meaningful stories and idle chatter

conversationa theme for me in the last little while has been to hear from others, “i don’t want to talk about this because i don’t want to be a burden.”

i honestly think i’m wired differently than most people. hearing people’s meaningful stories, whatever they’re about, is rarely, rarely a burden for me. and when it is, i have no problem dealing with it.

cancer, childhood sexual abuse, addiction, death, mental illness, unemployment – this is the stuff of life just as weddings, pregnancy, promotions, travel and enlightenment.

whatever is meaningful to you, my clients, my friends, family and acquaintances, actually, i can hardly get enough of it. when someone tells me what’s going on for them, they let me into their lives. it’s an honour and frankly, it’s fascinating. why go to the movies?

so i’m a very willing listening ear, and when my listening and our conversation help someone along, i am deeply grateful.

what i do have limited patience for is meaningless idle chatter. idle chatter can be meaningful (otherwise i wouldn’t be so happy on twitter, i guess!). not everything has to be important with a capital I every time we open our mouths. i’ll never forget many years ago, when my first husband overheard a conversation i had with my best friend from school (we’re still close after almost 50 years, imagine that!), where we were talking about detergent. “how can you have such a banal conversation!” he exclaimed. he didn’t understand. the connection i have with ava is so deep and meaningful, we could spend a whole year talking about nothing but tide, and it would still be lovely.

i do have difficulty with certain types of idle chatter. i actually find it painful; perhaps as painful as others find listening to people’s harrowing lives and experiences. how might i describe this type … perhaps it would be the type of chatter that is marked by disinterest and/or unwillingness to at least contemplate engagement. someone talking about all the stores in the mall they went to last week, for example, without giving an interesting description (=engaging the other as listener), talking about what they thought/felt/remembered during the shopping trip (=engaging themselves), or asking questions or opinions (=engaging the other as conversation partner). in such situations, i tend do try to follow the talk (can’t really call it a conversation) and imagine the trip, ask questions, or, last resort, tune out – all of which i find quite exhausting. as i’m writing this, the image of a closed circuit comes to mind, one that may have a few openings here or there, but only for highly specific input, which will then immediately be reintegrated into that closed circuit. mine or other circuits are of no interest. does that make sense? i’m exploring this as i’m writing along …

but what you have to say about your marriage, your struggle with addiction, your sorrow and confusion over being an empty nester, your fears around your chronic illness – i will always be interested, and, oddly enough, i will always be invigorated. it might be the invigoration of a forest fire; perhaps we’ll have to wait a while until the ashes fertilize new life. more likely it will be the invigoration of a thunderstorm, or the awe that comes from walking the desert. i am, truly, grateful for your stories.

image by closely observed


  1. Thinks: hmm, I wonder if she’s a therapist.

    Me too. I can do with a very small amount of small talk. Much prefer the deep and meaningful.

    It sounds strange or vampire-like but I am nourished by deep contact – even if it is about painful things. Which sounds strange and bizarre – but I think that is the measure of how much we underestimate our need for intimacy.

    Evan’s last blog post..From Demolition to Authenticity

  2. I share your impatience not just with idle chatter but with anyone who carries on a monologue that has nothing to do with anyone else. I realize that’s just the way some folks are – and it’s no fun being them – but I feel so manipulated to be taken for granted like a wall or the sidewalk.

    By the way, I’ve offered you a bit of recognition on my blog – it’s a way of saying thanks for all the insights you share here. – John

  3. Hi Isabella,
    I totally agree with you on this issue. People have told me that I am a ‘nosy’ person but I call it interested and inquisitive. I like to engage with people who are interested in life and things around them rather than insular people who bore you to tears after 5 minutes.
    I knew someone in the past who felt it necessary to walk you through each minute aspect of her day. I mean EVERY SINGLE DETAIL! From getting up in the morning, brushing her teeth, how she needs a new tooth brush, what she had for cereal and why, whether it was better to have milk or orange juice with bran flakes, getting dressed…We are talking 20 minutes into her day and there was the rest of the day to go!
    It boiled to the fact she lived alone, wasn’t nurtured growing up and had self-esteem issues. We have both moved on with our lives now but I was the only one who tolerated it and sometimes gently reminded her about her impact on other people. Although hurt, she felt please that I was the only one who was able to explain this to her – most people just shunned her.

    I believe that I can learn something from each interaction.
    An interesting post, Isabella.

    Black Woman Thinks’s last blog post..‘I’ll Pray for You…’

  4. I can really relate to this post. I am the same way, but it makes it difficult to find meaningful friendships because many are “superficial.” What I find is that I miss a connectedness, interacting directly with the person rather than through idle chatter which is a step removed from the “real” person. I like “real” people in my life.

    ClinicallyClueless’s last blog post..Josh Groban – O Holy Night

  5. I found you through Everyone’s child and I’m glad I did. I enjoy your blog – soooo many resources! I too enjoy hearing other people’s stories and getting a glimpse into someone else’s life. Truly an honor. I’m glad I got a peak into your life today!

    Tara @ kidz’s last blog post..Santa Claus

  6. thank you so much for all your comments!

    once in a while, this blogging feels like we’re all sitting together in my living room, sharing a cup of tea, sharing thoughts, ideas, feelings. this post is like that.

    evan, john, zee, CC, you are people for whom i have a lot of respect and i like to count you among my blogging friends. it is always nice to hear when we’re on the same wavelength. (although i love a healthy debate, too, right, evan and zee?)

    tara, great to meet you here.

    evan, what you said about vampire-like – i was afraid that i was going to come across like that. (“gimmie your stories, yum, yum, crunch, suck”) i honestly hope it’s not like that. it is about sharing, about being vulnerable to each other. the closed circuit then turns into an open one, becomes bigger, and everyone, not only i, opens themselves up to more and better energy.

  7. This is my first visit here and I find myself shaking my head and smiling. I’ve often wondered if there was something wrong with me when I tune out at “idle chatter”. It didn’t make sense how I could talk about everyday ordinary things with my best friend but could hardly stand talking about it with someone else. There are times when I’m totally missing the engagement and I end up like you say…feeling exhausted. Rather cool to see I’m not alone. 🙂

  8. I can relate to this post from both sides of the fence. I always want people who are talking with me to feel they can be honest about both the “good” and the “hard” parts of life. I don’t mind hearing about struggles, except that I wish that my friends didn’t have to feel some of the pain and struggles they do.

    That said, I have always felt like I need to be the positive person, that I should just sweep the nasty stuff under the rug, especially at parties and such. Today I was at a benefit and people were asking how I am. I couldn’t say “I’m not showing signs of suicidal idiation yet, but I am feeling desperate to get some relief from this pain and don’t want to find out how much more it will take to push me over the edge”. I found myself in a really awkward position, I couldn’t not answer people who wanted to know why I use a walker, but RSD is so nasty to deal with I couldn’t put the positive spin on it that many of these people know me for, since they taught me in elementary school.

    I think that understanding the role we play in various situations helps a great deal, and I think exploring how to handle situations like this in the future is something I need to do. Thanks for a timely post!

    Nickie’s last blog post..Research, results and remedies

  9. Wonderful topic!

    I’m going to toss my few cents in, since we’re having a cuppa in your living room!

    I’m mentally ill, with a primary diagnoses of BP II Disorder. Naturally, this is not the only issue I have. Or, maybe some can fit into the jam-jar of one “pure” MH label?

    Currently, I am functioning higher than I have in over a decade. For the first time in so many years, I have not spent three months on a locked p-ward for a record eighteen months.

    I do cycle and I know this. When I am depressed, I don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes because even breathing is hard, but mostly because I feel infectious. That if I talk about my inner Hell, I’ll suck others into it’s fierce vortex.

    However, thanks to my stellar and primary support, Cricket, that is changing. My best friend for twenty years, she is the sister that I have never had. (My birth sister, my love and my best friend shut me out of her life, when my depression became the force killing my mania and myself).

    Cricket knows me well enough to challenge me to open up when I’m shut down, to question my world view and help me realize how far I’ve come. She recently told me that the doctors who’d seen me over the first months of hospitalization had told her I would die. They had not seen a case like mine live.

    Apparently I bitched to Cricket about my fellow patients: They’re soooo boring! We were all over-medicated, many of us going through ECT, but I couldn’t believe how DULL they were!

    But, I’m taking up too much time. I just want to tell you about a good friend of Cricket’s and mine. She has finally got a job as a Social Worker for a high risk population. She never shuts up about the job now. Ever.

    The last time I saw her was Thanksgiving. She arrived around eight o’clock pm the day after and ran her mouth until she left (early for her) at around ten thirty.

    After the first hour, I was the only one still in the room with her. As her monologue continued, I kept up an inner dialogue: I have valiam upstairs, the cheese plate knife would be nice to use on myself, if I keep saying “uh-huh”, she’ll finally realize that she’s the only one talking, I’ve heard this story countless times, she is a royal bore, she is a nightmare, I should tell her that she is behaving badly, it’s the holiday and I’m too tired to create a scene, I wish I were in the other room with my laughing friends, I want to hurt myself, I wish she could hear herself, hey, maybe I could find my mini-recorder, figure out how to make it work and have it handy next time, I……..

    She finally left. I told Cricket and Dianne, who had just come into the room, that I’d had visions of sticking pins under my nails and drinking a bottle of whiskey. Funny, eh? I’ve been sober for four years and haven’t stuck myself in a while. I will admit to some SI, but no staple guns, cigarettes, or whiskey have been involved.

    A couple of years ago on Thanksgiving, I told my social worker friend and her teen-age boys to cease and desist the relentless arguing. It worked, after a few hitches, but that’s a story for my blog!

    Meanwhile, thank you for letting me bitch about my friend. As I have learned, with other people with no bounderies, I’ll have to establish some of my own.

    Dano MacNamarrah’s last blog post..Bonk’s Bar Benefits FOP Officer Simpson.

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