Not chatting up strangers, but then, doing it anyway

‘Going digital’ // Art by Dipika Kohli, 2012

AT A CAFE. In between meetings. Next to me there are two people in good conversation, in English, but occasionally Japanese. This is my other language. I am resisting, it is hard, the urge to say something to them. I have this weird and occasionally surprising knack for chatting up strangers and somehow, making solid acquaintanceships in a very compact space of time. Why this is probably has everything to do with the charm of my father, which I think has a lot to do with finding the silliness in the everyday moment (at least, when my mother allows it). Rest of the time they are both pretty serious, or pretending to be. When I think back on the most extraordinary and fulfilling times with my folks, I always feel like we were in transit somewhere, far from the social programmes and mores of the places and communities in which we were rooted. Movement became the kind of thing that set the stage for engaging. Deeply. Curious and different others were somehow very attractive; sometimes my mother would hold back and let my father fly into his own world of talking away to people he didn’t know about topics ranging from thermodynamics and entropy to the kinds of things that one talks about in the middle of a trip from Away to Home, whatever those things were. I don’t know. I would just be hanging out playing cards or something with my little brother; the topics and their content were irrelevant. What mattered was the people who were there, smiling with my father, smiling away. Being in real life. Being in the throes of it. Being noticed. Noticing. For a moment, the shared space. Which nowadays I design for in my own world, making architecture of social spaces, and remarkable human connexion, in the thing that happens online and in real life in the project that since 2016 I’m calling S P A C E. It’s nerdy. I know. So? I like that. And the mentor for this was, of course, my dad. I still remember my father trading postal addresses in the 1980s with total strangers he’d chatted up at, say, Frankfurt Airport, on our way to and fro. My mother would kind of be like, ‘What the hell?’ But, I wish she could have just noticed it. My father likes the new and different. is curious. Is open to trying new things. That is the spirit of innovation, really, isn’t it? Going to the edge, and past it, and exploring to the next-to-now. It’s actually quite in-demand, now. This business of being open to the new. It’s called ‘innovation consulting.’ You go around the world a few times and you start to find ways to make your skills work for you in weird and curious ways. Be open. Say yes. Show up. Try new things. You just have no idea where the next gig is coming from. Just around the corner, you’ll find it, if you’re open to it. The gems. Staying put is boring, for the likes of people like me. (Dad, are you reading this? I think you should go on a trip sometime, maybe with me, maybe with Mom, but really. Trips are where we flourish.)

 

Starting all over

KEEPING THINGS IN CHECK, maybe, by not getting too carried away with being too joie de vivre-y. Sure. This is more normal, I suppose. I guess that is just a self-limiting thing. You have to do what you have to do in order to maintain a kind of decorum, ‘in the eyes of society,’ Words of the pragmatists, who used to be friends, who have been slowly but confidently let to drift on a long, loose line and not quite cut from my current life but, well, yeah, I guess more or less cut.

Here’s the thing. Caring about what society thinks… you think that you have to. But what if you don’t? What if you don’t have to worry about that? What if what other people thought about you, and what you say, and what you do, and how you do it, and even more importantly, what if you yourself stopped caring about your image, what your words are perceived to be (by you perceiving the predicted perception—you see how this is a little unwieldy?), what you do, and how you do it? What if, what I’m saying is this, now, what if who cares what the reaction is to your self-driven initiative to go out into the world and see what’s there?

What I’m saying is, ‘What if you could just be yourself, the real you, the honest you, the totally unedited version of you. The one you were when you were, like, 8.’ What if? Would you find it easier to chat up strangers? Or, would you come to the realization that it’s not even that important-–the most important thing is knowing what you care about.

You don’t have to pretend like you are some kind of a big deal just because you can get into a conversation with anyone. Even E., on a crosswalk yesterday, on her way from Sydney to England via everywhere that she wants to go in between. (Hi, E.! Yes, I was listening).

Making friends in the cafe.

Making friends on the bus.

Making friends in the…. crosswalk.

Well, so?

I love that.

Let’s keep it going. Let’s keep the conversations in flow.

Let’s chat up the strangers. But not now, not today. Today I’ve got to finish some books.

Here’s to the journeys, the new, the near, the now, and the next.

***

OMG. I couldn’t help it. Chatted. They are so nice!