If you had to rate my cocktail party skill-set between one and ten it would probably be a negative seven. I don’t mean the drinking part, I can do that. I will drink circles around you and then excuse myself go to the ladies room where I’ll re-apply my eyeliner with the steadiest of hands.
No, I’m talking about the small talk part. Small talk is like ping-pong and I’m no good at ping-pong. Sure I can hit that hollow ball over the net a couple times, but inevitably it comes bouncing back to me wanting to talk about cupcake recipes. At which point I panic and smash the ball until it’s thin enough to fit into my wallet.
I just finished reading Expecting Adam, a memoir about an Ivy League woman and her journey through pregnancy while carrying a baby with Down Syndrome. The author, Martha Beck, received a PhD from Harvard, has written multiple books and speaks Japanese. Just a regular o’ gal like you and me.
In her book, she explains that in Japanese there are two words for thing: koto and mono. Koto means something abstract or tangible whereas mono means something physical. I do better when faced with a koto conversation. I will talk for hours and hours about your ideas, your thoughts on life, however, I don’t want to know why your driveway needs to be repaved.
At one point in her book, the author recounts a conversation between herself (who prefers to discuss koto things) and her in-laws (who’d rather discuss mono things). What follows is that dialog between the author and her in-laws. (It revolves around her mother-in-law’s hair):
John: So, you’ll go over to Jolyn’s (the hairdresser). Does she do a good job?
Faye: Oh, a pretty good job. I like the way she combs it out.
Jay: Huh! Well it looks good.
John: Yeah, Mom, it looks good.
Faye: Yes, Jolyn does a pretty good job.
The author (or me mingling at a party): You know, humans are the only species of primates that don’t do much mutual grooming. I think that’s why women talk so much to their hairdressers. Being groomed sort of triggers the old social-bonding instinct. Don’t you think that’s likely?
That last line is where I smash the ball until it’s bookmark thin. It’s also when the ping-pong table buckles under the awkward silence and falls onto our toes.