Monday, April 25, 2005

Dangling Conversation

I filed for a metaphorical divorce.

Words fail me. They don't correspond or accurately describe feelings inside or thoughts bouncing around my noggin at night. A wannabe writer, I now have learned how to live legally separated from words. I envy my cats who can express plenty without saying a thing.

I remember a day in 11th grade band class where we had a substitute teacher for the day so instead of making music we had a study hall. I got into a conversation with fellow trumpeters Tim O'Keefe and Todd Libby. We talked about life, philosophy, religion, and trying to figure out what it all really meant. We truly were determined to sort it all out. Once the bell rang and we had to head our separate ways all three of us had to sit for a moment in silence, transfixed that we all had just participated in one of life's rarities- a serious and meaningful discourse full of ideas where each of us would throw out a concept, something that had bothered any and all of us for awhile, and the others would then share and add what they thought. The whole was greater than the parts.

I suppose that you can't have that deep a conversation every day. There just isn't the time or energy or the needed connection but it's a bit sad that it was the type of conversation that sticks out so clearly in my mind because there have been few others that were as meaningful to me.

A stellar conversation is at least 50 percent about listening. And what really strikes me when I think back to that day is how I have come to learn over the years that finding a good listener is rare. I keep thinking of the Bill Monroe quote where he said he did his best thinking while someone else was talking. Many people just don't seem to understand that in order to listen you have to know when to shut your own yap for a moment or two.

It was that same year when my best friend Steve Olson and I made our way to the Uptown theater and saw My Dinner with Andre, a movie that Siskel and Ebert had been raving about for months. The plot of the movie was about as simple as humanly possible- it was a movie about two guys who get together for dinner and have a conversation. There were bits in the movie that reminded me of my conversation with Tim and Todd. At the beginning of the movie Andre dominates the discussion with his dinner companion Wally telling about his recent travels and wacky life changing experiences (like getting buried alive as part of some tribal ritual).

The movie comes alive however when Wally begins to challenge some of what he perceives as the overall point to what Andre's experiences are getting at.

Steve and I loved the movie. It had more than lived up to its billing. I wanted to go back, sensing that I hadn't paid careful enough attention to earlier parts of the conversation that occurred while I was trying to get used to a movie that was all talk. This was pre-VCR (let alone DVD) days so I never imagined that one day I could actually own a copy of the movie when I could replay the conversation any time I wanted to. Somewhat ironically my favorite part of the movie is when the two men discuss whether modern conveniences like electric blankets are good or bad. Is technology deadening our senses and thus numbing us to what it means to really be alive?

So after having recently rewatched the movie again on my DVD player I have found myself in the mood for conversation based movies. I rented four Richard Linklater talk based films: Before Sunrise, Tape, Waking Life, and Before Sunset. All four films involve Ethan Hawke, not one of my favorite actors because I never felt he was good enough to marry one of my favorite actresses, Uma Thurman (who I would cast to play the part of my friend Alex in the movie of my life).

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are bookends. The former was made in the mid-90's and I didn't particularly like it when I first saw it. The concept of two young people falling in love as they talk and talk after a random meeting, interested me but the conversation quite frankly paled in comparison with Andre and Wally. The latter, made a decade later, is about what happened to the two characters in the first movie and is an entrancing update. I liked how the two have become a bit jaded over the years and the tone feels just right.

The two characters also appear in Waking Life, an animated movie that is all about the meaning of life. My favorite bit is when a woman explicates on how words are so inadequate in trying to communicate. When one person says they are in love can another person really understand what they mean? Does that word really mean the same thing to all of us? The movie may just be a cartoon but it's much more real than most other movies I've ever seen. It's a great example of what makes a great conversation movie great is that the viewer has to be an active listener to get it.

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