Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Lost Art of "Visiting"

Something has been lost in this world of ours. We like to talk about "conversation" as it pertains to brands, but we know little of it in the real world. We talk online. We "Like" this or that. Our "talk" is of a superficial nature. We all have Snooki and the State of the Union in common. We can gather with people we've never met for dinner or drinks in trendy restaurants and noisy bars and converse lightly, but we are there as much for the experience as we are there for each other.

Last Saturday evening, Mrs. Jetpacks and I stopped by my parents' place in Ormond Beach on the way home from an engagement in Jacksonville. My parents are of a generation that believe that the "living room" is a place to talk. Surely, there is a television in this room, but the room is set up in the manner of the old-world "parlour." There is a couch, a love seat and a couple of chairs, but they do not face the television; they face each other. In our home, the "living room" is really the "theatre," all seating arranged to engage the one thing in the room that could never engage us back - the TV. In the living room of my parents, the purpose proposed by the arrangement of the furniture is clear: we are here to talk.

The TV was never turned on in my parents' home last Saturday night. As we got settled, my parents informed us that some neighbors of theirs, Larry and Merry, would be stopping by, jokingly telling us that Larry and Merry thought that the tales of a son and daughter-in-law from Orlando were perhaps false, as they had never seen us.

Larry and Merry arrived in short order and pleasantries were exchanged. Before long, conversation flowed and familiarity was established. We certainly discussed TV and the personalities that drive it, but we never turned it on. We faced each other and talked.

It was to me a time traveling trip to another era, when the people of my parents' generation got together to visit, as I'm sure my parents must still do on a regular basis, judging from the ease with which they and their neighbors conducted themselves during our visit. For my wife and me, it was a bit of an exercise in learning to adapt to the old ways, when you looked one another in the eye, heard what the other had to say, tried to offer something reasonably relevant to the conversation, and hoped that you weren't making an ass of yourself. After a bit of practice, we found ourselves very much enjoying this old-school style of getting together.

It wasn't until long after we departed, perhaps the next day, that any of this even occurred to me. The arrangement of the room itself was the source of the preservation of a lost art; those seats facing each other, that TV purposely left off. We were six adults, two couples unfamiliar with one another, seated and engaged. No food to talk over, no waiter or waitress' service to critique, no wine to sniff and judge, no bill to fight over.

No doubt we are far removed from the courtly days of calling cards and parlour introductions, but something tells me that the simple rearrangement of the living room furnishings would go a long way toward regaining something that accidentally got replaced by the big screen plasma.

I'm going to suggest to my wife that we try to preserve this ancient culture, this dwindling tradition. It's time to invite the neighbors over to visit. Perhaps rearrange the furniture.

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  • Excellent post. Up here in Wisconsin we have our backyard firepits. Lawn chairs around a fire, some cold brews, and just chatting about everything and nothing... I look forward to it every spring.... Winters we drink indoors while staring at the TV. Gotta cut that down.

    By Blogger Dan, at January 28, 2011 at 10:25 AM  

  • Nice post, Jetpacks. I didn't realize there was that side of you. I lament the loss of the simple art of conversation as well.

    By Anonymous Rob Hatfield, at January 28, 2011 at 1:13 PM  

  • Thanks, Rob. I'm trying to become less of an asshole - or as I saw on one guy's Twitter bio, "a recovering cynic."

    By Blogger Dave, at January 28, 2011 at 1:23 PM  

  • You don't have to totally lose the cynicism. There is still an awful lot of our culture that deserves it. Besides, your blog wouldn't be the same without a dash of it.

    Just leave it outside when you visit in civilized conversation.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 28, 2011 at 3:45 PM  

  • My husband and I used to have a living room TV but now we have a separate TV room and the living room has been rearranged so that the couch and a chair face each other. Every time we sit in there and just talk, it occurs to me what a nice improvement it is over the old situation.

    By Anonymous Average Jane, at February 3, 2011 at 12:09 PM  

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