People seem to like to talk about themselves. They like it a lot. A compulsion if you will.

Our family went on vacation in the Yukon in 1994 or 1995. We stayed with some friends in Dawson City, a small town made famous during the gold rush of the twenties. We flew to Vancouver, connecting to Whitehorse. We rented a van to complete the drive to Dawson City. We were warned about speeding. The fact that we should avoid it. Cops, we asked coming from the big city? No, they said, bears and moose. Hit one of those and you are pretty much done. Specially the moose. They have long legs and roll over the hood of the car straight into the windshield crushing all who happen to be in the way.

This is not to mention the occasional forest fire that might impede your drive. And the lack of gas stations. The closest one is located about where you will run our of gas if you drive at the regular speed. Drive any faster, and you will be out of gas sooner, where there are no gas stations. And there might be bears. Got it, do not speed.

We saw a stunning lake and decided to pull over on the shoulder to enjoy the scenery, maybe take a picture or two. Pulling over is very safe. Not like there is a lot of traffic. Pull over we did. There was this sudden sinking feeling. We were not depressed. The car started sinking into the permafrost. A lot like driving in sand, or more appropriate with our experience, snow. Being the quick thinkers we are, we decided against stopping to ponder the situation, and instead kept driving at the same speed pulling ourselves out of danger.

The ice that covers the north melts in the short summer creating the permafrost. About 18 inches of very soft something that covers the ice beneath. It is soft and mushy and heavy with mosquitoes who refused to bite us for some reason. We walked on a lot of this stuff and never got bit. Safe to walk on, dangerous to drive.

The rest of the drive was uneventful. No bears, no moose, in fact, no wildlife of any kind. Only thing we saw was acres and acres of burnt out forest. Turns out they had a forest fire a week before. People slept in their trucks waiting to continue their drive. Always have a blanket and candles handy, and food.The forest on both sides of the highway was black, charred, heavy with the smell of burned wood. One giant bar-b-que. We noticed clumps of trees that had survived the fire. Almost as if the fire had swirled around them sparing their lives. The future of the forest guaranteed in their staying alive. A clump of green surrounded by the black. Could not stop to take pictures.

We purchased a Canon video camera for the trip. This was before the amazing handycams you can buy today. Even before digital cameras. I loved taking movies, hated the editing process. All the movies are still on tape somewhere in this house. I will find them one day and transcribe them to the hard drive. Prepare to be bored.

My forte was making people talk about themselves, lowering their barriers. One of the first jobs I had in Canada was with an outfit called Household Finance, HFC. They gave loans to people who were unappreciated by the banks. Rates of interest equal to that of credit cards. There was no shortage of demand. Most of the branches were in disadvantaged areas. They fired me after two years. Turns out I was an excellent lender, terrible at collecting.

In my first week, I was told to see a customer who was waiting in the consulting room. He wants a loan. Fill out the forms. No problem. I came back to the manager with a half filled form. What about the rest of the information, he asks. Are you kidding me? Way too personal questions. I could never ask those, and why would they answer. The manager was a big burly man who had been with the company for twenty years. Trained a whole bunch of people just like me. Go back, he says, fill out the rest. I think he found the whole thing a bit amusing.

Back I went, screwed up my courage and started asking the questions required to fill out the rest of the form. Much to my surprise, the applicant was more than happy to answer the questions. Volunteered more information. Ask, and you shall receive, And receive I did. I discovered over the next couple of years, that if asked with the proper tone, people will reveal all sorts of information about themselves. The success f Facebook is a testament to this.

This observation has been confirmed many times over the years. Open the door with the right question, and wait for the deluge of information.

So it was on our trip to the Yukon. Ask the right question, and people will talk. The stone carver was more than happy to reveal his secrets. Fill the gaps with more questions, and more answers pour out. No one else appeared to enjoy these moments as much as Janet and I did. They were way too long. I hate editing. The tapes are buried in the basement somewhere.

I find myself now, not in the position of the inquisitor, but of the one being questioned. I am the one who has to decide how much information to divulge. How much information does the person want? How to dissect the question? The latter is very important. I have found over the years, that people rarely ask you questions they want answers to. It is the inferred question that is important. People would ask me question about computers. Why did the computer do this? I discovered by looking at the glaze in people’s eyes, that the question was not asked properly. What they wanted to know was, did they cause the computer to crash or misbehave. The answer eventually became, you did not cause this to happen, and you cannot prevent it from happening again. Here is what you can do to protect yourself from its consequences.

The same principles apply now. Different people have different tolerances to information. Diana wants to know and see everything. She was the first to ask to see the bag. Most people do not know how to ask to see the bag. She, on the other hand, said, can I see it? We were in the hospital at the time. She saw the bag, and the staples. Wow. The action on her part help me get accustomed to my situation. She was not repulsed, or did she faint. She touched the staples and the conversation continued.

We were at Heather’s farm the other week. Heather and family were there. It was an altogether very pleasant weekend. A lot of conversation flowed, philosophies expounded upon. All the worlds problems were solved. I talked a fair bit, mostly about myself. Given the relationship, the conversation would very often go in other directions. I was very grateful for that. I am off the hook. We are talking about other things that have nothing to do with my condition.

I remember at one point sitting there thinking, why are we not talking about me? I was conflicted. On the one hand grateful that we were not talking about me, on the other wondering why there was no interest in talking about me. It was interesting to notice how much I have become accustomed to talk about myself and my condition.

Kali and I get together for lunch about every two weeks. Much appreciated. We talk about me for a brief bit, then continue talking about all sorts of other things. I have known Kali for the better part of fifteen year. We both feel that we have grown a lot closer since we have been having these lunches. All that talk has to lead to something.

Catherine has been home this summer. She has back problems. Collapsed or slipped discs. She comes over once in a while. More to the point, we pick her up. She comes to our house and lies on the couch. We talk a lot. We went swimming the other day. It is very amusing to have the two of us with our fair share of physical ailments conferring with one another. The conversation is easy. We both get tired easily, both need to lie down regularly, both laugh at ourselves a lot. There are a lot of similarities.

Fetneh will not leave me alone. We talk every couple of days. Thank God for Skype. We do not seem to run out of subject in spite of the frequency of our conversations. I always look forward to the call. I always answer the phone if I can. Doesn’t matter what condition I am in. I can always call her back when I am in better shape.

Conversations are what connects us to one another. What us able to live together, put up with the most bizarre idiosyncrasies. Conversations frustrate us. Some think quicker than others. Some like me, need a couple of days to assimilate information and come up with clear thoughts. Others like Janet, want to jump in and talk right away and get tot he bottom of things. She has never gotten used to my need for a couple of days to put my thoughts together.

Conversation. Keep them coming. Even if you are not talking about me. Though I would have to question you severely in those cases.

3 Responses to “Conversations”

  1. What is more valuable than gold? Light.
    What is more precious than light? Conversation.
    —J.W. von Goethe

    [from "The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily" also
    known as "Goethe's Fairy Tale of the Green Snake
    and the Beautiful Lily"]

  2. great post! I just never know what's going through that brain of yours, that's why I have to ask. Who knew that the trip to the Yukon was on your mind? xoxox d

  3. Hope you're having many wonderful conversations as you help Devin settle in in NY. I promise when you return I will be waiting to talk all about you. xo

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