The Surface Dialogue Guidebook

by Matt MooneyMarch 13, 2015

We’ve reached that point in these beloved Ozarks where we’re just all waiting around for the good weather.  We get all four seasons here; just enough of winter to know we don’t want to move north; which we needed no help knowin’.  Being bone-tired of Ole Man Winter being a hanger-on is all you’re allowed to talk about- other than the razorback basketball revival- in these parts; whether it be the gal sacking your groceries or the college hipster handing you $4 coffee, so goes the surface dialogue guidebook.  It’s unwritten but just as real as the holy book itself and just as demanding with it’s do’s, don’ts & druther’s when it comes to what you can and cannot reference with those you encounter.

 [And I sure don’t want a girl to bag my groceries, but I let her because maybe that’s my chauvinism and all the women bloggers have been hot to trot on women being empowered and so I empower her to bag my groceries, but it feels wrong and I can see my grandfather’s skinny ghost callin’ me a foul name for letting her do it.]

 Now back to these strict societal taboos when it comes to what we can talk to others about within that window when our humanity brushes across the same in another.  I am well acquainted with the list because folks assume I do not know it when I pull a mini revolution by trying to engage folks in a real conversation.

  • Make eye contact but not for too long.
  • Don’t let eyes linger on strange tattoo placements (even though they made this choice and you’re the one left with the burden of acting like they did not do so.)
  • Pretend to care.
  • Say “um hum” and agree, no matter what they say.
  • Go to weather or Razorback athletics when conversation lags.
  • If it’s a woman, don’t appear in any way to flirt because Ginny has told you that you are naïve and dumb and can come across as coming on to all persons with estrogen.

However, I’m prone to forego said script and ask how one’s day is going and follow up their trite answer with another question that is probing and, to some, apparently offensive.  It seems to me that offense should be reserved for my not giving a cracker jack about a person, but flack and awkward faces follow my attempt to delve below the surface with a person.  But I will not be denied.  To onlookers it’s a train wreck.  I blame my dad.  He’d walk a mile to share the gospel with a fence post

His lack of care in what you thought of him always showed that he cared more about the person in front of him than what the person thought about him.  And I hated it so much in my tweens, teens and on.  Me- with my braces, Guess jeans and Air Jordan sneakers- beggin’ him without words to just stop embarrassing me by talking to another.  He was relentless.  He still is.

But every once in a while a stranger cannon balls straight into the invitation to go deeper.  Not often.  But I would watch as my father would wait for the ones who were hurting or needing or, for reasons unknown to them, just a little more open on a day that they ran across a man that seemed to care for no good reason.  And a conversation would come and my dad would steer it to Jesus or buy them something.

And I am like my father.  And my kids will hate it.  But I hope they see the sparks of humanity fly in the eyes of another who needed someone to care on a day they came across me.

Though I am sick of the weather.
And though I am holding out unanchored hopes that the hogs cut the nets.
I’m trying to leave my self-consciousness behind with the braces and see the vulnerable humanity of those right in front of me.

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We’ve reached that point in these beloved Ozarks where we’re just all waiting around for the good weather.  We get all four seasons here; just enough of winter to know we don’t want to move north; which we needed no help knowin’.  Being bone-tired of Ole Man Winter being a hanger-on is all you’re allowed to talk about- other than the razorback basketball revival- in these parts; whether it be the gal sacking your groceries or the college hipster handing you $4 coffee, so goes the surface dialogue guidebook.  It’s unwritten but just as real as the holy book itself and just as demanding with it’s do’s, don’ts & druther’s when it comes to what you can and cannot reference with those you encounter.

 [And I sure don’t want a girl to bag my groceries, but I let her because maybe that’s my chauvinism and all the women bloggers have been hot to trot on women being empowered and so I empower her to bag my groceries, but it feels wrong and I can see my grandfather’s skinny ghost callin’ me a foul name for letting her do it.]

 Now back to these strict societal taboos when it comes to what we can talk to others about within that window when our humanity brushes across the same in another.  I am well acquainted with the list because folks assume I do not know it when I pull a mini revolution by trying to engage folks in a real conversation.

  • Make eye contact but not for too long.
  • Don’t let eyes linger on strange tattoo placements (even though they made this choice and you’re the one left with the burden of acting like they did not do so.)
  • Pretend to care.
  • Say “um hum” and agree, no matter what they say.
  • Go to weather or Razorback athletics when conversation lags.
  • If it’s a woman, don’t appear in any way to flirt because Ginny has told you that you are naïve and dumb and can come across as coming on to all persons with estrogen.

However, I’m prone to forego said script and ask how one’s day is going and follow up their trite answer with another question that is probing and, to some, apparently offensive.  It seems to me that offense should be reserved for my not giving a cracker jack about a person, but flack and awkward faces follow my attempt to delve below the surface with a person.  But I will not be denied.  To onlookers it’s a train wreck.  I blame my dad.  He’d walk a mile to share the gospel with a fence post

His lack of care in what you thought of him always showed that he cared more about the person in front of him than what the person thought about him.  And I hated it so much in my tweens, teens and on.  Me- with my braces, Guess jeans and Air Jordan sneakers- beggin’ him without words to just stop embarrassing me by talking to another.  He was relentless.  He still is.

But every once in a while a stranger cannon balls straight into the invitation to go deeper.  Not often.  But I would watch as my father would wait for the ones who were hurting or needing or, for reasons unknown to them, just a little more open on a day that they ran across a man that seemed to care for no good reason.  And a conversation would come and my dad would steer it to Jesus or buy them something.

And I am like my father.  And my kids will hate it.  But I hope they see the sparks of humanity fly in the eyes of another who needed someone to care on a day they came across me.

Though I am sick of the weather.
And though I am holding out unanchored hopes that the hogs cut the nets.
I’m trying to leave my self-consciousness behind with the braces and see the vulnerable humanity of those right in front of me.

Leave a Comment