My wife tells me I tend to jabber when I’m nervous. I loathe events like these. I don’t know the rules. I, for example, arrived in what I regarded as timely fashion some fifteen minutes before the official start time but most didn’t stroll in until a half hour or so later. The reading eventually commenced a half hour late. During this enforced waiting period I sat alone in the back row and kept my own counsel. Marion had time for a proper chat after the event. I didn’t say anything improper but I was aware our time was limited and felt the need to cram what I had to say—not that I’d planned to say anything—into the unknowable time available. So I jabbered. At one point the subject of humorous poetry cropped up so I tried to recite an old poem about football hooliganism and made a complete dog’s breakfast of it. Typically I went on about my health which she politely made light of because I look fine and so I moved on to moaning about the non-existent sales of my last book. I even mucked up the hug at the end. I just wanted to call backsies and start afresh.
This is typical me. Writing is so much safer because every response, every single word, is considered and often for minutes at a time. This is why I hate authors like Oscar Wilde because no one—no one in the real world bar Wilde himself if his legend is anything to go by—could be as spontaneously witty and clever as his characters often are. In the real world we muck it up. We jabber. We forget our point. We digress. We get distracted. We get interrupted and never get to finish what we’re saying. We say the wrong thing. We assume people know—and care—what we’re wittering on about. We imagine they can read our mind. Conversation in the real world is awful. It’s also mind-numbing dull most of the time. Much of the time we don’t talk about anything important or meaningful. We pass comments about what’s on the telly and ask if anyone wants a cup of coffee and gripe about work and the cost of living. We never talk about the meaning of life. Or how we feel, our hopes and fears. And we NEVER talk in complete sentences. Unless they’re very short.
I’m not actually a shy person. I am socially awkward. You’d think by my age I would’ve sussed out the pros and cons and I can fake it but it’s such hard work, which is why I avoid it. The thing is I do actually enjoy talking to people but because I don’t allow myself the opportunity—other than with my wife and let’s face it living in each other’s pockets as we do we tend to miss out on opportunities for exchanges of any length or depth—when I do find myself with an audience, albeit an audience of one, I tend to let them have it, both barrels, POW!, and to all those who’ve been buttonholed by me in the past all I can say it that I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to go on. And on and on and on and on and on.
Conversation’s one of those things that’s dying a death, like letter writing. People still talk, people still send letters, but not like they used to in t’good ol’ days. Of course the good ol’ days weren’t nearly as good as we think we remember them but some things were better. Nowadays virtually all my communication with the outside world, with people who matter to me, takes places online. The odd e-mail gets exchanged—usually when some business needs to be transacted—but mostly it’s comments on blogs. I write a blog, they comment, I respond to their comment and that’s the end of that. Then they write a blog, I pass comment and they respond to my comment in turn: netiquette has been satisfied. I even have one friend who never responds to any comment because she was getting so many it was taking her all week to get through them so she stopped and because of that most people stopping commenting on her blogs. I still do but I miss her feedback.
It does seem strange to me in a world where communication is so easy and cheap that we don’t make the most of it. We don’t talk anymore. No, we do talk—we just don’t converse.