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[Editor’s note: written (mostly) a week last sunday (2nd december) and only posted today]

I don’t do small talk.  This makes life difficult sometimes.

Like meeting new people.

Last night we went to this thing called “Peace,Love and Misunderstanding“.  It was sort of like a book launch kind of thing.  We went to listen to a guy called Brian McLaren speak about his new book.  It was a good thing to go to.  There wasn’t really any small talk.  The talk was quite big, really.  Which was refreshing.  Like a good night’s sleep.  Or a really nice meal with friends.  Which also happened yesterday.

The small talk thing… Its not that i don’t understand the point of it; I do.  I get that it is a necessary step in the development of social interaction with others.

I’m typing this sat with the friends i went to the thing with last night.  I haven’t been home since.  Ros made us dinner before the thing and then i stayed over in their spare room and went to church with Tim this morning and then we met up with people for lunch and now we’re sat playing with the internet on our phones and I’m typing this on their laptop that i’ve borrowed and we’re not really talking much. We don’t have to; they’re good friends.

This summer i was at Greenbelt, and I was fortunate enough to speak briefly with the Reverend Doctor NT Wright.  I didn’t engage in small-talk.  He was very gracious about that.

At the thing last night i recognised three of the women who were there.  Two of them i kinda fancy.  Two of them i massively respect.  Two of them i’ve met.  Unfortunately, none of the women got three out of three.  I didn’t talk to any of them.  It would probably have involved small talk.

I asked the Reverend Doctor NT Wright how it is possible to have hope – or maybe i said how can we trust God when we can’t see him, or maybe… well I’m not sure exactly what I said.  I rambled a bit cos i knew exactly what i wanted to ask but I’d only just met the guy, and I didn’t want to seem too desperate.  What i wanted to ask was; how can i know if its true?  Because it matters whether it is true.

At the thing last night, Mr McLaren talked about finding an identity that was not based on our hostility towards another person or group.  I think this is a good idea.  I am ok at not feeling hostile to others, i think.  I am less good at finding an identity.

Now my friends are sorting out their Christmas list.  I’m glad they are comfortable enough for me to be here typing away on the laptop i borrowed from them whilst they do admin stuff and surf the net on their phones.  I’m glad of the richness of their company.  I’m glad they don’t feel the need to “hospitalise” me.  I’m glad that i don’t feel too insecure about their willingness to accommodate me.  I know myself well enough to know its good i’m not on my own at home right now.  To know i need other people around to not talk to.

The Reverend Doctor Tom Wright advised me that hope could be found in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  That everything depended on whether this was really true.  It seemed like a good answer to me.

Its not even that I dislike small talk, or find it boring and frustrating.

Which I do.

Its just that i’m appallingly bad at it.  I get self-conscious.  I feel awkward.  I can’t think of things to say.

At the thing last night Mr McLaren said he thought the founders of the world’s major religions would treat each other with more respect than their followers treat each other.  I think he might well be right.  Maybe the founders of the world’s major religions just generally treated other people with more respect than most people do.  Maybe i have a really oversensitive conceptualisation of what respect is.  I don’t know.

When I met the Reverend Doctor NT Wright, i was brave enough to monopolise his attention for one further question.  I didn’t want to be greedy, but i was kinda desperate to know.  I asked how i could acknowledge God without denying my experience of the brokenness of the world.  I really meant “seek God”, or even “not hate God, even if he/she/it does exist” rather than “acknowledge God”, but i wasn’t prepared to be that vulnerable.

My Friends are encouraging me to write.  They know it is a good thing for me to do. They say i don’t do it enough.  They are providing me with the practical space and time and non-invasive company i need in order to write today.  I love my friends.

At the thing, Mr McLaren said he thought many people had a strong identity that was very defined and, consequently, very hostile towards people who didn’t fit this definition.  And that many people had an identity that welcome diversity but was very wishy-washy and poorly defined as a result.  Mr McLaren thought it was possible to have an identity that was both strong and hospitable.  I think he is right.  I would like to have this kind of identity.

Last night, when Mr McLaren finished talking and everyone started standing up and milling about, i didn’t go and talk to the people i recognised.  Partly cos my friends were ready to go.  Partly cos i don’t like small talk and i didn’t want to feel awkward.  Mostly cos i knew what i wanted to ask them and i didn’t want to seem desperate.

When i asked the Reverend Dr N.T. Wright my second question – the question about how to handle my despair – he advised me to read the Psalms as a spiritual discipline.  He said they’d take me deep down into my despair and right out the other side. I have tried to do this but I have found it kind of hard.  Some of the psalms seem pretty Jingoistic.  Some of them feel quite… Hostile.

I am not generally hostile.  Sometimes i get angry.  Usually at myself.  Mostly i get sad.  And i lose respect for people.

My friends know that some times i get lonely, and so they tease me that when we are out and about they will play a game of “Have you met Ted?” with me.  Its OK, though – they are only teasing; they are not actually that mean.  Probably.  But they do half play this game when we are around other people they know and i don’t, like at lunchtime today.   I usually only tell them about half of how i feel about this, or about how much i might happen to be intrigued by someone they introduce.  They are amongst my best friends, and i struggle to tell them how i feel.

What i wanted to ask the women i recognised last night is this: Will you affirm my basic humanity?  Will you affirm that i have value as a human being so that i can form an identity that is not so insecure.  But i didn’t ask this, obviously.  I didn’t even ask this subconsciously, like most people do, through the medium of small talk.  I guess i wasn’t prepared to be that vulnerable.  Sometimes, my identity is fucked.  Which can be hellish inconvenient.  Not least because of its propensity to become a self perpetuating thing.  This can be kind of frustrating.

It is a privilege to listen to big talk – complex talk, talk that wrestles with difficult, important things, talk that acknowledges pain and despair and other people’s wildly differing points of view; talk that is not small.  I find such talk refreshing, like a good night’s sleep, or a meal with friends.

I think liking such talk is part of my identity.  I don’t like small talk, though.  Maybe i should work on that.

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15 Comments

  1. NT? Brian? Very evangelical! (How about that for a beginning of an identity?)
    Very cool bit of writing – kind of Donald Miller-esque (yet more evangelicalness!)
    Whist I’m clearly taking the piss, I’m also (but slightly less clearly) and equally, not the piss.
    In terms of trying to like small talk – don’t bother, but maybe work on ways to dive straight into real talk without freaking people out (for starters, don’t go into discussions thinking that starting a bit further down the conversational line than ‘nice weather’ is going to freak people out).
    Anyway, I’ll read this again tomorrow – and have a go at coming up with something more constructive to say…

    • I’ve never doubted i lean pretty heavily towards the ‘objective truth’ side of things and so i guess i am always gonna have sympathy with the evangelly babies. But i’m not convinced i want to derive a big chunk of my identity from belonging to a theological club. Especially if it doesn’t really feel like all that good a fit. And especially, as Macca was saying on his tour, if it becomes a tribal us/them kind of thing.

      Well done for spotting the Miller influence on this tho. I was deliberately going for that kind of style for this one, without hopefully falling into a pastiche?

      As for the small talk thing, maybe that’s a bit of a literary device. It is more a lack of confidence around people i don’t know well, tbh. Confidence is a massive thing. Sure, I will struggle to sustain a conversation unless the other people are shouldering a lot of the work, but its the ability to engage with people without assuming they will dislike me that I really struggle with.

  2. Yay for another entry to the linus blog!! About time. 🙂

    • Hear, hear! I subscribe to about–oh, I dunno–50,000 blogs (that might be an exaggeration) and when their writers post I mostly skip over them and only read them if I can tell right away there’s an interesting photo or if the subject line is quirky. But I always stop and read yours. You should probably write some more of them.

      NT Wright is cool.

      I went to a conference in the 90’s where MacLaren was the main speaker and it was good and since then, most of what I’ve heard reported that he’s said has made me kind of squirm. But the things you’re saying he said have restored some of my confidence.

      Fezzes are also cool. (Not really, but Dr Who is.)

      • Dr Who is cool. Not really (sorry Ros), but fezzes are.

        NT, or my mate Tom as I like to call him now, is a legend.

        It’s good to squirm once in a while.

        Thank you both very, very much for your encouragement. Means a lot coming from people with sites that are actually popular. And more importantly, people I have a lot of respect for. I can’t promise any increase in quantity, but I’ll try to keep the subject lines suitably quirky.

      • Ha! Yes, do.

        Ha! also to your sweet impression that my blog is popular. I wish that were true! It’s probably about to take a nose-dive now that the content has become suddenly theological. At least, my husband seems to like it less. (Nice.)

        Grateful for the “respect.” I have a lot of respect for you, too, Linus. Be encouraged.

      • I think I mean “Linus,” but you know.

  3. 3 things:
    a) I love Tim and Ros too. They’re fab. I miss them.
    b) I also dislike small talk. I am getting to fake it a little better, but it still pains me. I think it’s probably OK to be awkward though. Excessive smoothness is suspicious and off-putting ultimately (well, to me anyway, I may be atypical I suppose), and seems insincere. I’d rather talk to someone who is clearly struggling to articulate something, perhaps something deep even, than be schmoozed by some silver-tongued person, who’s probably not really saying anything of value. I’m learning to try and remember that other people aren’t all sorted either.
    c) Nice blogpost. Do keep writing. Even if for no other reason than ‘why not’? That’s my theory.

    Peace out

    • Yay Tim and Ros.

      You make a good point that its better to say something worthwhile badly than something inane well. It turns out life is difficult at least in some aspects for most of us. I wish we could all be a lot more honest about it (in a positive way i mean). It would take a lot of self imposed pressure off us all.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Was a lovely pleasant surprise. I will do my best to publish more stuff. I would encourage you to do the same.

  4. You are all very nice people. Thank you. Considered response to what you’ve actually said to follow.

  5. Small talk. What you do when trying to find out if someone is someone you really want to talk to. What you go on doing when you’ve decided they aren’t. What you do if you have nothing else to say. What you do while thinking, ‘If I bore you enough, perhaps you’ll go away.’ Cynic. Sometimes, it’s what you do to make the other person fell comfortable and accepted. Sometimes, you do it in an attempt to discover if you are accepted. Not sure if this is ‘small type’.

    Identity. In a writing group, I was asked to write about ‘who I am.’ Couldn’t do it. ‘What I am’ is manageable, even if some of it is unpalatable. ‘What I do’ is easier. Who am I? How do you answer that one?

    Vulnerability. Well done!

    • How do you answer ‘who am i’? Carefully, I’d imagine. It’s about personality; likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, i guess. The sum of our hopes and fears.

      Who you are is a good and kind man. A gentle man and a gentleman. Thank you.

      And yes, this one was more raw than most. Thanks for acknowledging that.

  6. Jenn; I answer to a number of names, that’s for sure. Thanks for your encouragement. I am looking forward to the chance to read all manner of things over the Christmas break, your writing included. If you have gone theological (like Dylan going electric?) then I will probably enjoy it more, not less!

    And you’re a published author and have spoken at conferences and stuff, so, yeah, you count as popular, believe me.

  7. Bon anniversaire little blog post.

    So, how’s the identity coming along, Linus? Had any opportunities to work on your small talk this year, or meet new people?

    Seriously though. Keep talking your big talk (as well as some of the small). The world needs it. And you. I hope you’ve found some hope (heh).

    May your value and your humanity be affirmed and by more than just women (or indeed men) and may you rejoice in your identity within the source of all entities. (And also with me; in the name of Christ, amen)

    PS Your friends are the best. And that’s definitely true.

    • Time flies, eh? Some of it has been fun.

      Still a work in progress; at least i think the work is progressing. And that in itself is progress, I guess. The word that comes to mind is ‘fractured’, actually. But, you know; in a good way…

      How’s yours?

      I am indeed blessed with great friends; thank you. And thanks for the encouragement =] it is timely and meaningful. Where there’s life there’s always hope. Here’s to the next year. May it be a wonderful challenge; enjoy.


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