Learning to Small Talk
I have always envied the small talker. The person who could create conversation for no other reason than to converse. Jean Huston once signed a book for me and it read “To a woman who dives in the deep,” she knew me from one glance. I am the deep diver. And, I would like to feel comfortable in the shallow end splashing, as well. Frivolity could serve me well.
A friend of mine was interested in a new art technique. She is a “deep” artist. Wanting to hang with her, I signed up for a class having no idea what I was saying yes to. Then, I walked into the craft store. Unbeknownst to me, this was a scrapbooking class.
As if on another galaxy, I walk into a back room set up with tables in a “U” shape with ten other women. Each one had overstuffed craft bags or suitcases on rollers loaded with a minimum of $2,000 worth of art supplies. Each container had 100 plus specialty pens at $7.00 each complimented by every type of tool and gadget one could imagine. My mind immediately went to judgement and I felt myself pulling away. As my value system is different then this, I wanted to cash in their loot and run down the street feeding the homeless. I reminded myself to hold back and to learn instead of judge.
“Who are you, I haven’t seen you here before?” said a woman with a hard lined face sizing me up and down while eating her Pay Day candy bar and downing a cola beverage, placing it back into a specialized cup holder which attaches to the craft table.
The dreaded moment. In essence, she was saying I didn’t belong (which I kind of didn’t). Sitting in the midst of a group of women scrap book masters, or scrappers, I decided to introduce myself as a novice.
“I am new to all of this and I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. Please go easy on me.”
Showing my vulnerability, all of the eyes look at me and start commenting. “A virgin,” says the red haired mumu dressed woman with her special art glasses donning the tip of her nose. “Not for long,” says the younger woman, her daughter, sitting next to her. “Why would you take this class, anyway, since you aren’t a scrap booker?,” the words roll easily off the tongue. “To get outside of my comfort zone,” I say as though this is a perfectly normal behavior. The air lightens and some smiles are directed my way.
I make the mental note:
1. First step of small talk, create a vulnerable open state. “I don’t know how…” “I am new…” “I could use your help….” I left judgement by entering into curiosity.
Next, I decided to introduce myself to the woman sitting next to me. I am awful with names, so when she tells me her name is Dottie, I am determined to use her name in every fourth sentence so as to remember. “Dottie, what is that in your bag?” “Dottie, I had no idea glue came in strips,” etc. In no time Dottie and I were fast friends.
2. Connect by using the person’s name often.
I then branched into risker territory. I asked personal questions in relationship to the topic. “You clearly are a master scrapper. Do you have a family and how do they feel about it?” Question followed question as this woman’s life unfolded between glitter applications.
Dottie was the first and only female police officer in a small southern town in the 1980s. Yes, when women my mother’s age in our neighborhood were contemplating if they ought to work or stay home, young Dottie was strapping a gun in her belt and chasing bad guys. In fact, the gun weighed so much she has permanent back damage from carrying it.
3. I listened to every word she said, fully present, as though her life was miraculous, and it was.
Somewhere between the decal pressing and the burnishing, Dottie shares with me she is a cougar. My scrap book neighbor married a man eleven years her junior. Her first child is now 35 years old and her husband is 39. “You must have been fifteen when you had your son,” I say like a math whiz. “I was.”
She proceeds to tell me, “we adopted two kids in the past four years. Both girls.” Now, anyone who adopts to me, has evidenced a heart the size of the Grinch after it grew from his love of Whoville. The heart which grew three times in one day. I can’t imagine a more colorful life until she tells me “I found our four year old daughter through Craig’s List in the real estate section.”
When class ended I applauded myself for not running when I was outside of my comfort zone. I celebrate my newly acquired skill of making conversation, just because. And I am liking the versatility of diving and splashing.
It was another Good day,