4 Fun Facts About Conversation


As my father would say, it's as cold as a mother-in-law's love here today in NYC. I ran out for a just a second in my flannel PJs and the old red rubber boots to put out the garbage and icicles grew immediately in the cavities of my nose. So it seemed.

No more honking, btw! So it seems. Knock on wood, will you? I guess calling the cops and calling the car service company worked?

I'm still sicky-poo, though. Moved from the stuffy/runny phase to the sneezy/scratchy throat phase.

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Last night, I and my incredibly lovely friend Adrienne Brodeur (author of Man Camp) had dinner at Bar Six (a dependable French bistro). She and I met a million years ago, when I took a fiction-writing workshop that she put together, under the auspices of the literary journal Zoetrope. Somehow, we managed to become buddies, and she was a big influence on me back in the day, encouraging me to keep going with the novel thing. For that, I should probably never speak to her again. But despite the fact that she has helped lead me down this miserable and destitute writerly path--the loneliness! the waiting! all the work that may go to waste!--I can't help but love her. She's effortlessly funny; a great listener; and a great story-teller who gives you just enough unexpected detail to be interesting without ever making things uncomfortable. She's also just as gorgeous as she is in her author photo below, so it's a pleasure to simply sit there basking in her pulchritude. ... I'm kind of raving here, I know--sorry-- but she's just so nice to be around ... and because I'm a nincompoop I hadn't seen her in two years. Partly because it was hard to coordinate schedules, and partly because she lives way north in Manhattan and I live way on the other end of Brooklyn. But still! So, as I told her last night--and as I told you guys a few weeks ago--I'm making an effort to do things that make me happy (novel idea), and seeing her makes me happy, so I'm excited to start doing it with more frequency.

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It was an authorly kind of night, because after hanging with Adrienne, I swung by to see my much newer friend, Jack Murnighan, whose most recent book is Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits. He and I are cooking up a little writerly project, which is going to be a lot of work and a lot of fun ... we'll see if we can pull it off. I'll keep you guys posted. Mostly we talked "business"--and books. But as I was leaving, I was sighing about how my fingers had gotten freezing on my way over to Jack's because my skinny leather gloves just weren't warm enough. So what did he do? He gave me a pair of his gloves, which fit nicely over my pair. And I was warm as toast all the way home.

(This is some picture of Jack that I found online, in which he looks especially like an underwear model. But the truth is, he's excessively handsome, so that in real life, he basically looks the same. Except he's usually in color.)


Seeing Adrienne and Jack--both of whom are exceptional conversationalists--reminded me of another writer friend, Dan Menaker--the one who wrote A Good Talk, that book about conversation. (You might remember that I talked about the differences he's noticed between men and women in restaurants.) He and I ran into each other at a party a week or two ago, and as usual, he blew me away with his lively chatter. So, I picked the book up again and it occurs to me

that there are lots of lovely little nuggets of conversational wisdom

in here.

Shall I share a few?


According to social psychologist Nicholas Emler of the London

School of Economics, more than 80% of all conversation is about other

people. In other words, it's gossip.

(Phew! I don't know about you, but I'm glad to know I'm not

the only one who doesn't spend most of my time discussing global politics, world history and quantum mechanics.)


Men and women speak about an equal amount in conversation ... but MEN

spend two-thirds of the time talking about themselves, whereas a female typically only spends about a third of a chat

discussing herself,
as noted in Grooming, Gossip and the Evolutin of Language Professor

Robin Dubar, of the University of Liverpool.

You, the mens! You narcissists! (But not Jack. Not Dan either. Not most of you lovely male readers, I'm sure.)


The famous essayist Michel de Montaigne said, in his piece On the Art of

: "The most fruitful and natural exercise of the mind ...

is conversation.
I find the use of it more captivating than of any

other action of life. For that reason, if I were compelled to choose, I

think I would sooner consent to lose my sight than my hearing and my

speech." Amen, brother!


Dan points out that he thinks that any good conversationalist

possesses three qualities

curiosity, a sense of humor, and a touch of impudence (Which is to say

that a little healthy disagreement makes for a sparkling conversation.) However, he also warns: "A constant stream of jokes and mots

extinguishes any chance of making conversational connections. ... At its most extreme, it can also be a sign of real trouble:

Excessive punning and wisecracks often signal mental illness." Ha!



dear commenters:

i love that you are encouraing me to go for it with the young--very young--man! my friends here in NYC--mainly Harry Berkeley--keep scolding me about going for the youngsters. so i'm glad i have your approval.

Potter: I think you should tell #1 you find texts distracting when you're trying to work. tell him what he should do instead is to call you when he wants to make a plan. get tough with him. you don't like what you're getting now--so make it clear what you'd like and what you're not going to put up with. meantime, maybe go out with the other dude to help distract you? (what do other people think?)

and Rina: we must be on the same page, because right before you put up your comment, my friend Harry sent me the link to the same article. so now i'm looking into doing a Q+A or something wiht the author of that book.

What do you think?