Small Stories for a Big World: January 2016

Sparkle Girl and Garnet think I ask too many questions.

After one of the nephews went home the other day, both Sparkle Girl and Garnet used the word “grilling” when talking about what my interaction with him had sounded like to them.

I had thought of the questions as a way to visit with him and to get to know him better. Certainly, on their own, each of the questions was innocent enough: Read anything particularly interesting lately? Seen any good movies? Have you decided yet what you are going to do after high school?

As they saw it, I was putting him on the spot and making it hard for him to just relax and enjoy his visit. Put that way, I could see their point. So, when we went over to his house a few days later for his sister’s birthday party, I announced that I had a new policy: I would ask him no more questions. Henceforth, I would just make such statements as, “I hope you’ve seen some entertaining movies lately,” and he could respond as he saw fit.

In practice, that proved to be rough going for someone who does indeed like to ask questions. (I like knowing things.) Throughout the party, I kept catching myself starting to ask him a question and having to stop and come up with a statement instead. The nephew was quite amused.

Now that Sparkle Girl is a junior in high school, we have been talking about what happens after she graduates. With all that swirling around, I find myself wondering what her friends are planning to do. So, when Sparkle Girl was about to head over to a friend’s house recently, I asked what her friend’s plans are.

No idea, said Sparkle Girl.

Perhaps they would talk about it on the visit, I said.

Perhaps, said Sparkle Girl.

After she came home, I learned that they had had big fun—talked and laughed, baked cookies, eaten pizza. Did the subject of what she plans to do after high school come up?

Nope, said Sparkle Girl.

From her look, I guessed that I had an idea of what she might be thinking. Is part if the reason you had big fun is because you didn’t talk about such serious subjects as what you’re going to do after you graduate?

Yep, said Sparkle Girl.

Lately, I have been thinking about my question-asking nature. Certainly, it has served me well in a career that calls for interviewing people and writing stories about what they tell me. I categorize some questions I routinely ask as “fishing” questions. When you ask someone who is married how they met, you may hear a response that takes you nowhere, or you may hear a story that begins with the man running after cans from her ripped grocery bag as they roll across the grocery store parking lot, giving him the perfect opportunity to introduce himself when he returns the cans to her, and that, months later, leads to him getting down on his knee in a Burger King parking lot and proposing while the two women in the car parked next to theirs call out, “Say ‘Yes,’ honey, say ‘Yes!’”

It’s not the sort of story people may think to tell you if you don’t go fishing. Fishing is also an excellent way to learn more about the people with whom you regularly find yourself on the elevator at work.

Sometimes, though, I need to remind myself that it’s fine to just ride up in silence after saying hello, and that I don’t always have to know the answer to every single question that enters my brain.

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