a good repartee party is exhilarating. It is also spontaneous. The concept of planning to have a conversation is something I never considered until I heard of a Seattle-spawned movement called Conversation Cafés. According to Webster's dictionary, the word "conversation" is derived from the Latin for "to live, keep company with." North Americans have never been known for their conviviality (another word describing the fun to be had when lives are shared).
The nuclear family is an isolation unit. Television talk is one-sided. When someone in an American city runs into somebody else, it's most likely with a car. People are starved for the sense of community that's been thwarted by a society where hanging out is considered a criminal offence.
At 4 o'clock on Tuesday at the Loftus Lloyd Café at 401 Richmond West, a small group gathers for a Conversation Café. I stick my name tag onto my sweater and read the rules, which include such items as: "Curiosity, seek to understand rather than persuade"; and "Brevity, go for honesty and depth without going on and on." (Could use a few more "on and on"s for effect).
In round one, we pass around the "talking stick" -- in this case a magic marker. "Each person will speak briefly to the topic at hand." (I hate this lingo. I thought the idea was to speak to each other.) "No feedback or response."
There are seven of us. We're to talk about a conversation that had meaning in our lives. A woman recounts a tale wherein the father of a developmentally challenged child she was working with said his son wasn't slow. He was considered very intelligent in his village back home because he could discern the sex of chickens.
Next comes dialogue -- open, spirited conversation -- and we use the talking object as needed if there's domination. It's a refreshing change from the Conversation Taverns I attend, where the object used to settle differences usually has knuckles.
Amazingly, a conversation does get going. We get into the idea of official languages (French/English) and whether you must speak either to be Canadian, the work of thinking in a foreign language, and how Canadians always end up talking about identity.
On the whole, it's been a surprisingly pleasant hour. I walk out and immediately fall into an altercation with someone I know. This talking to strangers thing has possibilities.
That night at the Cloak and Dagger, I ask a white-shirted man if I can squeeze in at the end of a bench. He just grunts and continues talking at awoman. Then he turns to me suddenly and yells in my face, "Yo!" I try to ignore him, but he won't turn away. "Yo! I'm talking to you!" "I'm watching the show," I say. He won't stop. I grab my coat and hat to move, and he bellows, "Hey, you're a really great conversationalist, aren't you!" As a matter of fact, I am. Too many women seem to confuse the abuse of a psycho misogynist for a line of chat.
The next day, wedged around a table at the Tik Talk Café on Harbord, conversationalists are already passing their talking object. "My name is Sheila, and I'm hung over." The word "passion" comes up, as in "What's your passion?" If ordinary people had any idea what torture it is -- from within and without -- to live passionately, they'd fear it like anthrax.
A woman who extols volunteer work and tells world travel tales tries to convince K to rent a commercial space from her to run a full-time Conversation Café. It's as if K's lifetime of painting has just been filler until this point, when she realizes her real passion is to go broke on people who sit for two hours over one coffee.