Day 38: Why good conversations are like splatter painting

I spend roughly three quarters of my waking hours talking, in conversations with others. But what is conversation? How does it flow? What different forms can it take? What makes it meaningful?

Some conversations require serious harvesting in order to appreciate them and their value. They are slow and seemingly stagnant, like a stream during the dry summer months. You can only see their movement and value along the edges and in the places where the stream meanders. During these conversations, I find my mind somewhere else, somewhere beyond the stream.

Others are like Legos — seemingly open possibility to begin with, but actually restricted by your building material. And even more so by the foundation you set, which molds the shape and direction of future growth. These are the kinds of conversations I have with a good friend’s significant other, whose life philosophy is completely different than my own. I’ve decided before the conversation has begun, perhaps unfairly, that we won’t find any common ground. But I also don’t feel like arguing out of respect for my friend.

There are a set of topics we can probably discuss and agree on — our blocks. We then choose one, which sets the foundation. And then we trade turns stacking the blocks, never disagreeing or questioning what each other are saying. Voila, modular home built.

The best conversations I have, though, are like splatter paint. They’re messy. They have no particular intention or goal. The process and emotion with which its created is more important than the outcome. There’s a continual waltz between chaos and order, emotion and rationality. The takeaways are different for each and every person. Both as the painting emerges and once the last paint has hit the canvas.

a splatter painting of my body

The starting point could come from anywhere, with any color and any technique, and it will create space for interpretation, reflection, and growth.

The splat catalyzes a certain reaction — either in the listener or in the speaker — which leads to the next move. This move may be taken emotionally — an immediate, quick flick of the hand. Or can be weighed upon and thoughtfully considered for a while, drawing from a vast palette of colors and a wide array of splatter techniques, before finally joining the canvas.

One can aim for depth via a long swipe and follow through of the arm, confidently establishing a position — potentially overriding the existing points or venturing into new territory. Alternatively, one can extend and then quickly pull back the arm in a show of uncertainty, thereby creating small dots — seeds, which may or may not sprout into anything.

What about new paint which covers the old? Could be a retraction of thought by the speaker — basically learning in real time and changing his or her perspective. Or it could be the visible disagreement of one person with another on a particular point — the nature and confidence of the counter point represented by the extent to which the original point is allowed to peak through from below.

As the canvas fills, there are as many, if not more, questions than there are answers. True, there may be a tendency to personify and create metaphors out of certain parts and patterns, but an equal number of sections leave you not confused, but awestruck, at our own limitations and ignorance.

As you move out and look at the canvas as a whole, you start to appreciate the experience and the process. It was the expression of the moment that we built together. Whatever we created was what needed to be created in that moment. And whatever you created will become inspiration for a new splatter painting in the future — whether with the same person or someone new.