The inspiration for this week’s column comes from ten-year-old Brock Tierney, a local entrepreneur who sells Mason Jars filled to the brim with folded pieces of squiggly multicolored card stock containing thought-provoking questions–what Tierney calls “Canned Conversation.”
While this idea is not entirely new, Tierney is keeping alive an important skill in this fake-news-filled world–the simple skill of being curious. Every time one of these pieces of paper is unfolded, we are given a welcome opportunity to engage in conversation, either with ourselves or with anyone who happens to be in the room with us. This past week I have been passing the jar around in my history and humanities classes and the results have been very gratifying. So, I want to share some of these conversations with you.
I’m going to reach inside Tierney’s jar and pull out five random questions that will hopefully make both of us think a little more deeply about the possible answers. Admittedly this is a different way to write my column, and I am looking forward to the results. Although you have no way to verify this, I have no prior idea which questions I will pull from the jar. Call this a spontaneous column if you like, because I intend to make up things as I go. Are you ready?
CANNED CONVERSATION #1:
“What is the best advice you ever received?” Call me old-fashioned, but I have tried for many years to follow the advice people from my 1960s generation were given. And that is “Never trust anyone over 30.” Given the fact that people over thirty haven’t done a very good job of running our world, maybe it’s time to give younger people a chance. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
CANNED CONVERSATION #2:
“How do you turn a bad day into a good day?” Whenever I have a bad day (and there are many variations of what a bad day is), I watch a Marx Brothers movie, or at least some of my favorite excerpts from those wonderfully anarchic movies from the 1930s and early 1940s. Who can have a bad day while watching “A Night At The Opera,” particularly the justly-famous and very zany stateroom scene? If you have never seen a Marx Brothers movie, don’t delay. Life is short, and even shorter when Harpo wields his ever-present scissors.
CANNED CONVERSATION #3:
“What is the best part of the day?” How interesting–a question that seems like a logical companion to the previous one. As corny as it might sound, I think the best part of any day is the current moment. Think about it. The current moment is really all we have, so let’s make the best of it. Yes, I know this is the kind of thing you generally hear at leadership and mindfulness (i.e. mindless) presentations, but that doesn’t make it fake news. We should indeed be grateful for the time we have right now. As Carly Simon said in her 1971 song, “Anticipation,” these are indeed the good old days.
CANNED CONVERSATION #4:
“What do you think is at the end of the rainbow?” Perhaps only I would immediately think of Earl Grant’s hit song from 1958, “The End,” that contains the following lyrics, among others:
“At the end of a rainbow,
You’ll find a pot of gold
At the end of a story
You’ll find it’s all been told
But our love has a treasure
Our hearts always spend
And it has a story without any end”
–lyrics and music by Jimmy Krondes, Sid Jacobson
As an aspiring young organist during the mid-1960s, I was fascinated by Earl Grant’s Hammond Organ technique and tone, and, in those days before the advent of portable keyboards, the way he was able to play the organ and piano at the same time. So, I quite understandably answer this question with “The End” by Earl Grant. And this answer can spin off into a discussion about American popular music, as well as death by automobile (Grant died in an car crash outside Las Vegas in 1970). At this point, we might cue in a diversionary discussion about Mikita Brottman’s provocative and one-of-a-kind anthology, CAR CRASH CULTURE (2002).
CANNED CONVERSATION #5:
“Would you rather play in a creek or in an ocean?” This is a question about seeing possibilities in the world around us, or not around us depending on where we live. For me, the creek is much more imaginative than the ocean, primarily because I grew up at my parents’ motel and restaurant (the namesake of this column) and have fond memories of playing in the creek behind our motel. In those pre-smartphone days, the creek functioned as my app, a place where I could explore the possibilities inherent in a small stream of water lined with rocks and weeds, the places that often were home to fish, crawdads, and snakes. My love of throwing rocks began along that creek bank, and when I first saw the ocean I was somewhat disappointed that seemed rather dull alongside the world represented by my own private creek. Although I love the sound of the ocean, it doesn’t compare to the way our creek made every night sound like a rainy one when I opened the windows of my room. I am not a nostalgic person, but I do tend to wax nostalgic when revisiting that creek in my mind.
I’ll close with a bonus question: “What is your favorite form of transportation?” My immediate response is “Books.” Books have always transported me to places that have defined who I am. From my fondness for the irreverence of “Mad” magazine that meant more to me than what I was supposed to be learning in school, to the book I happen to be reading now (Edward O. Wilson’s THE ORIGINS OF CREATIVITY), books ultimately led me to this column, and the journey continues.
Here’s hoping your will have your own canned conversations this week. I am grateful that Brock Tierney saved me from writer’s block this week.
See you next week.