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An unlikely conversation starter

It’s been a year now. Our family doesn’t have much left to say and there is a pretty juicy solution …

Once upon a time, my family went out into the world daily collecting stories and observations and returning to our dining table to share. The candles burned deep in their glass holders; empty stew bowls, and later empty ice cream bowls, were pushed aside; and we sat together and talked about physical experiments and music samples, friendship and work and political advertising and volunteering. We warmed up and gossiped, angry and argued and laughed, until someone inevitably looked at the time and said, “Shit.”

Now nobody is born and there is – and this is a polite way of putting it – less to discuss. My husband, a massage therapist, hasn’t worked in over a year. Our 18-year-old, whom we would normally only just see, is always at home – and the only question that is more subdued than “How was school?”. It turns out, “How was school?” when school is the same place as home. And as for my own day, let’s see: I worked alone. I was in a Zoom meeting where, despite all the usual pantomime advice on how to unmute, someone was unable to unmute themselves. I collected all the dirty cups and glasses. I brought a meal to the hospice but was not allowed in. I collected all dirty cups and glasses again (WTAF?). I was jogging with a friend but for some reason related to the way my glasses fog up over my mask I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I was in a Zoom meeting where someone’s cat snuck up on their desk and bit off a leaf from a jade plant. That last thing is actually good enough to share, and so am I. Then we talk about the amazing television we’ve seen – Lupine, Killing Eve, Ted Lasso – even though we watch these shows together. “Wasn’t that scene great?” we remember even though it was only last night and we were all there.

To be very clear: I realize that boring conversations are a kind of luxury. We are housed and healthy and are often not afraid. And we also talk about the news, about the world, about the relentless persistence of racism and inequality. But our thoughts and opinions are a bit stale. We are a little boring to ourselves and each other.

Yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we are still in the tunnel and there is only so much you can say about the light.

Are you ready for the news to use? Here it is: Whenever someone goes shopping or ordering groceries online, I say, “Oh, and get some social fruit.” This means something special and divisible – a pomegranate, a grapefruit, a regular grapefruit, or even one of those huge four-dollars -Mandarins advertised on the back of the New Yorker (which might make you feel like a parody of yourself in a mash-up of Candid Camera and Portlandia). Whatever the fruit, we peel and distribute it and it is delicious, but also – in a good way – involved and involving. We put on Alicia Keys or Stevie Wonder or John Coltrane and pull glittering pomegranate jewels from their spongy white rinds; we peel plastic membranes from citrus fruits and pop the little sacs of juice on our tongues; We eat in companionable silence, idly chat about this fruit or fruit in general, sing along to the music or share deeply about our hopes and dreams. (If your teen has ever freely confided in you while you were husking corn, you will recognize this final phenomenon.)

Social fruits tend to be more expensive than regular fruits, but consider them an investment as you get a complete experience. And that experience is shared juiciness. It’s a refreshing togetherness. It’s a delicious burst of something that is not your own self – and the hope that more is to come.

Catherine Newman is the author of How to Be a Person. She also wrote 21 completely subjective rules for raising teenagers.

PS Five ingredient family dinner and our favorite TV shows.

(By Guille Faingold / Stocky.)

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