Thursday, January 7, 2021

Coffee Rings and Comfort Zones

 “Your living room is arranged exactly the way you like it. Now suppose a guest drops in, moves your favorite chair, sits in it, and puts a damp glass on your favorite wooden table without even bothering to use a coaster. You might be taken aback, even though you had invited your friend to make himself at home.

A similar thing can happen in conversation. Your precious notions are moved across the room. Someone carelessly leaves a ring on your wooden beliefs. You find this maddening, even though a conversation is an invitation to rearrange one’s mental furniture. If a home is perfectly arranged with no blemish and nothing out of place, it’s probably a show home. No one lives there.”

Beryl Barclay, Daily Scoldings, copyright 2010

I discovered this salty little book of gentle chastisements at a friend’s house and immediately went out to buy one for myself. If you can take the occasional pang of uncomfortable truth, it’s great for your bedside table. Or maybe a conversation starter, on display in your living room.

Now isn’t this a revealing glance into our internal dialogue? We have a schematic view of how the room should look. Of whom should believe what, and why. Of where everybody should stand. Of how we insist on the most attractive pairing of color and texture; the exchange of surface pleasantries, no discord and thank-you-very-much-for-stopping-in.

When that visitor leaves, the room looks quite the same. How much more interesting would it be then, if we invited wild polka dots into a beige living room? How disarming if we allowed shabby chic throw pillows against a palette of unwrinkled monotony?

It’s possible – someone may leave a coffee ring on your polished opinions. 

Let that be an invitation to an honest conversation.

Listen now. Rearrange later.

Bring the cream, stir, and relax.

Or you may decide to keep the room in its more cluttered state -- the look is more lived-in, and the welcome is real. Shoes are kicked off; feet are propped comfortably on the sofa.

How many of us have tip-toed into an immaculate house, unsure of where to put our things or how best to vanish into the woodwork?

We want to avoid rearranging the space with our messy ideas, our unique impressions of life. We become beige, conforming to what’s already in the room.

We depart unchallenged and unheard, blending into the vanilla-flavored world outside. Conversations are safe but brittle. Predictable but dull. Pleasant but sadly lacking in spice and flavor.

Recently I enjoyed the generous hospitality of friends around a table of plenty. By “plenty” I mean tasty food, thoughtful discussion and raucous laughter. Our words blended and spilled, mixing themselves into affirmations of life: what we think matters and what we say is worthy of hearing.

Instead of comparing this boisterous exchange to my ultra-quiet life in my tiny apartment, I choose something else: I will opt into hosting more, holing up less. I choose hospitality over perfection, invitations over hesitation, spontaneity over well-executed planning. The menu will be simple, and I hope our blended words will be the tastiest of morsels.

In this new year of blank pages waiting to be filled, I hope I will color outside the lines.

I hope you will, too.

Trust your tribe – your pod – your friends. They already welcome you with open arms. Speak your truth.

In less familiar situations and more structured rooms, try scooting the furniture around a bit. The results will be refreshing.

Coffee with Kathy

Inspired by Messy, Meaningful Conversation

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