Saturday, May 28, 2011


I've been asked many times in the last few months, "So what are your plans for next year?"

I have been terrible at answering.

This wordlessness surfaced while Maggie and I sat beside her firepit, tea mugs in hand, and the only conversation we could think of was "what we are doing next year", or more accurately, the ups and downs of not knowing. The greatest tragedy we found was when we suddenly found that we had nothing to say to each other. It grew quiet and Maggie noted, "I don't know how to talk about anything else anymore."

I didn't either.

While I waited for the processional at graduation with my faculty marshal, Judith McKelvey, she and were talking about the past year and the coming year. I had just finished explaining to a very important person in the English department that I had no idea what next year was going to look like. It wasn't exactly what I wanted to be telling someone responsible for arranging my access to educational opportunities in the last four years but I didn't know what else to say. I hadn't come up with a nice way of crafting the "I Don't Know" like other answers I had heard in this interminable conversation. Mac said she had appreciated my honesty.

"I don't understand it," she said.

"What do you mean?"

"My son would understand this. His autism helps him see things very bluntly. Why do people say things they don't mean? Why don't they just say 'I don't know' more easily? And why do we all ask you this question about next year? Are we just asking because we think we're supposed to? Why do I ask you about next year when I could ask you about the book sale you went to and we could talk about what you're reading? I only asked because I was supposed to."

Then we started walking and I had to pay attention to my clumsy banner.

I wonder: when did I stop knowing how to converse? Did graduating shove me into the loss of my small talk skills? Do I even know how to have a conversation and truly see and engage the person I am talking to? Is this a gracious skill that we have lost? Did I ever even have it?

And what am I supposed to do now that I do know what I am "doing" next year?


Annie said...

i have never had much skill at small talk. i am much more comfortable talking about the deeper things in life, like faith. it makes me wonder if small talk is something we should even be skilled in; like your teacher said, it's something we engage in because we feel obligated. and that, i feel, makes it superficial. what if the questions we asked and the answers we gave were actually the ones we meant?

'Chele said...

Small talk is generally a necessary evil. You have to think about how to maximize their potential.

Have you ever noticed that frustrating and annoying small talk often, though not always, becomes the platform for meaningful discussions? Like prereq. classes that many loathe, they can become doorways to thoughts and ideas one may never have bothered to consider before.

Consider the follow-up questions from admitting you don't know. Have you any idea why you don't know? If you have positioned yourself for blessing from God, are you anticipating and watching for meaningful insight from whatever you have to or choose to do? Do you think there is anything in you that is sabotaging your ability to know? Are you finding a way to integrate your long term goal into whatever you are doing? The possible questions are endless.

Some are intimidated and irritated by such questioning and conversation. Thinkers and problem solvers are not. They'll chime in. So long as the participants can listen as much as they talk, the potential for a real "iron sharpening iron" experience is very high.