Monday, May 3, 2010

Small Talk

Green Violet-ear -- Finca Lerida, Boquete, Panama.

Small talk, that polite interpersonal banter of the socially-skilled, has never been my strongest suit. I know the dialect and can parse verbs and decline nouns with the best of them, so it's not for want of facility that I mention this. It's mostly that I consider words to be valuable quantities, so much so that I hesitate using the word "quantity" to describe them. Well-selected, well-spoken words launched humans toward the stars. I hate trivializing or reducing them to casual comments about the weather and the state of one's digestion. Especially when they can do so much more.

Henry Drummond, attorney for the defense in Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's Inherit the Wind, says, "I don't swear just for the hell of it. You see, I figure language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. So we ought to use all the words we've got. Besides, there are damned few words that everyone understands."

Damn it, small talk simply doesn't go anywhere. It hangs in the air like the aroma of cauliflower boiling in my mother's kitchen when I was young, smelling up the whole house. I realize there's a time and a place for it, such as when you're meeting someone for the first time and you'd like things to go further than an introduction, but you're not certain where or how. Transitional talk is okay. It's when there's nothing but, that bothers me.

I'd rather ensconce myself with a stranger, talking in depth about anything, than verbally tip toe around a cocktail party, sampling this conversation and that. I'm just not a good hummingbird. You've seen them, I know, flirting with blossoms but never sticking around long enough to say they've become acquainted. A little handshake of the beak and they're gone, looking for the next dip of dew. That's fine if all a person wants to do is pollinate. I prefer building a nest first, even if it's only for a few minutes, a port in the storm that leaves me feeling I've touched, and been touched by, another human being, even if we part without knowing each other's name.

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