teasing a good conversation out of a situation is a powerful bit of alchemy. when younger, i was horribly unskilled in this art. and it's not a young versus old thing as i have seen plenty of effervescent conversationalist of all ages. fact is, lots of poeple would want to point at my daughter as someone who can handle herself pretty admirably in new and tough rooms but my aleo, now thirteen, has proven himself to be a capable ambassador in all sorts of situations. he has a quiet and easy way about him that makes people calm and comfortable. for all the unweildy baggage applied to middle children, marty and i believe their ability to be comfortable with older AND younger people provides them with a unique skill to be able to speak to a broader range of people (bella can get goofy around older kids sometimes and anthony just stares at anyone younger than him like they are an odd animal at the zoo he's never seen before). regardless, being able to facilitate good conversations is a skill and craft i have given hard hours to in improving. given all the time i've put into it, this is a rather meager listing. but, they are also what incent me to keep trying to get people talking.
when marty and i went on our first date (the second time around) something happened at the dinner table that had never happened to me. the world around her, around us dissolved away, almost like it was greyed out, and we fell into this deep conversational void. i have no clue how much time passed. it could have been five minutes but it might have been forty. all i remember is having a laser focus on her face and words that i had never experienced before. the two most remarkable things about the moment for me were (1) we were on a double date when it happened which means there was a couple across the table from us that we were completely ignoring (and i promise you were not locked in an equally connected conversation) and (2) what happened to me happened to marty too. it was truly as if someone had drugged the two of us. we deem that as the true start of our now 27 year relationship.
marty first date
i used to work with a guy i loved talking to. he sorta liked talking to me but not as much as i liked talking to him. i think this was because i asked him questions he deemed too personal. but he was such an interesting guy i couldn't waste my time talking about the game or the popular show of the time. this was in part because the dude didn't have a tv which in 1996 was interesting thing number one about him.
chris and gina wedding night
i found his wife and their relationship equally interesting. his wife was so lovely and i enjoyed the rare minutes i got to spend with her. these minutes freaked chris out though because he was always afraid of what i might ask her. knowing this, and liking chris, i was always respectful of his concern and reserved my questions for gina to innocuous topics, until one night.
chris and gina were about to leave the country and it was likely that we would never see them again, so marty and i threw a small dinner party for them so our small circle could say our goodbyes. after dinner and while sitting in the living room, with no real prompting on my part, gina got to talking about their marriage and wedding night. i'm not going to share the specifics of the conversation that unfolded in the conversation because it is not my story to share but i will say that i believe for the handful of people in my living room that night it was one of the most beautiful pieces of storytelling we ever experienced. if there was a downside, it was how uncomfortable chris seemed as his wife shared their tale.
third up is another relationship centered one. there's probably a perfectly understandable reason for that but i'm not sure what it was. but here the family of a friend of ours hosted a pre-thanksgiving meal every year. it was a wonderful event with loads of interesting people. the matriarch of the house loved marty and this adoration led to an invite for the pair of us to this coveted event. given all of the interesting people, there were lots of good conversations to be had. one year i got talking to a young couple that were just starting their relationship. i asked a few questions about how they met and whom approached whom and when did they know. as they were re-telling the story you could see they lost themselves in the memories. you could see they forgot there were a dozen other people in the room watching them. they even turned to each other talking through the various details. for the circle of folks in the room, each and every one knew they were seeing something special and not a single person dared interrupt what was happening. for me that was the most striking thing about the moment, that everyone present felt what was happening and just watched. with that many people you almost always have some clod want to interject something about themselves into the story and wreck the whole flow of it, but here everyone just sat back and watched what was probably a twenty minute moment where everyone got to see and feel what young love is from an inside perspective.
brian and tracy start of relationship
i found myself at a work party. i knew most of the people in the room because i worked with them but there were a few spouses about so i made my rounds there
trying to make them feel comfortable and not completely left out of the affair. i sat down next to one young man and after introducing myself asked him my patented "what are your interests" question. one detail i remember about the moment was as he was talking, i fully interrupted him and said,
joey is a vegan
i'm sorry but i just gotta say you look so much like a young tom cruise, it is startling.
uhh. well. i guess maybe.
oh, come on. you're telling me people don't tell you that everyday.
well, i have heard it before but i don't think it is everyday.
i don't know if i believe that. i mean you are like the spittin' image of the guy.
now at some point his wife tuned into the conversation and i'm sure i asked her some possibly inappropriate questions of what it was like to have a relationship with a tom-cruise look-a-like. then i asked him what he did to stay in shape. he gave the typical response
so what do you do to keep this tom-cruise fit body.
uh, well, i don't know just try to make good choices.
what do good choices mean to you? like working out? dieting?
i'm pretty careful about what i eat.
and what does that mean?
i maintain a vegan diet.
ok. so in my defense this was the first vegan i had ever met. AND i knew it was the only vegan i would ever meet that looked like tom cruise. now that part has nothing to do with the story but i just felt like it needed to be said. but what happened next in the story is a vivisection of the vegan lifestyle unlike any that had ever taken place before or since. i was ravenous to know everything about it, everything from the food and its taste to the psychology behind the start and maintenance of such a lifestyle choice. and he was glad to talk about the various questions, questions he had admittedly never contemplated before. now as joey and i were locked in this conversation what i didn't realize because of how dialed in on joey i was, is that all the other conversations in that room had stopped and everyone was just watching and listening to joey and i. when the lack of ambient noise finally did register, i turned and looked at the room which was fully looking at me. i think the next two things said by the others were "geez. let the guy breathe troy" and "yeah, maybe you oughta get a room". there's nothing i would have loved more than to get a room because this guy was super-fascinating and i could have talked to him for days, but i had the sense his young, and also beautiful wife, was not going to let her man go so easily. so like so many beautiful things in this world, our conversational nirvana came to an abrupt and premature end.
the honest opinion exchange
Troyscript: Remedial Self-Help
and of course this one
Troyscript: Feelin' Sexy
this next one does not refer to a specific converation but rather a conversational technique. please know it only works during the holidays but if you find yourself at a holiday party that is boring or just lacking intrigue, do this to splash a little tabasco into the egg nog. seek out a young couple. the sweet spot is an engaged couple but if there are none of those about, a dating couple will do as will a newly married couple. when you spot your candidates go up and start an easy, typical conversation. how are you tonight? are you ready for the holdiays? you doing any traveling? you know, the usual bore-fest. then once you've established things, ask them about the christmas traditions they are excited to establish in their home once they have kids. sometimes you will have to help this along with a few examples like are you going to have a real or fake tree. when will you open presents. what will christmas-eve look like. but once they get the drift, you can just kind of settle back and watch what was just moments earlier a sedate and droll mood go absolutely nuclear inside of five minutes. guaranteed.
if you're curious how or why this works so reliably (and magically) here's the reason. all people have fond and wistful memories of the holidays in their home growing up. all people also have private wishes of re-creating these memories for their very own footed-pajamad children. aside from the obvious factors, there will be a tree, there will be presents, and there will be a christmas meal, and the like, there are an infinite number of variations to the nuances of each and every tradition decision. and here is the part that matters most, both people care passionately about their traditions and are ready and willing to fight for their protection, like, to the death it seems sometimes. i've heard things like, "fake tree? FAKE tree! have you lost your mind. what next. fake turkey? OH! WHAT! we're not having turkey??? on christmas day? where the hell did you grow up? communist russia?". oh, it's hard to describe how much fun it is.
weddings have the potential to go down this way too but the guy always relents and believes it is the bride's day and takes the 'whatever you would like dear' approach. but the same is not true of christmas. both people have opinions. and both people care. this is why this conversational napalm rarely dissapoints.