Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Small talk proved to be a balancing act

Wherever you go, you see people in small groups, talking. Unless you eavesdrop, you cannot hear what they are saying. Eavesdropping is considered rude in some circles, but I will tell you what it is they are discussing.

Well, I can’t tell you exactly what they are talking about, because what they are saying is not important, and it is not important that we know. But here is the gist of the situation – they are making small talk.

Small talk is the opposite of large talk. An example of large talk would be on the order of world concerns, for example nuclear energy or brain surgery. Those are indeed matters of great import.

Some items of large talk are in dispute, for example, global warming and global cooling, both of which, I understand, exist to some degree. When the degrees become higher, it is warming in nature. And when the degrees go down, that would be an example of cooling.

Small talk is not conducted at nearly such a high level. The topics are important in our everyday lives, and they are meaningful because we care about them.

Many people make small talk about gasoline prices, for example. The higher they go, the more we talk about them. Prices are going down right now, so we don’t make as much small talk about them as we used to.

Last weekend, there was much small talk about football, specifically, about the Browns and Ohio State.

The talk about the Browns was depressing. Conversely, the talk about Ohio State was exhilarating. What we are looking at here are losers and winners. The Browns cannot win even when they hold their opponents to a minimum of points, because they have forgotten how to get the ball into the other team’s end zone.

Ohio State is quite the opposite. The Buckeyes scored a monstrous 59 points against a Wisconsin team that has over the years given them fits. Ohio State has three or four quarterbacks who could be starting for the Browns, but that is neither here nor there.

You will never see more groups engaging in small talk than you will at a fancy dress party, which is why it was so fascinating to see all of the small groups of people engaging in it last Sunday night.

I must inject a disclaimer here. When I include references to specific days in these essays, you should be warned that I usually do my writing on Monday afternoon, with the pieces intended for publication the following Sunday – six days later.

But the essays are usually “posted,” as they say in computer jargon, a day or so after they are written.

Thus when somebody from Arizona, Florida or South America calls or emails to say, “I just read your blog,” they mean they read something intended for print publication the coming Sunday.

I have no control over that, and actually I don’t mind too much, because it sort of adds to the mystique of the whole situation, if you know what I mean. If you don’t, well that’s how it goes. I can’t help you with that.

The bottom line, if there indeed is such a thing here, is that I no longer mind having people referring to my efforts as “blogs.” I know. It sounds almost obscene, but I no longer worry about it, because it is beyond my control, and I have more important things to worry about.

But I digress.

I got caught up smack dab in the middle of some small talk last Sunday at a fancy dress party hosted by the Women’s Committee of the Fine Arts Association. Lynn Smith and I were resting, sitting on a sofa and listening to some cool jazz being played just a few feet away.

We were talking about our balance. This has nothing to do with bank accounts. It is about walking.

The lady of the house sprang to her feet. She had spotted Tony Ocepek and rushed over to beckon him, because he was walking, as is his wont, with a cane. Some might call it a walking stick. He sort of swaggers when he walks with it.

He came marching over, and we engaged in a lengthy session of small talk having do to with walking, maintain balance and avoiding falling down. That is a matter of ongoing concern to both Lynn and me.

I told them I am sometimes accused of shuffling because taking short steps is a way of maintaining one’s balance. I can take longer steps if I wish to, with the accompanying risks involved.

Both Lynn and I quizzed Tony on his sources of procuring canes, or walking sticks, if you wish. I told him W.C. Fields had a hollow cane, filled with whiskey, which does not interest me in the slightest. I merely mentioned it because we were talking about canes.

Tony noted that he has a cane from which one could withdraw a sword, if sudden attack by a stranger or a duel became imminent.

I also mentioned that I have a shillelagh that Bob Murphy brought back to me from Ireland. It could serve as a walking stick, if necessary.

I think both Lynn and I are intrigued by the possibility of acquiring walking sticks as soon as Tony informs us where to obtain them.

Meanwhile, I presume Lynn and I will continue taking small steps in order to maintain our balance. And to think he is 11 years younger than I!


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