Tags Posts tagged with "conversation"


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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We all try, more or less, to say the right thing in the moment.

“Wow, so nice to see you again. You look wonderful.”

“How are your children?”

“How’s work? How many days a week are you back in person?”

But after cutting up turkeys, ham and other food, the real carving occurs in the hours and days after gatherings, when we separate into smaller groups and snicker, judge and let loose the parts of our sinister souls for which we seek atonement during religious and other holidays.

Now that family gatherings have restarted in earnest, despite the COVID clouds still hovering over us, we have a chance to turn moments of discomfort into a collage of complaints.

While I’m sure there might be a few people who don’t practice the fine art of conducting post-gathering analysis about friends, family members and loved ones, I have yet to meet them.

We ought to break the process, lighthearted ideally though it may, into various categories.

Clothing: Wardrobe choices are often the subject of discussion. We sometimes marvel at how revealing or tight an outfit was or how casually someone dressed for a larger gathering.

Defensive guests: Sometimes, what people say, or hear, has nothing to do with a question they were asked or even a conversation in which they participated. While I was recently cleaning dishes, another guest walked in and told me everything he had contributed to the confab. His need to share his contribution, or to allay any guilt he might have felt, was revealing.

Conversation interrupters: While many families have long-winded storytellers, some gatherings include a conversation interrupter. They are the people for whom any dialog that doesn’t revolve around them or their opinions is unwelcome and unworthy. They interrupt other people’s stories to interject their views on a topic or, perhaps, on something completely unrelated to the discussion.

Exacerbaters: These are the people for whom conflict is nearly as delicious as the homemade apple pie or fruit cobbler that awaits after dinner. Sensing conflict in a marriage or between siblings, they will figure out how to help build any tension in the moment. When challenged for their role as instigators, they will frequently play the victim card, claiming that making people angry at each other or at them wasn’t their intention and that everyone doesn’t understand how they were really only trying to help and to resolve the conflict.

Welcome to Narnia guests: No party is complete without at least one person who needs to bring everyone into their perspective or their world. These people often see everything through one perspective, whether it’s about saving stray dogs, the challenges of having difficult neighbors, or the difficulty of finding good Thai food in their neighborhood. The discussion could be about the challenges educators faced during the pandemic and, they will say, “Oh yeah? Well, that reminds me of the challenges of finding good Thai food.”

The revisionist historians: Often, some, or even many, of the people in a room spent considerable time with each other. Stories have a way of evolving over time, either because they sound better one way or because the storyteller’s memory has altered some of the facts to suit a better narrative. No, you didn’t invent the yo-yo, no, you didn’t predict the year the Cubs would finally win the World Series, and, no, you didn’t always use the phrase “just do it” before Nike added it to their ad campaign.

The following dialogue was inspired by an actual conversation. No friendships ended as a result of this interaction.

Joe: That’s interesting.

Aaron: What made it interesting?

Joe: It held my interest.

Aaron: That’s tautological.

Joe: What does tautological mean?

Aaron: It’s a kind of circular argument, like something is interesting because it held your interest. So, what’s interesting about what I said?

Joe: No, you see, it’s not what you said, so much as the way you said it and, of course, the fact that it was, indeed, you who said it. Like, remember that time you said that our boss was having an affair with the man she kept insulting at work and then, lo and behold, she was?

Aaron: Yes, I remember that was because she was having an affair with you.

Joe: Oh, right. Good times.

Aaron: Can you tell me how what I said interested you?

Joe: But, first, did you read the latest thing about Donald Trump?

Aaron: Which one?

Joe: The one where he’s mad at the media and the media is reporting about stuff he says isn’t true.

Aaron: You’re going to have to be more specific than that.

Joe: You want specifics? How about Russia?

Aaron: What about it? It’s a country.

Joe: You’re funny.

Aaron: Stop calling me funny and tell me what Trump and the media are disagreeing about.

Joe: Are you angry?

Aaron: I’m trying to have a conversation.

Joe: Conversation. That’s interesting.

Aaron: What’s interesting?

Joe: It’s like the way you’re looking at me right now. You know what I mean?

Aaron: Nope.

Joe: You have your eyes open and your eyebrows are up, like you’re expecting me to say something interesting, when, you know, you’re the one who always says interesting things. I read interesting things. This
morning, I read something compelling about Trump and the media.

Aaron: OK, let’s go with that. What was compelling about it?

Joe: It was just, you know, well, maybe you wouldn’t think it’s compelling and maybe you knew it already, which means I probably don’t have to tell you.

Aaron: I want to talk about something.

Joe: We are talking about something. We’re talking about me and you and this weather. You know what I’m saying?

Aaron: Not really.

Joe: The weather is all around us, right? And, it’s all around everyone else. Except that, when people are somewhere else, the weather around them isn’t the same as it is here. So, to experience weather, you really have to be here.

Aaron: Right, uh huh. Go on.

Joe: Now you’re looking at me differently. You’re frowning. You need to laugh more often. That’s your problem.

Aaron: I don’t have a problem. I’m trying to have a conversation.

Joe: About what?

Aaron: Well, a few minutes ago, you said what I said was interesting and I’ve been waiting patiently to find out what you thought was interesting about it.

Joe: Oh. Let me think. I’m going to replay the entire conversation in my head and then I’ll let you know.

Aaron: Right, sure.

Joe: No, really. Was it before or after the conversation about the weather?

Aaron: Before.

Joe: See, I was listening. I remembered that we talked about the weather.

Aaron: You weren’t listening to me. You were listening to you. You brought up the weather.

Joe: Right, OK, I have a confession to make. I wasn’t listening to what you said all that closely, but I know it was interesting.

Aaron: What part? Do you remember any of the conversation?

Joe: Not really. I have to go. It’s been nice chatting with you.