After a year in Cambridge, I have more or less perfected it. In fact, I think the past two weeks have been a crash course in perfecting the skill of the small talk. Meeting all these new people, most of whom I don't even see around much, 99% of whom I probably won't talk to again, and being put in these social situations in which conversations need to be had; and since they're rather facile situations, calling them 'conversations' may be overstating it a little bit. They are small talk. I ask questions about the other person's background, his/her country, what he/she is studying, his/her research; sometimes he/her asks me such questions too. Do they care about the answers? Do I care? Does it matter? The point is to keep talking, and if the small talk dries up, find a way to excuse yourself and join another group.
In all honesty, I find this completely exhausting. Tonight, I was tasked to organise some pre-formal activity with another PhD student, P, who is really nice. On the way back from an utterly unproductive day at the faculty, I stopped by Sainsbury's to buy some appetisers (some cheese and nuts). I texted P at maybe 5 asking if I could go to the pre-formal drinks in jeans, and he was like, 'What!? You're not going to formal?!'
I wasn't aware that I could book in because it's a family formal, i.e. a formal specifically for existing students who have a group of freshers to look after. I'm not a college parent and so I thought it wasn't open to me. P tried to get me to speak to the Buttery, ask for an extra space; and while I appreciated his effort, I couldn't really be arsed. I spent maybe 30-40 minutes at pre-formal; it started at 6.30pm, and I was late, and so I was there at 6.37pm. By the time I'd finished setting up the food, it was maybe 6.45pm.
I found myself checking my watch at 7.05pm and feeling rather dismayed that it wasn't time for people to leave yet.
When people finally left at 7.20pm, I felt a sense of relief, and I happily sat down on a couch, ate the cheese that I bought with leftover crackers from yesterday (really yummy stuff, by the way; Marks & Spencer is great) while finishing my wine. It was the happiest I felt throughout the whole event.
Of course, I do enjoy talking to people sometimes. I talked to this particular South African student who learned Mandarin for a couple of years and it was interesting hearing about it. But other times, the small talk is laborious and not very interesting. And there are also times when someone you met two weeks ago whom you thought was cool doesn't seem at all interested in anything that you have to say, and it's painfully obvious that he's making the effort to form words and sentences and directing them at you because you are next to him. It is thus unsurprising that he excuses himself shortly afterwards. (Perhaps this is the strongest testament to the fact that he's gay? Really hot, but gay.)
The bright side is, Freshers' Week is almost over. There will be less of these social events then, I hope. I am going to formal on Friday but that was mostly at Arthur's behest. I even dragged Raffael and his friend from Germany along because I did not want to deal with the double whammy of Dominic and Gross Guy + new girlfriend all by myself (maybe with Arthur as shield). I invited John and Raffael initially but John has to teach salsa. At least Raffael will be there!
There is something really elusive about the friendships that I have made here, especially in college. I think my closest friends right now are John and Raffael. I get along with a few people from college, but we don't hang out. I don't take the initiative and neither do they; and I definitely don't talk about anything personal with them. It feels like we all lead such separate lives even as we are literally living in close proximity to each other.
Or maybe it is simply I who is on the outside looking in.
It's not a problem though. I've always had a small group of close friends rather than a large group of good friends (or even large group of close friends, I guess). This is therefore unsurprising, and it doesn't bother me. It simply reinforces the preciousness of the meaningful friendships that I have made, both here and throughout my life. That's all.
On a lighter note, Monday afternoon was quite interesting. I did a video interview for QLTS School about my success at the QLTS assessments. The film guy came to the college to pick me up and we filmed it at a really nice house just outside of the city centre in a place whose name I presently can't recall. I was given 14 (13? 15? can't remember) questions to answer beforehand; I received these questions months ago, but in my typical fashion, I only came up with some answers the night before.
Anyway, I basically answered the questions while looking into the video camera. It was really fucking weird at first. I was all stiff and probably awkward. After a couple of questions, though, I relaxed a little, and the film guy told me to do the first few questions again because I was more relaxed and it made a huge difference.
Still, I think it's gonna turn out really awkward and I would prefer not to watch it. It's really hard saying more or less the same thing over and over; maybe it would've been easier if I'd memorised my answers, but I was kind of making things up on the spot, which was probably a stupid thing to do because I'm so bad at it. I also kept fubbing words, more than I usually do, collapsing discrete syllabi into one mumbled...sound.
But I did my best and the film guy (who actually does actual directing) was quite encouraging. I had a good time talking with the film guy actually. It was kind of making small talk which was necessary because it was just me and him for two hours, but it was interesting. I like movies and it was fun hearing about the film industry. So yeah, it was an interesting afternoon.
I didn't do it for nothing though. I am meant to receive 100 pounds in Amazon vouchers, I think. I'll email the relevant personnel soon and ask about this.
On an even lighter note, Matt asked how I was yesterday, and then he said that he'd been feeling sick for the past few days but he was better. Then he asked if I was off to a meeting, clearly noticing (in a factual manner) the corporate outfit that I had on for the video interview. There is a new guy at the cafe and the new guy made my coffee yesterday. I knew this because the latte art was non-existent and the coffee was too hot. Matt never made it too hot, and his art is always at least pretty.
Today, I had breakfast and coffee there after leaving the room at 8.50am to avoid running into the plumber. Matt made my coffee and I knew this because he did a version of the swan that I posted a few days ago. The lines were not as precise, but there was a heart in the place of the swan's head. He put down the coffee and I noticed it, and I said, 'Oh that's nice' at the same time he noticed my phone cover and said, 'That's a cool cover. Banksy.'
Then it got a bit awkward and he walked off. It was also too bloody early in the morning and I was not functioning at all.
Anyway, it was nice that he made me the swan again. I hope that the new guy's presence will not translate to Matt cutting back on his hours, selfish as this is. He is clearly very good at his job because he does these little things that make me feel special even if I am not, and for this reason, it makes going to Fitzbillies even more pleasant than it already is.
I'm going to read a new book and go to bed. I am never waking up so early again without morning exercise; it just doesn't work for me. I was just so incredibly unproductive that I feel like I wasted my day. Sigh.