Posts Tagged: communication

conversation mojo

Last night I essentially hung up on a good friend because we couldn’t talk to one another.  It was like we were both standing on different planes – angled stages that were perpetually moving, veering us away from one another.  Every attempt at communication was a misfire, our timing was out of whack – neither of us could find one meaningful thing in anything the other had to say.  It has been like this for the past several conversations and I couldn’t bear the frustration of it any longer.  This friendship was born of a connection that was marvelously in synch since the moment we met five years ago, and I didn’t know what to do with this situation but to walk away and try again next time.

This morning I woke up to messages saying “you are not a [very bad word]” and “I love your un-[very bad word]ness” and so it seemed he had forgiven me on the whole thing.  And which also must mean that at some point in between my hanging up and his sending messages that said I was NOT a [very bad word], I had been called a [very bad word].

Now, dear reader, you may not find it surprising that, as I rolled over to go to sleep last night, exhausted from the nowhere exchange, I was cursing HIM and his goddamn cheeky bravado and his not taking my frustration seriously.  But the thing is I adore his cheeky bravado, I always have; it usually makes me laugh.  As it did this morning when I found those messages assuring me that I am not a [very bad word].  Nevertheless, having slept on it I wondered if the whole thing really was my fault.

Because the past few days have given me more than this one cause to question my aptitude in the ways of conversation.  I started to write “art of conversation,” but that’s something else, no?  Isn’t the “art of conversation” something associated with one’s ability to interact in a social setting, like a party?  The “art of conversation” is a social tool, to be employed in certain situations.  Some people are gifted in that art – they can enliven a gathering, make others feel confident and special, and engage others in stories.  Other people are socially retarded.  You know the type – their attempts at conversation only make others feel uncomfortable or hostile.  They put words out there that fall with a loud clatter on the floor leaving one or more people cringing in pain.  My situation is about personal communication – and can personal communication be an art?

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty good conversationalist.  I’m not one of those gifted ones to any degree and I am hopeless with small talk.  And, as last night showed, I am incapable of carrying the load of a flagging conversation.  I am very social and I love all kinds of gatherings – from intimate to large – particularly when good conversation springs forth organically from the chemistry bouncing about the room.

And I have the ability to engage people in ideas and concepts – at least that's what a number of writing students have said.  I can hold my own in intellectual discussions (or at least ask appropriate questions), and I’m aware of current events and politics.  I do avoid anger and bad feelings, probably too much, and depending on the assembled – I may or may not voice what are often pretty strong opinions.  If I sense everyone is a grown up about it and would manage a debate fairly and good-naturedly, then I’m all about it. 

It’s personal conversations that have taken a piece out of me the past few days.  Or I should say the personal discussions that haven’t happened for reasons I’m still trying to work out.  Because it also happened with another person, with whom there was chemistry and everything else seemed to gel naturally; everything except the talking.

If it is me (though I still maintain last night wasn’t entirely my fault), I sense it’s got to do with the recent stepped-up action in the dating world – a world that’s always brought out my very best awkward.  And if that’s the case – I don’t like it one bit.  This is a wall that’s got be knocked down.  Pronto.

Maybe I should look upon my conversation aptitude as an art after all.  And hanging up probably wasn’t the most creative way to deal with last night’s nowhere-talk.  You know, I’ve always had a creative mind, and perhaps I, the creative thinker, will just have to apply those skills to bring back my conversation mojo.

everything flows, nothing stands still*

So I made peace with his landlordship.  No, we didn’t discuss the Matter of the Windows or his Jacking Up the Furnace Policy.  Let’s just say we both know it’s an issue that would remain unresolved for as long as I chose to live there.  He did say he’s thinking of building a deck for the upper apartment, so perhaps that’s his acknowledgement of most peoples’ need for fresh air and an enjoyment of summer.  He probably thinks that the next tenant’s utilisation of a deck space will eliminate any need to open windows – but that’s a discussion I’m not going to need to have ever again.

At any rate, the exchange was friendly and generous on both sides, and I’m glad to be leaving him on good terms.  He expressed sadness that I’m going, and I understand that.  It’s not about the money for him; it’s about the comfort of having another body moving about in the big house.  And it’s hard to find a good tenant, particularly when one is inclined to make much ado over small things.  I’m glad to be leaving his control issues and mind games.  I’m sad to be leaving behind the friendly, slightly cheeky man who gave me some prints of his bird paintings, which I’ll hang in my new home in honour of his good qualities, and because they’re lovely.  

I get possession of my new digs tomorrow and the official move is Monday.  I hope to use the weekend to get the cupboard and closet stuff in place, and thus ease SOME of the unpacking pain.

But then I never find moving painful.  Well, leaving Windsor and the place I lived my entire life was painful.  More bittersweet:  moving closer to my family, but leaving my friends; becoming a homeless empty nester, but embarking on a month-long adventure to find love across the ocean in a country I’d never been to before.  I couldn’t have known then that it would take years to overcome that shock to my system, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’ve always loved change – I crave it sometimes.  I suspect that now I’m that empty-nester I’m a little too free to run after change any time the whim takes me.  I won’t even begin to discuss my thoughts on where this has left me in the love and relationship department.  Maybe I should be like my favourite bloggers – refreshingly honest and personally forthright – and lay that out on the table.  Maybe in doing that I could affect some internal change in an area that could really stand some improvement. 

But not today.  I’m too jazzed about the move.  It’ll be the fourth neighbourhood I’ve tried in Toronto since 2006.  It’ll be different than any type of home or neighbourhood I’ve ever lived.  Because in making this decision, I thought that it was time to let go of some ideas about re-creating that kind of neighbourhood and HOME that I had when my girls were growing up.  After all, everything’s different now.  I AM alone and I CAN follow these yearnings and go where the wind takes me.  I truly believe in following the rhythms of the universe, and I’m looking forward to discovering where the path takes me.

As of Monday, everything will be new again.  With wide open windows.

Change is the only constant. *~Heraclitus


his landlordship’s displeasure with the open state

Me and my landlord have got ourselves into a bit of a standoff sitch.  I’m not sure what I was thinking when I signed on for living above a retired bloke.  Not that there’s anything wrong with retired people, I love lots of them from the bottom of my heart – it’s just that for many their worlds get smaller again, and for some, their lives are centred on their four walls.  Living above someone who carries on most of his existence in the space below would of course mean lots of attention placed on me and what I do. 

Back in Windsor we lived next to two old retired guys, both of whom obsessed over their yards.  And mine.  Dominic and Joe would stand on their porches and watch me cut my grass.  Once, when I was finished, Joe walked over to the fence and asked me, “You going to bag that grass now?”  I was nice, and didn’t respond that I, who worked and went to school full time and was raising two little girls and managing a house and yard, actually didn’t approve of bagging grass to send off with the garbage man when it’s good for the soil anyway.  I just sweetly said “no” and carried on.

I always try to be nice to people.  I believe you get what you give in this world and goodness me there’s enough bad feeling floating around out there already.  And my landlord is usually a really nice man.  He’s got all kinds of Irish charm and he loves to talk.  That may be part of the problem – I think in me he was looking for someone to talk to.  He’s got loads of people to talk to – he spends hours on the phone every day and visits friends all the time.  But I wasn’t signing on to keep him company.  I am a nice person, but I am relatively reserved and I abhor small talk and I choose my friends carefully.  Maybe it sounds uncharitable, but all I wanted was a nice clean place to hang my hat in a nice neighbourhood and a normal, congenial landlord/tenant relationship. 

It became evident that renting there was a mistake right after I moved in and the head games started.  It took several days of him playing his TV very loud very early in the morning and me overhearing some agitated sounding telephone conversations, which I sensed I was supposed to be overhearing.  I found out through a third party (the agent who took care of finding him a tenant) that my living room was above his bedroom and I was staying up too late and he could hear my TV and me walking around.  And that he didn’t like the smell of what I had cooked the weekend previous.

It was a low moment, coming to terms with the mistake I had made.   A comfortable home is one of the main ingredients to happiness in my books.  Both my sister and a friend of mine assured me he was simply peeing on his territory and the dust would settle, but I knew I would never claim that flat as anything like “home.”  Sure, I had rights, but he was making it clear this was HIS home and he wasn’t going to let me forget it. 

So I changed things around in my flat and we eased into an agreeable relationship.  But there on in I would carry guilt for staying up into the morning hours on weekends, or coming in late or cooking fragrant meals. 

Then, last year, he again got to “communicating with symbolic actions” rather than speaking to me, when arose THE MATTER OF THE WINDOWS.  He likes his place warm.  And as it turns out, sealed shut.  It’s not so bad in winter to come into a nice warm place, as long as you’re comfortable enough with yourself to walk around half naked most of the time.  When spring came, however, I would – like most other people in seasonal climates – crank open the windows to enjoy the fresh warm days and rid the place of the winter’s stale forced air. 

He soon made plain his displeasure in open windows, because every time I committed this offence, he took to cranking up the furnace to an unreasonable degree.  I’m not sure what the point of that is – our apartments have separate entrances, closed off from one another.  There is no way that me opening a window would affect the temperature of his place.  But clearly, if he wasn’t trying to make some kind of point then he was trying to ensure I wasn’t comfortable. 

It was late spring – eventually he would switch over to the air conditioning, but this was certainly past the time when I or any sane person would engage a furnace. 

This year, unwilling to endure the furnace game for another season, I gave him the obligatory sixty days’ notice and began a search for a new home.  He was nice about it.  He was going to go abroad for the month of May and said he was glad he’d be back before I moved out.  And I was glad because I’d have the month of May to make as much noise as I wanted packing and to open the windows and relish spring.   And as it turns out we’ve had the most wonderful, early, warm, sunshiny spring. 

With the warm sunshiny spring and continued running of the furnace came a warmer and stuffier apartment.  And so again begins the battle of the windows. 

I don’t open them wantonly or to provoke him, and I always close them when I leave.  But unfailingly, as soon as I open one, I hear him go outside and then come back in and with a growl the furnace rages forth.  One night it got up to 87°.  Herein lies the standoff.  Not willing to suffer in unreasonable dry heat, I open the windows.  And he, not willing to endure an insufferable window opener, jacks up the thermostat.

This week I’ve figured out he’s not going on his trip, probably related to the battle of the windows, but I wouldn’t know, he hasn’t communicated any sort of reasoning or plan to me.  Maybe he can’t stand the thought of going abroad and me opening windows and him not being able to protect his house from my addiction to the evil, home destroying fresh air smells with his forced air gas weapon. 

I am moving soon and it’s goodbye to head games and bad feelings.  I’ve got the opportunity to get my new place two weeks early and I’m taking it.  This time I’m moving to a condo down in the harbour, the likes of which I’ve never lived in before.  I got a great deal on the rent, it’s in a great location and has nice amenities.  It's different and it'll be fun.  And I’ll be anonymous. 

Maybe desiring anonymity is kind of sad, but living in a fishbowl is exceedingly irksome.  Anonymous is more agreeable than being the subject of someone’s need to control her comfort level.  I’ve reached the end of my nice; the only thing left to do now is say goodbye and go.

that bus is a never-ending source

you know those people all look alike to me

Today I’m on the streetcar surrounded by teenage boys talking about sports.  The prospects for the hockey playoffs are given a rundown.  Philly, Vancouver and Detroit are all proposed as having the most potential, and there’s lots of verbal scorn at the various opinions. 

Then one kid brings up the Masters tournament and of course that most celebrated and notorious swinger, and tells his buddies that Tiger golfed really well yesterday and was sitting in fourth or something like that. 

When his friends scoff at that result, the kid says,

“He’ll be back on top EASY – all the leaders are old guys, like in their 80s.  They won’t hold out.”

As I’m thinking “wow, way to go you golfers in your 80s” the kid continues,

“One guy is like 55, another one is like 60.” 

I guess it’s kind of like that universal discrimination wherein we look at people of another group or race and think they all look alike.  To that kid, anyone who looks over 55 or so looks "in their 80s.”

It occurrs to me sitting there that after seven more birthdays, I’ll have got to my “80s” in that kid's mind and I think, “Damn, I look good.”


clearly complicated

I get on the bus yesterday and sit beside a woman reading a book.  A guy walks by and stands a little over from us and opens his book.  She sees him and says “Pete!  Hi Pete.  Pssst – Pete!  Hi!”  When he finally turns around and sees her he barely reacts.  He looks at her, then his book, then he looks at her again and his lips move into some sort of weak smile.  A smile not extended to his eyes or any other part of his face.

Both return to their books and I’m trying to decide if he’s snubbed her or if he doesn’t recognize her.  At any rate, the rejection is plunked in the space between the three of us like a lead weight.  She holds her book as if reading, but doesn’t turn a page over the rest of the trip.  My first inclination is to pity her, but then I think, maybe she broke his heart.  Or she ripped him off.  Or dissed his brother.

As I disembark, they both do too; he walking on the sidewalk ahead of me, she behind me.  He looks into the bus as it pulls away and turns and sees her walking behind, and waits for her.  I feel relieved as I walk around him and turn off another way, thinking it was merely some lack of recognition or something and they’re sorting it out. 

Then I hear a loud and rather affronted sounding “WHAT?” and turn to see them standing there on the sidewalk looking at one another.  I spend the last leg of my trip home making up a whole new set of scenarios.


update on the briefcase guy

Yesterday morning the man with the briefcase sits beside me on the bus.  He’s still preoccupied, and still carrying the old briefcase and stuffed-full shopping bag.  He gets to business quickly this time.  He fishes an old book and some blank paper from the bag, opens the book and balances it on one knee and begins to copy some of the diagrams from the book onto the paper using the briefcase as a table on his other knee, over what's left of the eight or so minute ride.  He smells of stale sweat and salami.

I’d be more interested in his endeavour if I wasn’t trapped in the window seat, and barely on time to make my connection, and gauging how long it will take him to put all his stuff away and get up so I can get out the door.

Sometimes I’m less an eavesdropping blogger than your average impatient commuter in a big city.