Last year, I remember receiving wordpress emails about National Blog Post Month, and thinking about how cool it would be to participate. My then, and now, defunct blog, radiating at such a meager frequency on the interweb, has  only been a pendulum-piece for the mind-game I was playing with myself. Looking outside the inside window. Waiting for nothing at all. Wondering if I would ever be willing to come back. Well, the obvious answer is no. I decided to recreate and start anew.

Fast forward.

Last week, I sat down for sushi with my friend, Neil. He sports a signature leather jacket, worn with life. Black compliments his ensemble, peaking out from underneath the cherished creature at rest. A NY baseball hat shadows his intimate face, accentuating lines and dulling age all at the same time. A living, breathing, modern-day playwright, Neil has successfully spent his life writing, producing, publishing and, now, teaching. A professor at our local, prestigious institution, he is a regular at the high-end grocery store that I work at. Which, is how we met. Seemingly-randomly, of course.

As a writer, Neil is focused on connecting with all different types of people. I asked him about his consideration of service-members, because many of my other coworkers are also very fond of this man. He comes in at least once a day, for a New York Times, etc, always taking the time to connect. I thought he may have worked the service industry as well, knowing what it’s like, thus the root of the empathy.  Apparently, he only worked one job that could be classified as being so. At a bookshop, in Boston, when he was attending Yale back in the day. He said it was one of the most fun jobs he’s ever had. But, his genuine willingness to get to know people, even if they are the ones serving him, comes from his desire to feel people. To create. In order to write from the perspective of a particular character, one must become them. Must empathize, see, feel, and be. He interacts so as to react to the interaction.

Neil is in his mid-fifties, I believe. He’s only been teaching for about the last 15 years, as most of his time prior was consumed with writing plays and then putting them on. One of the most interesting fragments of our conversation, between Sweet Potato and Eel Cucumber sushi rolls, is the idea that people are becoming a lot less empathetic. That we, as a society, are losing the ability to interact with one-another on a very human level. “How are you” has turned into a “hello.” The mechanics are taking over and technology has begun to intermingle with our veins. How do we stay properly oxygenated amidst impending, ultimate dependance upon the man-made?

He teaches one class a week. It’s 2 1/2 hours long. Students get a break in the middle. Neil showed me a picture on his phone, which apparently freaked out his class. It shows a whole row of students on their computers, not speaking to one another. Silence, side-by-side. He said this is what happens over their break!  No one gets up from their seats. Everyone stays sedentary and silent. Confined to their own bubbles. Unwilling to suds up and chat  with the person next to them.

Where is the willingness to connect?

The next day, at break, he showed them the picture…when he “freaked them out.” He told them that they weren’t allowed to be on their computers, phones, ipods, or any other technological bit. They had to talk to each other. Get to know the person sitting next to them. Apparently, talking about non-school related subjects, thus bonding, over the break, led to a more lively discussion during the second portion of class. It amazes me that professors, and teachers on all levels of the educational spectrum, I imagine, are having to literally tell their students to talk to each other! I guess it only makes sense. Back in the day, in the era of prehistoric apples, the only quiet time was when everyone was in “computer class,” in awe of the faux-interaction. “Regular” class was loud, and if it wasn’t people were actually engaged with the learning. Teachers needed to tell the students to stop talking. Things have changed.

I imagine…thoughts for food and foods for thought.

Advertisements