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The unlikely person to start the conversation | A Cup of Jo


It’s been a year. Our family had nothing left to say, and had a pretty compelling solution …

In the old days, my family went out into the world every day, collecting stories and observations, and returned to our table to share them. Candles burned low in their cup holders; the chowder bowls were empty and then the empty ice cream bowls were pushed aside; and we sat together, talking about physical experiments and music rehearsals, friendship and work, and political activities and volunteering. We chatted back and chatted, ruffled and argued and laughed until sure someone looked at the time and said, “Damn.”

Now nobody goes out into the world and is there – and here’s a polite way of saying it – little to talk about. My masseuse husband hasn’t been working for more than a year. Our 18-year-olds, whom we usually only wish to meet, are always at home – and the only more difficult question is “How is school?” Turns out to be “How is school?” when schools is the same place with Home page. And for my own day see: I worked alone. I’m in a Zoom meeting where someone can’t speak up for himself, despite all the usual mute advice. I gathered all the dirty cups and glasses. I have delivered a meal to the hospice but are not allowed inside. I gathered all the dirty cups and glasses (WTAF?). I was jogging with a friend but for some reason I felt related to the way my glasses were obscured on the mask, I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I was in a Zoom meeting where someone’s cat crawled onto her desk and bit a leaf that appeared to be a jade tree. This last one is really good enough to share, and I do. Then we talked about the wonderful television we watched – Lupine, Killing Eve, Ted Lasso – even though WE ARE WATCHING THESE TVS together. “Was that scene great?” we reminisced, even though it was just last night, and we were all there.

Just to be clear: I realize that dull conversation is a luxury in itself. We were indoors and healthy and without fear. And we are also talking about news, about the world, about racism and inequality that are happening all the time. But our thoughts and opinions have become stale. We are a bit bored with ourselves and with each other.

Yes, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel, and you can only say a lot about light.

Are you ready for news that you can use? This is: Whenever someone is shopping or ordering groceries online, I say, “Oh, and grab some social fruit.” This means something fancy and shareable – a pomegranate, a grapefruit, an ordinary grapefruit, or even one of the four-dollar giant tangerines advertised at the back of New Yorkers (This may make you feel like you’re parodying yourself while starring in the mix of Candid Camera and Portlandia). Regardless of the fruit, we peel and distribute it, it’s delicious, but also – in a good way – related and related. We wear Alicia Keys or Stevie Wonder or John Coltrane, and we take sparkling pomegranate gems from their spongy white shells; we peel off the flexible membrane from the citrus parts and let the little juice bags break off on our tongue; we eat in silence with a companion, gossip idly about this fruit or fruit in general, sing along to music, or share deeply about our hopes and dreams. (If your child ever confided in you comfortably while the two of you were snacking together, you’ll realize this last phenomenon.)

Social fruit tends to be more expensive than regular fruit, but treat it as an investment, as what you get is a complete experience. And that is a shared experience. It is refreshing together. It’s been an incredible explosion of something that’s not your own – and hopefully more will.


Catherine Newman is the author of How to become a person. She also writes 21 completely subjective rules for raising teen boys.

PS Five-component family dinner and Our favorite TV shows.

(By Guille Faingold / Stocky.)

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