Make_Small_Talk (aka: Interacting With Real Live Humans)

One of the hardest things about dealing with real, live humans is small talk.

Seriously. I mean, what is the deal with small talk? It’s like standing around nibbling cheap, store-bought appetizers instead of sitting down to a delicious, homemade main course.

Dilbert Small Talk Participate

You never know when you will be faced with this dreaded interaction. There you are, sitting in your cubicle, or riding in an elevator, or innocently heating up your leftovers in the break room, when bam! Another person shows up. This can be just about anybody – a stranger, a coworker, your boss, your boss’s boss. No matter who appears, you have little choice but to hit the F5 key and run the program, Make_Small_Talk.

It typically goes something like this:

Me:                        Hi, how was your weekend?

Person:                Pretty good. Yours?

Me:                        Not too bad. Busy with kids and stuff.

Person:                Yeah, me too. But I got a lot done.

Water Cooler Small Talk

Once in a while, I am tempted to mix things up a little, just to keep things interesting. Maybe something like:

Person:              How was your weekend?

Me:                        Great! I got a lot done, and left no evidence behind, so they’ll never catch me…

Or I could be like those people who give you waaaaay more information that you ever wanted to know, like:

Person:                How was your weekend?

Me:                        Well, it was fine until I started throwing up. I must have clogged the toilet six times! Then I had to go see the doctor, and he said I might have the Avian Flu or Ebola or something, so they had to draw blood and check my stool samples for parasites and bacteria. Then I developed this awful wet cough. I mean, listen – *hack hack!*

My two favorite alternatives to making small talk are:

  1. Wear earbuds 100% of the time and pretend that I don’t notice when others are talking to me.
  2. Avoid all places where people may be present, thus avoiding all unnecessary human interaction.

One problem with those alternatives, however, is that you may never get to know important details about other people, like what their favorite sports teams are, or how many kids they have, so that you can then inquire about those details the next time you make small talk. Also, no one will have any idea who you are, so then you’ll never win the popularity contest and earn a promotion at work.

(Make_Small_Talk = Brownie Points + 10).

I guess that making small talk is just one of those rules of being a grownup. Kind of like cleaning out the refrigerator or making medical appointments. No matter how cumbersome it may be, and no matter how much it irks your inner INTJ, you just have to grin and get through it. And if you’re lucky, maybe those appetizers will eventually lead to a main course.



Clueless (aka: Verbal Communication With Real Live Humans)

real live conversations with peopleIt happens nearly every time I am speaking with other real, live human beings. “What’s your favorite color?” someone will ask.

“My favorite color?” I will repeat, blinking in bewilderment. Wait…what’s a color? Think, brain! But my uncooperative brain will begin to spin in panicked circles, unable to pick a single color from an apparently infinite spectrum. “Um…blue?” I will blurt out, the first color to leap out of the void.

Green and brown, you idiot! I will mentally scream at myself moments later. Because duhhh – green and brown have been my clear favorite colors for years. So why on earth couldn’t I remember when put on the spot? Duh Facepalm

It happens more often than I care to admit. Someone will ask me a question – a simple question, even, but suddenly, my mind will go completely, utterly blank. My outstanding vocabulary, which flows so easily when I write my thoughts, shrinks to the size of a fourth-grader’s.

It is not as simple as poor memory, nor is it a lack of intelligence. The truth is that I have always had (and still have) a very strong memory. I can easily memorize and recite long speeches or poems or important historical facts. I can then dissect said speeches and poems and historical events, analyze them deeply, and write impressive essays regarding theme, inference, and cause and effect. However, should the topic of said speech, poem, or historical event come up in a real, live conversation, then all will be lost, as though someone has reached into my head and clicked off the light switch.

Person: What do you think is the theme of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening?

Me (heart racing, panic): Um…

Person: Do you think that he was referring to death?

Me (blinking rapidly): Um…I don’t know.

Of course, an hour later, when I am feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities of caring for children, and work, and school, I will glance in longing at my comfortable bed and pile of books for pleasure reading, and I will remember how much I identified with Frost’s character, and recite to myself:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.


It is strange, I know. Though perhaps it is a common occurrence among shy people. One quick Google search for “My mind goes blank when talking to people,”    and one will stumble upon a myriad of sites and forums for the socially anxious, filled with other people who experience this. And perhaps it is made worse by my long periods of isolation, during which I barely speak at all to anyone besides my own kids. It’s almost as though, when I am finally presented with a real, honest-to-goodness grownup to talk to, my mind freaks out. What? Are we live? Now? Wait! I’m not ready! I forgot my lines!

Sigh. Well, I guess I could always try answering questions in writing.

put it in writing