great books like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the Harry Potter series. (You know. The important stuff.) People usually, if not always, had time for long, lazy conversations that seemed to skim the surface but in reality often went deep.

I do that less often since I’ve entered the working world. My days are blocked off from 8-5; I do have wonderful lunches with Julie and other friends, but even those sometimes seem a bit rushed. At ladies’ coffee night, we all try to talk as fast and listen as hard as we can, which is fabulous. But I’d felt that space – that space to simply be with one another and shoot the breeze – missing in other areas of my life.

Then, on Friday night, we headed over to Morgan’s new house for her 20th birthday party, which included chivitos, two kinds of birthday cake, a spirited round of Rock Band, and playing backyard volleyball with a soccer ball (yes, my arms hated me the next day). After most people left, though, Lawson, Morgan, Ben, Jeremiah and I sat around the back patio table, the wind keeping the mosquitoes off, and drank mate and talked for…I don’t know. At least another hour. Nobody had anywhere to be and we didn’t worry about saying the wrong thing, or getting the conversation off track, or running out of time. We just talked, and man, did it feel good.

The best conversations are the ones you couldn’t transcribe if you wanted to, or even remember most of by the next day – but that are still indescribably rich. Friday night’s was definitely one of those, and it brought home how much I’ve been missing them.

Here’s to “just talking” more often this summer.

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