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Take time for— artful conversation

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By Michael O'Hare
Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, 10:03 a.m.

We share lots of information these days via our electronic gadgets (I include TV in that).

Yet, do we share the kinds of things that are important?

To be sure, that is a dangerous question to ask for someone who publicly meanders through his thoughts.

We — the human race, that is — used to be storytellers, some fiction and some real recollections. Seems it started on the walls of caves. But even in modern times, we heard stories in the calm atmosphere of face-to-face interactions at firesides and in kitchens and on front porches.

It was “news” that made us think, allowed us to learn more about our collective life together, from town gossip to family history to what we heard was going on in China.

What directed me to meander this way was a news report about a new high-tech tombstone with a microchip that allows specially equipped phones to listen and see something about the life of the person buried there.

Geez, I thought, I hope somebody was talking to the poor bloke when he was above the ground!

Feel free to disagree, but I lament the loss of the art of conversation.

Conversation takes time; you can't just sit down and expect it to happen. It requires rumination, artful consideration, and it arises more like a baked cake in the oven than like a bird from a magician's hat.

Messages via hand-held devices are fine as far as they go, but they are not conversation. Did you ever discuss philosophy that way. (And, may I ask, when is the last time you did discuss philosophic issues?) The kinds of conversation that I consider artful take place during quiet times, together in a room, possibly over a beverage or a meal or late at night before sleep overtakes us.

Conversation over meals has been properly mourned in our society, but there has been little effort toward new birth. Nobody seems to lament the disappearance of front-porch talks. People do have casual and, perhaps, even deep conversations at pool sides.

I am not sure where talk about politics fits into this idea, but I wonder how much of that is innovative, or is it just repeating what someone on TV said?

There have been a few people in my life with whom I have had the kind of conversations I am writing about. One, Wayne Cook, is an actor and is making use of his talent as a conversationalist on a website talk show about the arts in Sacramento, Calif., and elsewhere. What I remember most about Wayne's talent as a good conversationalist is that he is a good listener.

It will serve him well in a public-talk format. Another is a former co-worker (a photographer in those days, and now an editor in Virginia.) Seems we could talk about anything, and I think still can. We can cram a lot into a short talk on the phone.

I loved both my parents; they were smart and could be funny and had good skills of observation, but I wish they had somehow had more conversations with me.

Both were good at telling me stories about their lives before I came along. But there is so much more that I would like to know. How did they like golfing together, what was it like when they met at Canadohta Lake, Dad down from Titusville with friends and Mom up from Pittsburgh with family?

What attracted them to each other? My guess is that Dad looked a bit like David Niven and Mom somewhat like Rosalind Russell — at least to me when I looked at pictures from back then.

I don't think anyone realizes the importance of passing on family stories to the young generation, least of all the young folks who don't know what they are missing.

Such stories take encouragement of both the teller and the listener. It takes time, which we all allege not to have much of — and which, someday, will definitely run out before there is an opportunity to hear those stories or pass them on. That is a painful certainty.

I think the reason we read books and watch movies is because we like stories that make us think. Imagine how much more interesting it is when those stories — revealed in artful conversation about real life as best we can remember it — are told by friends and family.

They will enhance our lives better than any movie blockbuster or best seller. Generally, they start with: “I remember the time ...”

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with News Editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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