Yesterday I had to go ‘down below’ meaning I left the mountains for the city, spending all day running errands and maxing out on people overload. While moving through the grocery store, the produce stand, the laundromat, and so on, I started paying attention to the conversations.
For example, during my mammogram, the woman doing the squashing told me about some hilarious camping stories and a couple equally hilarious stories about patients (I’m sure that I’m now new fodder for her). While at the produce stand the young man running the register told me a story about the nectarines I’d bagged up, and then a story about a cobbler his mother makes with nectarines and blueberries.
At the dentist, the tech filled the time that my mouth was propped open, by telling her captive audience stories about all the precocious things her toddler was doing.
Every single conversation was a story. There were no interactions that were simply facts. Everything, every word, was connected to a tale. As I realized this, I started an experiment. I tried to not respond with a story. I failed. Think about it. A person tells you a funny camping story, which reminds you of the time something odd happened when on the beach, and that reminds your listener of something else, and before long the two of you are deep in conversations.
Why is it that conversations are all made up of stories? How many of us can answer a question with a simple fact-only answer? And if you can do that, how many times is that perceived as rudeness by your listener? As a writer I’m very relieved that humans are so hungry for stories. But I wonder at the mechanism, at why we are wired that way, why we must speak in stories, even to strangers.
I’m going to challenge myself the next time I’m in public, to try to not tell a single story. I find myself wondering if I’ll be able to speak at all. Oh, I have to add that for my challenge I think I will study my husband in public. He despises meaningless conversations with strangers and discourages stories. He wants to get into the store, get what he needs, and get home, with minimal contact. His body language and short answers are clear signals to those experienced with working with the public that he is one not interested in talking.
And that brings me to the downside of the challenge to try not telling a single story. I’m going to miss out on a day of rich textures, of ideas for writing, and of fascinating people. Still though, it’s going to be interesting to see if I can manage to go through one whole day in public without telling a story. I think I shall fail.