The Book of Na'Lon

or rather, Inane Ramblings of an Expatriot

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Of Talking to People
Bartholomew
na_lon
A friend posted something on her lj that made me think.

I think most people that know me in real life would consider me to be fairly sociable and good at talking to people. I suppose I am - I can talk to pretty much anyone (as long as we speak roughly the same language) - but, like most of the people I know - I do not find it easy to talk to people. It costs me a lot of effort and I do get peopled out. Even if the people are friends.

Over the years I have learnt a few things about talking to people. There are ways of cutting a conversation short (politely) if it's not going to go anywhere or indeed of making it worthwhile. So my remedy against having to make smalltalk is two-fold: I bore people rigid by talking about my research or history, or I admit to being a role-player, costumer, Tolkien fan and scare them off. As a result I have had some interesting conversations.

But there are times when there is a good reason to make smalltalk, and I do so on those occasions. Or I find ways of telling people I am a geek in muggle terms. E.g. I am involved with an improvisation drama group and I am a member of an educational charity. ;-)

The most interesting outcome of this strategy is, however, that I now actually have a couple of muggle friends who do know about my geekdom and don't sneer, but meet me on a Monday with greetings such as: "How was the role-playing?" or "How is your writing going?" Nix is one of these. She may never want to join an RPG or want to read what I write, but she respects that this stuff is real and important to me.

As for those people that give me funny looks in response to my topics of conversation... do I really want to prolong my encounters with them?

Exactly!

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I now actually have a couple of muggle friends who do know about my geekdom and don't sneer

*is envious* I can think of one person like that. Although she is not a muggle, she just doesn't realise that she is one of us yet ;-)

As for those people that give me funny looks in response to my topics of conversation... do I really want to prolong my encounters with them?

Honestly? Yes. Some of them. Eg, one of them is a relative who I usually forget is a relative and think of as a friend. And there are one or two others, who I do really like. But.... it is a real block in the friendship that they are dismissive of my involvement in the TS. But equally, I respect and value their opinions and wouldn't want to censor them. So what do you do?

Hm. I hadn't thought of the rare occasions when there are people you do want to spend time with that are mundanes when I wrote this.

It is very difficult, I think, with people like relatives. My mother, for example, is tolerant of my strange doings and will listen to me talk if I want to, but I think a lot of it just leaves her wondering. What she does see is that through my fandom I have friends, and she is happy for me about that.

But with others - like the relative you describe - I guess I would adopt a slightly different policy than total honesty. Or rather, I'd try to find ways of 'selling' what I do - and to talk about other things I like that are more neutral. For example, I'd push the 'charity' angle or talk about gardening. I agree with your comment about not wishing to censor them - but I think that sometimes you have to ask people to be diplomatic about how they express their opinions. If I went about espousing that I find something important to them dull or stupid and was very dismissive, they would probably not be impressed either, so asking people not to call my interests silly seems fair enough to me. And maybe being open about acknowledging that it's okay to have different interests could help strengthen such a friendship?

All that said - it's not easy. Never easy. What I neglected to put in my entry is that there is still a lot of disappointment and pain along the road. But overall I think I am happier for being myself much more around people adn expecting of them to accept me, just as I expect of me to accept them.

Hope that makes sense. Thanks for the question. It had really made me think.

My difficulty with being sociable and talking with people (especially strangers) is not so much that it takes an effort, because I usually feel that the effort will be rewarded and am happy to make it. It's that my mind frequently goes utterly blank of things to say. This happens especially at large gatherings, where I often feel that people look by over my head for someone they already know, or someone more interesting/significant/popular to talk to. Anyone who knows me will know that I easily fall into conversation with individuals - college porters, coffee stall attendants, fellow commuters, people at bus stops - and sometimes even befriend them.

But somehow, social occasions like parties or Oxonmoot paralyse me, and I end up using the time to catch up with the people I know already and see far too rarely, rather than meeting new people.

(More later! Late for work!)

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[cont.]
I often feel sad afterwards, as then I see the opportunities I lost by being literally lost for words, unable to contribute to the conversation because can't think of a thing to say, and showing an interest by asking questions soon feels like an interrogation.

But like you, I've had some very positive experiences talking about my hobbies (such as they are). Apart from occasions like job interviews when it's probably best not to go there, I no longer feel shy about "admitting" I'm a roleplayer; at least we make our own soap operas rather than watching other people's on Big Brother or Eastenders.

At Oxonmoot, I regard it as my duty as a member who's been around for a while, to go and talk to people that I haven't seen before, but I only can manage to do this for a while and only under the umbrella of seeing it as a job to be done. Generally, I feel happier at social gatherings if I have a job to do - perform, run a workshop, show people around - just 'socialising' leaves me feeling rather dull and miserable unless it is with people I already know.

But since I know that I can make it my job to talk to strangers, I set myself the task of saying hello to people. The best possible outcome is that I hit it off with someone, the worst that they wander off at the first opportunity since they didn't find me interesting. But since I have set myself the task of saying hello, even that is not a failure: I said hello after all.

What I do - because it's not like I have a clue what to talk about either - is to take a mental list of potential things to say. Like how they heard about Oxonmoot, or whether they managed to find the venue okay. It is smalltalk, true, but smalltalk does serve and important social function. Essentially talking to people at a social gathering always starts off as 'interrogation', but if you are willing to listen and tell a bit about yourself, there is a chance that a real conversation gets off the ground. But it certainly doesn't always, and often when I might think that I quite liked someone, they end up liking someone else better than me, and the people I find a bit difficult to talk to end up fixating on me. And yet - I have met some people over the years who are true friends and who are interested in me and I in them.

I like what you say about writing our own Soap Operas. I wonder how many muggles would be dead-into roleplaying if there was Soap Opera RPGs? ;-)

I've conceded that I'm antisocial in the past, and sometimes can try to be too social in compensation - even if it's just hanging around until the end of the party.

I'm at my worst at academic conferences, though - at one colloquium, after all day in one room listening to one paper after another, I just wanted to head back to my room before dinner, but was pursued there by a scholar who didn't understand why I didn't want to compare notes on common matters in our research - I just wanted to get away from people for an hour before dinner.

I know that feeling all too well: the need to get away from people for a while. I call it feeling 'peopled-out' and if you feel like that the only thing that helps is alone-time to recharge the batteries.

My office mate, Nix, is the other way - she feels isolated really fast and so needs people around her all the time. She told me once that she hates it when I am teaching so many hours a week, because she has to sit in the office on her own. It's amazing how different we all are in our needs for contact with others.

It's amazing what a conversation-stopper some things can be. I often find mentioning I like heavy metal or that I have more than a passing interest in Sci Fi is enough to make people say things like 'But you seem so normal!'. Making costumes, role-playing & computer gaming also usually get a similar reaction.

Mention chainmail and the general assumption is that you are some sort of deviant! That either kills the conversation dead and people back away giving you funny looks. Or they feel it's ok to start asking all sorts of inappropriate things about your sex-life at which point I back away giving them funny looks ;-)

I *so* agree with you. Especially about the chainmail. Even fandom people seem to have that response. Grr!

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Pellinor could speak with more authority than I can, since he's spent years making mail on public transport, but from what I've observed, conversations of the "what on earth are you doing?" variety tend to very quickly end up either talking about knitting and dropped stitches, or involving the words "chainmail jock strap", "chainmail bikini", or "chainmail thong."

"Knit one, purl one" is another common phrase.

I think the chain of thought is something like mail -> chains -> bikers/punks -> leather -> fetish wear.

Certainly there are people making mail fetish/bondage stuff. I suppose if you like having chains around in sex you might as well have pretty ones :-)

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I have to admit that while I don't have any particular desire to make such articles for myself, I have wondered whether branching out into making mail fetish/bondage gear to sell on-line, might not provide an opportunity to make some extra cash.

Oddly whilst linking a few rings at Moor Street on the way to Sarehole Mill I was observed and then quizzed by some Japanese tourists. They didn't ask about my sex life but what I was doing, and then after explaining I politely asked what they were doing (going to Stratford).

Perhaps the sex thing is just a sign of someone who is screwed up and confuses slightly-secret/unusual hobby with 'the sex'

Wierd ...

I never find it easy to talk to people, but I don't find that having unusual interests makes it harder. If anything, it makes it easier. People might think my interests are strange, but they often seem interested - in the way that people are interested in a glimpse into the domestic life of a bizarre species of animal.

I normally admit to Morris dancing within a few minutes of meeting someone. It provides a ready-made ice-breaker, and initial topic of conversation. Without it, I'd find dinners at work-related conferences etc. a lot harder. I find a surprising number of people admit that they've always fancied role-playing, or Morris dancing, but were only held back by the fear that everyone would think they were weird. That allows me to feel properly smug and mature, that I'm above such things.

When people do try to get dismissive and sneery of my interests, I have certain ready-prepared plans of attack to launch on them, and I usually turn them into gibbering, repentent wrecks. *evil laugh*

I wonder how many people reading this thoughtful posting realise that I really can't stand 90% of people.

I put up with them because you have to in order to cope with the bastards. But that's also why I really like my friends because they're all very special and are really nice-fun-interesting-friendly-compassionate-caring-witty-empathic and generally hoopy people, and not just because they buy me drinks.

But you always have to talk to people to find out what they're like and you also have to give them a few chances to shine. Afer all you have to breath and not every breath is a pleasant experience, especially when you're downwind of silage spreading.

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