In these extraordinary times, there’s an almost universal certainty that you have become weary of the phrase “in these extraordinary times.” But as society begins to slowly open up, there is some hope that we may return to ordinary times or even, one can only hope, inary times.
One of the returns to normal is speaking to people face to face, enjoying a real connection with friends and noticing they have food in their teeth. Unfortunately, 10 weeks of near-isolation may have damaged your social skills (and your long-cultivated reputation as being “kinda handsy”). You may have to relearn how to talk to people.
Remember, then, that talking in person is not like talking on Zoom where you can mute yourself and turn off the camera. You can’t just ask the person to close their eyes while you walk away and pretend you’re listening. You have to maintain eye contact while you stay in place and pretend you’re listening.
Also, it’s much easier to interrupt and talk over someone in person than on Zoom, which is somethi—
Actually, you shouldn’t interrupt at all; that’s ru—
As I was saying, a conversation is not simply an exchange of facts and information but also an exchange of emotions and inferences filtered through one’s own biases, impressions and long history of tersely worded emails.
For example, if someone walks up to you and says, “It’s mummified with the coat-check floozy, don’t you thimble?” you would then reply, “I’m sorry, could you remove your protective mask? I can’t understand a thing you’re saying.” The other person would then ask you, “Cow foam you’re Mott’s Clamato hearing aid?” To which you would reply, “Because I live in an extremely low-risk area, so I don’t think masks are necessary for casual day-to-day use.” Then they call you a “macaroon” and you part ways, having completed a successful last-ever conversation.
Similarly, people don’t always say exactly what they mean, and you need to pay close attention to the underlying subtext. If, for example, someone says, “I haven’t been off my property in two months,” what they actually mean is, “Wanna see the collection of vintage cat-o’-nine-tails I keep in my makeshift sex dungeon?” I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules, that’s just how spoken language works.
It’s also important to note that talking to people involves many non-verbal cues, a subtle dance of gestures and looks and sometimes actual subtle dancing if the mood and lighting are just so. For instance, if the person crosses her arms, that may mean she’s feeling attacked or has an ugly mustard stain on her shirt. If she plays with her fingers, she may be either nervous or still hungry for more hot dogs. If she touches her ear and then her nose, you should steal second base.
A good dialogue requires you to be open to these subtle clues of meaning. This is made that much more difficult by the fact that people are still expected to remain at least six feet apart. This is not ideal for creating a sense of intimacy but is ideal for backing away slowly when someone starts talking about how COVID is caused by 5G: Government; Gun-control; Ginger in, like, everything; and the Ghost of Gary U.S. Bonds.
However, in these extraordinary times (ugh!) we must do the best we can in the circumstances we find ourselves under or possibly on top of, depending on your preference and whether your sciatica is acting up. So even though you may feel your conversation skills are a bit rusty, remember that virtually everyone is in the same situation. What’s important is that we all do our best to come together so we can have important discussions that begin like this:
“I was COVIDing my COVID when, bless my COVID, I COVIDed all over myself! I’ve never been so COVID in all my life. You would think after that I’d COVID over to the COVID for some good clean COVID. But I COVIDn’t.”
After this and some awkward jokes about reporting you to the authorities for not social-distancing and/or touching the hot dog (Ol’ Handsy is back!), you’ll soon come to remember that there really is nothing like spending time with another human being to make you want to get back as quickly as possible to a good book.