the things grownups say automatically to kids they run into in the hall

Rosh Hashanah is over.

In the parking lot, on my way into the synagogue, I stopped to talk to some congregants and I was being all professional and grown up and they were asking if this service would be very different from the one the day before, and I was explaining how we were doing a participatory Torah study and it should be very engaging and fun and then a bug landed on my shirt and everyone saw it and went “Oh!” I played it cool and laughed like it didn’t even matter because bugs don’t scare me because I’m too professional for that. I nonchalantly brushed it, which caused it to fall down my shirt, into the place where my bra was trying its very best but still mostly failing to give me some cleavage. The bug had lots of little legs, and wings, and they were all moving at once.

“Oh no!” everyone said. And then they paused politely.

“It should be really nice,” I said. “We’re chanting the morning blessings to this lovely new melody.”

“It just went down your shirt,” said a kind, stately gentleman.

“I know,” I said, smiling brightly. “Um.”

I turned around and leaned over and pulled my shirt down, and I prayed that no one was looking out of any of the sanctuary windows at that moment, because they would’ve seen a lot of cantorial bra.

God.

(the traditional Rosh Hashanah treat, no bugs allowed. source)

It made me grin, thinking about it in the middle of the silent amidah, where you can pray to yourself or read the traditional text (I never read the text, I still have no idea what it says, even though I’ve seen it hundreds and hundreds of times) midway through the service. I almost laughed aloud.

I get nervous about performing these services, even though I’ve been doing them for years. I hate that I get nervous. I think I should be more confident. I should revel in it. I should love the feel of everyone’s eyes on me. I should throw back my head and sing with my whole heart. I should lean into the mic. I should improvise with some little twirly things, like Christina Aguilera. I should probably lift my hands up and start gesturing.

I do, I do. I throw my head back sometimes. But sometimes I’m thinking, shit shit shit, you missed a word, what is wrong with you?? You should know this whole thing by memory already! Don’t mess up again! Oh god, here comes that long part with all the weird consonants. If you mess this up, you’ll probably just stop, and then there will be this really long, horrible silence, and everyone will be looking at you and thinking that you’re an idiot who can’t do your job and the board will already be thinking about holding auditions for a better cantor and you will ALWAYS ALWAYS remember this day as the worst, most humiliating day of your life. Shit shit shit.

I reminded myself that my friend just had her second baby. Yeah, second. She has two kids now. OK, so we don’t talk that much anymore. She’s way too busy. But I think about her a lot, like a dork, and how different from mine her life is. And how I can’t imagine being her, but I’m sort of jealous. And how she just had a BABY and I’m getting nervous about singing some Hebrew.

“You looked so grown up up there,” said my dad, after. He looked a little teary.

“I told him you’re still pretty immature,” said my mom, cracking herself up.

“True,” I said. “It’s all an illusion.”

But it’s not. I’m an adult now. I know. Not because of my job where I lead the congregation. Not because of my breasts which have reached their apologetic-looking but final stage of development. But because of something I just caught myself doing for the first time, over Rosh Hashanah: talking to kids like a lame grownup.

Yup. I did the thing that all grownups do. This is how it went:

 

Me: Oh my god, is that Leah? I haven’t seen you since you were a little kid!

Smiling, long-suffering girl: Yeah! Happy new year!

Me: How old are you now? Fifteen? Sixteen?

Girl: I’m seventeen.

Me: Wow! Seventeen! Wow. I must be old. So, are you thinking about college, then?

Girl: Yup. I am.

Me: Great! That’s…great. You’re so tall now!

Girl: (laughs weakly) Yeah…

Me: (wants for a moment to kill self) OK! Happy new year!

(just reading my script! oh, wait… no, not this one. the boring one. source)

I used to tutor kids at the synagogue, prep them for their bat and bar mitzvahs. I started when I was sixteen or seventeen, and did that for at least five years. Now the first class of kids I worked with is graduating college. Going to grad school. Going to rehab.

After services, I was starving, and I stopped at the supermarket. One of my former students was working there. She had scars on her arms. She was happy to see me. She said she’s out of rehab now. She said, “I love your hair!”

I said, “I didn’t see you at services…So you’re good? Everything’s good?”

Even though she had just said rehab, and there was this whole story in the air between us, but I didn’t know what else to say, and I was wearing heels and she had pink hair and I felt so much taller than her. So weirdly far away.

I loved that kid. She was one of my favorites. Spunky and gothy and clever.

It’s easy to fall into this routine. Of staying on the safe surface, especially when you just have a few minutes. Especially when your lives are so separate, the way kids’ and adults’ lives are.

I didn’t really know how to act around kids when I was a kid. They seemed to have their own secret language, covert body language signals that they were flashing at each other when I glanced down, or even when I looked right at them.

I don’t know how to act around kids now, but I’m a grownup, so I can just say my lines.

“What? Going to college already?! I am ancient! You are big now! I bet you’re going to a lot of parties! Yay college! So fun!”

Please. I don’t care if they’re going to college. Kids are under so much damn pressure to go to college. To get into the absolute best possible one. Like that’s the only thing that matters in the world.

I didn’t go to parties in college. I didn’t want to go to college, actually, and then, when I was there, I set out to prove myself like my butt was on fire (actually, I have no idea what proving yourself with a fiery butt would look like, realistically speaking). When I was seventeen and eighteen I felt fully formed and serious. I felt like I knew myself. I was a lot more righteous. I was like me now, but condensed, unfiltered. I wrote pretty good poetry.

Grownups used to say to me, “So, you partying?” and I’d want so badly to roll my eyes.

Maybe there just isn’t time to have a better conversation. We’re always running into each other in passing. But maybe we also don’t really try. Maybe we draw too many lines between ourselves. I am older, you are younger, so there’s nothing to talk about here. I am younger, you are older, so we can’t understand each other. We feel awkward. Casual socializing—so fundamental—is always at least a little awkward.

There’s so much I could talk about with these new seventeen-year-olds. When I was seventeen, I dated an emotionally unstable boy who, like ballast I couldn’t manage to shed, pulled me deeper under a surface I hardly remembered. I wrote slam poems about the things that magazines tell us about our bodies, just with the covers, just with the expressions the models wear. I was furious. I was inspired. I was sad and victorious. There’s so much I could talk about with the former students who just graduated college. When I had just graduated college, I flung myself headlong into grad school, sure that it was the only option. I was desperate to keep going, to show everyone that I was on the right path, when really, I wasn’t on a path at all, I was just wearing special high tech path-projecting glasses. The grownups you meet then say, “What’s next?” and you want to have something to report. You want to look like you have it together. They only ask you like three questions about your whole life, and you want to have the right answers.

(the path-projecting glasses. also why i looked like such a dweeb at this point in my life. source)

Maybe if we grownups would stop reciting lines from the same script, things would get more interesting. More realistic. Maybe if we would all stop copying each other’s flat phrases we could think of some of our own instead.

People used to ask me about prom when I was a young teenager. “Are you going to prom? Are you excited about it?”

I wasn’t going to school. None of the questions grownups had for me worked. Which was good, I think, because they had to come up with new things for me. We had to sometimes really talk.

I think I’ll write to the girl with the scars. In case she wants to really talk. In case I do.

On my way into the sanctuary, I ran into a congregant in the hall. One of those Jews who only comes on the high holidays, so I only see him once a year.

Him: Kate!

Me: Harry!

Him: L’shanah tovah! How are you? You’re so grown up. I remember when you were, what? Sixteen?

Me: L’shanah tovah. Yeah…Life is funny.

Him: So you’re, what? Finishing up college? Starting grad school?

Me: What? (freezes, shocked) No, no, I’m done with that. I’m writing.

Him: Oh, writing. You have a book deal?

Me: Oh…no. No, I don’t. Hopefully one day!

Him: Well, good for you. Sounds like fun. Very relaxing.

Me: And you?

Him: Same old, same old…Just work.

Me: Yeah. Well, good.

Him: You married? I thought I heard you were married?

Me: Yes! I got married two year ago.

Him: Two years! God, I’m old. I can’t believe it. That’s great. Thinking about kids?

And there you have it. Life, in four distinct themes. College, job, marriage, kids. I feel this enormous pressure to get a book deal, so that I have something to report back to the adults in the hall. Because I’m still a kid around grownups, even as I’m a grownup around kids. And maybe none of these confusing divisions would matter nearly so much if we didn’t keep asking each other the same questions. If instead, for a few minutes, or for an hour, or for whatever amount of time, we threw out the script and just talked about our lives. There are great stories there. Surprising ones. Inspiring ones. Hilarious and quiet and scandalous and practical ones. Stories that might lead to the stories about the scars on our arms or the reason we cut off all our hair or why we really want to have a baby or why we really don’t. And even when there is only a minute and you are only running into each other in the lobby, there are different questions that can be asked. “What are you up to these days? Oh, college? What do you like best about it? How’s the dining hall food? I know…all I ate was Lucky Charms…” Sometimes I want to say, “College? What’s the worst part of it? What’s the weirdest?” Or “What are you thinking about these days?” That’s the most interesting one of all.

 

(ever heard one of these things blown? it’s a shofar, a ram’s horn, and it’s blown during the high holidays. it’s really loud and rough and rude sounding. it’s supposed to wake us up and make us pay attention to our lives. source)

*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love the way like three pieces of my hair are sticking straight up, with no regard for all of the other pieces at all. Someone’s got to start the revolution.

P.S. This piece feels SO long and ungainly, but I am leaving in the bug story anyway, because it was fun to write.

31 Comments »

Kate on September 20th 2012 in life, relationships

31 Responses to “the things grownups say automatically to kids they run into in the hall”

  1. Melanie responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    I always cringe at the uneasy small talk between the generations. I have never been one to experience it as an adult to a kid, but oh so many times as the child with the adult. I feel like you should just say hello and keep going if you have nothing meaningful to say. Who asks a kid not in school if they are going to prom? So awkward! I get nervous FOR people when they started asking me things like that. So I would just make a sarcastic joke at their expense and we’d laugh it off.

    I don’t think this was long at all! I like your posts about the stuff you do for synagogue. You have an air of pride and love about you when you write it. It’s really nice.

  2. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    You’re obviously more grown up than me…if a bug ends up in my shirt, you’re going to see one crazy, redhead flailing around like a freak! Overall tone of this post…love it…I am often disappointed with the “scripts” we are given.

  3. Kate responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    @Kimmy Sue
    LOL! I was pretty impressed with myself, with the whole bug situation

  4. Shannon responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but today I’m compelled to comment because I hate small talk. I always want to ask people meaningful questions about their lives – their passions, their aches, the quiet, unspoken parts of their existence. We seem to want to pass by each other, only grazing the surface, instead of risking any vulnerability. As a college student, I am asked questions that I don’t have answers to all the time, along the lines of the ones you mentioned, and it makes me feel boring. Like I’m not doing anything at all, but I’m doing lots of things! Just the wrong questions.

    But then, I’m a nanny to a 8 year old and an 11 year old, and I ask them silly questions all the time. I can’t remember what it is to be their age, and my questions reflect that.

  5. Emmi responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    This is why I refuse to go to any future high school reunions. Not only is it shortlist-themed small talk, it’s one-upping and bragging – but trying to seem like you’re NOT. Ugh. I hate all kinds of small talk, really. “How have you been?” “Oh, contending with a debilitating, incurable illness to which the only effective treatment makes me incredibly susceptible to contagion – could you please take a step and a half back so your foreign germs don’t make me miss half a week of work and have my fifth course of antibiotics this year? Thanks…” YUP I am definitely the life of the party there.

    But I’m lousy at finding other subjects to talk about too – I should come up with my own shortlist of non-smalltalky subjects that I don’t hate mindlessly discussing.

    Or I could just talk about the weather. So much easier.

  6. Jenn responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    Don’t dismiss your boobs with any finality, yet. They actually haven’t finished developing until you breastfeed your first child. Then, you can revel in their glory, which will indeed be their last hurrah (until child #2 nurses, of course). Pre-nursing boobs = meh. Pregnant & nursing boobs = Wowzah! (but no touching!). Post-nursing boobs = less than meh (unfortunately).

  7. Kate responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    @Jenn
    Good point. Didn’t think of that.

  8. Elsbet responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    Talking to kids as a grown up… it really is like speaking another language. I’m a social worker, recently working in an open all day-elementary school with kids between six and ten. I worked many different jobs with different clientele, often kids and teens, since five years now. It was hard for me to find a relaxed, natural way to speak with kids and teens, to speak their language – but I finally managed it, and I would encourage everyone to try and find their own way to do so, because it’s absolutely rewarding. Grown ups often try to get the kids to like them, to find them helpfull and to develop a positive relationsship – just by saying some few, often unpersonal words. “How’s school? You really got tall! How’s your sister/brother/mother/father doing?” Just think of your own relationships to friends and people that are close to you: did they develop this way? Or was it more like this: you and the other person acted like you felt, giving each other the chance to notice this? Accepting the uncomfortable pauses of silence? This is one secret to talking with kids, I think: stand the silence. Don’t try to fill them out of necessity (and that’s one of the hardest things I had to learn…) Another secret is to sometimes tell the thruth about how you feel in the situation (especially with kids you like and you want to establish a positive relationship). Just say “You know what, I would like to have a conversation with you, but I don’t know what to talk about”. Either the kid will be relieved that you did the hard part (being honest) or she/he will continue to awkwardly remain silent. And when the last thing happens, hey, it’s okay. Just say bye and everything is fine. Just like you said, Kate, sometimes you just have to forget the sript and make room for the stories. I really enjoyed your post.
    And I just wanted to say, this is not a professional advice on how to act towards kids, just my experience and what I would recommend to a friend she/he could try. And when my english sounds clumsy – it’s not my first language.

  9. Sarah S responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    I had to answer your closing question with another: how about a CHOIR of shofars? I played in an orchestra premiering a piece about the Woman of the Apocalypse, and the final movement called for about a dozen of the brass players to switch to the shofar, answering a clarinet soloist, while the rest of the orchestra rested. I love the symbolism of the instrument, and the piece was GREAT, but damn the rehearsal spent on that moment was one of the most ear-splitting hours of my life. :)

    Loved the story of the cheeky bug! :)

  10. Sara responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    It is the honesty and thoughtfulness of posts like this one that make me really appreciate the writing on this blog. I also appreciate how you share Judaism w/your non-Jewish readers in such a straightforward and open way. Strong work, keep it up – that book deal may be just around the corner!

  11. Amanda responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    That awkward conversational thing? It never ends. I get the whole “How old I must be!” from even a former student teacher who’s got a whopping five years on me.

    Okay, then she tells me to send my son to her room at the high school if he’s having a time of it and needs to speak to someone who, and I quote “actually gives a crap”. So it’s not hopeless.

    But I caught myself delivering a lecture to one of my favorite teenagers the other day at our mutual dance recital. Poor girl handled it well, but good grief I felt like I’d shoved my entire leg down my mouth. Fortunately, I suspect both she and I will survive. As will you :)

    And about that letter to the pink-haired girl: write it. Tonight. Don’t wait, or you’ll start to think it’s been too long and that she’ll wonder why it’s coming out of the blue *now*, and it will never get sent. Okay, it won’t get sent if you’re me. But still, get on that.

    /bossypants out

  12. Kate responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    @Amanda
    Yes! The lecturing! Sometimes I catch myself doing that. And it’s awful. As if I have all of these answers that I in fact definitely don’t have.
    And you’re right. I need to write to her now. Thank you.

  13. Jayna responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Like Shannon, I’ve been reading this blog for the longest time, but I loved this post so much that I wanted to comment (not that I don’t love all your other posts, because I do. I guess I’m just feeling really brave today). I’m a senior in college, and I always feel like I need to give the right answers whenever someone asks me “So what are your plans after you graduate?” I wish I could say “Oh yeah, I’ve got this great internship/job lined up”. But really, after I graduate I want to find a job (somewhere! anywhere!) and pay back all the loans I took out. It’s hard trying to always give the right answers. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to.

  14. SolariC responded on 20 Sep 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    I remember when I graduated from high school, meeting old friends of my parents again. What did they say? ‘You’ve gotten so BIG!’ I wanted to smack my forehead. I didn’t even care if they asked superficial questions, like what I was doing and where I was going to college, but seriously – if the only thing you can say to a 17-year old girl or boy is how much they’ve grown since they were 10 – it’s probably better to say nothing.

    However, now that I’m a teacher, and sometimes meet students whom I tutored while in high school, I have to really watch myself so I don’t burst out, ‘Oh, you’re so big now!’ The irony! It seems to be a natural tendency for adults to be amazed by the rate of change in children. In general, we open our mouths and insert our foot. Even just last year, when one of my students told me she had turned 15, I exclaimed, ‘You’re so young!’ (because I thought she was older). Her face fell a mile, since she was obviously proud of reaching her 15th birthday. I felt dreadful. So it’s really key to watch the way we talk to teenagers.

    I hope, Kate, that you do write to the girl in rehab. She would probably love that. The same girl I accidentally upset by commenting on her youth actually has since chosen me for a confidante about her troubles, simply because I answered her seriously once, when she emailed me. I think young people love it when someone reaches out or responds to them with real interest, instead of nervous, superficial friendliness.

  15. Amy responded on 21 Sep 2012 at 12:55 am #

    Oh my goodness, I laughed and cringed at the same time at your bug story. Don’t you just hate it when there’s no real “appropriate” way to deal with a situation like this? Thanks for the smile today :)

  16. Sari responded on 21 Sep 2012 at 1:50 am #

    The oldest of the first kids I nannied when I moved to NY are all seniors this year.
    Kids I babysat in Ohio first are already finishing college.
    I absolutely relate. Do you know how many kids I nannied?! It’s insane! Some of them are taller than me now!!! I’m old.

    I hated when people talked to me like I was a kid when I was a kid. And I hate that I fall into doing it now. I think a lot of the kids I nannied liked me because I was pretty straight with them. I’d answer their questions about whatever… age appropriate answers, but I wouldn’t discount them.

    (I STILL get it when I go to Ohio and see a neighbor I haven’t seen in years! I’m 27!!!)

    Anyway… write to the girl. She’ll appreciate it, even if she doesn’t write back. If you’ve thought about it enough to even mention it here, you absolutely have something of value to offer her. Words. Attention. Whatever else…

  17. Another Melanie responded on 21 Sep 2012 at 10:29 am #

    I really loved this piece. As a late-twenty-something who still doesn’t seem to have all the right answers, the small talk from the “real adults” makes me uncomfortable even now. Since I’ve gone back to school (for a second BS unrelated to the first), I feel better about my answer to one of their questions, but I hate that I didn’t feel good about it before that, you know? Not all our goals and progress in life can be measured in discrete blocks and stepping stones and then explained to near-strangers in a sentence or two.

    And re: Emmi’s comment, my ten year high school reunion is in less than a month. I’m going, but I’m kind of worried about not having the right answers there either. Plus, so, so many of them already have kids (plural!), while my husband and are still content with our four fur-kids. Maybe it won’t be terrible.

    On the flip side, I absolutely did the adult-to-child thing to one of my out-of-town cousins’ teenaged kids (first cousins once-removed?) around a year ago. That was the first time I’d ever done it to anyone and I cringed as soon as I did it.

    “Wow! You’re so grown-up! I remember when you were this tall!”

    Ugh. Of course they just smiled politely, but I’m sure they were eye-rolling internally just like I did at their age. :)

  18. Shortcrone responded on 21 Sep 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    There are some things that improve with time; for instance, no one has commented on how grown up I am, or asks how old I am, or really any of that nonsense pretty much since I passed through my 30s. So you have that to look forward to. Unfortunately you have to trade it for the wary concern that wraps the “how are you” questions, and the trading of symptoms and recently deceased. So I guess all in all nothing much changes.

    I used to be a professional singer, and sang at a temple for High Holy Days every year. It was one of my favorite places to sing. Everyone was so kind and appreciative, and although I made many mistakes and mispronounced a great deal the congregants were always supportive and helpful. The services are so beautiful and rich. I wish more non-Jewish people could have the opportunity to experience them. Reading this today brought back many warm and full memories.

    It helps to see your nervousness not as a negative thing, but as a tool to channel your energy and focus, and welcome the heightened awareness it brings. Trying not to be nervous can backfire into more tension, anxiety and that judging voice you’re hearing.

  19. BJ responded on 21 Sep 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    The rote phrases are how we maintain boundaries. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If someone had asked me at seventeen what I was thinking about those days, they’d've gotten an earful of rage and self-pity and (depending on the specific day) thoughts of harming self and others. It isn’t fair to burden someone you barely know with thoughts like that.

    There’s also no telling when honesty can come back and bite you in the ass. My younger sister got caught passing notes in high school. The note included some thoughts of hurting herself. When dad found out about it, he reacted in a very dad-like manner — he and his fiancee yelled at her for an hour.

  20. raquel responded on 21 Sep 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    You hit the nail on the head with the life in four categories observation. Even with my parents, I feel I still float on the surface in many of my conversations — When are you going to get married? When are you going to have kids? What if I have an alternative life plan? What if I don’t know what I want?

    So often small talk feels like ticking off your resume.

  21. J responded on 21 Sep 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    Next time you catch yourself doing the adult to child thing, save the conversation by making a joke about how you know you’ve gotten old because you’re asking those questions, and then move on to genuine topics.

  22. Anonyvox responded on 24 Sep 2012 at 10:55 am #

    For what it’s worth, if someone had tried to really relate to me when I was 17 and tell me all about their experience and how they *get it*, I probably wouldn’t have been accessible enough (to them or even to myself) to appreciate it. You couldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know when I was that age.

  23. Eat the Damn Cake » introverted woman in a tutu dress responded on 24 Sep 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    [...] Throughout my life, there have already been so many things I didn’t do that I felt strongly I should have, but they just sounded so awful to me. Joining activity groups in college. That’s where you meet friends! That’s why I only had like four friends in college! Volunteering. God. What’s wrong with you. You’re improving the world! But I’ll have to stand around and schmooze with so many other volunteers! Choir. Parties. Grad student nights at the local bar. Birthright. My mom is still bitter about that one. I should have gone to all of it! I know! I know! I’m terrible. I should be somewhere right now, actually, I’m pretty sure. I should be out somewhere, doing things. Meeting people. Expanding my world. Clinking glasses. Making witty small talk. [...]

  24. The Feminist Grandma responded on 28 Sep 2012 at 8:44 am #

    I LOVE YOUR BLOG! Just found it today, through rolereboot.org.
    I’ve only had a chance to read 3 posts – a cantor, holy cow!
    Please will you read my post today – about a 65-year-old stumped in talking to 19-year-olds? It’s a silly piece, but I think you’ll like it. And I’m adding you to my blogroll.

  25. Kate responded on 28 Sep 2012 at 10:19 am #

    @The Feminist Grandma
    Thank you!! And thanks for making me read your piece- I like it when people do that. Good luck in the grocery store! ;-)

  26. Darcy responded on 01 Oct 2012 at 10:07 am #

    Lame conversation can happen with people of any age, even if they’re close in age. On Saturday I was out and somebody I didn’t know asked me what was my day job. That’s my least favorite question to get. I was careful in responding to ask the person first whether he had a day job and second whether it was something he liked to talk about. I’d much rather have conversations about what makes people light up, what’s something fun that happened lately, what’s the thing that surprised them most about themselves today. Let’s start a movement where we abolish small talk and ask the interesting questions. Even if only some of us are doing it, that’s got to give us better odds of maybe having a real conversation, right?

  27. Anne responded on 07 Oct 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    I love asking “what have you been thinking about lately?” although the only person who would give me consistently interesting answers was my best friend–a lot of other people just get confused, because you’ve stepped away from the proscribed nature of conversation and they haven’t thought about how to react. Another good one is “what’s been interesting you lately?”

    I think the smallness of small talk is about whether you–and your interlocutor, to some extent–are engaged with what you’re saying, rather than specifically about the words you’re saying. For example, when I say “how are you?” or “what’s been up?” (which I prefer to “what’ve you been up to” because it includes that person’s thoughts or feelings, which may be more interesting than their physical time-and-space activities) to close friends at the start of a chat, I genuinely want to know how they are, and care about the response. With other people, sometimes not so much, and I know those phrases are often used as conversation filler or just noise in the air, rather than thoughtful and considered personal interaction.

    But I think this flows the other way too. With some people, I might have what to them is an in-depth conversation but to me is small talk. If I’m having one with someone where they’re all “I can’t believe we use _money_, man” and I half-heartedly go “yeah, totally *elaborate on point, discuss capitalism a little*”, that still counts as small talk for me. It feels smaller and more perfunctory than saying “how are you?” to one of my close friends. Of course, there are certain types of content that lend themselves more easily to small talk and are more likely to be small, esp if you use them all the time. But maybe even giant existential conversations when you’re not at all in the mood for them could be small talk? And you know what, there are times when I’d genuinely like to talk about the weather!

    Thusly I think it’s wrong to always want/demand Deep and Meaningful interaction with people, cos sometimes what you want is just to talk shit about your new dress or quote witty one-liners from Twitter threads (lizard_wizard77 being one I quote with my sister.) Seriousness has many different expressions, including through jokes and pop culture discussions. Also a lot of the time people, esp teenagers, probably don’t want to discuss their inner thoughts with people they’ve just met, and that’s fine–you need a decent level of trust that people can respond properly, not with gushy self-serving sympathy but with reliable solidness and attention.

    Btw I just came across your blog today after it got linked on Alternet, and I like your writing style.

  28. Eat the Damn Cake » the girly voice responded on 09 Oct 2012 at 11:46 am #

    [...] changed since then—it’s that sneaky, horrible process of becoming more jaded and less curious, of thinking that your … I called the Manhattan county clerk about twenty times, trying to get evidence that I’d showed [...]

  29. Laura responded on 09 Oct 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    I am 24, graduated from college a couple of years ago. I am still a kid to the grownups, but a grownup to the kids. I also work at my alma mater, so I am always talking to students – yes, asking those same old questions. I also frequently run into former professors, and none of us seem to know how to communicate anymore. I always swear I will do some real talking, but it’s just so hard to open up a conversation. Especially with the students… then again, I could never really connect with them when I was a student myself. I really like the “what are you thinking about these days” questions – I will definitely try to incorporate that. Thanks :)

  30. Eat the Damn Cake » the only one eating all of the doughnut holes (a story about choosing a career) responded on 04 Dec 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    [...] had been a lay cantor at my synagogue in NJ since I was a teenager, so I knew I liked it, and actually, I’d once been so sure I’d become a [...]

  31. Eat the Damn Cake » bad at being a “natural” mother responded on 29 Apr 2013 at 9:27 am #

    [...] fully formed. But they are still kids, and I still sometimes embarrass myself in front of them, because I am trying too hard to say something funny, or to say the kind of thing that a kid that age… and there’s a distinct possibility that kids are just people and they’re all totally [...]