THE BLOG

Speak Me a River: Resurrecting the Lost Art of Conversation

Every so often, a friend of my husband's from elementary school flies across the country and comes to visit. It is in these moments that I am reintroduced to the lost and lovely art of the conversation.

Hours-long talks over three days, the sort that have no intention, no agenda, no desired outcome, no sure through-line, no take-away, but which meander between three people, each spoken phrase building on what the others have said, like wandering in the stacks of a library and having titles appear to you in an order you couldn't have planned or predicted, the tail of which you cannot let drop.

Tales of dogs lead to hiking stories lead to the arroyo of the Hermitage at the monastery where meditation retreats are undertaken, then back to PS-29 and their second grade teacher, which leads to my fourth grade teacher whose daughter had a name usually reserved for men, but which we could not, could not, could not remember -- "Clifford!" -- and on it goes, for hours each day. A lot can be said in 20-some hours of talk, if you let it, if you don't wait for the first lull and call it quits, going back to your phone or laptop or agenda. We sat until the light changed, and then sat some more, picking at blackberries in a porcelain bowl on the table, drinking tea, finally sitting in shadow for a long time, imagining the expressions of the others as the words continued to flow.
Like a river's pattern, hitting rocks and going around them, we talked. This is how we know people, or don't, isn't it?

In the midst of the river, questions held up by pure curiosity are like boulders on which to rest in the sun for a moment, opening space for the others to leap between the rocks, creating a trail that you can follow back to shore if you want. Or you can remain in the middle of the river, watching their words eddy around the question until they break free and go, and you go with them, sometimes inexplicably drawn to follow the current.

Oh, we lose so much with our need for immediate outcomes. What if the process, that navigation of time with words and sense-making, was the only reason?