How Writers May Start Engaging Conversations with People Recently Met in New Places
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How Writers May Start Engaging Conversations with People Recently Met in New Places
This is a paperback novel by Anne Hart, published March 29, 2007.
My book is a novel. Yet I start my travel conversations with strangers only on topics related to art, architecture, history, food, or music. It breaks the ice immediately.
Being a non-driver over age 66 traveling alone, what I like most about starting conversations about a work of art, music, a building, food, or a book allows me to point to the lovely fresco on the wall of a hotel at a conference or convention and remark, "Doesn't that look like Renaissance art?" It works well at conventions to mention something about the hotel decor. Since I can't fly due to intermittent vertigo, when I take short train or bus rides, I can comment on some form of decor or scenery, such as a bridge, river, ocean, or height of tall redwood trees on a tour.
Before I go to a place I read up on the landmarks and start a conversation related to the landmarks or landmark history, flora, art, music, or other events in the destination or anything related to trivia, history, and travel lore of the area or environment I'm in, even some history (pleasant). To start off conversations, I carry a little paperback book called The Essential Handbook of Victorian Entertaining or The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette. I follow the instructions on starting a polite conversation that was in fashion in Victorian times from the mid 19th century to the turn of the 20th century.
Politeness is ageless. I talk about the famous green tea served in certain places in my destination, mention good places to eat that are reasonable, or ask a question about something in the environment related to art, architecture, history, music, history, or food such as mentioning good places to eat in the destination that I've researched in travel guides before starting my travel.
Anything you read mentioned in travel guides may be used to start conversation. I never get into negative subjects, religion, politics, or anything heavy. I talk about art history, musical events, or even the history of those abandoned ghost towns or former mining towns and scenic spots to see, or continue the talk on good places to stay and the type of interior decor--such as all wood or log interiors, spas, or events at the destination.
If someone asks what I do, I say I'm retired, but that I still write about music listening as a healing tool for de-stressing and that if one listens to music played at 60 beats per minute on a metronome, one's parasympathetic nervous system relaxes and that calming branch takes over helping to relieve stress so people can unwind after travel. I smile a lot and focus on my basic optimism.
My conversation starts off on the nurturing side as a healer in a light, non-threatening way. My goal is to start a conversation with strangers as a "light-worker" in the sense of bringing optimism into the conversation by using talk as a healing tool to inspire, motivate, or relax and make people feel calm and "at home" away from familiar surroundings.
That's why I wrote the humorous adventure/travel novel on conversations that's also a suspense novel titled How to Start Engaging Conversations on Women's, Men's, or Family History Studies with Wealthy Strangers."(ASJA Press 2007, ISBN 978-0-595-44407-6) or the same theme time-travel novel set in 150 BCE in ancient Rome called Proper Parenting in Ancient Rome, (ASJA Press 2007) all focused on how to start polite, engaging conversations with strangers.
What I use are the books on Victorian etiquette and entertaining that are light weight and I can carry in my tote bag when I travel and sometimes a Thesaurus. When I start conversations with a thesaurus, or "The Quintessential Dictionary," I use these words to start a conversation and break the ice with total strangers. "Gee, did you know that the word quintessential means the most perfect, purest idea?"
Then I open my book and mention only three words, no more...."Lambent is an adjective meaning playing gracefully over a surface"...How about that...I wonder whether I can use the adverb 'lambently' as in I lambently play the piano? Or should I use lambency as a noun as in 'my acrylic paintings are lambent and gentle seascapes'?" These ice-breakers always work well to start engaging conversations with strangers in a hotel lobby, a museum, theater, or on a train or bus. I don't travel much, can't fly due to intermittent vertigo, don't drive, and once a year take a train or bus ride.
So when I see a stranger, I try to make polite conversation that engages and holds interest even on day trip tours for senior citizens as well as when I travel alone. (I used to teach part time several courses in effective public speaking and creative writing online for a university.)
It works great. As the author of 80+ published books, it works better than talking about my research to someone I’ve just met in transit or at a convention or resort. It's far more attention-focusing to say: "Now, I know that word, but what does it mean?" than to ask intrusive questions or gab about my own work. My goal in conversation is to make the other party feel calm and at home in my presence.
And here's an excerpt from my novel:
Family wars had become race wars. Skip an octave, and escalate to an international war between neighbors. Old hatreds fanned flames between haves and have-nots.
The glue that binds families together is respect, resilience, and voices of confidence. But sometimes the one tangible or intangible idea people have in common is the inner voice that divides them.
Anna Falco added something more to that: her belief that couples with self-respect will respect each other. Not one of Anna’s clients came from families where the husband and wife or child and parent respected one another. That could be one huge reason why family wars grew into world wars.
Now family wars had become full-blown race wars in the streets of Los Angeles. Skip an octave, and old hatreds of differences fanned flames between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’
She offered to trade the wisdom of age for the energy of youth. But it all boiled down to honor between family members. Anna explained the difference between self-esteem and self-respect.
Being an older woman reminded Wrenboy (the troubled court-appointed street teen that she had adopted) of a mother hen capable of caging his freedom. Her lined face reminded him of his own mortality at a time when he felt invincible and desperately lonely for a loving family.
Would he fear her strident voice hammering him back into childhood? Or would he accept her globetrotting to repair the world with kindness? In his search for power and autonomy, he concluded it is easier to rebel.
Women’s Studies Professor, radio personality, author, and psychoanalyst, Anna Falco spoke to the man next to her, discussing religion and why she usually carried an expensive, but miniature broadcast-quality video camera (camcorder) everywhere to “sane up the action.”
"No, I’m not trying to change anyone’s religion,” Anna said in a velvety voice. “All I want to do is make house calls and video record their need to make the world a kinder and saner place, regardless of what they believe.”
“Everyone calls me Mama Sicily on the radio, sometimes Mama Athena because my mom’s Greek and Sicilian. Actually, I should be Mama Mediterranean, because that’s where I’m from, and I like the food on my plate to be healthy extra virgin olive oil saved from the sunlight in a darkly opaque container and drizzled on whole grains with parsley,” Anna continued to introduce herself to the stranger next to her.
“The island off the coast of Sicily from where my spirit comes is only a few hours from the cost of Tunisia. So I’m mystical as the oracle at Delphi without the bubbling cave floors.”
“The best day of my born again life when I joined all religions and conjoined them equally in holy worship, and my need for several religions in my life, equally supported, became a sweet sea of sanity.”
“I knew at once that what the Japanese call the ‘hara,’ or what the Chinese call the ‘silent world of contemplating the empty spaces,’ that holding two religions equally precious gave me back my own Greek-Sicilian spark within me.”
“No longer did I hide my very multi-cultural classic Mediterranean identity. I no longer had to make excuses for tinting my Greek-Sicilian sable coffee-brown tresses copper or smirking when telling my friends that my grandfather came from Palermo and my mother from Crete or that her mother lived in Athens, or her mother's mother, in the Sicilian quarters in Alexandria, the old Greco-Roman-Sicilian (Syracuse) quarters of Alexandria (near Egypt as it has been called) for at least nine generations.
That’s me, Professor Anna Falco, Women’s Studies, with tenure, small liberal arts college, and by night, the glorious, victorious Greco-Roman-Sicilian globetrotting psychologist on Internet Radio forums bearing the midnight shift as a private eye and idealist.”
The strange man next to her on the plane grimaced. “So what does all that have to do with me?”
Anna turned to the man in back of her and handed him her business card. She handed her card to the man next to her, too, but he waved his hand in her face and shook his head ‘no.’
"So I'm telling you that both religions together equally gave me back my identity with such joy. I make house calls, do you?" She spoke to the man next to her and the guy behind her seat.
The individual in the next seat remained silent, a twisted smile weakly dropping. She smiled and asked him, "Are you into personality testing and matching your traits to the character of corporations?"
He lowered his gaze. Still no reply. "Now I use the personality indicators and classifiers in my detective work as a forensic psychologist, also," Falco added.
“I'm firmly planted in 1950.”
The man next to her closed his eyes and leaned back on his head rest. “I need to take a nap.” He sniffed with disdain.
Anna Falco's pictorial words rippled joyously as a decade-old Java applet to the young man seated next to her on the plane. He busily keyed his laptop computer never looking up at her. Falco continued talking to him as he pretended to begin a barely audible snore.
"I'd rather pray, feel, and enjoy my fantasy-prone personality. That's how I grow. I can't describe how Sicilians for Healthy Mediterranean Diets and Good Eating gave me back my identity and my ‘license’ to think freely and to question all authority.
"I walked the borderline between a feeling type and a thinking type. Then my mind fired from my fingertips. That's it. Sicilians for the Healthy Mediterranean Diet Menu. You see I never lost magic, as the young people tell me.
“Magical thinking is my creativity, but Sicilians for Healthy Eating helped me realize how scholars think. It's great to be able to think within my search for self-identity as well as feel compassion and to question."
The man, now annoyed to anger, popped open his eyes and nervously brushed his business suit, closed his laptop, and quickly looked for another empty seat. Anna ducked instinctively when he changed seats. The man's elbow sang past Anna's eye and butted her in the teeth.
At first, Anna slid over, glad to grab a window seat. She closed her eyes and drifted off. She dozed, unaware that a tall, Native American man moved swiftly from the back and sat next to her.
When she opened her eyes, he was staring hypnotically into hers. Immediately, she recognized him as the man who had twice before tossed gas bombs at occupied phone booths in San Diego and Los Angeles.
Behind him, Dr. Tanya Azani Tamirova, alias, Dr. Helena Hanbasquette, known from her newspaper photos as the great Russian-Asian-Siberian-Kurdish-Khazak, Khirgiz-Icelandic exobiologist, sat propped on one elbow exploring the contents of her attaché case. The next time someone tells you to go to hell in a hand basket, tell the poor soul to pay a visit to Doctor Helena Hanbasquette.