The artistry of small talk

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wing. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred – Ernest Hemingway

It felt like an overwhelmed young butterfly in a field of ripe, fragrant and sweet flowers. Uncertain where to fly to first, where to land first and where to dip in my innocent butterfly mouth into.

Small talk is not a craft I have a natural talent for. I am all talk with friends and family, though when I find myself in a new environment with new people, I jam. Lacking confidence, I tend to carry myself awkwardly, clumsily through social events and conversations, where I often remain quiet or mumble something incomprehensible that’s completely off topic. I am sure everyone has their moments of self-doubt and what I’m describing here is anything but new. It, however, was a recent issue I had to overcome, which I thought I had conquered years back.

Hospitality is an area where you constantly work and interact with people. There’s no escaping it unless you opt to dedicate yourself to a life of repetitive napkin folding (which I reckon isn’t too bad; it’s quite relaxing). Yet, either as a waitress, food runner or bartender, I had no choice but to engage in conversation once every 5 minutes; it completely unbalanced me. Even though I’ve been working in hospitality for almost 9 years now, this job required me to socialize more than I ever had to.

With a queer fondness, I think back on when I was just a small, hyperactive kid who one day got struck by the realisation of self-consciousness. I similarly remember the day and the actual situation when I felt shame for the first time, and I’m sure most people do. Anyway, I went from a constantly talking child to a nervously shy one, where I would turn purple any time someone talked to me. On many occasions, I even fled the site of confrontation. After a few years of social anxiety and loneliness, I decided this was not a living and I planned to throw myself into it all in order to gain friends. It worked, despite the occasional failure. I taught myself how to talk, even though it didn’t come naturally. Eventually, it was easy.

Coming into a new environment like I did last year with no one around me I knew well (besides my partner), made me recall those shy days and how I went through a lot of effort to conquer it. And even though it’s not great still, I did put myself out there. The most amazing thing I realised later, is that people generally don’t really care if you act in a reserved way or sometimes laugh awkwardly or remain quiet when you ought to have said something. Besides the fact that most people roughly remember 90% of what they said themselves in the social interaction, they also recognize their own social insecurities and look past them. In the end, everyone’s self-conscious in one way or another.

In addition, it’s beautiful when people do open up to you. I find it impressive and exciting when someone tells you their story. On how they travelled to Australia from Ireland after meeting her Dutch husband. How they’re happy to finally have the weekend so they can celebrate their 2 year anniversary with some champagne. In the end, it’s worth the effort to try to make small talk, for it can be so rewarding getting to know random strangers and making new friends.

The Elephant​ in the Room

Just now I watched the winner of short films, Rat Race by Steve Cutts. The rats, who are obviously symbolizing humans, go through a stressful city life where they’re looking for happiness, whilst continuously being crushed by masses of bodies and intrusive advertisements. It is clear from the moment you start watching the film, it is going to be about how every individual in the current society searches for happiness. The rat that is being followed in particular is trying to find happiness in all sorts of ways, such as purchasing expensive cars, drinking and taking medication. All fails, when he’s being trapped trying to catch a 100 dollar bill; doomed to an unhappy nine-to-five job.

A few days before, I watched a program on television where several famous folk gave their unsalted opinion on social media and its current ‘negative effects’. “Social media is disconnecting us from our true friends; we feel lonelier than ever,” said one artistic looking man who’s a singer-songwriter. “Depression and negative self-views are more common than before,” said another one. “Society is failing to make us happy,” is what they were trying to say.

Both examples are a way of criticizing society. Social media is dividing us. Education is not preparing us for ‘the real world’. How often do we hear similar phrases. It’s not something new, yet it keeps being said without any noticeable changes or probable solutions to the issue at hand.

If I’ve learned anything from art in high school is that everything needs an opposing view. Picasso, who in his younger years painted very naturalistically, later in life opposed to the realistic style of the Renaissance by creating the cubism movement. In addition, realism was a reaction to the extravagant style of romanticism. Similarly, it is necessary that there are people speaking against the current society, social media and education as a form of counter-balance.

However, the arguments are starting the become repetitive and hollow. Spreading negativity about the way we’re living is not going to increase our happiness (if there’s unhappiness at all). As a psychology graduate, I am aware of the large numbers of depression in the world, and although I am very much encouraging the increased awareness of this illness, I feel there can be too much of an emphasis on unhappiness.

There is a need for positivity, contentedness and gratefulness. The world is not all sorrow, hostility and conflict. You’d be surprised how happy you can be (or already are) by having the right mindset. By being content with your day to day activities and accomplishments. If I’ve had a tough day, I always try to make a list in my head where I write down at least 10 things that happened that day I feel happy or grateful for. After a while, it becomes a habit and helps you perceive the world in a much sunnier light.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions – Dalai Lama

When you stop thinking about yourself as an uninfluential gear in a massive factory, but instead believe you have control over your own life and when you try new, exciting things to look forward to and enjoy, you can make yourself find happiness quite easily. Go out into the world, explore, wonder, learn. Emerge yourself into a new culture, lose yourself into a book or a delicious dish. Allow yourself to fail sometimes, though let it not bring you down. Try again. In the end, you will find that there’s so much more to offer in the world that you won’t find any time for negativity and unhappiness.

A Game of Books and Restlessness

… I climbed the three staircases, raised the trapdoor of the attic, and having reached the leads, looked out afar over sequestered field and hill, and long dim skyline – that then I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen.. I could not help it; the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes.  – Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontie.

I always felt that Brontie explains Jane’s emotions so well in this paragraph, where the reader can easily identify with her too. Restlessness has always been a major puzzle in my life, both physically and mentally. Reading books did not come naturally to me. Neither did being able to sit down quietly or having the patience to finish something properly (to the frustration of my parents). High school was a trial, especially getting the grades needed to graduate. I like to think back with a curious fondness to the moment I received the call from my mentor whether I had graduated or not. That man in particular was a dry, wrinkled and humourless teacher, though an honest man which he confirmed when he spoke to me that day on the phone.  “Hi, Elise, I have received the results from your tests and well,” he uttered in his slow, monotone voice, “I did not expect this but you have passed.” No hint of sarcasm, no sound of a quick smile. I was happy nonetheless and continued to struggle with my restlessness throughout university.

As I got older though, I actively undertook steps to learn to sit down for a while in order to read. First, a page or two were almost unbearable for me, but after a while, I read page after page and now, if I feel like I have absolutely nothing else to do, I can read a book in a day. I read ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ and ‘Silence of the Lambs’ in one day each – yes, I feel I’m allowed to boast a little about this. On the road trip around Australia, reading was my main entertainment in the evenings. We collected half a library in the back of the car and in order for me to stop buying books since I’d finish them rather quickly, I decided it was more profitable if I bought larger books. Naturally, I started to read Game of Thrones from George R R Martin. I can assure you when I saw the books for the first time, I could’ve never dreamed that I’d be able to read through all of them, but I did. It feels like an accomplishment, besides the fact that it was made easier since the books are utterly captivating.

Now, reading books is a relaxing experience for me, though I still have to tell myself to sit down and stop fussing about all the other things that need to be done. Rather to think of reading as a mandatory exercise needed to learn something or maybe for the aesthetic of it all, it truly opens up a new world filled with wild dragons, heated discussions, stonecold zombies, fiery passions, unsalted opinions and unexplored universes.

 

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