Thursday, 8 September 2011

Conversation Space

How do you visualize a conversation? 
A swirl of colours or words.  A geometric pattern of lines and shapes.  A space to be occupied.

I never really thought about this before, but something a friend said a few months ago got me thinking about the space we take up in a conversation and what that might look like.  How does a conversation develop and thrive if viewed this way?  Do you occupy or observe a conversation.
Confession: I am a conversation occupier.  Like a benevolent dictator occupier.  I direct and redirect to my interests and purposes but everyone is still relatively happy despite a slight bitter tasting cocktail.  Or at least I was. 
It took me a while to see this in myself.  I only started really noticing it in my 30s.  There’s something about being in that third decade where everything about yourself and life starts to make sense.  You suddenly begin to ‘get it.’  All that advice handed out and ignored in your 20s is suddenly priceless and totally appropriate.  What is that saying? “Enjoy yourself, that’s what your 20s are for.  Your 30s are to learn the lessons; your 40s are to pay for the drinks.” 
I am enjoying my 30s.  I didn’t really have a breakdown when I turned 30.  I had a stomach parasite on my actual birthday, so I was exploding at both ends, but that wasn’t really a breakdown.  I had numerous thesis breakdowns during my 30th year, but I don’t know how many of them were connected to turning 30.  32 has not been great.  I think it is my 30 breakdown delayed.  In their wedding toast my parents said something about me being a slow-starter.  I guess that applies here as well, it took a few years to have the 30 breakdown; questioning what I have done with my life so far, am I behind in life, what does the future look like, am I too old to play and wear stripey socks just for kicks? 
In order to try and get a hold of myself and make some sense of it all.  I created a Life List.  At first it was filled with things that I wanted to achieve in this life.  Literally, things.  Not experiences.  It didn’t have much joy.  It was about having a great wardrobe and a relaxing bathroom.  Not really ambitions or dreams.  It is still posted here, despite its joylessness.  Then I thought about what my life list would have looked like when I was a younger Ariel.  Before I became a ‘grown-up’ Sadie.   
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an explorer and writer, I wanted to be a showgirl on an elephant in the circus, I wanted to be a dancer.  As an older kid in high school, I wanted to work for National Geographic, I wanted to travel, I wanted to live in another country, I wanted to fall in love and have an impossibly romantic story. 
I have done every single one of these things.  What an eye-opener.  Without thinking too much about it, they are crossed off the list. With the exception of one: explorer and writer. 

This is a work in progress.  I think I have always been an explorer and writer.  When I was a kid I visualized myself dressed in khaki and discovering new places and people and telling the world.  Now when I look back, I think my decade long postgraduate career has been about training to be an explorer.  Learning the craft of ‘modern exploration’ if you will.  I’m not discovering new places and people, but I am definitely exploring and learning about life and the creation of places (my particular interest as a geographer) and writing about it along the way.  I have always been a writer.  I have always expressed myself on paper.  It may not be pretty or elegant, but I think through writing.  I don’t always know where my writing is going, but it always seems to come full circle and make some connection for me.  I seek out stories and love telling stories.  Of course, I tend to embellish a bit, but you would be surprised how little I actually have to improve the truth when it comes to my own antics.  I am a magnet for the ridiculous. Or at least I have an uncanny ability to recognize the ridiculous being the daughter of circus clowns. 
I think this explains my previous benevolent dictatorship approach to conversation.  I wanted to tell my stories.  I wanted to entertain.  Of course, as a postgraduate for a decade, I was living a very solitary life and part of my occupation was due to desperation for human contact and connection.  “You did that? I did that, too!! Here’s my version. I’m too excited to wait until you’re done. We’re the same, isn’t that awesome?!” 
In the last year, I have started to observe the conversation more.  The experience of being a researcher has taught me the art of observation.  And it is an art or at least a skill.  The space of a conversation is an art and I find the observation of it to be a fascinating experience.  I now see the colours and lines, the give and take of the space.  The observation of a conversation can be as telling as the words spoken. 
I will still participate in the swapping of stories.  Any good explorer worth their khaki participates in the place and events they observe, to some degree. 
 “Knowledge of such memories comes more readily to the observer-participant, who has danced the dance or joined the procession, than it does to the reader.”  -Joseph Roach

Is ‘explorer’ a viable career path?  Do people have business cards that say ‘Explorer?’ 
I read today that NASA is looking for astronauts.  If kids can still aspire to be an astronaut then I guess I can still aspire to be an explorer. 
My current subject:  the places and ways of the new breed of young, educated housewives. 

1 comment:

  1. a) I can't wait to be 30. I keep telling people I'll give them one of my years if I can have one of theirs (who don't want to be 30). My 20s have really sucked. I'm looking out for good things ahead.

    2) I find myself occupying a conversation the more excited about the person to whom I'm speaking -- which is often with a new person. Does that make sense? If I'm indifferent, or if I know the person well and talking to them is like sitting in an old comfy chair, then I'm much more able to observe and kind of let the conversation run its own course.