Advanced Dialogue: Nate & Silas

by Ed Davis on June 21, 2016

Not known for our conversational acumen, we men are even less lauded for our ability (or desire) to “go deep,” unless it’s to be the distant target of a forward pass. But recently I had a couple of miraculous moments during two male “non-conversations” leading to realizations resulting in a life-enhancing epiphany.

The Foxhole

The first was a social encounter with “Nate,” a fellow cancer survivor who’d given me excellent medical advice in 2015, resulting in my getting a prostatectomy rather than treating my disease with radiation or “watchful waiting.” We began chatting about Mohammed Ali, who’d just passed away and kept it up for a few minutes until eventually we were drawn away.

Later I was tempted to lament our lack of conversational substance when I had my first realization. While we were ostensibly two guys talking about a sports hero’s life and death, we’d actually been telling each other in subtext that we deeply appreciated the extra life we’d been given; and furthermore that we delighted in each other’s presence after emerging from the cancer foxhole amazingly healthy and alive.

Old and of Good Flavor

My second non-conversation occurred during a literary gig at the Bridgeport, West Virginia Public Library a few days later. No sooner had I begun placing my books for sale on the table near the front door than a gentleman I judged to be in his early seventies—I’ll call him Silas—sat down nearby. Without prologue, he began speaking non-stop almost as if he knew me.

As he continued his monologue unabated for the next ninety minutes, I realized it was the airplane experience I’d never had (I seldom fly), where it’s almost impossible to disengage from the extrovert in the seat beside you. Except I could’ve disengaged easily. Realizing that folks were there to buy used books at the library’s annual sale—not new ones by an unknown author—I could’ve moved into the room where I’d hold a writing workshop later; or I might’ve found a quiet corner to read and write in silence. I knew I wasn’t going to sell any books here.

I surprised myself by choosing to stay put and listen. A native Bridgetonian who’d returned after many adventures, Silas’s knowledge and life experience were broad, including, for instance, insider tips about the oil and gas fracking industry, a subject I’m currently interested in. About this time, I had my second realization:  I will use this man and/or his knowledge somewhere, sometime, in my writing.

Plus I just liked him. Silas was articulate, witty and refreshingly nonpartisan, objective and balanced in his opinions (of which he had many). A real plus in these fractious times. Now I’ll venture my opinion, that some older guys really do deserve the label mature (definition:  “experienced, fully developed, old and of good flavor”). If nature favors us with lucid, healthy brains, we can all aspire to that exalted state.

Ironic . . . or appropriate?

Two men, two non-conversations, one epiphany:  human connection is more about listening than expressing, about humility rather than zeal.

I smile to recall the title of my Bridgeport workshop:  “Advanced Dialogue.”


Antioch Writers’ Week-long Summer Workshop will be held from July 9-15—and while the registration deadline is rapidly approaching, don’t forget all 7:00 p.m. programs are free and open to the public, including Roxanne Gay’s keynote on Saturday evening, July 9. Most events, like Gay’s speech, take place at Antioch University Midwest, though some readings are held at coffeehouses like the Emporium/Underdog Café in downtown Yellow Springs. Go the website and/or contact director Sharon Short for the schedule. It’s a wonderful, possibly life-changing event I’ve attended for many years and I hope to see you there!

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