Small Talk

carlotta

All the lonely people/where do they all belong…”-Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles

Anyone who has wasted even 10 minutes on Facebook, has seen this vomit inducing, pretentious “thought” in their friends’ lonely news-feed. Like those masturbatory videos made by unfortunate drama students, the ones in which some overly-earnest young person sits alone in her room, emoting-out-loud to the latest Disney torch song, these quotes instantly make me cringe. Cringe and wonder about people who are so committed to basking in their hard-won ignorance.

Putting aside the fact that many of the people who proudly display this quote, are the very same carbon-based lifeforms who literally run from intelligent conversation, run as if said conversation would include gun fire or air-borne toxic contamination… I’m tempted to remind these lonely souls that actually small talk is what makes the world go round. Small talk is probably how their own parents hooked up, for better or worse. Texting is nice, sexting can be a mixed-bag, but small talk is how we recognize the people with whom we eventually, in all manner of ways, end up sharing the big ideas, milestones and orgasms of our lives.

Small talk leads to jokes, to romance, to business opportunities, to a better job, so if you hate small talk, well, that’s a shame. I’m an entrepreneur, and I can trace some of my biggest business coups—clients in the Obama White House, invitations to speak at national events, sold-out workshops—as all evolving, in one way or another, from the detritus of small talk about cats, the weather, the latest celebutard scandal. So-called small talk is actually a very big deal in forging the professional/personal relationships, that allow you to achieve your goals, and live out loud. Small talk is social skills in action. I coach politicians and artists, attorneys and poets; some of my most productive and revelatory coaching sessions have begun with references to old Simpsons episodes, or bawdy girl banter about last night’s date.

I have clients who, as soon as my office door is closed, are vomiting up the toxic information that as a child they were sexually abused by a parent or guardian…but it was our preliminary small talk over the phone, that convinced them that I could be trusted with their exhausting despair.

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I suppose I’m thinking about small talk, since it’s the small moments, and small talk, of our lives that lead to hugely transformative moments of intimacy. And no matter how connected we are on-line, no matter how many followers, or likes, favorites or retweets we (humble)brag about, our bruised, battered world continues to drown in loneliness.

Towards the end of the 1980s, that eponymous decade of good greed and bad hair, Madonna was asked, yet again, about her sex-drenched personal life. What I remember is her derisive snort, as she muttered something to the effect of, “If I had as much sex as people think I do, I’d never get out of bed.” I’m an entrepreneur; I know all about starting a small business with more desperation than common sense, with more moxie than money, so despite, or maybe because of, my tongue-in-cheek tagline, “Just your average sexy force of nature,” trust me: I have much less sex than you’d fantasize, and I’d desire. Much less.

And like any female entrepreneur worth her own title knows, the very nooks and crannies of my hard-charging character that fascinate some men, are the exact same things that send many of these men running to the hills…and/or to other women, who apparently don’t intimidate them. Or perhaps, simply have more free time.

“It was that drive that scared me away the first time; let’s stay in touch, beautiful.” M.S.

 

As Jack Warner famously said, “Gentlemen, include me out.” The losers are left by the road-side, and good men are worth the wait, because unlike many women—and, interestingly enough, even more men—I actually love men. I’m a huge fan of men. Not sure if that makes me old-fashioned or radical, but it’s the truth.  A man’s deep voice telling me a dirty joke…whew, is it suddenly hot in here, or just in my panties? A smart, frisky man with a sense of humor, a love of books and a sense of his own worth is a beautiful thing.  But it’s hard being human: men and women are held up to ridiculous, destructive, damaging standards. We turn on ourselves and on each other. Men and women want our partners to make us feel complete and sexually viable and whole. We put the pressure on others to “fix” us, to understand us, to make us think we’re even worthy of fixing. And, of course we are, but there’s only one person who can mend our broken hearts, and that person is staring back at us, wild-eyed, and exhausted, in the grimy bathroom mirror.

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The older I get, the more I understand that relationships…well, relationships are work. Nothing good comes easy. Sex in a relationship is no indication of intimacy. It’s possible, and sometimes necessary, to experience something meaningful between humans, in a relationship lasting only a few moments. In a relationship created by-wait for it–small talk.…

Last November, I boarded an Amtrak, thinking only about the blood pooling in the soles of my new designer heels. I was on a train bound for Philly, due to speak at the national women’s conference, regarding how women can use social media to articulate and promote their professional presence. I limped to my seat, hearing the sticky squelch of blood in my new shoes.

Shortly after I sat down, and before the train took off, a well-dressed, white guy, early 40s, in an expensive suit, took the seat next to mine… as if he was compelled to do so. I gave him a moment to compose himself, and said, ‘casually,’ “Did she kick you out?” We had noticed each other. Entering the car, our eyes, as bad writers breathlessly type, had locked. Upon noticing him, I had also noticed that he was sitting next to another woman.

“Oh, I gave up my seat for her friend.” (Pause.) “You don’t mind…?”

And with that innocuous, cliché Hollywood meet-tedious, David and I spent the next 35 minutes connecting. In lowered, intimate tones, sitting next to each other, we discussed the recent and untimely death of his older brother, getting older, family, friends, dating in New York, good books, bad TV,  the pros and cons of owning one’s own business, dogs vs cats, Hillary vs. Bernie, men and women, Osip Mandelstam, Hunter S. Thompson, uncomfortable shoes, and the Supreme Court.

At one point, after he confessed his fear of being a good-enough uncle to his orphaned nephews, teenagers struggling with the loss of their father, he paused and flushing faintly, looked at me, saying, “ “I’ve told you more about me today than I’ve told the woman I live with! Fuck….”

As we got to his stop, he asked me where I would be having dinner that night, saying he knew of some good places in Philly. And then he stopped himself, shook my hand, looked me in the eyes…and left.

What else was there to say? After everything he had revealed to me—his fears, insecurities and desires—I would have been shocked had he asked me out. And, in a deeper sense, given the depth of our conversation, perhaps anything else would have been anticlimactic. Sure, I would have liked to have fucked him, but for better or for worse, I already knew him.

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Sex isn’t intimacy, and intimacy isn’t sex. In my experience, it’s easy to find sex. It’s not so easy to find true intimacy.  Sometimes the best intimacy is the ability to make real contact with another human, to be reminded that we’re not alone. That we can share both the minutiae and the big pictures of our lives, and be recognized, and even sustained, by others.

Perhaps for men, who seem to have less emotional outlets, this is even more important. As an entrepreneur, I’ve crafted enormous opportunities for my business, simply by asking male friends and former colleagues how they’re doing. The irony of course is that in a lonely world obsessed with making connections, and Twitter impressions, and going viral; in an #epic world where more attention is spent on getting online strangers to like us, than on maintaining our own flesh-and-blood friends… all it really takes, all it’s ever really taken to forge a true intimacy is two strangers, making eye contact, talking face-to-face. I may never speak to David again. I’ll probably never wake up to his head on the pillow next to mine: and that’s okay. None of that means that we didn’t share something real.

‘Oh, Jake,’ Brett said, ‘we could have had such a damned good time together.’

‘Yes.’ I said. ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’ The Sun Also Rises– Hemingway

 

by Carlota Zimmerman | Artwork by Kira Leigh & Wellington Sanipe | Featured Image by Kristin Soh

 

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Carlota Zimmerman

Carlota Zimmerman is a graduate of Wellesley College, Middlebury College Language School and Indiana University-Bloomington School of Law. At the age of 18, her first play, "Man At His Best", won the Young Playwrights Festival and was produced off-Broadway, under the direction of Mark Brokaw. She frequently posts for Huffington Post , and have been published by Above The Law, MSNBC.com, Thought Catalog, and Elite Daily. Find out more on her website http://carlotaworldwide.com/