We all have our personal problems, and these bounce back to us in our relationship with other people. One of mine is the tendency to talk to others in what to them is a boring way. I speak to others in far too lecture-y a mode that is far too abstract. This frequently shows up in people’s obvious need to get away from me. People have to go to the toilet, when talking with me, far more often than the natural timing of calls to that facility would dictate. I’m not totally boring, because last week in a conversation with about a dozen people, someone actually declared that I always had something interesting to say. That is a strange thing for anyone to blurt out, but especially in reference to me, because I know I am dull and therefore try to be very brief. Perhaps this has been backfiring because in being too brief I become either incomprehensible, or off topic, or because of my excessive abstract way of talking seeming to be off topic when I am not.
This problem is wholly my own, and not humanity’s — or is it? Two weeks ago when talking to Stephen Greenblatt, the author of The Swerve, after his lecture, he actually got up and shook hands with me. That was a shock! He was signing books, mine included, and I talked with him for five minutes, before this unexpected event. When back in Berkeley, it was not an uncommon event to meet famous intellectuals, and I often had great conversations with them. Even there, when speaking with most people there was this problem with their having to immediately go to the toilet. It seems that there is not exactly an awareness on their part of a need to escape from me, but rather a natural visceral effect I create. Back in Berkeley, I had a decades-long friend who often said I was “full of elephant shit,” not horse shit like most other people there, but something an order of magnitude more significant.
This background information brings me to my problem, and what I should do about it. Namely, to be more interesting to most people by being more engaged with them in more natural human ways of conversation. Such as, telling what I am talking about in a more narrative style. Perhaps I will still think in an abstract way; that is a lifelong habit, and not likely to change much, but to speak to others via a story, which is a habit I can learn and practice. For example, instead of talking about the world population problem, as I have in the past, to talk about my grandmother Bertha’s house on the farm just north of Madras, which when she lived there was occupied by just her and my grandfather Glen. That house was sold many years ago, but now there are seven people living there and one of the girls is pregnant. The house is no bigger and the farm is no bigger and I don’t know how they are all living there. That is more interesting than saying when I was a child there were two billion people on Earth and now there are seven billion. Telling a story that people can relate to is more interesting and conveys the same basic information.
People understand narrative stories and are suspicious of abstractions.