Sunday, November 19, 2006

Conversation Cards

Friday night was my turn to host the women’s monthly wine club meeting. Started a year ago, about 12 of us have been meeting every month at someone’s house to sample wines, enjoy some snacks, and, well, just take a few hours for girl talk. For me, it’s a nice diversion from the typical tri-talk that takes place in my other circles of friends.

My apologies, I digress from true triathlon talk yet again. If you keep coming here looking for training secrets, gear reviews, and workout ideas, you won’t find it. Not today. In fact, not for the rest of this month. Besides, it’s November and your mind shouldn’t be filled with triathlon clutter. Go Christmas shopping, eat some turkey, sleep in late. It’s time to take a break from swim, bike, run blah blah blah and just be a normal person that thinks about normal things. And to enforce this with myself, I’ve put a ban on all tri-related thoughts until December 1st. So until then, I’m just going to enjoy life and enjoy conversation topics other than triathlon.

Wait………..what are “the other topics to talk about” again?

In a flurry, my mind is reaching and searching the annals of conversation from parties and phone calls, trying to pull useful bits and pieces from talk I had in yesteryears, a time when I wasn’t so tri-obsessed and my thoughts weren’t so tri-induced. At times like this, I think to myself that it would be helpful to have a box filled with conversation cards to prime your mind about past experiences or events that make worthy conversation.

Conversation cards – I think it's a clever idea and sometimes I wish I had a pack or two. It’s an idea that I saw in practice at my dad’s nursing home and they seemed to work quite well. To engage the older people in conversation, they had a metal canister filled with cards. Each card had a question. Some of them were poignant, making you think fondly back to a memory sweet in your mind. Others were more probing, revealing a potentially less than sweet memory. Like the one that had me asking dad if he had ever gotten a speeding ticket which was quite funny because he was pulled over for speeding so many times that he had his own lawyer mediating his vehicular violations that he called more than once a month.

It starts me thinking about my own set of conversation cards, to pull out in case of emergency; in case I find myself in the middle of conversation with a non-triathlete unfamiliar with the terms intervals, transitions, Power Tap, shifters, brick, and other random tri tidbits. So I set about to make a few in my head. I think about things that people talk about when their thoughts aren’t consumed by intervals, transitions, Power Taps, shifters, and bricks. Topics start filing into my set of cards under the categories of pets, traveling, shopping, work, shoes, restaurants, cramps. Yes, yes, I can talk about these things. I’ve been shopping! I’ve traveled! I get cramps!

I start pulling out cards in my head, rehearsing answers. After awhile they become like flashcards and in a teacher’s voice I hear myself asking “Where did you find that shirt?” and responding in militant style “Old Navy, maa’m! It was on the sale rack at Old Navy! $5.99, a steal of a deal!” Pause. Repeat for next question.

Part of me is being facetious. Of course I’m not that disconnected from a real, normal daily life that I can no longer relate to or maintain normal conversations. But there’s another part of me that has become so comfortable, so familiar with the content and syntax of tri-talk that brief forays into the other world always demand some degree of work, focus, and forethought. In my mind, I press the clutch in shifting from 1st gear to 2nd, hoping to make a smooth and flawless transition without killing the engine along the way.

In some ways, being fluent in tri-talk is like speaking a different language, bilingual and fluent in tri fitness facts while also fluent in the dialect daily life. Shifting gears between the two is not as easy as it looks and takes a certain amount of vigilance and conscientious attention. It’s like reminding yourself not to cuss at work. Sometimes you have to turn the censorship switch on and repeat to yourself “don’t say f*ck, don’t say f*ck, don’t say f*ck” and catch yourself slipping with a “freakin’” instead of “f*ckin” and thinking that was damn, I mean darn, close.

When I find myself in a room with those not entwined in the triathlon world, it’s the same sense of censorship as I tell myself “don’t say tempo run, don’t say tempo run, don’t say…...” Like a cuss word at work, it would be inappropriate, improper to pull out terminology from the tri-language and sneak it into casual conversation in the other normal non-tri person’s world.

And I’ve got to admit that it’s strange and foreign to sit in a room in that world where I could shout out DuraAce and not even get a second look. Or how about 100’s on the 1:30. Or muscle tension intervals. Or anatomical adaptation sets in the weight room. Plyometrics. Aero drinking system. Or any other phrase from a lingo that can roll of my tongue easily and mean so much in the company of some people and roll awkwardly without meaning in the company of others.

And like I said, switching gears like this, flipping the censorship switch is never easy. It’s always hard to get into gear and have a regular non-tri-related conversation. You have to remind yourself not to talk about any of the above mentioned tri topics for fear of being stared at blankly or being labeled an obsessive freak man trapping unsuspecting stander-bys with talk of something that has filled their passion to the point that they can no longer relate.

And I wonder if I seem the same way when other people talk to me. If they find themselves standing there, muttering in their mind “what the hell is an aero helmet and if I put one on right now would it make it seem like she stopped talking?” I wondered if my passion for tri talk had more than once alienated the innocent person I trapped in my conversation unaware of the blank look that settled onto their face after I began rambling about races or training, nutrition, or recovery. I wonder if they have conversation cards with the number 3 in the corner for use in conversations with tri-friends only.

But it’s all talk and topic for good conversation. And talk should be just that – talk, about whatever you are most comfortable or familiar with – and whether it’s shoe shopping, or pets, or your kids, it’s all fair game. And all worthy of talk. And that’s the great thing about friends – you really don’t need those conversation cards. You can get away with talking about it whether or not someone else relates or has no idea what a chassis or aero helmet is at all.

Yet I’ve got to admit that it always feels comfortable to be back around those that are tri-inclined and just as submersed in the tri world as you are. Saturday morning after the wine party, I woke up to go to master’s swim practice. I shared a lane with Susan, my IM friend, and it felt good to be around someone familiar in the tri language that I now speak so well. There were no answers to rehearse, no words to censor, and nothing but the easy exchange of terms and phrases that we would both understand. And when we got to a set of 4 x 50 back, I paused at the wall and said, “Want to go on the 1:00 or 1:05?” She responded quickly with “the minute” and I thought to myself – that’s what I’m talking about, that’s the start of a conversation with no card necessary. That’s how it feels when you do something so much, or spend so much time at it, you start to speak it to the extent that it becomes part of your language and tongue. And when I can ask if someone wants to go on the minute and they get what I mean, why that feels as comfortable as being at home.

That’s when it occurred to me that I better keep some conversation cards on file, in a box, in the back of my mind. Because although it’s still November, it won’t be long before I’m so far back into the thick of tri things that I won’t be able to remember how to talk about anything other than heart rate, chammy butter, fuel belts or other tri-things that don’t make good conversation cards for those filed under “n” for normal, regular people not currently involved in the triathlon world.

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