How to be interesting

December 16, 2009

Solid advice from Megan of Rhubarb Pie, whose friend asked her how he could become more interesting. She suggests that he attend more events, and proposes three questions to consider after each event:

First: what was your favorite part?
I think consciously deciding on a favorite part of the evening is helpful for a few reasons.

First, I think it will make him like the evening better in retrospect. Maybe the café was dingy and the open mic was largely embarrassing and the whole thing reminds him of the emptiness of our disconnected urban lives. Fine. But searching through the evening for a favorite part will emphasize that piece in his memory, and he’ll look back on the evening just a little more fondly. Since going to a bunch of those things can be work, he might as well remember the best aspects of it.

Second, people enjoy enthusiastic people. It is a good practice to notice the best parts of things and be able to recount them. Calling out the bad parts is not-interesting. It is easy and predictable and brings negativity to the party and sounds like a jaded teenager. To be interesting, note your favorite parts.

The other two questions are here.

Overheard in Toronto: “My Acting”

May 29, 2009

Overheard the following conversation tonight, on the subway. I was on my way home, from, ironically, an acting class.

FACT: The more times you use the word “acting” when you’re talking about your acting, the less likely it is that you’re a good actor. That’s just how it is.

“MY ACTING” a short play
transcribed from reality by Nicole Stamp

Two middle-aged people who are obviously not professional actors.
HIM: A very tall man in a jean jacket. Sort of oafish, scruffy, and loud.
HER: A fading Blanche Dubois-type blonde in overly dramatic clothing. Her hair is oddly askew.

HER: When I’m acting I sometimes feel self-conscious but it gets in the way of my acting so I try to just let it go.

HIM: Yeah, I really think that’s not a good way to feel when you’re acting.

HER: It really isn’t. It gets in the way of my acting. I have to just not think about it so I can act.

HIM: Yeah, I get that. I really need to, like, let loose and just be myself when I act.

HER: Yeah. So that scene you were acting in tonight, how was it?

HIM: I have to say, it was weird. It was weird. To be acting with her, acting like I’m her husband, I’m like, “but she’s married”. That makes it weird to act like I’m her husband.

HER: But you’re acting.

HIM: I know, but I’m acting like I’m her husband, right? If I’m her husband, listen, as a heterosexual male, acting or no acting, I’m gonna be doing SOMETHING, right?

HER: You mean kissing her?

HIM: Not exactly, more like–

HER: Lovemaking? Making love to her?

HIM: I mean like holding her hand or something!

HER: Well that’s OK!  You’re acting!

HIM: No! I mean she has a husband! And I’m acting like–

HER: But you’re acting!

HIM: I know I’m acting! That’s the point, my acting can make me get carried away when I’m acting!

HER: I think that’s ok.  When you’re acting.

HIM: Listen, you know Tim Allen?

HER: Uh-

HIM: From Tool Time?

HER: Well I know there is someone named Tim Allen. He does Santa.

HIM: Yeah, him. Well he acted in Tool Time, and on Tool Time, his wife was hot! I thought she was hot! That brunette who acted the role of his wife–

HER: Whose wife, yours? You’re married?

HIM: No. I mean Tim Allen’s wife on Tool Time.

HER: Oh, Tim Allen, yeah. Santa.

HIM: Well when he was acting on that show–

HER: On what show?

HIM: Tool Time.

And then I had to leave the subway and I almost cried, I was so sad to miss the magic. AMAZING.


UPDATE: “My Acting” has received its first off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-off-Broadway performance, in my friend Shannon’s living room. Click here to watch Shannon and Shannon acting “My Acting”.

Male / Female Conversational Styles

December 13, 2008

This article by linguist Deborah Tannen raises some interesting points about conversational differences between men and women. I have seen many of these differences cause conflict in the past, but I’m not so big on the idea of ascribing them to gender. Maybe because according to some of her points, I’m a man. Anyway, a quick read, and maybe a source of Vitamin Insight.

Tiny conversation

October 19, 2008

HIM: You want some of this?

ME: What is it?

HIM: You tell me.

He offers a spoon with a blob of something white on it.

ME: Where’d you find pumpkin pie flavoured pasta salad?

HIM: That’s a very refined palate you’ve got there. It’s rice pudding.

Conversation starter- tell a big bug story.

August 6, 2008

Not long ago, I was out on an awkward brunch and the conversation started to sputter and fail. At times like these, I often inexplicably assume responsibility for everyone’s entertainment and try to liven things up by instigating bouts of armwrestling or yodelling contests. But on this day, neither of those seemed appropriate, so instead I told a 2-minute long, fairly dynamic story about a big bug. Luckily the big bug story in question had actually happened the previous night, so I was able to segue into it without too much contrivance, and even luckilyier, I had photodocumented the horrible bug with my celphone, so I could show everyone my grainy photos of the monstrosity, class arthropoda, species cataclysma.

not the actual bug.  I dont wanna brag, but my bug? Totally bigger.

Note: not the actual bug. I don't wanna brag, but my bug? Totally bigger.

Now, I’m not saying I’m Oprah or anything, but basically my bug story saved brunch and made the whole world a way better place. Everyone was interested, and then immediately my bug story (which also involved a part about the cat trying to eat said bug) was followed by another bug story, then a cat-kills-bird story. And then the lens opened to include a real gem, an illustrator-slides-down-mountain-and-almost-dies-but-lives-to-tell-
the-tale story. Awesome. Conversation revitalized, food arrived, brunch success.

The bug story was a perfect tool to re-invigorate things, and after some thought, I’ve figured out a few reasons why:

1. Everyone has a story like this: human vs. nature. The general structure tends to be: nature terrifies human, human poisons or stomps on nature (or in my case traps and flushes nature down toilet), hence humans are amazing, and, now that we’ve reconfirmed that understanding, please pass the bacon. It’s so relatable.

2. Telling these stories is the opposite of bragging, as we all act like idiots when faced with a big hairy bug. And nothing is more endearing than an idiot who can dramatize his-or-her idiocy.

3. No political or ethical dilemmas ensue, unless you’re hanging out with vegans, in which case I cannot help you. Enjoy your carob tempeh loaf.

4. These stories are fast-paced, brief, and require only a gnat’s attention span to comprehend, so even the mediocre storyteller can’t ruin brunch with an overly long one. Not so the story of your breakup, or mortgage, or car accident, or favourite NBC sitcom plot.

5. Bug stories don’t make the teller seem gross. That’s why bug stories will work, while their cousins, the equally dynamic food-poisoning-stories, are not so good. I don’t mind imagining my new aquaintance crying about a spider; but if he makes me imagine him bespattered with the products of his own digestive processes, and crying on the dank bathroom floor of a hostel in Zagreb, well, it’s hard to feel quite so enchanted about this new friend.

6. On the contrary, big bug stories actually accentuate likeable secondary sexual characteristics. If you’re a girl, we’ll laugh indulgently at your feminine hysteria when you find the bug, admire your womanly independence when you squish the bug, and sympathize with your girlish guilt for taking its little life. If you’re a boy, we’ll think it’s cute that you cried when you first saw the silverfish- you’re not so tough! And then we’ll be reassured that you speedily dispatched it- clearly, you’re just tough enough, and in a pinch, you’ll step up and take care of me! Maybe with killing! Good work dude, way to seem simeltaneously sensitive AND virile.

All in all, I think a detour into the land of the big bug story can really revitalize a conversation. I predict that there must be others of its ilk- any suggestions?