The Art of Conversation

It was a new feeling. Which is strange for me because after all these years, there are few experiences which I haven’t had.

As I was sitting there, engaged in my standard, par for the course conversation at the bar with someone I had known for years, it happened: he said something that meant something.

Now, I know that needs a bit of clarification, so let me clarify. I talk a lot. Pretty much all I do all day is talk. I do it for a living. I talk to a lot of people about a lot of things. I’ve been doing that for years. After a while, conversations start to take a predictable path. Sit at the bar, mull around, get to know you, tell me something funny, chatting about recent events, those conversations where people try to shock or impress you.

Perhaps the way that I’ve been having conversations has become formulaic. It’s like a math equation: show interest, use these types of word, watch the body language, smile, laugh, say something witty. I know how to give compliments, change the subject, when to exit a conversation exactly when I want. I know how to control the conversation. Because of this, I rarely find myself having conversations that break the mold. Everything stays surface. Everything stays “professional.” We talk about things that matter without things actually mattering.

I like having conversations with people because it’s the best way to get a read on someone. There are many people out there who don’t know how to control a conversation, so it’s easy to steer them into topics that reveal themselves. But that’s not what I’m interested in.

I’m interested in other people who know how to control a conversation, because someone who knows how to control a conversation reveals himself in a much more challenging manner. It’s almost as though most people who know how to control a conversation know how to not reveal themselves – hence the challenge of the conversation. Most people who know how to control a conversation know how to veer away from the vulnerability, which, in all honesty, is pretty disappointing. Often times they have rehearsed moments of vulnerability, small nuggets of information made to feign the act of conversational intimacy. That’s not what I want, either.

Here’s what I want: conversation as a dynamic act of consensual and mutual vulnerability. I can talk and talk and talk and talk, but often times people confuse the talking for interest, attraction, for the real me, for who I am as a person. I almost feel bad when that happens, but I have to remind myself that it’s not my fault that other people think that they know me when really they’re just hearing the things that they want me to say.

Because here’s what generally happens: I can sense that someone’s attracted to me, so I act attractive. It’s transactional, really, and I learned this from all my brilliant, beautiful sex worker friends. But it’s not real, this game of, “I’m going to talk about myself in a way that will make me seem more attractive to you.” It’s a ruse. That’s not really who I am. And often times I find that people aren’t interested in who I really am (because that person is vile and mean) – they only like me when I’m putting on my best face. But that tires me.

There is ugliness inside me. There is ugliness inside you, too. When we start to hide it, that’s when the conversation becomes disingenuous. And I know what you’re thinking – if I can control a conversation, why have a disingenuous conversation in the first place? Ah, yes. Well, turns out most people still subscribe to the idea that falling in love is some sort of fairy tale magic equation that happens in an instant. I am happy to give that to them, because it takes no effort from me. But me and what I want? Well, opening someone’s mouth up and peering into their soul – that’s a game that has crushed most men that I have ever met. Not a lot of people like to play that game. It is a dangerous and painful game to play.

It is also a disappointing game to play. Some people’s souls don’t go very deep into their body, so looking into someone’s soul can be a rather short-winded game. Me? I’m a stamina person. I want challenges. I want puzzles. I want hoops and ladders. I want a complicated soul. I want it to take me years to figure out. Not five minutes. And I want that because I am the same way: complicated. I am willing to invest time into figuring out what lies in at the center of your soul – is it something beautiful and resplendent? Or is it ugly, just like the rest of us. I am willing to put effort it in, and I hope you are, too. This shit has got to be mutual.

So, when it happened the other night, when I found myself in the midst of conversation that meant something, when I realized that there was a mutual vulnerability and a mutual desire to understand, and when the words came out in conversation – not in a way that was meant to impress me or just to look cool – I was shocked. It had been so long. And it felt so good.


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