Vacation has a way of stretching out the mind. I’ve just spent the last week in a re-purposed Girl Scouts camp in central New Mexico. My household met up with most of my wife’s siblings and parents for 6 days of camping, and it was quite the bevy of cousins, uncles, in-laws and so on. JPW, my wife, brewed a 54-bottle batch of homemade root beer, which was not only delicious but perhaps mildly alcoholic, as I was pleased to hear from my mother-in-law, whose tongue never touches booze and seems well qualified to make that call.
The site was remote enough that my phone had apparently been discharged for several days before I wondered where it was. Obviously, there was no wi-fi for the bloggers among us on the mountain. Without the satellites and towers to keep me connected to this beloved digital world, and without my computer or studio to fill my days with habitual tasks, I had a lot of time to fill my lungs with piney air and reflect on the state of my life; and, while I could fill untold numbers of posts with these reflections, I’m going to exercise some discipline and tact and just share a little of what my idle mind turned up last week.
It’s been a few weeks since I dreamed up the Facelife project, and I’ve got to say I’m getting some cold feet. Maybe it’s like my granddad, Pappy, told me in the moments before I surprised my bride with a self-penned serenade on our wedding day, which is that the panic helps you to be alert and ready to perform well. Pappy spent decades in front of audiences, leading choirs and directing musicals in northeast Oklahoma, so I think he was no stranger to these jitters. When the Facelife endeavor starts, what I will be doing is something of a performance, as I approach the front door of stranger after stranger and try to introduce myself as a normal dude who’s trying to do something interesting in the neighborhood. What I fear is that, no matter how sincere and prepared I am, my neighbors will see me as too weird, possibly too threatening, for their taste, in which case I will transform from a benign, anonymous guy in the neighborhood into a definite weirdo who should be avoided.
The optimist in me says that many people will think what I’m doing is mildly interesting and then go back to their Vizios and forget about me. Then, the next largest group will like the idea of my knocking doors and introducing myself, busting down a little of the isolation we suburbanites often feel from each other. I hope to strike up some acquaintances and, if I’m lucky, maybe a decent friendship with members of this nice group, but I’m not planning on the latter; we’ll just see what happens. Then, finally, the smallest group will be the few whom I freak out by my forwardness. Like I said, I’m not planning on knocking the “No Soliciting” homes, but I must assume that eventually I’ll run into a feisty, proprietary libertarian who will brandish me off her land.
I’m considering saying something like this:
Hi. My name’s Jim. I live here in the neighborhood, a couple streets over. (I’ll offer my hand if they come out to greet me.) I’m trying to meet everyone in the neighborhood. (And if they don’t have anything to say at this point, or if no turn of conversation presents itself, I’ll say:) I’m writing a blog about the experience of meeting all of my neighbors, and I’d like to invite you to read it sometime. (Leave card with info. And if I feel the conversation needs to end, I’ll bid them good evening:) Have a good evening. I’ll see you around.
If you have any ideas for improving this pitch, bring them on. Pretend I just knocked on your door and gave you this introduction. Are you annoyed? Alarmed? Pleased?
If you’re looking for longer conversations, you might want to make it about them. Ask them what they think is great about our neighborhood. People like to talk about themselves as long as they don’t think you are prying, and asking about the neighborhood might be a good opening. Also, I would knock on the no soliciting doors if it were me–you aren’t soliciting, you’re meeting people. Skip the no trespassing houses, though, especially if there is something about shooting trespassers.
I like that casual, conversational approach, Vlad. Maybe I’ll save the card/brochure just for regular houses, and not offer any printed material to the no soliciting folks. That way I’m not asking them to take anything from me, and my conscience is clear. I’ve also read to take “Beware of Dogs” signs seriously. If nothing else, this experience should provide for some good blog copy.
Good comments and recommendations, Vlad. People are usually quick to talk about themselves, and in general, are suspicious and reserved when someone shows up at their house “for no apparent reason”.
Yo Xav. You’re right–I’ve got to make sure that I state my intentions right away. I’ve been thinking of bringing the kids along with me, so I seem a little more normal, too. The youngsters have been known to lubricate social situations pretty effectively!