Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Monday, 3 May 2010

Question of etiquette

Good conversation is like Pass the Parcel – in reverse. The parcel gets bigger. Good conversation rewards because the benefits are not foreseen. But is it mechanistic, even heartless, to consider a tiny bit of planning?

This is serious. On Wednesday I meet Plutarch at the Blogger’s Retreat and I am conscious I failed to take full advantage of our last encounter. There were just too many topics I wanted to discuss. I raised an important point, ravished it somewhat and then passed on. I was impatient and eventually breathless. Not Plutarch’s fault; he’s politer than I am.

This time there are four vital subjects. For me, that is. I don’t have the flexibility of mind to allow for Plutarch having his own agenda. I fear it is, to some extent, sauve qui peut. Would it be impossibly anal of me to conduct a form of chairmanship in my head; to look at my watch and say “That’s twenty-seven minutes spent on Pretentious Versification. Round-up in ten minutes.”

I hear voices as far away as Virginia and Prague telling me it’s a horrible idea, that I should be open, spontaneous, gracious and all the other qualities that a West Riding upbringing did not equip me for. But don’t forget the Graham Greene moment – the ice chip at the writer’s heart. Plutarch may go back to TW feeling he’s attended the Unite annual meeting. But he’s got a blog to attend to. And he’ll have new material.

NOTE: The above men are younger than Plutarch or me (or I).


The Crow said...

You raise an interesting question, BB. Wouldn't the answer to your dilemma depend upon the purpose of your get-togethers? Are they to keep you connected in friendship, face-time, so to speak? Are they meetings to resolve issues too complicated or personal to take care of via phone or email? Do you have only a couple of hours for conversation and, therefore, should address the weightier matters first, or exclusively?

I don't think having an agenda for your meetings is all that bad an idea, provided you both agree to that ahead of time, and each has an opportunity to address his topics. Seems that would be reasonable if the purpose of your meeting is to take care of things you prefer not to address via electonic means.

Otherwise, if the purpose is to nurture a friendship, for the sake of friendship alone, I think going with the flow would serve you both better...provided Plutarch can get a word in edgewise now and then.

Do you two converse the way you write in your respective blogs? If so, perhaps Plutarch is satisfied to listen and observe more than he speaks.

What does Joe have to say about this?

The Crow said...

PS: Graciuosness can be learned, if one does not inherently carry the gene. Of course, one has to want to acquire graciousness in the first place for it to take.

At this stage of your life, though, if you've managed satisfactorily without it, I wouldn't spend the energy looking for it. Those who already love you, value your friendship, et cetera, do so regardless of your (purported) lack of grace.

Your graceless correspondent,

Julia said...

Even though I try not to be too obvious about it, and I'm told that asking questions* really isn't a Southern lady thing to do, I do my own version of journalistic quizzing when I meet someone interesting. I can't blame my background but I definitely blame my curiousity.

The time schedule made me laugh, but if Plutarch agrees, I say go for it as long as he gets his time too!

* Patrick O'Brian also has things to say about questions and their fitness in conversation. His moratorium against them has often worried me. If you don't start a conversation with a question, what do you start with?

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: The purpose of our get-togethers? I mustn't answer for Plutarch (who for me will always carry this name in a blog context where he differs in several subtle ways from his face-to-face persona) but I feel he shares my aim: wide-ranging conversation. Just that. It sounds simple but it is much rarer than many realise and it's why I used the reverse Pass the Parcel image. Boiled down it means intense listening as much as intense utterance.

Speaking for myself I don't set out to resolve anything but the second half of what you say I accept: speech allows greater nuance with subjects we will already have discussed via blogs and direct emails. The meeting, by the way, lasts about five hours but I have to say this is easily encompassed without any visible signs of a fatigue.

A shared agenda? No, too formal.

Nurture friendship? You wrote tellingly about the difference between British and US cultures. Here's a case in point. With a gun to my head I might admit to this but it would be un-British to volunteer it. Word in edgewise? Plutarch isn't a doormat and it would be foolish and expensive for me to travel 120 miles for a monologue.

As with most people our written stuff is more compressed than our speech. I have a bad habit of inserting parenthetical sentences within sentences already started. This I am able to suppress, especially when limiting myself to 300 words.

Lack of grace? I cannot think of anyone who would not confirm this.

Julia: You have touched on something I didn't raise in this post but which I have raised in others. It is my duty - observed as a professional journalist and transferred seamlessly into my social life - to ensure there are no awkward pauses. A question is the best solution, especially when a conversation is just starting. This is not a ploy; as I've said before the only talent I brought to journalism was a natural curiosity. I think the restriction on Southern ladies wasn't thought through: it leaves them vulnerable to awkward silences without any means of escape. Extending this theory, Southern ladies were put on earth to endure boredom.

Patrick O'Brian wrote marvellous novels but was a peculiar man - often the case with writers. Grudgingly he accorded someone a televised interview (at the behest of his publisher, I suspect) on the understanding there would be no personal questions. Various banal exchanges occurred until the interviewer asked something totally anodyne, I forget what, and O'Brian interpreted it as personal (it wasn't) immediately went off his trolley.

I assure you Plutarch will have space to put in his oar.

The Crow said...

A short follow-up, BB.

No matter how thoroughly people are able to discuss issues, ideas, viq mail or electronically, you are on point when you say speech allows greater nuance. That is what is missing in emails, and is probably more responsible for any misunderstandings that might arise through that medium.

I try to imagine you across a table from me when I read your posts, and - most especially - your comments, here and at my blog. I imagine you speak with a moderate baritone voice, give a hearty, full-throated laugh when the occasion merits it, and more often than not there's a devilish twinkle to the eyes when you are teasing, or yanking my chain.

If I am in error, let me live with my illusions.

I look forward to a day when I can meet you and Mrs. BB, to see if my guesses about the two of you are correct. Until then, I keep dropping by here.

(Wouldn't I just love to be a fly on the wall at Blogger's Retreat when you and Plutarch meet this week! I hope all goes well for your visit.)

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: No I can't. I just can't. Nasal northern accent, voice neither baritone nor tenor, laughing (grudgingly at other's jokes) wheezily through my nose, the devilish twinkle may exist in my eyes but it's dominated by the bags thereunder, frequently going to excess with the teasing. An asset to any social event. There are four or five reasons why I don't post a pic and my hangdog, bloodhound looks are one. Incidentally you're getting a first-class re-comment service from me - any excuse to break away from correcting Chapter Five.

The Crow said...

"Incidentally you're getting a first-class re-comment service from me - any excuse to break away from correcting Chapter Five."

And here I thought it was my irresistable charms as a correspondent. Why, sir, you do so flatter me.


The Crow said...

irresistIble...that's what I meant to write...dadgummit

Eleanor said...

In my blogging circle it's understood that real-life meetings necessitate the consumption of some alcohol. Does that help?

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: Hey, Ch. 5 is hard, I need all the help I can get.

Eleanor: Do we have drink? Does the Pope have indulgences? The Blogger's Retreat (just off the end of The Strand in London) is a place of extreme ritual. Very low prices and very large holes in the linoleum. Recently they lost their booze licence and it was necessary to improvise. Now the licence is back and Plutarch will meet me downstairs in the bar with a bottle of champagne. We will then traipse upstairs, being careful not to trip over the loose aluminium step-guards, order curry and an appropriate amount of beer. This is the shell of the hospitality Plutarch and, more rarely, I (my home is 120 miles away) offer like minded bloggers. There is a coda, perhaps an epilogue, to all this. A stroll across Waterloo Bridge, down the steps to ground level and on to a pub whose name I always forget but which I refer to as "the pub in Roupell Street". Throughout our talk never ceases. I then take the tube to Paddington, the fast train to Newport (in South Wales), the slow train to Hereford and a taxi to Chez Bonden. Plutarch returns to Tunbridge Wells, generally rated as the Nirvana of the Home Counties.

Plutarch said...

Back in my days as an editor, there was a weekly or monthly, depending on the frequency of the magazine) management meeting. This was chaired by a (usually but not always pompous,ignorant and self important publisher, a sort of business manager).The meetings were generally tedious and too long. On a trip to Switzerland I discovered a simple toy which made a noise like a sheep bleating. It consisted of a small cylinder which you simply had to turn over and the noise emerged. After a while I realized that if you brought the toy to meeting and kept it out of sight, the meeting could be relieved of boredom with its help. I promise not to bring one to the B R. Meanwhile I am having difficulty in contacting the gentle proprietor of the restaurant by telephone which has not been answering. I will be letting BB know as soon as the basis of the ritual is firmly reestablished.

Avus said...

'twould be a wonderful experience to be a fly on the wall when you two get together, BB.
As to questions getting conversations going....I try not to attend any more those dreadful parties where one stands around trying to initiate conversation with another whilst watching their eyes wandering elsewhere. But when so forced I have always found Kipling's "Six Honest Serving Men" to stand me in good stead:

"I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who...."

Barrett Bonden said...

Avus: d'accord. But then the Bondens aren't known for their sociability.