So here's the set-up:
There's a man I see at Starbucks. Some years ago we had conversations, we said hello, we talked about writing. We were friendly. Now, some years later I noticed something. We don't say hello anymore. We don't even acknowledge each other, really.
And I have to say, I'm totally okay with it. Maybe I even initiated it. But it makes me wonder:
When do you stop acknowledging someone -- when do you stop saying hello?
With this particular gentleman I have to confess there was a turning point for me. And it's based in some judgment. One day, in the years when we were talking, I was in graduate school and writing a lot and happy to talk to anyone who would A) distract me from said work and B) would just talk to me. Ok, it was a bit of a lonely phase.
So he finds out I'm a writer and I coach writers and give workshops and he tells me (all together now) "I've always wanted to write a book."
I have to say something here. Whenever people proclaim a desire to write a book -- and I really do love writing -- my reaction is: Well if you can help it, why would you want to? In other words, if you're cruising along in life perfectly content not writing, why force the issue?
But when I hear anyone share a dream to write I get right in there and step into this advice-giving "helpful" stance. But then he said something that made me never want to talk to him again.
What he said was that he wanted to write his novel in a month. He just wanted to get it over with.
That was like the scratch on the record, one of those moments -- admit it, you have them too! -- when it's game over.
To explain: I am not interested in conversations that are focused on the end-product. I am a process junky. I like delving into the juicy process, the curiosity and mystery of what is found there, sharing the struggles of commiting to the artistry of creating something really delicious and generous and good. That's what I like.
Once I grasped that all this writer wanted was an end-prouduct my desire to talk to him pretty much vanished.
It's rather conditional isn't it? Oh well. Maybe it's just a value separation.
But seriously. Admit it. It' shappened to you, too. You meet someone and everything's cooking along just fine and then they tell you something that rests on an aesthetic principle or value level that you just can't deal with. For example, they voted along a party line you detest or they absolutely do not like the artist/writer/musician that makes life worth living for you. Or they think the fruit you find the most delicious and perfect and sensual (say, a mango) is disgusting. Do you ever visualize pulling a lever that opens a trap door that they fall down and out of sight, forever?
Nick Hornby wrote about this in "High Fidelity." His narrator, who was looking for the perfect mate, said something along the lines of, "It's not who you are, it's what you like." My cousin Jane read this years ago and said to me, This is the male version of you. She was right, but that was the male version of me. I've lightened up a lot, really! But it's still there.
I have to admit, if someone were to tell me, "I think the second movement of Beethoven's 5th piano concerto is total shit," Oh man. Would the relationship be tested.
So what am I trying to say?
I'm not saying as much as I'm noticing--and copping to--a couple of things.
I notice that there are neighborhood folks who at some point I--we, together, in a silent pact--slowly stopped acknowledging each other with a Hello or even a head tip. What's happening there?
Then there's this related situation: In which you recognize someone and you notice them recognizing you and neither of you is sure whether to acknowledge each other's recognition or ignore it. So you may enter this silent agreement of simultaneous ignoring/avoidance. I find that so interesting and funny.
Maybe next time I will try stepping out of myself and say a nice big juicy Hello to one of these maybe-acquaintances. Even to the lame writer guy because really, maybe he wrote the book and maybe he's got a reading at Barnes & Noble next week and that's more than I can say.
As for judging people on their music tastes and other things like that. That's another posting. But somehow it sneaked in here. Because that one guy I stopped saying hello to didn't share my aesthetic values, or work ethic, or art apprecation, I dunno what you cal lit. And sometimes when people don't share my aesthetic it's hard for me to accept them into my world.
Isn't that close-minded? Oh well. And what if I just said, So what. You can't be friends with everyone!
One last story-lette: Years ago I told my Dad that a man I was dating wouldn't go to the opera with me (which I don't go to much anymore and can't blame him). My dad's immediate reaction was, "Dump him." See where I come from? But when I think back on it now it makes me laugh and I feel so incredibly fond of my Dad for that.
But moving forward, I'm going to play with the idea of making better eye contacting and stepping into recognizing people and saying Hello to as many people as I can. And even the "lame writer guy."
Because, what's the worst thing that can happen?