WRITING SHORT: 40/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

I’ve always thought conversation was supposed to involve dialogue. One person says something, the other responds – agreeing or not, as the case may be. Doesn’t the prefix “con-“ mean “with?”

Many women, although not all, understand this. Most men I’ve met, although not all, don’t. It’s probably not a generational thing either, common only among those my age. I’ve sat listening to quite a few forty- and fifty-somethings go on and on about themselves, their children, friends, travels, politics, plans, employment (unless that’s so important and confidential it’s a no-no secret). If they pause for breath, your role is to ask a question that gets them going again. Useless to inject a comment or opinion. The torrent of monologue will roll right over it.

And when it’s time for them to leave or hang up, expressing pleasure at the visit or chat, you may realize afterwards that there’s been no expressed interest whatsoever in you and how you’re doing, beyond the pro forma preliminary “How are things?” – to which no answer beyond “Good, and how are you?” or its equivalent is required.

I no longer try to understand why this is. (Talk therapy too expensive?) What I now do is make efforts to watch it whenever I open my mouth, lest I turn into one of those old folks in need of company who go on talking about themselves and the good old days till they drive everyone away.

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WRITING SHORT: 13/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Phone call from younger son to mom. Son reads mom’s blog. (Most of the time.)

Son:  Hey mom. It’s July 23. Happy birthday!

Son’s mom:  Thank you, sweetheart.

Son:  Anything special on for today?

Son’s mom:  Well, your brother and the kids came down Saturday. Bill brought me a dozen yellow roses. We’re going out to dinner. (Pause.) Did you know my parents were married on July 23, too?

Son:  No I didn’t. Quite a coincidence.

Son’s mom:  Back when I was eleven, twelve, I used to say I was born on my parents’ wedding day. I thought it sounded risqué. A very pregnant bride being rushed to the hospital right after saying “I do!”

Son:  I guess it could happen. How many years earlier did they really get married?

Son’s mom:  Six. Then my mother wanted a baby. She got more than she bargained for. Thirty-six hours of labor. Husband out of a job in the middle of the depression.  I heard all about it. Especially the thirty-six hours of labor. She used to joke I didn’t want to come out. They had to pull me out with forceps. Lazy from the day I was born.

Son (tactfully):  Was that why they didn’t have another?

Son’s mom:  Maybe. But my mother also felt one was enough. When I was pregnant with you, she was not supportive. She asked what I needed another for.

Son (quickly changing subject):  Those little summer posts you’ve been doing lately: how does it feel to just crank one out and be done with it?

Son’s mom: Well, I don’t really just “crank.” It takes time to come up with a topic at least some people might be interested in. Bill says I could write about anything. I don’t know about that.

Son: Sure you can.

Son’s mom: You think? Suppose I wrote about being born on my parents’ wedding anniversary. How would readers feel when I criticize my mother to everyone?

Son: They’d be fine with it. It’s not as if you’re complaining about everything every day.

**********

So son’s mom listened to son. Was son right?

VALENTINE’S DAY CONVERSATION

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[The scene: one of three checkout counters at Whole Earth, small organic fruit and vegetable store patronized mainly by Princeton “intelligentsia.” It also stocks some organic processed foods, dairy, and ecologically approved cleaning, toiletry and beauty products. In addition has “deli” section offering organic vegetarian take-out options.  Temperature outside: 5 degrees F.]

She (crowding many items from her cart onto conveyer belt and addressing next person in line without seeing who it is):   I‘m not a good person to get behind.  (She is bundled up in heavy scarf, black down coat, lined gloves and boots, and therefore only visible from the chin up. However, she did have her uncovered hair cut and colored three days previously.)

He (for it is indeed a he):  I see you’re eating healthy.

She (turning to look): Not so healthy.  My husband goes kerflooey now and then. (She is referring to two tubs of Bent Spoon ice cream and several packages of crystallized ginger on conveyer.  Also two 70% chocolate bars near box of Zen greens, organic grape tomatoes, lemons and Braeburn apples. Man behind her is person with completely shaved bald head and wearing only white tee shirt. No jacket, gloves or hat in sight. Slight belly. Wide-open baby blue eyes. White skin so smooth and unlined it might have been entirely Botoxed.)

He: We all have to do that now and then.

She (pushing empty cart forward): I guess.

He: Eating that way you’re going to live a long time.

She: (Why is boy at register so slow at ringing things up?) I’ve already lived a long time.

He: G’wan.

She (unwisely): I’m old enough to be your mother.  I’m probably twice your age.

He (incredulous): You’re a hundred and two?

She (really looking at him now):  Well, no. Not quite.

He (proudly): I’m fifty-one.

She: I’m closer to a hundred and two than to your age.  (She pauses.) I’m eighty-three.

He (also pausing):  I thought you were sixty.  Or sixty-one.  

(He must be pulling her leg. Well, maybe he isn’t.  She is all bundled up. He can’t see what’s really what. She hopes she didn’t smile.)

He (continuing): How old did you think I was?

She (now fishing in wallet for credit card): Oh, somewhere in your late forties.

He (disappointed):  Most people guess thirties.

She: I have sons in their mid-forties.  Sorry, you don’t look younger than they do.

He (desperate?): I have thirty to thirty-five years of experience. How’s that?

She (signing machine and preparing to exit): Don’t brag.

He:  But it’s true. [He pushes his seven cans of overpriced Wolfgang Puck vegetarian soup forward on conveyer.]

She:  Doesn’t matter.  Say nothing. (Good advice to self, she thinks.) Always keep ’em guessing. 

[She exits.  However, in the car she thinks it over. Just a weird crazy guy making small talk.  But sixty?  Sixty-one?  She feels good all the way home.]

OVERHEARD AT OUR HOUSE

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[Man and woman of advanced years are sitting side by side on couch near gas-powered fireplace.  He has just finished reading, on iPad, preview of post she intends to publish.]

She:  So?  What do you think?

[He slowly shakes his head from side to side.]

She:  No?  Why not?

He:  It makes me uncomfortable.

She:  Too far out?

He:  I don’t think you should do it.  It’s not…..

She:  Not what?

He:  Not how they think of you.

She:  How who thinks of me?  Who is “they?”  We don’t even know who “they” are.  Except that lovely young photographer in Japan.  And four other people we knew from before the blog. But they already realize I’m likely to say anything.

He:  Well, how do you think the photographer will feel?

She:  I don’t know.  Maybe she’ll be disappointed.  Shocked?  I hope not.  Although the Japanese are more reserved than we are.  I would be sorry to let her down.  The piece is funny, though.  And she’s quite sophisticated. She may just think it’s funny.

He:  Do you want your sons to see it?

She:  That’s a tough question.  If they were sitting here by the fire with us?  No, I wouldn’t be talking about such things. Although I might be able to with one of the daughters-in-law.  Just the two of us. After some wine.  And then we’d laugh about it. [Pause]  But why should I censor myself when writing in order to comport with what I suppose are the standards of my middle-aged children?

He:  I wouldn’t do it.

She:  You wouldn’t write half the things I’ve put in the blog. Besides, you were always sort of a prude.  In public, that is.

[She tickles him in his midsection.  He can’t keep from laughing.]

She: [returning to topic of her children]  One of them doesn’t read the blog anyway.  He’s probably afraid to be embarrassed.  And the other one used to know me pretty well.  I mean, it’s not as if I used any dirty words.

[He raises an eyebrow.]

She:  Well, I didn’t.  It’s written with extreme circumspection.  I don’t even call anything by its right name.  I call it an “appendage.”

He:  If it were a movie, would it get a “G” or a “PG” rating?

She:  Of course not.  Adult subject matter.

He:  See?

She:  Do you really believe anyone who reads my blog thinks there’s nothing between my waistline and my knees?

He:  No, but you don’t have to write about it.

She:  Well, I just came a cropper with Medicare Part D.  The stats were way down.  Maybe I’ll do better with biological needs.

He:  You said you’re not supposed to look at the stats.

She:  You’re not.  But they’re addictive.  Like you with ice-cream pops.

He: [ignoring remark about ice-cream pops]  I can’t tell you what to do.

She:  That’s right.  Although you sort of are, aren’t you?

He:  No. It’s just my opinion, that’s all. Why don’t you sleep on it?  Decide tomorrow.

She:  Okay, I’ll decide tomorrow.  That will give anyone who’s nervous after overhearing our conversation today enough of a heads-up to stay away from the blog tomorrow.  Just in case I decide not to listen to you.

He:  You never listen to me.

She:  Almost never.  But sometimes.

He:  Very few sometimes.

She:  Ah, who knows whether or not this will be one of those times!

[He clicks off the fire, she collect the cats, and they turn off the lights until tomorrow.]