Talking to Strangers: Eugenio and Grace

Where I see boundaries, you see opportunities. – Steve, to me

On Monday Steve and I stumbled into a conversation that surfaced this difference between us in how we think about communicating with people. I’ve been reflecting on it all week and considering how it affects my interviewing practice. Mostly I have been paying more attention to how I am thinking during conversations and what kinds of opportunities I am seeing and looking for. Hot on the heels of Steve’s post with tips to improve interviewing skills, I hoped to surface a new point or two.

Yesterday morning I was walking a trail along the ocean. I heard a woman remark to the man next to her, “Well that was very creative of you!” I tried to keep walking, honestly I did. But I love creativity almost as much as I love talking to strangers so I had to backtrack- two loves in one conversation was irresistible! “Excuse me. Hi, I’m so sorry to interrupt you, but I overheard you say something about him being creative and I’m so curious! What creative thing was he doing?” So began my 20-minute interlude with Grace and her husband Eugenio (as Grace explained, “It’s pronounced ay-you-HEN-ee-oh”).

He is an artist, a painter. “I prefer mostly abstract and figurative painting. But you have to find your own voice-You can’t do too much school. I did some school when I was younger, in Mexico City. But if you are in school too long you become a mannerist. It just gets harder to find your own voice and be honest with it.” He told me about Joseph Beuys and Hockney (who Eugenio insists is overrated). We shared our mutual love of making art in and with nature. “You haven’t seen The Crack by Goldsworthy yet? Oh, you have to take your son to see it.”

Grace is the mother of a 43 year-old and retired from some job that required her to sit in front of a computer all day. “I already spent a lot of my life in front of a screen. I don’t want to do that anymore.” They don’t have email addresses and don’t bother with the Internet. They do walk by the ocean everyday, each one carrying a soft ball to squeeze. Grace has a red ball she kept turning in her gloved hands. Eugenio’s is a faded dark turquoise-y blue. “The hands of an artist require dexterity” he told me, fingers flexing. They laughed when I pulled out my iPhone to take notes so I would remember the names, the words, etc. and agreed that I could take their picture for this story but didn’t care to see it.

At some point early in our chat I became aware that I wanted to blog about my encounter with this couple. This awareness immediately transformed my thinking. I found myself struggling to just listen to their words once I started searching for a story I could later write. I prefer listening to, over listening for when I meet new people. It feels more organic, more natural. It also feels hard to stay present when my mind wants to narrate.

Thanks to a conversation with Steve, I got curious about the art of inquiry and how we have different perceptions of conversational openings. Thanks to Eugenio (and my love of talking to strangers) I got curious about the local work of an artist I admire for his love of the ephemeral. People (and conversations with them) are fleeting opportunities to pique curiosity and learn something new. I guess if any tip emerged from this interaction it would simply be to stay curious. And look for learning.

And that’s what art’s about, isn’t it? … It makes you see things in a different way than you would normally. – Andy Goldsworthy


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