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Conversation is its Own Brass Ring

I haven’t been patronized in a good long while. Maybe I don’t get out enough. Or maybe my vibe is such that no one dares. But it happened a while back and it brought me up short. I was concluding a phone conversation with a successful East Coast business owner. He generously shared resources and his perspective on ways to market Picture a Conversation™. I told him 

“Well, I hope you make a million dollars,” he said.

“A million dollars would be nice,” I replied, “but what I really want is to change some lives.”

After a moment of silence he chuckled and replied, “Change some lives? How…how sweet.” Were this not a phone conversation, I imagine he might have reached out to pat my head.

Admittedly, I’m reading snark into a comment where none was intended, but his words rankled just the same.  Sure I’d like that brass ring to fulfill my want list of million-dollar fantasies, and yes, I continue to work, host conversation workshops, brainstorm and network. Every week I read more articles and book reviews whose message attests to what is happening to society as face-to-face conversations continue to dwindle. What I’ve created, what I’m doing, matters. No brag, just fact. And chutzpadik hope, too.

The truth is I’m doing this because I felt compelled to create something of value and once created, it merited exposure. We all need to text less and talk more. I trust in the power of Picture a Conversation.  Period. People tell me of the wonderful experiences they’ve had using these conversation prompts. A counselor recently wrote that he uses them with a group of couples he meets with regularly. In his latest note he shared that the group spent their entire evening — two and a half hours! — discussing the three questions on just one card! That’s a brass ring right there.

ABWA members got into the conversation one-two-three.

Another brass ring is watching  people beginning a conversation during one of my workshops.  There is this moment of uncertainty and then the room explodes with the sounds and gestures of conversation — laughter, lulls, more talking, head-nods of agreement, hands waving in expression and emphasis. Every workshop validates how deeply people enjoy talking with one another and how deeply they need it.  

A partner and I have just begun to offer Convo-Motion workshops that weave together conversations and creative movement. The first one was a revelation to us all. More are planned.

It’s hard putting myself out there, laying myself bare to throwaway comments that mean little but sting much. Yes, a million dollars would be great. But I haven’t reached sixty plus without recognizing that I’m already blessed with life’s true riches — health, the love of my husband and children, a delightful daughter-in-law and our first grandchild, a wide and deep circle of friends, roof, clothes, heat, food. (All of you Jews out there, are you now doing the old country ppp ppp ppp thing to chase away the Evil Eye? Me, too.) If the dollars come, great. Better, much better, will be thousands of people continuing to use our cards to spark meaningful conversations of their own and drawing closer with one another in the process. Every time that happens, it is very sweet indeed. 

So here are some questions to start conversations with friends, loved ones, co-workers:
• What’s your own brass ring?                                                                                                                               • What about this obsession that money, big money, is synonymous with success?                                  • How do you handle do you do with patronizers?

And here’s your call to action. Purchase a set of Picture a Conversation.  With Christmas and Chanukah coming up, you’ll be giving what no one else will — real face time, offline. Intrigued by the idea of our Convo-Motion workshop? Email me — debra a pictureaconversation dot com — and schedule one. Thank you.

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Stopping by a Tree on a Summer Evening


I witnessed a miracle this evening. Some wouldn’t think miracle, merely Nature doing her thing. But I stood spellbound and in awe for nearly 40 minutes as a cicada birthed itself — slowly, slowly, ever so slowly unfolding into life, enacting the silent conversation coded into its DNA.

Walking home from yoga the pale shade of green lichen covering a tree trunk called to me. If you were a kid and had rendered this tree trunk in green, especially this light grey-green celadon shade, the teacher would likely have told you, No, sweetheart, tree trunks are brown. Or maybe, if you got lucky and had a kind teacher, she’d praise you for your Fauvist leanings.

Then I saw the cicada, 2/3 of the way out of its papery brown chrysalis, head down as if emerging from a birth canal. Its eyes were obsidian black. Its legs were folded tightly over its abdomen. Its wings were mere apostrophes tipped in bright green and held tight against its body. Could it see me? Should I leave it be? Not watch this intimate act of life coming into being? Not stand there while this oh so common yet nevertheless sacred act played out before me? I couldn’t tear myself away.

It hung there for a good ten minutes and then sproing! the lowest pair of legs began trembling, extending outward into the evening air. Bent at an odd angle, they reminded me of the crank handle Half-Pint would turn to raise and lower the water bucket on Little House on the Prairie. Next to unfold were the remaining two pairs of legs. After another rest, the cicada leaned forward, grasped the now-papery chrysalis with its front legs.The remaining four legs pushed against the husk until it flipped its bottom out and was suddenly upright. Entirely separated from its crinkly home, it clung with all six legs hanging for what seemed like an eternity.

 

Look closely for the orange spots on its forehead and the secondary wings appearing

During that eternity, its wings began to unfold — transparent, veined like one of Chartre’s stained glass windows. A few minutes later a smaller second pair of wings began to delineate themselves beneath the primary pair. A Batman-shaped pattern emerged on the cicada’s back and next, a constellation of orange dots appeared on its forehead. Fully formed the cicada hung there. And hung there. And hung there.

 

 

I grew impatient. Hurry up! Part of me itched to tease it free with a twig. I didn’t. Promise. My mind began wandering. Anthropomorphizing. How often do we hold onto things that we no longer need? It takes so much strength to let go of old supports! So much gumption to separate and fly free. The cicada, perfectly upright now, wings no longer apostrophes but complete and ready to beat, nevertheless clung to its see-through shell.

See the Batman tattoo? The secondary wings are now fully visible

How often do we urge our children forward before they are ready? Or steep in impatience as they march in synch with their own inner metronome? I left before the cicada made its final separation. No coincidences, I thought as I headed home. Today is my daughter’s thirtieth birthday. As you’d imagine, all day memories of her birth flitted through my mind — the early twitches and twinges that coalesced throughout the day into stronger and stronger contractions; the long evening at home as waves of labor swelled and crashed within me; then the ride to the hospital where, after ninety endless minutes she was ours to hold, ours to count finger and toes, ours to stare into her huge black watchful eyes. Her hands were purple and I feared something was awry. Her little lungs, like tiny bellows, hadn’t yet inflated more than a time or two. Soon her hands pinked up.

Today, those hands create beautiful art. Her feet take her on her own path in her own time. Her eyes are still obsidian dark. They see so much, too much I sometimes think because her heart is so big and it breaks. Yes, time and again she pushed against me to free herself. And yes, there were times we both clung too long. I won’t take this metaphor any farther. I am not a husk; not even close. I watch her from afar now. Flying free she soars. Her wings are veined with determination. And I, I witness miracles.

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Once and Future Conversations

Picture a Conversation ElephantsOur daughter-in-law jokes that our newborn granddaughter is part baby elephant. At four weeks, Olivia has a full repertoire of snorts and snuffles, back of the throat raspings and full-throated cries that trumpet, “Somebody better feed me and change me, NOW!”  Olivia and her devoted mom are embarking upon a mother-daughter conversation that will last their entire lives.

As for me, one of her devoted grandmothers, I look forward our own conversations.  I adored that brief window of my kids’ verbal development as they acquired language but not the filters that kept their words, and thus their thoughts, hidden. I savored their funny phrasings and crystalline insights, all the more stunning for coming from such wee beings.

Look, Mommee! Olivia’s father said to me some three decades ago.  Bubbles!  IMG_1769He was pointing to a set of iridescent crystal goblets we’d received as a wedding gift. What poetry to see the world through my son’s eyes. There was the time he pulled me to the window to point out the falling snow.  “Look, Mommee.  Doesn’t the snow make you think of God?” “Oh yes, little one. Yes, indeed.”  I thought then.

 

IMG_1771What kinds of conversations will Olivia and I share?  Will we read about Noah’s ark  and imagine together how God might have dreamt up the giraffe and the peacock? Whence came the idea for kangaroos and starfish? Or why sunflowers have dozens of petals and tulips so few? What will be her talk on the changing leaves as fall overtakes summer? Or what it feels like to  jump in a pile of leaves or build her first snowman? As time passes, our conversations may well turn to deeper issues — squabbles with friends,  frustration with her parents’ sage rules and boundaries, broken hearts and promises.

But until then, I savor Olivia’s cries and whimpers, the outsized snuffles coming from one so new.  The conversations will be here before I know it.

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A “Sprained” Conversation

What a blessing to have use of my thumb!

What a blessing to have use of my thumb!

I fell recently and my wrist, while not broken, was still hurting. The hand surgeon confirmed that nothing was fractured and sent me to the local medical supply place for a brace.  It was a long wait in a place devoted to the old-age infirmities that can befall us — adult diapers, walkers, splints, crutches and more. I signed in and counted the names above mine. It was going to be a long wait.

I picked up a magazine and took a seat next to a woman who was also waiting to be seen. Minutes passed.  Long minutes.  Then a quarter of an hour that turned into a half hour. The woman began talking to herself not so sotto voce,  “I’ve been waiting over an hour to be seen. I KNOW I didn’t have an appointment. But I didn’t KNOW I was going to break my wrist today.” Then her mutterings escalating to curses. I tried to voice commiseration that I hoped would ease the tension. Truth be told, she was just saying what the rest of us were thinking; we just had better filters in place. But I grew uneasy. Would she go from words physical venting?  Did she have a gun? Had she broken her dominant hand?  Could she shoot left-handed?

The receptionist said they were moving as quickly as they could.  Things quieted down, and then I heard crying.  The woman’s body language projected utter defeat —  shoulders slumped, head in her hands, completely withdrawn. Through her cries she whimpered that she was in pain. That it was her twins’ birthday and she needed to get home to celebrate, but how could she make them a cake with a broken hand?  In that moment, the whole drama shifted from a one-person play to a scene in which we all had a part — we were all in some degree of pain; we all had somewhere else to be; we were all wondering how we would handle the physical tasks that, pre-injury, we did on autopilot.  Again, this woman was projecting what all of us were confronting within.  And for this poor woman it was just too much. She was overwhelmed, and simply could no longer cope. Or maybe she was coping better than the rest of us by expressing exactly what she was feeling and facing (minus the cursing, mind you.)

So I started a conversation.  Tell me about your kids.  How old are they? How did you hurt yourself? Turns out her kids were 17, a boy and a girl.  Like me, she had taken a spill in a moment of distraction. She confessed to being an impatient person.  I said the same and joked that the universe was probably testing me by giving me a situation requiring patience.  Trying not to sound too preachy I gently suggested that maybe this was an opportunity for us both to try and go with the flow.  And because I write an advice column, I couldn’t help but add that at 17, her kids could wait a bit. Her physical well-being had to take priority so that she could be there for them later.   A minute or two passed; it was finally her turn. I didn’t see her again.

We are so wrapped up in our own worlds, our own hurts, our own lives. Random conversations are beautiful reminders that we are not as separate as we think and that sometimes, simply talking to one another helps to mend what is broken, yet unseen.

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