Thursday, 23 February 2012

It’s genuinely good to talk ...

So, I’ve now done two of the new incarnation of the One Eyed Man, CHAT/SHOW, in the foyer space at Volcano. It’s a terrific space to do it in – versatile in just the right way. A few sofas, some carefully placed lamps and it feels like a front room or bar environment which is just what this kind of work needs.

The people who have attended have been a mixture of old faces from last year and newbies and that has meant that there is a degree of explanation involved in what I’m doing – that said, the postcards created by the fabulous Claudine Conway, lay out in pretty explicit detail what the evening will be about and so people have been more inclined to go for what I’m asking them to do than I was expecting.

And what is that? Well – talk. Conversation, to be precise. The title of the work is, in some ways, wrong since conversation is, arguably, something more than mere chat. Conversation – as I talk about in the show itself – comes from the Latin word ‘conversare’ which literally translates means ‘to turn around’ – and that’s what conversation really achieves.

So, I’ve been spending about half the evening – roughly 45 minutes – doing what I did last year. Talking in an entirely off-the-cuff and unprepared way about my personal feelings, learnings and experiences of conversation in my life – and, as an adjunct, asking people to tell me theirs.

Since the idea began to evolve from last year’s experiments that what people really responded to was the opportunity to be vulnerable and present in conversation with people they don’t know very well, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research and thinking about conversation. Principle texts so far include: The Art of Conversation by Catherine Blyth – a fantastic and rich compendium of thoughts, ideas and maxims of how conversation works and brings benefits; Conversation by Theodore Zeldin – these are transcripts of talks the author gave on Radio 4 which were so popular that he ended up publishing them – they are absolutely wonderful and inspiring about the art of conversation and have also provided me with a rich source of conversational gambits which I give to my guests (I can’t really call them an audience since it’s not really a show ...); and currently – Watching the English by Kate Fox – a hilarious and true account of behaviour that marks out English people – and in particular the ways we converse with each other. It’s almost impossible for me now to make small talk about the weather without thinking about this book and it’s revelations about why we do what we do. Also, her explanation of the way that we have to greet each other in a shambolic and vaguely embarrassed way is pure genius. I heartily recommend all three.

So, after 45 minutes of my ramblings and discussions about conversation – why it works, examples of great conversations, what are the rules? Etc – I then turn the evening over to the guests and offer them the chance to actually have conversations. And I’m delighted to say that people have been really engaging and enjoying the process of talking for it’s own sake.
At this stage, I’m not sure where this is taking me or how it may evolve over time but I still feel strongly that I’m on to something profound.

Think back over the last few days of your own life. Honestly, how many conversations have you had? Not just chats about the weather or Adele being interrupted on the Brits or the awful things happening in the world – but a conversation that actually made you turn around. A meeting of minds that lead to you emerging from the encounter a different person to the one who went in. It’s rare, isn’t it? For me too.

Now, arguably, it should be rare and that if every interaction we had on a daily basis had the same effect then we’d be bouncing all over the place. But it shouldn’t be so rare that we never get any opportunities to look someone in the eye and hear their truth and have them hear ours.

It’s fundamental to what makes us human and keeps us nurturing compassion for one another. For me, the person who drives like an arsehole (I know, I know ...), doesn’t indicate or wear a seatbelt, is someone I would cheerfully throw to a pack of hungry dogs. Because they are a faceless non-entity. But put me in a room with that person, face to face, to genuinely talk about driving and social responsibility and stress and how we might make things better – and we might just arrive at a way of living that is better for both of us and better for everyone else in the world.

I know, call me an old idealist but I genuinely think that in this totally commonplace and non-revolutionary act of conversation lies the key to a successful future for us all as a race.

So, I’ll be there at 229 High Street Swansea every month – Tuesday 20th March and Tuesday 17th April coming up – and I hope you’ll think about coming along.

Because it genuinely is good to talk.