I don't really want to be left a,.o e

Talking Head

January 30, 2023

Carol’s eldest daughter sat down next to me at a recent family dinner, where I’d been maintaining both a stoic and blissful silence. “I know you don’t like conversation, but I understand your next trip is to Portugal.” Now when most people are quizzed about an upcoming European adventure, there is generally an expectation you’ll be hearing all about palaces, castles, cathedrals, museums and cozy restaurants the traveler plans to experience. But the only thing I knew about Portugal was that I’d never been there and it’s capital Lisbon had been ground zero for the European genocide and enslavement of the Americas – neither subject offering the prospect of light dinner conversation. I gave it my best shot, immediately pivoting to Delta Airlines announcement of opening routes to Tahiti and Auckland, New Zealand this year. Our conversation ended with Carol’s daughter none the wiser of Portugal’s attractions or anything about New Zealand for that matter.

   I am well aware that my utter lack of conversational ability gets me branded as aloof (Carol, her family, museum docents ), rude (retail clerks, hotel concierges, anyone meeting me for the first time,) or serially misanthropic (all of the above). I’m not talking about the times I’m actually aloof, rude or misanthropic; on those occasions I’m simply working things out to a satisfying resolution.

     Look at it this way. Conversation for me is like working out at a gym: it’s challenging, strenuous and exhausting. But you know it’s good for you, and you do feel good when it’s all done and over. Like the developmental aspects of a physical workout, I realize conversation improves my thought processes, diction, curiosity and imagination. But also like a physical workout, I try to avoid it as often as possible. And I’m finding that avoiding both physical workouts and conversation increases with advancing years. I’m getting to be more like the character Colm in The Banshees of Inisherin, who has simply reached a stage in his life where he wants to be left alone and to finish the songs he wants to write before he dies. (I’m not willing to chop off my fingers to make the point, but I think Colm and I could sit aside each other all day in a pub, not say a word and still claim to have had a wonderful time.)

   In my last job interview, I used the term “troika.” The interview was for an entry level customer service position, for which “troika” would never come up in any imaginable circumstance. I didn’t get the job. I guess it was akin to going for the 500-pound weights at a gym.

   Now this would be all well and good if I’d chosen a life of monastic solitude, which I clearly have not. So like joining a gym, I will engage in conversation, because I know it’s good for me, even though, like the gym, most times I’m looking forward to the end of the workout rather than the beginning. 

   Lisbon is hilly. It’s also filled with supposedly very friendly retail clerks, hotel concierges, museum docents and people I’ll be meeting for the first time. I’d be wise to start walking and talking again. Also, it might be a good idea to avoid referring to conquest, genocide and enslavement of the Americas as a “troika” of evil when conversing with the locals. 

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