The Art of Conversation

When I was in high school, I used to offer to braid people’s hair all the time. This may sound weird to you, but I went to an all girls school, where the length of your skirt, weight you had gained or lost and the huge pimple on your head you hoped no one would notice, smothered in make up, were all open to conversation, judgement and uncomfortable probing. (Now, every time I get a large pimple I hope no one will notice, a little voice in my head says “my school would have,” and I leave it be.)
So really, saying “you have pretty hair, would you like me to braid it?” wasn’t so out of the question.

The best thing about it, far from the feel of unwashed hair in my hands, was the conversation that sprung up from it. Like having dinner with someone, or chatting while the two of you play video games, people open up when they aren’t looking someone in the eye, and they forget their inhibitions, distracted. I’ve mentioned more than once I was a loner towards the end of high school, and I found myself starved of interaction, until the day I learned I was a fine braider.
Nowadays, it’s not that easy.

People at university don’t have time for you to braid their hair. Most of them come fully done, their make up and hair so perfect they look like they’re headed to formal dinners (men included). I sometimes worry I have missed the chance to break into groups and start random conversations- now it seems I had to have “been there that time”. At church it’s a little easier- you can ask them what they thought of the sermon, what they did that week, about upcoming events and, if all else fails, note that the cookie selection is not particularly to your tastes, save the mint slices. It seems I have still not mastered the art of conversation. There was one particularly fateful camp where I became known as “facts with Patty”, because all of the random knowledge I have stored up over years became the only thing I could think to mention. Tonight I did whip out that stockings started off at socks, until it became fashionable to wear them higher and the gentry couldn’t get any higher than stockings. Anyway.

 
I think, if this post is to have a point, it would be this. That, I have been the loner. Indeed, in my current state at uni, I am in danger of once more being so. And it’s not that I don’t have things to say, and it’s not that I don’t want to say them. It’s just that I get a similar feeling around everyone the way I do around a crush. They’re always busy, or talking to someone else, or what you had planned to say has no relevance now, and you’re not quite sure how to start, so you blush, and curl up into a ball in the corner or resort to chatting to a well known friend like wrapping yourself in an old blanket. When I actually have a crush, I just wait for it to die from a lack of attention before I even bother thinking of something to say.

Oh yes, the point.

Well, I’ve been a loner and it was no fun.

It was easy, and I had books and schoolwork and stuff, but constantly feeling left out of stuff when deep down I knew no one knew I wanted to be let in felt bad. Avoiding someone you like, and never knowing how they feel about you (or whether they know you exist) feels bad. Being alone in a room full of people you feel cut off from feels bad. And one day, you run out of fun facts and realise all it took was a little leap.
I just need to find something better than, “can I braid your hair?”

Push

When people asked me what I was doing this year, I said I was taking a break. A gap year between crazy stressful HSC and university to recalibrate. So far, I haven’t really found that break. What I found is much better.
This year, I’m doing a course called Year 13. Basically what that entails is Dad pushing me out the door on a Wednesday, going to classes, sleeping over and getting an hour long train ride back just to hang out with a bunch of Christians. I’ve started courses in theology and ethics, done my SRE and first aid training and seen a (dead) red belly black snake already. Surprisingly, though, it isn’t the course itself I was most stressed about. From the beginning, I decided that my marks weren’t going to be the most important thing this year- which is good because as soon as I made that decision they dropped dismally. No, the thing I knew I was going to struggle the most with wasn’t writing a reflection that is read by someone else, writing a bibliography in a group or reading the bible from Genesis (which is terrifying). No, the scariest thing about it all has been people.
Someone asked me what I actually hope to get out of this year and my answer was simply to have made friends. They laughed it off, as so far I’ve been doing a good job (if I do say so myself) of meeting people and remembering names, but I explained how I’m being completely honest. After years of going down the path of least resistance- pushing myself to get marks because they’re predictable and easy, and shying away from the social scene, this year I felt God pushed me towards making friends. Even when it’s uncomfortable, or I’m nervous, or it seems absolutely impossible, this year I decided to beat my anxiety. Even writing it looks scary, and you know, it might not be fully gone by the end of the year. But this year, I decided to push.
So I decided I would learn everyone’s name. That was a heck of a lot easier when everyone had name tags on, but there are only 52 people in my class and I’ve had a conversation with almost all of them. I realised a smallish group of people your own age with similar interests doing the same thing is a pretty awesome environment to grow in. Much less intimidating than high school. At first it was easy without feeling nervous, but weirdly as I’ve gotten to know people better, it’s gotten scarier because they like me! What if I screw up! And it’s a constant struggle to remember that is not a voice that should be listened to- not the voice of God, honestly, who wants me to make friends in such an amazing community.

I’ve also been pushing myself in areas outside of year 13. I became a youth leader this year, got a job and have continued teaching Sunday school. I’ve somehow managed to go from a functioning hermit to seeing people every day of the week. It’s both insane and super fun, although as an introvert, I still find it exhausting.
It’s moments like this I really need to point to God. He’s let me crawl into a corner and lick my wounds, and, just when I was starting to get comfortable, year 12 ended and I had to take a next step. Yet, he made sure I was prepared. He made sure there were plenty of freaking awesome people to greet me when I stepped out of my bubble. I can honestly say, he’s never left my side. Yes, he pushes me, but I reckon I’m also in a place where I want to push myself a little bit. I’ve been organising a band night for the mission trip that is also part of Year 13, and that’s pushed me (trying to get over a hundred people congregated in one building just to listen to me play music!) I’ve organised dinners, and managed to calm myself down better and quicker than in the past. Year 13 is the spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine of hanging out with humans go down, and gee, it’s sweet.
To God be the glory.