Monday, March 29, 2010


This entry was written after a particularly enjoyable dinner conversation with a friend of a friend when I was living in Newport, Oregon.

My roommate, Kim, had a friend, Stan, that sometimes came to visit. Stan lived off the coast of Washington, but traveled a fair amount. He came for dinner one night, and I liked him immediately.

The more I meet people, the more I learn about what kind of people I am drawn to, what kind of people push my “on” buttons and make me feel alive and revitalized. It turns out, it’s people who know how to tell a good story. Who take relish in telling a good story. People who appreciate life’s finer details, who take interest in the details. It’s the people who can become fascinated by an odd shaped piece of lint on a chair just as easily as they can about a strawberry cheesecake, a good Beatles song or a squirrel in a tree.

People who speak with enthusiasm, joy, and spirit. With zest. These people have a zest for life and I am drawn to them like no other. Part of it might be because of my dad; my dad is a passionate person who has always valued discussion. Part of it is because that’s who I am; I love nothing more than to tell a good story; the only thing better is meeting someone who actually wants to hear it. Stan was all of these things.

“Hey, Kate, what did you say?” asked Stan in the middle of an animated discussion he was having with Kim over the fate of the local fishermen. I was startled, and my heart jumped a little. He cared what I had to say? He was making an effort to include me? No one did that. This was great.

“Well, I think they should save more fish for the public instead of giving so much of it to the tourists,” I said, referring to a local debate on how much of the limited local fish supply should go to which people.
“You have a point,” he said.

Kim brought up another topic, and we were off again. I loved watching them talk, and I loved that Stan made such an effort to include me! It stunned me. I have a very hard time with three person conversations, usually. My timing is absolutely awful. I can never think of something appropriate to say, and manage to interject it before they’ve moved on to the next subject. I just can’t break in to most conversations. Instead, I sit there getting more and more frustrated, feeling like smoke is going to come out of my ears, because I want so badly to be a part of something that I feel shut out of it.

I am hopelessly out of sync with other people when it comes to conversational nuances. This is one part of Asperger’s that makes me very frustrated, being out of sync like this. In this case, though, for some reason, I was able to break in most of the time; Kim would say something, I’d formulate a response, Stan would reply, and sometimes Stan and I would get into a back and forth repartee over some topic before it was changed again. I only wished all conversations could go this way.

Stan had a zest for food. When he talked about a dish he particularly liked, or a food he had had in a restaurant, his eyes got big; he used a lot of hand gestures; his voice was enthusiastic, and you could hear pure reverence, pure joy - complete awe and delight in the food he was talking about. It was remarkable, and fun to watch. His emotions were so familiar, it was like snuggling into a warm blanket. I was seeing my father’s face in his; hearing my dad’s words in his. I was seeing myself in him. My father is also very passionate about his food.

He mentioned flans, so I mentioned that the best creme caramel (which is similar to a flan) that I ever had was at the Fore Street restaurant in Portland, Maine: a lavender flavored creme caramel! A long conversation ensued on the use of lavender in cooking, such as in chocolate bars, like Dagoba makes, or in cookies, such as the lavender ginger cookies I used to buy at a local bakery. We talked about fish, of course, and the merits of flounder versus sole and tilapia.

I was raised to think critically about my food, and those skills have served me well. Somehow we got talking about fish of course - he mentioned sole, I think, so I mentioned Dad's flounder and crabmeat dish and how I tried to duplicate it once. We debated the merits of flounder versus sole versus tilapia, halibut so on. We discussed the merits of different kind of bottled smoothies: Odwalla, Boltwood Farms, Fresh Samantha.

Some people learn critical thinking skills as a child by doing endless reading comprehension exercised designed to "teach you to think critically." I learned how to think critically by observing my dad describing and discerning between the relative merits of different kinds of fish, meat and other foods, both at restaurants and at home. I think I like that way better. I learned how to think critically about food from an early age, and I have never regretted it since. It is an easy conversation topic whenever I find a fellow foodie.

In the end, conversation is healing. A good conversation wraps you in a protective glow. It makes you feel invincible; your problems disappear for a while. It is almost like a force field, feeling you up emotionally and protecting you from negative feelings that may lurk. I have had too little of that kind of conversation in my life. Little did I know when I sat out to find a place to live that fulfilled my physical needs, I’d also learn how to fill my emotional ones as well.

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