Seven Minutes

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I’m on day four of the Infomagical challenge.  The goal of Infomagical is to decrease the amount of space technology and information take up in our lives and in our brains.  I’m not going to go into great detail on Infomagical.  If you want to learn more, you can visit project.wnyc.org/infomagical.

I decided to participate in this challenge because I have been feeling an ever-increasing  frustration over the past few months, maybe years, about the fact that communication between actual human beings has so quickly dwindled.  We have gone from face to face conversations to email to text messages.  Sending a business-related text message would have been unheard of less than a decade ago when cell phone providers charged per text or many plans had a limit on the number of texts before exorbitant charges kicked in.  Recently, I have been receiving texts from employees, contractors, even my daughter’s music teacher.

I’m old enough to remember the rules of telephone etiquette.  My parents taught me how to answer a phone, how to politely make a phone call, and how to speak to a friend’s parents when requesting to talk to their child.  Those were scary things to learn.  I remember dialing the phone and fiercely hoping that my friend would be the one to answer so I could avoid those awkward moments of polite conversation with their parents.  Now many homes don’t even have a land line.  When we make a call, we know exactly who is going to answer.  If the phone rings, and we don’t feel like talking, we can send the call to voicemail with a quick push of the button and listen to it later.  We can even avoid a return call by responding with a text.

Even though making a phone call has become much easier than it once was, there has been a distinct trend away from even this minimal personal interaction.  Imagine a stereotypical teenager from a decade ago. Hours of free time were spent on the phone calling one friend after another.  Or even, heaven forbid, walking down the street and knocking on their friend’s door.  Fast forward to today.  Hours are spent messaging.  Typing, on social media or through texts, has replaced real-time communication.  Even the simplest of social exchanges are curated, edited, and abbreviated.

Today’s Infomagical challenge was to have a face-to-face conversation with another human being for at least seven minutes.  I decided to exclude family members.  In our home, we actually do talk to each other….all the time.

I encounter many people throughout the day, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had an actual face-to-face conversation with anyone that lasted over seven minutes.  Note:  I do a lot of talking TO people, but I do not have a great deal of give and take conversations with anyone beyond my family.  I talk to people, conduct my business, and move on.  I’m on to the next thing before I have allowed the time to process the first thing.  No wonder I often feel harried and stressed out.  What I had considered my ultra-efficient, businesslike manner may actually be undermining many areas in my life.  Could slowing down to communicate with those around me improve my life?  I was intrigued!

I thought about this as I drove to the office.  The idea of having a real conversation felt awkward.  I envisioned the shuffling of feet at the very least and worse case scenario, I was afraid of freaking people out.

I had my first conversation of the day within the first five minutes of work with a young man who had called off work yesterday, because he had an audition in Chicago.  Normally, I wouldn’t inquire about his personal business.  Instead of a brusque “good morning,” I stopped him on the stairs to ask him how things had gone with his audition.  He was more than happy to tell me all about it.  He had auditioned for a role in a network TV show!  He went on to tell me that it had gone really well.  In fact, I learned that he had been an extra on an earlier episode of the same show, and it had aired a few weeks earlier.  Later in the day, he stopped by my office to show me pictures from the filming.  I told him I would watch the episode this weekend and that I’d keep my fingers crossed that he gets a recurring role.

I felt psyched after this first conversation.  It hadn’t been difficult at all, and it hadn’t taken up too much of my “valuable” work time.  It had been easy, and it had created a sense of goodwill.  What was unexpected were the peripheral benefits.  Other people had been nearby during the conversation, and their moods seemed to have been lighted as well.  It felt almost festive.  How could a simple, brief conversation completely change the workplace environment?  I wanted to do this again!

I spent my day consciously connecting with people, and it was amazingly rewarding.  I had multiple conversations with people, all of them meeting my seven minute criteria.  While I wouldn’t say that it was difficult, it did require a certain level of purposefulness.  I had to remember to slow down and allow the flow of conversation to develop.  I had to listen and engage with the present instead of rushing off to the next thing on my agenda.  More importantly, I stood up and got out from behind my computer.  I sat my phone down.

This seven-minute challenge is such an easy concept, but it made me realize that real, human in depth conversation is something that had been missing from my life.  While I enjoy plentiful conversation with my family, today I realized that family-only conversation is insulating, safe, and limiting. While I am extraordinarily grateful for the blessing (and noise!) of my family, today I enjoyed pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and dropping my mask of professionalism to have a few simple conversations with the other people in my day.

Snakes and Other Dangerous Creatures

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This blog post has been brewing for a few days.  It wasn’t until very early this morning as I sat drinking coffee with T that I even began to attempt to put the words together.

T and I had fallen asleep on the couch as we often do on the weekends.  We watched a movie all snuggled up and warm on the couch.  When the movie was over, we turned on an episode of The Office.  It was the one where Michael proposes to Holly.  I had watched it the other night with Em.  It was so sweet that I wanted T to see it, too.  I loved watching it again, and I loved seeing T smile at all the right parts.  Even after the show was over, we stayed in our spots on the couch.  We halfheartedly talked about getting ready for bed, but it was so warm and cozy.  We were so sleepy and so comfortable.

The next thing I knew, it was morning and T was in the kitchen brewing a pot of coffee.  I wandered in with a smile on my face and told him that I was kind of enjoying our weird pack mentality when it came to sleeping.  There is something so delicious about drifting off to sleep right where you sit compared to the formality and routine of getting ready for bed.  He agreed.  Falling to sleep like that is wonderful, but damn, are we ever sore in the mornings from sleeping all night in awkward positions.  We laughed a little more as we both stood there trying to stretch out the kinks.

These odd sleeping arrangements have become our habit as of late on Friday and Saturday nights.  We skip the bed and the bedroom.  We nest and nestle in for sleep wherever we are comfortable at the time.  The best thing of all are the mornings.  It is just the two of us wandering around downstairs.  We haven’t had the luxury of lingering over coffee and conversation in the kitchen for many years.  Strangely, I am reminded of my grandparents.  As a child, I can remember waking up at their house and coming into the kitchen as they both sat at the table sipping their coffee.  It was a warm, peaceful feeling of contentment to see them there.  Now that is T and I.  It makes me feel old, yet content, all at the same time.

As we finished up in the kitchen this morning, I told T that I was going to go upstairs and write before the girls woke up.  He stopped and looked at me.  “What are you going to write about?”  He had never, ever asked me that question before.  I have been blogging for two years, but he has never asked me one question about it.    I don’t hide the fact that I’m writing.  Many times I have come to him to talk about a particular blog post or a comment that I have received.  Until this morning, though, he has never asked me what I was going to write about.  Today he asked, so I poured another cup of coffee and asked him to join me at the table. Continue Reading »

God Bless the Gentleman

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I had a lovely morning coffee meeting today with a retired gentleman.  He was a gallant gentleman.  He stood up when I approached the table where he sat waiting.  He shook my hand in both of his hands.  I sat my bag down next to my chair and placed my black binder on the table before I moved to go to the counter to order my mocha.  He was immediately up and out of his seat again.  He wanted to buy my coffee.  I wouldn’t allow it.  I had invited him to meet me.  I wanted a mocha (really, really badly!) and I couldn’t expect him to pay $6 for my indulgence.  We bandied back and forth over it for a moment until I put my hand on his arm and told him that I insisted on buying my own mocha.  We got our business discussion out of the way immediately, and then we settled in to a lively discussion about travel, Italy, architecture, and historic preservation.  I thoroughly enjoyed his company, and I smiled as I drove back to my office.

I was still happy and excited as I sat down behind my desk.  I had asked the man to volunteer his professional services and serve on a committee.  He is a retired architect, and his knowledge will be such an asset to the committee, but that isn’t why I was so happy to have made the connection with this gentleman.  He may not know it, but our gentle conversation this morning helped me in a way that he would never understand.

Being treated with kindness and respect is something that meant more to me than his willingness to assist me by serving as a volunteer.  These past few years have been difficult, and I have been stripped of my trust in my fellow man.  I am like an abused dog at the animal shelter.  You know the one.  The little guy who cowers in the back.  All the other dogs horn in and grab the food first.  She doesn’t step up to the cage when people come in looking for a pet.  She hangs back.  She is wary.  She doesn’t know whether the hand reaching out towards her is going to hit her or pat her on the head.  She startles easily.  She doesn’t like loud noises, because LOUD reminds her of yelling.  I am that scared little dog in the back of the cage.  It is not impossible to turn that poor little dog around.  All she needs is consistency.  She needs to be removed from the situation that caused the distress.  She needs to be around people who are kind and gentle.  She needs to learn to trust again.

Late this afternoon, I sent the kind gentleman an email thanking him for taking time out of his day to meet me for coffee.  I thanked him for agreeing to assist me as a volunteer.  I told him how much I enjoyed our conversation and told him that I would enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with him anytime he would like some company.  Before you get the wrong impression, this man was elderly.  There was NO possibility of mixed signals!  I simply enjoyed his company, his intelligence, and most of all, his kindness.

While I was able to send him a simple follow-up thank you email, I was not able to tell him how much it meant to me to connect with a good human being or that he helped in some small way bring me closer to the front of my cage.