I went to an Italian restaurant in Edinburgh with my wife last night plus my son and his two flatmates. It was chosen by the flatmates and after checking the List, my wife ascertained it had good enough reviews to go ahead with the meal. It was a Wednesday night so we decided not to book but it was actually pretty busy so we were lucky to get a table without a reservation. Next time, and yes I’d happily go back there, we will book. It was a reasonably quiet place which was good for me because I can get distressed if there is too much noise and too many loud conversations going on around me. I still found it hard to hear the people seated furthest away from me but on the whole we have good conversations. It always strikes me how easy some people find it to tell stories, how the capture their audience and invoke interest and resonant thoughts. My wife and one of the flatmates were two such people, entertaining and enjoyable to listen to but also encouraging of comments from others.
The skill in telling a story is not something I have mastered, and I probably never will. It is in fact only relatively recently that I even had a go at telling a tale though that sounds like I am making it up when in fact I am trying to recount something that happened to me. I can’t remember if I said anything particularly last night, though I do remember reminding my wife on a elaboration of one story she was recalling about a swimming pool incident.
The last time I can remember my tale falling on deaf ears was when I recalled playing in my recorder group for a fund raising concert in a church at Christmas. I have decided when getting dressed to put some red boxer shorts on under my black trousers for the concert, primarily because I thought it was a bit festive (though who would know?). Unfortunately I discovered when I sat down in the concert that the black trousers I was wearing were split under the zip in the crotch area, and since I was facing the audience I felt rather exposed. It is the first time I have played the recorder with my knees together, an added pressure I didn’t need at the time. I thought this was a pretty funny thing to happen and something reminded me of it when a few weeks later I was having coffee with my cycling group. When I ended the tale there was absolutely not comment from the four women around me; I had presumably made a faux-pas of some sort but after a brief silence the conversation moved on. The experience didn’t particularly encourage me to try again.
When I look back on my life I can see that I have watched others and learned how to communicate with them. It has been a slow slow process. I think I have mentioned before that when I was at kindergarten, it was suggest (I don’t know by whom) that I be referred to a psychologist because I never interacted with anybody else. This continued when I went to school to a certain extent, playtimes were a lonely affair, but eventually I fell in with a bunch of other misfits. I learnt to fit in and when my classes started becoming streamed I spend more time with similar ability people as me and make more friends though it has to be said that most of them were girls. At secondary school I learnt to hang out with people first with the misfits again, and then with the more popular people who didn’t seem to object to my quiet presence.
It wasn’t until I went to an Further Education College that I started going out with a group of people to pubs and clubs. It wasn’t easy though because my friends seemed to live nearer each other and would meet up before hand and go to a venue together. I always had to go in alone with was nerve racking because I’d feel really awkward if nobody I knew was in the venue plus somehow people never saw me when I arrived first and I always (it seemed) had to go over to where they were sitting rather than them sitting with me. I couldn’t hear conversations most of the time so I would sit and nod attentively in pubs but in nightclubs I was just dance continuously to the music. I would be dancing for hours on stopping occasionally for drinks of water, or for the inevitable slow dance. I sweated buckets when I danced so I always used that as a reason not to ask anybody for a slow shuffle around the floor.
At university I made friends through the clubs I attended (archery and volleyball), the people on the same course as me who lived in the same collage, and with the people that lived on my corridor. Even if I wasn’t good at initiated conversations, I obviously seem okay at responding to others questions. I discovered asking people back for tea or coffee and biscuits were a good way of making friends and eventually I would also cook for them. I even managed to have a few relationships but I was rubbish at ending them. It was when I returned to university for a Master’s degree that I made great strides in making friendships. After a rather rocky start, we mature students became a tight knit group which organise and did things together and we had a lot of fun. I remember learning that asking people questions was a great way to have conversations with them, I became a good listener and excellent at exploring what other people said but I was also appalling at speaking about my own ideas and opinions unless there were a subject I knew well. Having done a mathematics undergraduate degree followed by a computer science one, subject knowledge that others were interested in was limited!
I have always learned the art of communication by watching others and trying to emulate them but I am always unsure whether what I have said means anything to anyone. I genuinely want to know what people like about me, what they find interesting about me, what it is about my writing that hits the spot. Then I think why does this matter? I am who I am and I don’t want to change because of what other people think, instead I want to change because it is better for me and hopefully my happiness will radiate out to others. Whilst I acknowledge my insecurities, I really don’t want them to direct me.