planning out a conversation.
It recently occurred to me that planning out conversations ahead of time is not normal. Well, it is normal (we all like to be prepared), but my psychologist doesn't understand how I do it for every conversation that I have. It's something that just comes natural to me. I get extremely anxious when I can't plan out an interaction or have to improvise or worse, when everything goes horribly wrong. And I don't like being anxious all the time, so I'm constantly going through conversations in my mind. The vast majority of the time (because I, more often than not, don't talk to people), they're just conversations with people I made up in my head, or people that I don't (and probably never will) talk to. These are purely hypothetical and, aside from all the mental anguish they cause (leading to some traumatic experiences in the past), don't have any major problems. Mostly. What I'm talking about today (and yesterday, depending on if I can finish this blog post in the next nine minutes) is the planning out of regular old, everyday conversations. "Hold on," you shout skeptically at your screen. "You can't possibly predict or plan out every single conversation that you have." And, you would be correct. As a rebuttal, I present this eerily relatable webcomic. In case you don't know what he's talking about, all you need to know is that NPCs are notorious for saying the same goddamned thing every time you talk to them. The only difference between me and the character in the comic is that I accept that I am an NPC, and I love it. I work at [insert Retail Store here], and my favourite part is working on the till. When I'm on till, I get away with saying the same thing every time. The reason I get away with it is because everyone's in a neat little line a few feet away and they can't here what I'm saying to the customer before them (it's super busy on the weekends, you can't even hear yourself most of the time). "I can do this all day! Since I find repetitive behaviour so calming!" But seriously, I love being behind that counter saying the same thing over and over and over again because it is actually calming. And you don't think I say the same thing every day? Come down to [Retail Store] and have a listen. This is my interaction with every customer:
Now obviously, that's not how it goes exactly, every time. Some people insist on making insufferable small talk, but that's the way it goes when you're dealing with people. But that's my script and I tend to stick to it. But that's not weird. Everyone who works retail ends up saying the same thing, you'd go crazy if you didn't, that's just the way it goes. I do that when I'm on the other end of retail, too. "Hey there, can I get an extra large French Vanilla *pause* and a Boston Cream donut," every single time. The weird part comes when you do it to your friends.
I sit at the khoja table at school because it involves very little social commitment. If you're brown and Ismaili, you're pretty much in with these people. When I moved to Calgary, these are the people I gravitated to for that exact reason. When I sit down at the table, I only need to exchange the simplest of pleasantries ("hey, how's it going?" "how's class?" "are you ready for your midterm?" etc) before they go back to their conversations about fantasy hockey teams and whatever it is they talk about. That way, I can still seem social without really being social. For those types of interactions, I usually have a set of phrases that I use interchangeably (I don't say the same word all the time; I'm not some freak) exactly as an NPC would. The problem arises when I'm having a one on one with a friend. And just today (technically yesterday) I had two such examples that I'll now share with you, oh reader.
On the train, I saw someone with whom I share mutual friends. We're not friends on Facebook, but we follow each other on Instagram; take that as you list. I saw her and smiled and gave a 'sup nod (as you do) and she smiled back. Awesome, social interaction complete. Or not, that's cool too. She motioned me to sit down across from her. And, not trying to be a dick or anything, obliged, even though I had to go through two other people to do so. We exchange pleasantries where I discern that she's no longer in school (I didn't know this already because we're really not that good of friends). Then, I asked the money question: "So, what are you doing nowadays?" And she launched into her new internship, and how the people she works with are awesome, but she misses hanging out with people at school, etc, etc. Even though I wasn't talking, it was my time to shine. I asked open ended questioned and timed all my nods and "mm-hmms" perfectly, just like all those books told me to. It wasn't a horrible conversation to listen to, but I deem it a success. It wasn't something that I could plan out, but I followed the instructions and made it through in one piece.
Another interaction I had today was completely different. I had time to plan it out, and plan it out I did. It was supposed to be a quick, 15 minute conversation between her meeting and my class. There were a few talking points that I wanted to include, such some recent events in her life, as well as a future event that we had planned. I've also always wanted to start off a conversation saying "hey beautiful" and this was a person I know could use a little self esteem boost. So, in the ten minutes between her asking (via text) where I was and her showing up. I was planning out our conversation:
I want to point out two things: 1) that's not the entirety of the conversation that I had planned out and 2) I didn't actually write it out while waiting for her to show up (that would be super weird). This flowchart is simply for illustrative purposes because I can't very well take my mind out and spread it across this blog for you. This is as close as I'm going to get. It's also worth noting that when she finally did show up, I choked on the first line and immediately fell back to rudimentary pleasantries ("how are you?" "how's work?" etc) and ended up not following anything that I had planned out. So, I guess there's that: even though I have a system to talk to people, I still can't talk to pretty girls. Go figure.
Something that I realized drawing out my thought processes was the convergence of a lot of conversational points. To relate this back to NPCs, I'd like to point toward a recent Extra Creditz video that talks about the Illusion of Choice. Go give that a watch, I promise it's good, even if you don't like video games. If you didn't watch it, I'll sum up the relevant parts. Even if you make divergent choices in video games (or talking to me, f'rinstance) it finds its way back to a central storyline (conversation). And that's done on purpose to save memory and processing. It's quite ingenious in video games and in talking to people until you point it out like I just did. Actually, just ignore all of this. That's probably for the best.