Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Challenge of Chit-chat

When things are hard in life; when dealing with issues of grief, loss or other hardship it can seem extremely difficult to keep up the chit-chat. The constant pleasantries that are part of the social contract, such as "how was your weekend?", "nice weather we're having!" etc.

I've recently been avoiding the lunch-room at busy times because I find the idle chatter about normal lives too tedious when I'm grappling with thoughts of old age, sickness and death, in relation to my ailing father.

A scene in a book I read recently called "The Name of the World" by Denis Johnson, describes one character, Tiberius Soames, who is assumed insane because he has given up on small-talk. When addressed by someone at a party he replies, "my mother died and her corpse was eaten by dogs". (I'm paraphrasing as I don't have the book in front of me).

How wonderful to be able to say exactly what you were thinking! And how obvious that this would appear crazy. The character even refers to the amount of chit-chat required as part of the social contract, and how he had better talk some nonsense for a while to make everyone happy.

I definitely recommend the book to anyone, even though it is off-beat! And although I haven't taken Tiberius' lead in talking quite so openly, I have spent more time this week engaging other people in honest conversation. I found that answering questions honestly (although with some editing) allows other people to drop the facade and engage in honest conversation too, if they want too.

Who knows? Maybe we are all walking around wishing we could talk more honestly with each other? I know I'm guilty of asking some of those tedious questions to other people in order to make small-talk.

What do you think?
"I don't want to be an ant, you know?" Waking Life

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