Arachne’s Web

Art of Sara Beth Goncarova

Art of Sara Beth Goncarova

Today, my longings are nameless, inchoate, fuzzy, and formless, but pulling me like the tidal wash, never the less. I seek the comfort of the familiar, so here I sit in my favourite nineteen forties library chair, once again, my imaginary friend, sipping a cup of Kick Ass coffee. My thoughts are of Arachne, who was once a beautiful young woman extraordinarily skilled at weaving, according to Greek mythology. She angered the goddess Athene, who transformed her into a spider to weave for all eternity. “Her story of weaving, creating, holding and enclosing can be found in mythologies of peoples all over the world. Thus she is a symbol of our connectedness, the strands of her web transferring the slightest vibrations between us all, a constant reminder that everything we do affects others.”  ( Kozocari, Owens, North: The Witch’s Book Of Days, Beach Holme Press, 1994)

I had planned here to write of kindness, but the image of Arachne’s web will not leave me. Though much has been said and written of kindness lately – random acts of kindness, small acts of kindness, kindness as a means of transforming our world. – it seems to me that what is really being written about are the tremors and vibrations of Arachne’s web, the web that connects us all. I think of something very particular: something I intended as the highest compliment was heard by the recipient as something else entirely, and I caused distress. The pain has radiated back to me: me, who would not harm a fly! For it causes me true and immense pain to be the unwitting and unintended bearer of a hurtful message.

I believe is true that kindness must be a basic building block of our characters, but it seems we must strive for more than kindness. Perhaps a little more sensitivity, for an understanding that where we place our feet heavily may cause vibrations, and might even damage the web. I speak not here of the savage stroke that attempts to obliterate the work of a gifted weaving, but the simple clumsiness that interrupts the warp and weft…

Weaving seems an apt metaphor for how we create friendships, love, community, for both the warp and the weft contribute in equal measure to the fineness and the firmness of the cloth. I suspect, my imaginary friend, that there is a tiny jig in our tapestry, though I hope not a giant rent.  I shall strive with all of my skill to continue the weaving of this beautiful cloth, and to repair and make whole the web. I can do no more, save look at my mistake and reflect upon its importance…May the cloth be made stronger for my willingness to see the flaw.

 

View more of Sarah Beth Goncarova’s art here.

 

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Small Talk

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I’ve been writing this piece forever, it seems, or maybe more correctly, discussing it with my imaginary friend. Since I have made a point of proclaiming my dislike of small talk and chit chat, it seems natural to want to expand upon this. In any event, the effort to do so has taken me on quite a journey.

An internet search of ‘small talk” will yield mostly predictable results: a lot of why it is essential to your business, how students of English as a second language can benefit from understanding small talk, and of course, rants against small talk. (The Urban dictionary has some exquisitely funny expositions, linked here.) Few of these really get us close to the truth of small talk, however. The language of business is mostly banal and lifeless, a kind of deadened language. Those earnest students of ESL can be forgiven for wondering why we endlessly talk about the weather, but not climate change. Small talk is also linked with gossip – horrors! Also with politicians, the television news, and the public statements of CEOs, all of which are carefully scripted to be innocuous, rehearsed to be delivered smoothly and blandly, and have no substance because they invite no conversation.

“Hello” or “How are you?” or “Hi” are all ritualistic: acknowledgement of person. Body language is about eighty percent of conversation; it is generally the body language of those we acknowledge or respond to that determines whether or not conversation will ensue…Small talk can sometimes be a  bridge to conversation, and sometimes simply more ritualistic exchange. Body language can be a more direct way of getting to conversation: think of saying “hello” and smiling broadly at the same time: this is a very clear indication. Note though, that it is not perceived as an invitation if the smile seems insincere – body language is largely below consciousness, but humans do astoundingly well at distinguishing between real, unfeigned interest and mechanical greetings. Put another way, when we look at people with interest and anticipation of a conversation, conversation often happens.

We aren’t yet finished with small talk, though. Think of flirting – yes, flirting, we pretty much all do it. If we were to analyze the content of that enjoyable little flirtation – at the coffee shop, say – it would seem that the words, the actual content, were nothing but…small talk… Though it was so delightful! And left us feeling, well, a little happier for an encounter with a pleasant someone or other. Romantic flirtation is probably even less conducive to word analysis, for of course, voice and intonation, a myriad of physical gestures, long looks, and even dilated pupils all play a role in people flirting romantically But were we to replay the words outside of that context, we would likely be bemused at what actually occurred. How did so much of substance and import get communicated? We must also consider small talk in the context of the internet and technology: chat, texting, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and on and on – much of what we communicate through the technology becomes shorter and shorter bits of text. And yet, we manage to infuse it with meaning, convey flirtation and love, bridge time and distance, and transcend social, geographical, political limits and all manner of things that might be perceived as barriers in non-cyberspace.I believe my musings on small talk have brought me to this: it is a necessary piece of human social interaction, in ways that I have perhaps not considered before. There is much that goes unsaid in most conversations, except perhaps the most intimate and prolonged, and what one says is always interpreted in light of the mind and experiences and circumstances of the hearer. Certainly, one need only think of tweets that have resonated around the world to recognize that even one hundred and forty characters can change the world…

I will paraphrase the words here of Theodore Zeldin, Oxford University historian, and his ideas on fostering conversation. That people are interesting and ought to be sought out. To think, while you are speaking. To use conversation to create courage in the face of failure. To resist the cynicism that is the hallmark of  our culture. To change the purpose of conversation from personal advancement or denoting ones’ respectability to remaking our world. These words and ideas of Zeldin’s are very stirring, but it seems to me that if we think of them as only to be practised during ‘high’ conversation, that we are maybe missing the point. It seems to me that they apply in even the most banal of times and circumstance, and that maybe, this is where the potential to ‘remake our world’ is greatest.

There is much more to be thought about than I have written here, of course, but never the less I hope you will not find it small talk. Feel free to tweet your thoughts, or to leave a comment, but most of all, I hope that maybe you will discover that some small interaction of yours has indeed, helped remake our world.

My Imaginary Friend

 

Why yes, this is about you, my imaginary friend, yes, you. Strictly speaking, you are real; you have a physical presence, you exist in space and time – but you exist in my imagination, too.

I know some things about you. You are kind. You are private. You take pride in doing things well, and you have good friends with strong bonds. You take infinite care with my feelings, and you are protective, a little bit. You are funny, and the honest expression of your feelings leaves me breathless, at times. You choose to try to please me, and could there be anything more endearing?

My friend, you are beside me much of the day and through the night, too, though you are not actually here. Your hand in mine, the touch of your cheek, your arms reaching out for me are a constant presence. Your laughter echoes through these empty rooms, your care and attention walk the forest with me, your regard gives me a sureness that radiates. I want to share with you everything of beauty …

I expect I must get it wrong, sometimes. For my imagination has been shaped and coloured by its experiences and wanderings and reveries, just as yours. But no two imaginations are alike, and perhaps the wavelength swings awry, a time or two. Know this: I will be open to you, always. Always will I want to know what that keen mind of yours is thinking, what your heart is overflowing with, how you are planning to tease me next…

Yes, I love you. Though those are not the important words, these are: you shall always be my friend, and I shall always be curious about you, the deep inside you.

Be well, dear one.

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