I see boring people, walking around like regular people. They don’t know they’re boring.
The episode of This American Life this weekend was all about subjects you should avoid so you don’t bore people. According to one of the writer’s mothers, you should never talk about:
- How you slept
- Your period
- Your health (aches and pains)
- Your dreams
- Your diet (weight loss and allergies/intolerances)
- Your route (how you got here), or
Actually, they agreed to take money off the list because it isn’t boring, it’s just vulgar. I wish they would have taken periods off the list for the same reason. The episode in question was all about trying to find stories on those verboten, boring subjects that were actually quite interesting. I have to say the only ones that were worth listening to were how astronauts sleep and orthorexia.
In the few days since hearing the show, I have been hyper-sensitive to the enormous flood of boringness that we all shoot at each other–and I’m just as guilty as anyone. I went to a dinner party where we talked all the way from Paleo to meat allergy. Then I went to a meeting where I was treated to the details of a stranger’s heart attack and surgery. I got Salty up this morning and he said,
Salty: Hi, Mom! I have a good rest!
And I had to inform him,
Me: You’re boring me. Nobody cares how you slept.
Okay, in all honesty, I often find diet talk interesting because I’m a fellow hobbyist. And to be fair, the heart attack story came on after I had to defend putting carpet in the family room of our new house on account of my foot injury. So I was the first aches and pains offender there.
My main take-away was that I need some new small talk ideas. I’m a prime employer of “How’s your foot?” and “How was the flight?” and “What’s your commute like?”
For a long time, I had a moratorium on talking about the weather. I grew up around farmers trying to raise crops in the desert, so the weather was literally the most important thing in their lives. We begged for “moisture” in every public prayer. We asked each other “Do you think it will rain?” in the same passionate tone normally reserved for personal scandal inquiries. We high-fived each other at the first crack of thunder. After growing up that way, I found people’s conversations about the weather in Boston unbearably trivial. It’s cold outside. You’ll put a coat on. The end. It’s not like your crops are going to fail and the bank’s going to take your farm. To you it’s just air, and you needn’t dwell on it.
After years, I decided it’s okay to talk about the weather when I and my interlocutor have literally no other touchpoints, like in a fleeting interchange with the cashier. You have nothing in common other than you’ve both experienced today’s temperature, so you may mention it. But don’t facebook the weather. I beg you.
If I’m being honest, I broke my own no weather talk rule this morning as my friend walked barefoot across her lawn in 32 degree morning frost to help me get my children out of my car for a playdate. But as a rule, when I find myself blah blahing about the weather, I force myself to think of something more personal or important to talk about. I ask cashiers whether they have kids.
When I first became a mother, I would get extremely angry at dinner parties when the men would automatically separate off to talk current events, politics and religion while the women stood around swapping birth/breastfeeding/diaper stories. The C-sections, the tearings, the infected milk ducts, the projectile meconium. I would mentally jam my fingers in my ears, “Lalalalalalalala!” I mean, here we are finally at an adult gathering away from the babies, and we’re going to talk nipple biters? Hey girls, I’m going to go to the other room to talk to your husbands. Sorry if that’s weird. And it is weird. It’s like a lady staying in the dining room during brandy and cigars while the women have all retired to the drawing room. It just isn’t done.
Six years later, I’m totally fine with the girly chat. Women want to talk birth/breast/poop, be my guest. I’ll join in. I’ll say “vaginal” to someone I’ve just met. I’ve got a full hand of breasty poo-poo cards to play in every suit. And to be honest, most of those delivery stories are way more interesting than the “I’ve had this cold for three weeks” kind of tripe that gives health chat such a bad rep.
My blog ought to be great training since the first rule of blogging is “Don’t be boring”. Would you ever have come back if the first post you read contained more than 5% of the snoozer subjects? Speaking of which, we need to talk about the elephant in the room, i.e., whatever happened to my second of three New Year’s Resolutions. And we will.
In the meanwhile, anybody got some standby small talk subjects/questions? Because I’m really tiring people with my INCESSANT teardown talk.
Also, yesterday was cold.