In the evening of the day, all work done, we sit down and we talk.
Maybe it’s because we’re in the dark time of the year, when the evening seems to last for half the day, that’s made me so conscious of evenings? Or maybe it’s because I’ve been reading a book? A bit of both probably.
Anyway, have you ever thought about how many evenings you’ve spent talking with the significant person or people in your life? Or about how much all the conversations you’ve had over all of those evenings with these people have contributed to who you are and the life you’re living? Well I have, and ‘a lot’ is the answer to both of these questions.
Evenings are the focus of my thinking and the title of what I’m writing here because they’re the time my significant person and I mostly spend together, our different jobs of work done for the day. We’ve been together, Sarah and I, for 25 years or so now and, minus time spent away working and on a few separate holidays, sea kayaking for example, that all multiplies up to about nine thousand evenings we’ve spent together.
Nine thousand evening of conversation. Yes we’ll often listen to music, watch a film or drink some wine together. Sometimes all three, bohemians that we are. Occasionally we’ll even even socialise with other people. But mostly we talk, to each other.
Sometimes our conversations have led to obviously significant things. Like making up the business that got us out of our jobs and sustained us for many years afterwards. Or deciding, shortly after we started our business, to get married. Because we loved each other, obviously, but also because we’d been talking about the Simon and Garfunkel song where they sing:
“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together”
And, realising we’d now become dependent on each other’s creativity, decided to marry our fortunes together.
Our conversations have clearly, therefore, changed and formed our lives sometimes. Beyond the examples I’ve quoted though, and this might be the same for you, these nine thousand evenings of conversation with my most significant other have made me, and continue to make me who I am. We don’t always agree, or not always at once, but there is nothing significant that either of us has decided to do over all of these years, I’d say, that hasn’t been put through the conversational filter of “What do you think?” I only have to think back to early in the evening yesterday to remember the last time I described a situation to Sarah and said “What do you think?”
Which brings me to the book I’ve started reading. It’s “The Hidden Pleasures of Life” by Theodore Zeldin and was recommended to me by my friend Phil Kirby, from Leeds, a few days ago during a conversation on Twitter:
The book soon arrives and I’ve barely started it when I get to the paragraph that gets me thinking about this Nine Thousand Evenings. The author is a historian and he’s setting out some of the subjects he wants to explore. Things that have partly created the world we are in and will probably partly create the future, but that don’t usually get the attention they might deserve:
“First of all the part of life that is most hidden from view. I see private life as emerging from obscurity and challenging public life as the centre of attention. Instead of being obsessed with rules and regulations and the pecking order of organisations, I prefer to explore the consequences that follow from intimate personal relationships increasingly determining the quality of existence. As families cease to be so dominated by property, as kinship feuds cease to be so bloody, and as the search for congenial partners becomes ever more absorbing and challenging, private life is becoming a source of a new kind of energy and of new priorities. As people have more contacts outside their neighbourhoods, relationships of many more kinds, both transient and long term, are reshaping the landscape.”
All of which, as the author intends, makes me think about my own private life and the relationships that have formed it and continue to do so. A life of long and often intense conversations, usually one to one, with various significant friends which have, between us, come up with and developed most of the things I spend most of my time doing. Virtually none of the creativity in my life, and therefore my effect on the world around me, happening in isolation. If we are what we eat, and I don’t think there would be much argument about that, then we are also what we say and what gets said to us, in the precious moments when we arrive at the “What do you think?” place.
So I’ll often think of myself as a socialist, some kind of activist, a humanitarian and various other philosophies and belief systems at other times in my life. But as much as any of these, I’d say, I’m a conversationalist. Making up the world I live in and the effects I have on it through conversations with my friends. Conversations which become part of everything I do, everything I write and everything I amount to.
The greatest and longest of these conversations being the nine thousand evenings, so far, with Sarah. And maybe it’s the same for you? Maybe long evenings of conversation with the most significant people in your life have done as much as anything else to shape who you are and what you’re amounting to on this earth?
Well that’s enough for now. It’s evening time.
“The Hidden Pleasures of Life” by Theodore Zeldin, then. Thanks Phil, and no doubt there will be more writing and so more conversations as it gets read.