Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Starved for Conversation

Cheers was the place where everyone knew your name, a home away from home, where you could commiserate with friends who shared a drink and a little time away from life's cares. Utterly unrealistic. Cheers, after all, was a sports bar. Sports bars are loud, dominated by televisions, sometimes multiple TVs tuned to multiple sports events. Talk is about sports; talk is loud; participants talk over each other just to be heard or to make a point. Their exchanges are determined by what they just saw or heard on the TV.

Conversation? Not even close.

The louder the din, the shallower the talk.

I work with a lot of thirty-somethings. During breaks the males will coalesce and begin to sputter on a limited topic: sports, particularly fantasy games. Arguments will ensue over the relative worth of a player or coach.

I share my desk with a work friend who, like me, is closer to retirement age. We've come to regard the frequent outbreaks of guy talk as "Middle School lunch." This is because they differ not a whit from the conversations I remember that preoccupied boys of middle school age.

And so the sports bar is everywhere.

Once upon a time, you could have an actual conversation in a bar, or a coffee shop. People went to such places just to converse, and some venues were designed around the conversation. Anyone old enough to remember conversation pits?

Such places still exist, but I fear they are all in Eastern Europe. Some years back my youngest took on an internship in Prague while she was in college. She told me about a night she and her fellow students went out on the town and were barred from entering numerous drinking establishments at the door. Why? Because young Americans were regarded as loud, rude, and dullards. They interfered with intelligent conversation.

Made me want to hop the next plane to the former Eastern Bloc.

I've been starving for a long, relaxing meandering conversation, the kind I used to have with a late friend of mine, eclectic and fractured by an infinite number of tangents. Oh, we might talk sports, but we'd also sound out religion, history, literature, the price of eggs, who was and wasn't gay. It would go on and on and it gave a deep pleasure to one's soul.

Perhaps conversation has become a lost pastime, if not a lost art. Conversation – the unhurried unraveling of thoughts and ideas, observations and gossip – just doesn't seem to fit in the social media age. Today a clever tweet passes as something profound.

A conversation allows two or more people to develop and illuminate ideas. It's akin to storytelling, but not quite. A storyteller, after all, speaks or writes to a rapt audience who receive the tale, but don't alter it. So while storytelling might be part of conversation, all participants steer and adjust the story, and through that process the initiator of the story might well reach an ending he did not intend.

I've toyed with writing a story as a conversation. And while some books I've read could be described as conversational, the only one I ever read whose style was in the form of a long, meandering conversation with tangents shooting off in multiple directions is "Son of the Morning Star" by Evan S. Connell.

On its face an account of the life and last battle of star-crossed Western Icon George Armstrong Custer, it is so much more. An entire review of late 18th century America and the clash of cultures, but told in small morsels of humanity, with accounts centering on minor as well as major players. By the time I'd finished the book I felt like I'd spent a few hours in a corner booth with a gifted conversationalist.

I miss it. Conversation, that is. Quiet, unhurried talk.

I miss talking with people generally; I miss talking to people without a gadget in their hand.


I guess I'm getting crabby.

7 comments:

  1. I so agree with your comments. But then I'm older too, and possibly a little crabby also. Good conversation is an art, but it is disappearing like snow in summer. People seem afraid to express opinions in case they start a quarrel. The art of good conversation should perhaps be taught in schools to prevent them being reduced to a brief text or a 2 line e-mail. And we all need to listen more too. Great piece.

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    1. Thank you, Rachel. I think if it has gotten to the point where we need to teach conversation in school, then things are very sad indeed. Remember when it just came naturally to people, of all ages?

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  2. I look forward to the day, Bob, when you and I can actually have a conversation in person.

    When I was in grad school I had a boyfriend from the Deep Midwest (sort of like the Deep South, but with different quirks). I went back one holiday to his home town to meet his family. He and his friends had a tradition called the All-Day Drunk. They would start around 9 AM (yes, the many bars in this town open that early), drinking (mostly beer) and having long, rambling conversations about life, death, art, the universe, families, love, sex, maybe even sports though I don't remember that part. When they got bored with one bar, they'd move on to another. Both the drinking and the conversation went on all day.

    So that year, I joined the pre-Christmas all-day drunk. I didn't actually drink much. But I still savor my memories of the rich conversation.

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  3. Hey, Bob, you've written what I've been thinking for so long now. I'm lucky inasmuch as I have colleagues at work who *do* converse about a fairly wide variety of topics, but I'd be the first to admit that the group is an eclectic one and the organization, of which we're a part is based on education and outreach in many and varied program areas, so it isn't surprising that the conversation often tend toward much more than sports and celebrity gossip. I also have a sister with whom I can talk about so many things and our tangents are things of awesome and breathtaking weirdness. My late Joe (who was actually never late for anything) was also an excellent conversationalist who had a broad base of knowledge and could talk about so many things.

    Erachat used to be a placed where many and varied topics were discussed, but it got to a point where only two or three people were showing up on the usual nights, or Sunday afternoons, and I guess people's lives go in different directions and,well...

    As for sports bars, I went to one once with friends who took my sister and me to dinner there. I ended up eating as fast as I could and getting the hell out. The din (loud talking/yelling, TVs blaring, music blasting) was a full assault on my brain. It was like a battleground where everyone was competing to make the most noise. Never again. Never, *ever* again. I truly hated it. It took until the next morning for that muffled feeling in my ears to clear and my nerves to totally relax again.

    On the upside, there are wonderful little pubs in Oxford (England) and environs that are very much like what you're describing in Eastern Europe...no TV, no music...just people chatting, eating and drinking and enjoying each other company and the conversation. The chatter can be a bit loud at the busy hours, but often enough it was wonderful to sit in a quiet corner and chat with my sister and when we weren't yakking (being sisters means never running out of things to yak about), we would just absorb the ambience of the pub. Or we would strike up a conversation with the folks at the next table, usually something about Inspector Lewis or Inspector Morse, because the pubs in those series were real (The White Horse, The Eagle and Child, The Kings Arms) and we were sitting right in them and, inevitably, those people, too, would be fans of the series. It was totally awesome and, in its own way, very dreamlike, surreal. I'm so looking forward to doing all that again this coming summer.

    Are there any places at all like that in your neck of the Boston woods?

    I wonder if much of the lost art of conversation is due to people only wanting to talk but not to listen, which results in no one's intellect being exercised and tested. People no longer bounce conversation-starting ideas off other people just to get some back and forth going on. All they want to do is express their *own* opinions, as loudly and aggressively as possible, then brook no dissent.

    (And we really need to stir up the waters in Parlor, again... she says deviously.)

    Thanks for your blog piece. Maybe it will start more conversations.

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    1. Rose, you know my idea of heaven is a little joint where you hang around with a bunch of bright folks and babble away for eternity.

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  4. Lis, I also look forward to chatting with you. But I think my serious drinking days are over.

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  5. Bob, husband and I raised 4 kids, now twenty-somthings, most of whom live out of state. Their friends often make fun of them, because they announce that when they get home, the first thing we'll all do is turn off the TV and talk...until all hours of the night. When they were in college, they were shocked to find that their friends weren't looking forward to "catching up" with their families back home.

    I attribute a large part of this to the camping we did with all of our kids when they were younger. We never brought TVs or electric gizmos with, since most of the time we didn't even get a site with electricity. We liked more remote parks and sites. When the kids were teens, they'd often bring handheld games and video players, but had to save them for when mom and dad turned in for the night, and they were alone in their own tents. Or for during the long drives.

    I also warned my kids when they were very young, that we were raising them very differently from their friends. We expected them to pursue knowledge for its own sake, and to always be learners, even when done with formal schooling. We wanted them to think for themselves, which is also a lost art. I just read a report that said researchers have found that in repeated tests, men and women would prefer to give themselves electric shocks which were so unpleasant they said they'd pay to never feel them again...rather than to spend 15 minutes alone in a room with their own thoughts. No cell phones, no books, no nothing. Just them, alone in a room, pondering. If you don't like your own company that much, I guess you don't like the company of others either.

    So yes, conversation is a dying art, but one that needs to be kept alive by those of us who enjoy it, like the fireman and his friends in "Fahrenheit 451" by Bradbury. I have a few friends that I meet with regularly for lunch, and a couple with whom husband and I have "dinner and cards" nights a few times a year. At all of these occasions, we talk. What we talk about isn't as important as the fact that we talk incessantly. Food gets cold, cards get ignored, and we talk. Heavenly!

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