I’ve looked at clouds

I've looked at clouds

“Mom, do you know how to do small talk?”
“Yeah. Sure.”
“How do you do it?”
“Look for something you have in common. Like the weather.”

I had several occasions to practice my small talking skills this weekend. Soccer tryouts, both mornings, early. A reading yesterday. I sat in the car for part of both tryouts, the weather being inauspicious both days: pissing rain yesterday, a chilly breeze today under an ominous sky (see photo above; see in photo swirling cloud; see in swirling cloud whatever your imagination would like to invent). So I sipped my coffee and scribbled in my journal for awhile.

Coffee gone, done with deep thoughts, I wandered out to watch the girls on the field, and to chat with other parents. I used to dread the casual interaction. I was painfully shy, my mind a blank against which I would scrabble for useful tidbits of talk. It’s curious to recognize that this is no longer the case. I can’t pinpoint when it changed. I suppose I’m still a quiet-ish person, not all that fundamentally different. Except I like small talk. I like meeting people, making those mini-connections, even if we’re just talking about the weather.

I suspect I used to think the exercise was a waste of time, a bit. We all know it’s raining, right? I didn’t really get its purpose. I was tone-deaf. Closed to the possibilities. But I’ve come to suspect that small talk isn’t so small, that it’s the stuff that keeps us civil, and more than that, too. Convention forces us to express interest, to look just a little outside of the self, and consider another person, a stranger, and by doing so to become just that much less strange to each other. Somewhere along the line, I got a taste for exactly this kind of interaction, and I’m never going back. I will know odd facts about the woman who is bagging my groceries, because I’ve asked, and I’m happy to know. (She’s doing a PhD in biochemistry!)

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“I just can’t think of anything to say.”

I know! I totally relate to that panicky feeling, and remember it well. It hit particularly hard in high school.

Just ask questions, is what I suggested, assuming she would be talking to another kid, who might think it was kind of weird to be discussing the weather (I’m not 100 percent certain to whom she’s planning on directing this hypothetical small talk).

One more piece of (happily) not unsolicited advice: Remember, no one can hear what you’re thinking. You do have to say it out loud.

"A person is a person through other persons"
This morning I tried

3 Comments

  1. I suck at small talk at parties. I’m no good at dealing with the awkward silence that happens when you run out of whatever topic started the interaction (weather, what do you do? How ’bout them Jays?). You can’t just leave because that would be weird, but you have nothing left to say! I do, however, like small talk for things like the supermarket or the bus – the time span is fairly limited, and you eventually have to leave, and it’s not weird.

    Reply
    • I deal with the awkward silence at parties by awkwardly nodding, smiling, and moving away, I suppose. Embrace the awkwardness! (I’m going to make that one of my mottoes). I also recognize the distinction you’re making between small talk between random strangers, and small talk between people who may be spending far more time together (like the other parents I’ve gotten to know through many shared hours on the sidelines at soccer, for example). Then it’s going to shift from one kind of small talk to a different longer-term small talk. And maybe that becomes friendship after awhile. Anyway, I’m missing our moments of small talk, Nath!

      Reply
    • I can’t embrace the awkwardness. It’s too awkward!

      I miss our moments of small talk too.

      Reply

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