Friday, August 31, 2007

Old stories

Brown Eyes: What did you say your job was?

Freckles: I do voices. For animation films.

Brown Eyes: I thought they used famous stars for that.

Freckles: You implying I’m not famous?

Brown Eyes: Well…

Freckles: Don’t worry. I don’t get big acting roles. I mean, look at me. But I can do voices, from squeaky 10 year olds to grumpy 60 year olds. ACDC.

Brown Eyes: Where did you learn that?

Freckles: I used to tell my kids stories at bedtime, you know, and they’d say, “Tell us the story of Red Riding Hood” or some other, and I’d get a little tired telling the same stories so I’d try inventing new voices.

Brown Eyes: And I bet the kids said don’t change the story?

Freckles: You’re right, they didn’t like my using new voices. They’d say tell it the proper way. Liked tradition, didn’t like experiments. So I’d change the voices little by little so they wouldn’t notice.

Brown Eyes: Conservative creatures, kids. Mine were the same. I didn’t do voices but I retold the stories with different endings. And the kids would say, “That’s not how it ends. Do it again properly.”

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Buying a new mobile phone

Customer: How do you change the ringtone?

Shop Owner: Easy. I have too much ringtone. You go here, here, here.

Customer: Wait, I didn’t see that.

Shop Owner: Sorry. Menu, Ringtones, Select. You like?

Customer: Too noisy. Something quiet.

Shop Owner: Standard?

Customer: I didn’t see what you did.

Shop Owner: OK, I show you wallpaper. Same, same. I have too much wallpaper. Menu, Wallpaper, Select.

Customer: Too messy. Something simple.

Shop Owner: Standard? There.

Customer: Too fast. I still didn’t see how you do it.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Action movie plug-in module

Quiz question. Identify the action movie these subtitles are quoted from.

Door opens, music plays.
Watch out, watch out.
Let’s get out of here.
Engine roaring.
Tires squealing.

Show me a clip and maybe I could tell you.

See, change the location, change the actors but keep the sequence. That’s how Hollywood does movies now. A Photoshop plug-in to create a generic watercolor effect. A Hollywood plug-in to create a generic action sequence.

I often have this sense when I see another action movie I feel I’ve seen it before.

And in some they don’t even change the actors. Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy, Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne Again?

James Bond = J.B. = Jason Bourne. So Part Twos and Threes are often just remakes.

I’m not saying Matt Damon’s trilogy is unexciting or even uninventive, each part has incremental innovations, but some movie episodes are like a bunch of clips salvaged from the cutting room floor.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pragmatic-functional approach

Critic: Where are you coming from on this?

Author: My position you mean?

Critic: Yes, your approach. You’re covering functionalism, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, pragmatics, discourse, arts, media, you even divert into diversions.

Author: All of those, yes, and then some, I suppose.

Critic: Aren’t you afraid of covering too much ground, not digging deeply enough, spreading it all too thinly?

Author: If you must pursue all these agricultural allusions, of the ploughing not being thorough and there not being enough fertilizer. The farmer plodding through the field? But let me give you another metaphor, poetry. Think of the conversations as being like haiku. Not a great deal is said but key words ignite ideas in the mind of the reader. An associationist style.

Critic: With all due respect, it’s a bit difficult to write a treatise in verse.

Author: Just because it isn’t done often doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Anyway, it isn’t verse. It’s discussion.

Critic: Still, by covering so many topics, you lay yourself open to accusations of not being any kind of expert, or explorer or experimenter but rather a popularizer, a pretender, or a poser.

Author: Well, it’s not just reportage. There is a common theme. I have an approach, a central idea that I hark back to, that frames the commentary.

Critic: Hmm?

Author: You might call it a pragmatic-functionalist approach.

Critic: A what?

Author: Language as an instrument. It’s a tool. It helps us live our lives. We use language to get things done. We use language to express ourselves, to interact with others, to get others to do things, to entertain, to create. The approach begins with a question. Why is he or she saying what they are saying, the way they are saying it? What do they hope to gain, consciously or unconsciously?

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Expressing sympathy

Mind how you go. The footpath is uneven.

But don’t look down all the time. You can hit your head on overhanging branches.

And signs. Remember a few months ago you banged your head on a Stop sign.

It was only a stupid 1.7 meters above the ground. I measured it later. Dangerously low.

Watch the ground here. There are holes. Break a leg dead easy.



Something stabbed me in the head. This, ah, it’s a bougainvillea. Ahhh. The thorn is still inside my skull. This is it. Goodbye world.

I told you to look up. Hold on, I have some tweezers in my bag.

I pulled it out already. Now my brains are starting to pour out. Why can’t I walk and look up and look down at the same time.

Women can, men can’t.

Do you think it’ll turn septic?

They say six hours. Bougainvilleas are lethal. Look, if we don’t hurry the restaurant will be closed.


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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Slugs, crows and the French

Editor: Most people seem to regard language use as a uniquely human behavior. What’s the difference between animal and human languages?

Author: There's a distinction between signaling systems and what we call languages. A traffic light with red and green lamps is a signaling system. Red = stop. Green = go.

Editor: And language use might be turn left at the next light, there’s a teashop, their organic apricot muffins actually taste quite decent?

Author: Fair enough. So let’s say many animal species do have signaling systems. Some are quite rudimentary, like those used by slugs or sponges. Other species might have more extended systems like those used by crows, cats or chimpanzees.

Editor: Slugs stop at traffic lights?

Author: Admittedly, slugs are not highly sociable. An antenna waved, a waggle in the slime trail perhaps.

Editor: And crows?

Author: Listen to them. Watch them. They have signaling systems. Some say even unique to local crow communities. So a crow living in the U.S. might not understand a crow from France.

Editor: If it could fly that far. Speaking of the Frenchhuman languages…

Author: Not everyone would agree…

Editor: Now, now.

Author: Humans signal too. We turn red, wave our arms. We use persuasive expressions like “I’d suggest…” or we use words like “by the way,” to signal a topic shift which is something not even chimpanzees do. But more than that, we use language to tell stories and discuss ideas. So we've made this big jump, we've gone from signaling to communicating through language. And the French have actually always been pretty good at that. They've always practised a lot.


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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Metaphor or simile

What do you mean by the “grammar” of film?

This is an easy question to answer. The starting point is this. The structure of language is a metaphor for the structure of film. We will begin with the smallest element of language. Oh, let me be clear here. The smallest element of written language.

A letter?

Exactly. And one letter corresponds to one frame in a film. Now, here is the structure. I think you will agree that there is a neat symmetry.

Letters make up a word. Several frames make up a shot in a film.
Words make up a sentence. Several shots make up a scene in a film.
Sentences make up a paragraph. Several scenes make up a sequence in a film.
Paragraphs make up a story. Several sequences make up a film.

Yes. In fact the symmetry is so marked as to be almost parallel. So parallel it almost looks like a simile.

Ah. Touche.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Character building

So, he was an artist. What art?

He built. Buildings. His designs were not predictable.

Artists face many dilemmas. For example, they must decide between giving a patron what they want and creating something that is truthful but maybe not complimentary or easily understood.

And you never quite knew what he would say. He knew many people. And they all remember him differently.

So, you are saying he had a mystery? Or that he had several identities?

Both. He was many things to many people, and some thought he was mysterious because of this.

So you want to tell this man's story through other people's memories of him?

Something like that. I think he was several people inside one skin.

Then you have the ingredients. You have a protagonist, who lived a useful life, while balancing tensions, within himself, and outside himself, in his dealings with others. You have his creations, which are the backdrop. You have monologues, the stories others tell of him. You have dialogue, between you and others.

I am in this story?

You can be in the background directing, you can do voiceover narrating history or events, you can be an interviewer, you can even be a monologist. You, too, can have several identities. But I must ask you, what was this man to you?

He was related. He was an uncle.

Then you have involvement. You are driven. The problem is not how to get close, but rather when to pull back.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Learning grammar

I want to learn the grammar of film-making.

People sometimes come and ask that.

But I really want to learn.


And I want to learn from you.

It has been a long time since I taught that.

You don’t forget a lifelong craft.

No, but one tires. I used to work all day and into the night. Now, I need to nap most days.

You are busy?

Not busy. But if we do this, if I teach you, and if you have a film to make, you must have a story to tell.

I have a story.

Is it a story you are bursting to tell? One that irritates like eczema so you must scratch at it constantly?

It is a story of a person. Someone who lived a useful life.

That is a good start.

He had many sides.

So, we are talking about a person. And it seems he is no longer with us. You want to create an obituary, a mausoleum, a remembrance. Beyond existing, what did he do? What did he leave behind?

He was an artist.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Zines and records

Come in. You are…?

Agent Senior, sir.

Oh, there has been some problem officer? Shoplifting again?

No, sir. My name is Agent. I’m a sales clerk here.

My apologies, there are so many, I just don’t know everyone.

I’d like to hand in my notice, sir.

Oh, you have another job?

Well, sort of. I want to start my own business.

Don't tell me. Online books. Digital music. Like here?

Not exactly. I’m going into zines and records.

Zines? Records?

Zines are crafty underground periodicals and sometimes one-offs by pamphleteers. And records as in vinyl.

Sounds a bit retro in the face of digital publishing and music. Flying in the face of progress?

Maybe. Some might say zines and records are progress. But the marketing is online.

Ironic, huh. Well good luck with it.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Drawing on the tablecloth

In this lake there is water. The sea comes in, is miste, mixed, but it is not so salty. Here the chefalo live, they lay eggs. In May. Then they leave. They swim out into the sea, around the coast, to here, to Vieste. I show you. (Draws a map on the tablecloth).

Ooh. Can you do that here?

Is paper. They throw it away. Anyway, they swim around this point, and this point and that point and they get to Vieste. They stay 2 months and swim back to the lake.

Like salmon?

Like salmon, but not salmon. Now at this point and this point and that point, they have for a long time what we call a trebuka. It is for catching chefalo.

OK. But what’s a trebuka?

(draws trebuka jetty on tablecloth) Now, you see there is platform going into the sea. Is called a a ...

A jetty?

So. Now, there are long poles. And a net in the water. The chefalo swim past, and then they lift the net. They catch many chefalo this way. Is a good fish. Many small bones but sweet meat. My friend owns a trebuka restaurant.

Ah, the one with Czechoslovakian waitresses?


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Monday, August 20, 2007

Euro and microwaved pizzas

Where are you going?

Going to eat. Carlo recommended Babos in
Cernaia Street.

? Carlo recommended it? Hmm. I'll have to speak to him.

Is Babo's not good?

(rolls eyes ) They are our friends, but (sigh) the feedback from our guests (pause and shrug) is not so good, their pizzas cool quickly ... You know why? Because (conspiratorial wink) they are microwaved! They weren't before but they are now. They threw out the lira, they brought in the euro. Many things changed after that.


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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Smarts are only half a car

We are interested in renting a car. What kinds do you have?

We only have small cars. Smarts. 60 euros a day.

euros? Smarts are only half a car. Surely the rate should be half price?

Smarts are good cars. I have one myself. The rate includes unlimited kilometers and insurance. And they cost less for parking and gasoline.

OK. We’ll take one. For three days.

We will prepare it. While you are waiting how about a cup of coffee?

idea. Strong.

Of course. Strong coffee for strong people.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007


Wake up! We’re at Bulls.

Huh? Where?

Bulls. The whole town is themed Bulls. Shops have bull in their names.


Seriously. Look. Vegeta-bul. Consta-bul. That’s police.

That’s funny?

Maybe not funny. But it’s fun. Unforgeta-bul even.

What’s that black monstrosity?

A wooden bull. What else?

New Zealand so-called broadband is blimming useless. From 3 PM to midnight it slows to a crawl and often crashes. You may as well forget about uploading files.
Expensive and pathetic.


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Friday, August 17, 2007

Tree socialization and cat chat

I heard pohutukawas from the island don’t grow well here on the mainland and the mainland trees don’t grow on the island. Same tree, different subspecies someone said.

Well there are Smiths and there are Joneses, aren’t there now. And they don’t talk to each other. Couldn’t have that. They are different.

That your cat?

Cat? Oh yes. I belong to him. At least he thinks he owns me.

I heard cats can communicate. Does he talk you?

Oh yes. Blinks a lot.

And I heard cats have feelings.

I’ll say. He gets annoyed, gets moody, gets sulky. Then he purrs which means he is happy or is going to sleep. And then I’ll say something and he’ll tell me it’s a lot of nonsense. Very cynical about what I say.


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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Geriatric horses

You still keep horses?

Oh we do. Three geriatrics.


Not old, old, old. But old.

How old is old for a horse?

Thirty, forty.

Do they give trouble when they get old? Do you pay a lot in vet fees?

They get a bit arthriticky. Keep them warm, throw an extra blanket over them. But no, not as many problems as humans.

No forgetting names, no dementia? No heart operations, no organ transplants?

You put them down.

Hmm. They shoot horses, don't they. Can’t do that to old humans.

Not easily.

Be nice if all you had to do when you got old was to ask someone to put another blanket on you.

Yes, it takes more than that.


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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fassi Gelati

How was today?

so successful. We couldn't find a gelateria.

Why didn't you ask me? I am Roman. I was born in Roma. I grew up in Roma. I will die in Roma.

You are a lucky man. You have bloomed where you were planted.

Ha. I have a mappa. Over at the Pantheon, there is La Parma, see, here. They have a hundred varieties of gelati. And you can eat gelati sitting down. They do not charge you to sit. And over here, in Palazzo Vittoria, there is almost Chinatown there now, but there is Fassi. They also do not overcharge by asking extra when you sit down.

Is there anything nearer?

Well, there is another Fassi past the station. Go along this street. Straight for about a kilometer. Ask for Fassi. Everyone in Roma knows them.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Nikon and Canon comparison

The Nikon feels better than the Canon.

But they’re both made of plastic.

Yeah, but they have a different feel to them. The Nikon has a sort of pattern on it that makes it feel like leather. The Canon’s surface is smooth and feels cheaper, if you understand what I mean.

So you’re saying the Nikon is better finished?

In the same way that some car makers spend more time on engineering the details.

Can a camera feel like a car?

Think of the Nikon as like a BMW. It costs more, it feels right. Restrained. The Canon is like a Nissan, well-built, sleek, but just doesn’t go that extra mile in style and ergonomics.

But the cost.

Ah, yes. The cost.

And is there a massive difference?

That's up to the user.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Keeping a war story on track

Who did the cat belong to?

The ship. But the cook mainly looked after it.

It went to sea with you?

Oh yes. And if the ship went down, the cat did too.

was this taken?

I’d just commissioned her in
Belfast. 358. But she was shot from under us within a month, and then I got 454 and most of the crew were transferred too.

You chose who got to go?


And 454 was shot up too?

In a big way. Middle of the night, shell hit us in the magazine. We disengaged action, hove to, I went below, and there were half a dozen fires burning – the cordite had caught fire, so I grabbed the extinguisher, put most of them out, then the hatch above was pulled open, and the blokes on deck were peering down, so I grabbed the shells, they could have gone up any moment, and told them to heave them over the side.


Didn’t have time to think about it. One or two of the ABs hesitated, so I let them have it, and tossed the shells up, and they threw them in the water.

How many shells?

. In fact, one of them exploded as it hit the water. We were pretty lucky.

But you made it back to port?

. But the boat needed a total refit and so that ended the war for me.

And for this you were given the DSC?

As I said, I didn’t have time to think. It had to be done. If we were to avoid being blown to kingdom come.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Failed warrant of fitness

Sorry, you need two new tyres. They're worn out.

So it fails the warrant?

Fraid so.

The tyres aren't just a bit worn?

Sorry. Worn out.

But the car only runs a couple of thousand kilometers a year.


I live overseas.

. By the way, there's a crack in the driver's side mirror.

I know. I couldn't get a spare.

Mirrors off a Gloria fit. They're easy to find. What's it like over there?

Over where?

Over, you know, seas.

It's OK.

Better than here?

Mmm. Well. Better.

I'm thinking of going over some day myself.

You seem adaptable. Blokes like you do well over... there.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Wind farm

So windy up here it takes your breath away.

What do you expect? It's a wind farm.

Used to be sheep, now its wind, eh?

More profitable. Each tower generates enough electricity for 900 houses.


Or maybe 60 houses. I forget.

Anyway, a lot.

A lot.

Here, I want to take a video of you standing in front of them. Good. Now say something.

Say what?

Say how windy it is.

You probably won't hear because of the wind.

OK. Shout something like, "They're so big!"

If I say that, they'll look smaller.

Oh, OK. Just wave and point at them then.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Howards End and On Beauty

Is the essay finished?

Almost. I just have to make sure of the references. Do you know Old Mudgeley made us cite ten books in the bibliography, in addition to any Internet references?


He doesn’t trust the Internet. Suspicious of Google. Fails the essay if there are any Wikipedia references.

Doesn't trust Wiki?

Says there are mistakes. Not written by experts.

Fossil. Tell him to read the Nature article, the comparison between Britannica and Wiki. And anyway, Wiki flags places where there a citation is needed, which is more than Britannica does. So the essay is finished?

Hard getting started. I was wondering how to begin it when the phrase, “One might as well begin…” flashed into my head.

E.M. Forster?

Howards End. Right. “One might as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister.”

Hang on. I read another book recently that began with the same opening. Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. She just lifted the whole beginning structure and phrasing of Howards End and transplanted it into the 21st century. “One may as well begin with Jerome’s email to his father.” I googled that phrase both of them tumbled out. Google is scary like that.

Maybe old Mudgeley could check for plagiarism using google.

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Thursday, August 9, 2007


You hear about this New Zealand family who want to call their baby For Real?


They get turned down by the government registry. Cause they want to spell it with the number 4. 4real. Registry says they can't make a name that is alphanumeric. Has to be a sequence of characters, all letters, no numbers.

For real?

For real. Registry blokes a pack of twits I reckon. But you can also see the kid would cop it at school.

Cruel places, schools. Look at the front page of the Courier today. Picture of two school kids, caption underneath, "Run or we'll stab you" is what they were told by gang members. Anyway, what's wrong with putting a number in a name. Yanks do it all the time. Charles Glaston II. They're only symbols for pity's sake.

But here's the kicker. So the family comes up with another name. Superman.

No. Fair go?

For real.

Not Superman II?

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Morning newspaper

Toddler’s head mutilated by pit bull.

One boiled egg or two?

One. Here’s another. 42 year old riding on car bonnet causes fatal head-on smash killing four.

I told you. You only give yourself pain reading the morning newspaper.

Well I don’t know. The dog article is a bit of negative reportage admittedly but ends on a positive note.

The child miraculously recovered?

Not exactly. No, there’s a list of ten handy suggestions on what to do when a Brazilian fila, Dogo Argentina or Japanese Tosa comes at you with the intent to maul.


Don’t look it in the eye and when it knocks you down, pretend you’re dead.

Handy to know these things.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007


Hello. This is Jonathan on Help. How may I be of assistance to you today?

The computer is broken.

To begin with sir I will need to trouble you for your product code.

It’s an XH1147.

Thank you. Now could you give me your name, your date of birth, your email address and your car licence plate.

It’s Steven, born 24 Feb 1955. My email is I don't have a licence plate on my car.

Thank you sir, for your patience in answering those questions. Now, could I just ask you to describe the nature of the problem, what it is or is not doing?

The light’s gone out.

You have told me the light has gone out, sir. That is a good start. Now, which light would that be sir?

The light in the screen.

So you can’t see anything on the screen?

I want to know how to get the light inside back on again.

If I may trouble you to tell me, sir, could you check first that it is plugged in?

I did. It is.

Thank you, sir. You have been very helpful. Now if you would be so kind could you tell me if the small pilot lamp is glowing at the bottom right-hand corner.

No. There is no light.

Sir, the next check is a little tricky so I must ask you to listen carefully. Put your hand on the switch, the one marked “power” and press it in the opposite direction so it clicks.

I’m doing that. I have a result. Oh, the light inside came on. I can see clearly now.

That sounds like we’ve solved the problem, sir. Now, if you have a pencil handy, could I trouble you to write down the case number: 486-386. My name is Jonathan. Thank you for your patience. You have a good day, sir.

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Monday, August 6, 2007

Proustian interview declined

We can do this interview straight or we can take a Proustian approach.

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by straight. When someone says something is straight and to the point it usually ends up crooked as a dog’s hind leg. And what’s this Proust thing?

A game, a diversion. A series of questions young people asked each other at parties in the late 1800s, when Proust was young. They interviewed each other about their likes, favorites, heroes, and their dislikes, defects and faults. A profile of the interviewee emerged.

Sounds challenging and overly-revealing. What sort of questions are straight ones?

The usual. What do you think of this, how do you like that, why do you think the other. You know.

Sounds less work, less scary even.

But the interviewer has to work harder to get at the nitty-gritty.

Good. Stop moaning. Let’s leave Proust for another day.

Pity about that.


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Sunday, August 5, 2007

P-class to Optimist

Funny bow on the Optimist. Blunt.

And wet. They take on water. Troublesome to bale out when it gets swamped or when it capsizes.

Hard to pull up when it falls over?

Hard. The old P-class was closed and so if, sorry, when, you canned out, it was easy to right and bale the water out of the small cockpit.

I liked the shape of the P-class. It at least had a bow and closed in deck. Altogether neater. More yacht-like.

I agree, the Optimist looks about as elegant as a paper cup.

Why couldn't they at least put a sharper bow on it?

Cost. Harder to bend the wood into a curve at the front. Cheaper and easier just to stick a pram dinghy slab there. Sometimes the old ways were good.

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Saturday, August 4, 2007


There is narrative too. When dialogue becomes monologue.

Ah, monologists. They can be great storytellers. Or they can be conversation killers.

I know what you mean. We all know people like that. A good conversation is not just cut and thrust, weave and duck, then run away.

True. At some point talk between people must be punctuated, pithily, with a spiffy story.

Just so. And that means taking the floor, picking up the ball and running with it for a bit.

But again, telling a story, telling it well, is an art. Those who drone on holding the fort, taking the high ground, defending their position, digging their trenches...

Some rather combative terms coming up here. You think that monologists see conversation as an arena to be defended, ramparts that have to be reinforced, castles that have to be built, wagons that have to be circled?

All that defensive conversational territory grabbing, it stifles dialogue.

It may not be conscious with some people. Some are not good at speaking spontaneously, not nimble in their thinking, so they protect themselves with a long rehearsed story.

Exactly, So to keep the ball rolling you have to fight your way in, storm their walls. Maybe even launch a big story of your own.

The Sun Tzu approach to conversation? Dialogue as war?

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