Our Conversations Are Like a Cold Fruit Salad on a Dusty, Hot, Summer Day

I am having a conversation with my friend, Pat. We are talking about the way we talk when we have a chance to spend some time, or the way our emails seem to go.

“I tire of being asked what I think about something only to have the conversation derailed at the first ‘bump’ in my logic, at the first self-contradiction,” Pat says, of life in general.

My response: “I savor your contradictions. It is my desire to explore them with you and to experience the change that happens when you wrestle with them.”

“Yes, I think you get it. How refreshing.”

As you can see, Pat and I have a deeply meaningful relationship. Enviable, in fact. It is based on not knowing things that we want to know, and how to fix that. There is also an element of bringing unformed or poorly formed thoughts to the table, cutting them up like a fruit salad, and enjoying them. Our conversations are like a cold fruit salad on a dusty hot summer day. Yes, very, very refreshing.

But not everybody has the opportunity to interact that way. This is because all utterances are questionable, if you want them to be. All communications are subject to measurement against a standard that one can easily justify as “Teh Standard,” even though one has merely pulled it out of one orifice or another. In fact, there is a place where that kind of communication is favored, revered, honed and practiced, and imposed by force of will and repetition on those who do not come to the table oppositional in affect and armed with snark.

That place is known…as the blogosphere.

But, dear reader, that is a feature of the blogosphere that I generally don’t like, even though it can be amusing, it can be productive, and it can bring lots of page views to my hit-counter. I don’t like it even though I am as capable as the next person of doing damage with printed word, baiting the most wary of trolls, and turning and churning the most innocent of conversation until it becomes vile like ogre piss. I don’t like it because I find it inhumane. I find it not the way I want to interact, not the way I want to understand. It is bitter roots and rotten offal. It is not a refreshing fruit salad on a dusty, hot, summer day.

I want to understand you. I don’t want you to say things to me in a way that I am brought to the edge of understanding and left to wait there, as though it was my job to figure out what you meant. I want you to just tell me what you meant.

I want you to understand me. I don’t want you to find meaning that I did not intend and then use that unintended meaning to abuse either yourself or me.

I don’t want you to misunderstand me, willfully or otherwise, and then fetishize the false or manufactured meaning of that misunderstanding like it was some sort of trophy. Your misunderstanding of my words is not your shrunken head.

But it goes beyond that. I don’t want you to be thinking the same thing today that you were thinking last month. I want there to be a conflict between what you thought about some thing the first time we talked about it and what you think about it now. I want to be your Red Queen, so we can keep moving yet luxuriate under the same forbidden tree. I want you to giggle when I mix my metaphors like a Kitchen Aid in heat. I want to hear the full version of the story behind the allusion.

Expect me to contradict myself. Sometimes what I say now will contradict what I said when we first met. Sometimes the end of my sentence will contradict the beginning of my sentence. Be an interesting grownup. Be an interested grownup. Don’t be a winged monkey. Don’t make it your business to jump on my wrongness and howl like some four-winged, maned, scale-covered, drooling mythical creature from a Piers Anthony book.

My wrongness is a comfortable table for two at a coffee shop. Your wrongness is a long, lonely drive on a nice day.

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15 Responses to “Our Conversations Are Like a Cold Fruit Salad on a Dusty, Hot, Summer Day”

  1. February 3rd, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Just as the final editing touches (by Stephanie) were being put on this, Amanda and I had one of those conversations. We are both thinking differently (and more usefully) about a handful of related pragmatic issues.

    (The ugly truth lost in my literary flourish is, of course, that I like my fruit cooked and my vegetables raw.)

  2. February 3rd, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    DuWayne says:

    I like my fruit cooked and my vegetables raw.

    You know, if you hadn’t given me that literary flourish about the four winged, maned, scaled creature from a Piers Anthony novel, I would probably have listened a lot better…That and the long lonely drive.

    But damn – how can you contradict yourself like this!!!!

    Swoop, swoop, snarl, snort MUNCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Honestly though, I do understand what you are getting at – hard as that may be to believe. Remarkably, I do rather like coming to consensus – or at least changes in thinking. Hell, I like to challenge myself – my assumptions, my core values and everything I believe. It is how I became an atheist. And I like to be challenged – though I have a bad habit of really pushing hard against a change in thinking, the closer someone gets to being righter about something than I am – or thought I was.

    Seriously though – I really do love Anthony and could totally be a evile, demonic Anthony beast. And I also rather love long, lonely drives – just me, my audiobooks and my mind totally free to be fucking bizarre…

  3. February 3rd, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    becca says:

    Bah! It is spicy salsa with fresh garlic and cilantro.
    Only sometimes is it turned it into bitter roots and rotten offal. Usually by those (such as yourself?) who cannot fight with four-winged, maned, scale-covered drooling avatars without loosing their humanity.

  4. February 4th, 2010 at 9:05 am

    david says:

    Well no, I don’t know what you said. Reminded me of Ralph Waldo though, several ways. I believe we differ only here: my assessment of who reads these things and how is based on a different experience of the honesty of people. You think more kindly of them than I do. They should like that, they have fooled you to some extent, and in the meantime you want to reserve a more incisive judgment, perhaps made later. Good luck with that.

    So Ralph and Margaret Fuller were out walking in the garden, discussing things, serious philosophical things, when Margaret walked into a tree, which knocked her down. “Margaret, didn’t you see that tree,” Emerson asked. “Yes, Waldo, I saw it,” she replied, “and now I realize it.”

  5. February 4th, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Commenter says:

    It is much easier for me to half-listen to what you say, and to then convince you of my pre-conceived ideas, than to listen, understand, and respond accordingly. On the blogosphere, where I can hide behind a psuedonym, I have no problem telling you why you are wrong, and why I’m right, and arguing with complete disregard to your ideas.

    That’s why we need friends like Pat and Amanda- people who will actually LISTEN to what we are saying, not the words we use to say it.

    Thankfully, we live in the real world, where we can surround ourselves with people who will grow from us and encourage us to grow. Speaking of the real world, why the hell would you ruin fruit by cooking it?

  6. February 4th, 2010 at 11:45 am

    noel says:

    This is a very thoughtful post. Savoring others’ contradictions seems quite magnanimous. I don’t know if I can do it, but I’ll think about it. But I suspect many bloggers and commenters live for the drama that comes with the winged things.

  7. February 4th, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    daedalus2u says:

    It is a very secure person who is in a very good place in their life who can have conversations where the goal is to understand and not try to move up in the social hierarchy by pulling others down.

    I hope to be that secure and in that good a place when I grow up.

    I hope everyone can.

  8. February 4th, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    mk says:

    “I savor your contradictions. It is my desire to explore them with you and to experience the change that happens when you wrestle with them.”

    Greg,

    I enjoyed this post. I believe it to be totally sincere.

    After witnessing the back and forth in the thread that apparently led to this post, though… I wonder how you and Stephanie would rate yourselves regarding the above quote. And how you would rate the others. Did anyone live up to this sentiment?

  9. February 4th, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    mk, are you still reading that thread?

  10. February 5th, 2010 at 6:09 am

    mk says:

    Fuck no. It’s a very obnoxious thread. Can only take so much.

    Besides, Greg asked people to come here and comment on this post. Now you want me to go back there?

    Man… ask a simple question.

  11. February 5th, 2010 at 6:27 am

    Greg Laden says:

    mk, GO BACK TO THE OTHER THREAD!!!

    Only kidding.

    A lot of that thread ended up being about the culture of Pharyngula, as told to us by people who participate in that culture (or at least a subculture?). (It made me realize that there is a third stakeholder at the the table in the “civility” discussion.) I think there is a way of conversing/arguing that is exemplified in that thread, and that is highly developed in that culture (but obviously not originated there) and that is a perfectly good way to communicate if people want to.,. Such a strong willed in your face way of arguing may not always be welcome, and people need to realize that if they are told to shove off by someone who does not want to hear it, that they need to listen.

    (learning to take what one dishes out is also not a bad idea.)

    So I don’t want to denegrate knock down drag out repartee if people have fun doing that. And I want people who wish to engage in that sort of discussion on my blog to feel like they can do it.

    However, I really do think that there is a fundamental flaw in the method, if the method really does involves (as it seems at least for some) insisting on manufactured post-hoc meanings and won’t stand for correction in that regard. It’s great to have the objective to come to the table knowing you are right and to fight it out no matter what else is said. Nobody worth their salt on the debating team ever changed course in mid debate. But the kind of conversation I am talking about here is a very very different thing. There are no winners, and even having oine person at the table who wants to be the winner makes it impossible. That is probably why most (all?) of my conversations like this are priave and one on one.

    The pleasure and productivity of this approach has been proven to me time and time again during my various roles as teacher, advisor, and mentor. It is probably not the only way to do it, but …

  12. February 5th, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    mk, I don’t blame you at all. I only ask because it’s changed somewhat. It has, in fact, become more thoughtful. So I wasn’t quite sure where your comment was coming from.

    Well, and also because I have a comment in there about the fact that I was deliberately reflecting tone back at the people I was talking to. You may feel differently (and have every right to), but I think it’s worth noting that I didn’t ever get carried away in that thread. Everything I did and said was calculated. Nothing written in anger. It’s obnoxious as hell and should probably carry a warning label, but it’s as much a meta-conversation as anything else. Or at least it was for me. I noted a couple of times that that was what I was doing, but I think only Greg and DuWayne joined me in the meta-strata.

  13. February 5th, 2010 at 10:42 am

    mk says:

    “Obnoxious as hell.” Well, yes.

    It has always been clear that you, Greg and DuWayne (and I suppose a very few others.)have this way of communicating (in the “meta-strata!”) that is exclusive of the rest. I imagine it feels nice and everything but “obnoxious as hell” doesn’t really come close.

    Enjoy yourselves.

  14. February 5th, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Feels nice? Eh. Gets something out of a train wreck of a thread and sometimes pulls it back on topic is more like it. And when I talk about Greg and DuWayne joining me, I’m talking about half a dozen one-line comments about quote mining that involved quote mining.

    Is there something specific you object to in what I did in that thread?

  15. February 8th, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Paul says:

    I think I may assign this in a class I teach on critical thinking.

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