Thursday, March 12, 2015

February 8th, 2014

I tell you, life is loss. But what have I lost, that gives me the authority to declare it so? I live with more than sufficient material wealth, I have not known death in my immediate family, and I have yet to enter a romantic relationship serious enough to lament losing.

The greatest losses are still ahead. I have not known stormy sailing except by secondhand account.

That which I have lost, pains by virtue of it being lost, not by its worth alone. (If I had been born with clear vision, how much worse would it have been to become near-sighted?)

We can only truly know that which we have lost, for if it lies still in our grasp, it is still unfolding, and if it is still unfolding, we have not seen its entirety. Nostalgia is our attempt to do right by a memory that we jilted in the living of it.

Can I be nostalgic for my present?

(I am sitting in La Guardia Airport, Terminal C, waiting for a flight to Boston. I am tired, but open to new thoughts. I am procrastinating. I am excited for my future in graduate school, in science).

You will read this and know it better than I can know it.

--Derek Huang, 02/18/14

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Excerpts From Travel Journal

From February 4th to March 24th, I traveled via budget airlines and trains through Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Rome, Florence, Vienna, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Prague and Amsterdam. I saw other cities, mostly on day trips, but the ones I listed are where I stayed for at least a night.

It's been a while since I last posted, and I have reached that state of deep procrastination where I have convinced myself that the next post must be something big to make up for lost time, that it must relate everything that has happened in my life since September 2011. After a certain length of time, this self-assigned task becomes onerous; my mind shies away from it.

What I post now is from my travel journal.

Feb 15: Paris

Versailles. Such grandeur! A case study of how to take decoration to its extreme. But also serving a purpose: to impress subjects and visitors. Soft power in the age of kings. Question: why did it backfire?

Asian tourists are now richer than ever, but what a terrible brand of tourism!

Feb 17: Madrid Airport

Words fail me. Just images of Madrid: two old ladies speaking with R and eating chocolate churros, old men in leather, hideous prostitutes, gay waiter, bemused waitress with no English, epic views, sand, sun, blinding, garden, children, street performers in costume, huge legs of ham and a flamenco dancer, standing on his toes with arched back, drooping head and spread arms as if suspended.

Feb 24: Rome, MAXXI Museum

My body is changing. My face has grown darker and more gaunt.

White everywhere (here in MAXXI), the focus is on space and form. Similar to that suburban dystopia, but very different effect. If this place was dirty and stained, the starkness of design would amplify, not mitigate, its filth. Basic principle? Minimalist, abstract designs are heavily dependent on cleanliness, which implies either serene environment or diligent maintenance. If I am to develop a sense of style harmonious with my life, this is something to consider.

(The following is an excerpt from the annotations a physicist, John March Russell, made in an art book on display at MAXXI, Rome)

"I find it odd how we think of one object being older than another. Fundamentally all things are the same age--better, they have no age--it's only the rearrangement of something pre-existing that defines history and succession."

---

I am either lost or stuck in a rut. I prefer the former.

If there is something most American in me, it is that I hate to wait for waiters and barristas. Hurry up!

In the Italians I see Roman decadence but not Roman discipline.

Unspoken worry: I'll miss the "must-see's." What is a must-see? How many must-see's exist in the world? Is everyone who has not seen a certain # of must-see's somehow incomplete as a human?
Must see's are what a place is known for, but are they what truly reflect the essence of a place? And what do we define as Rome? We say we have been to Rome but we have only traced an infinitesimal path through a mostly 2D space enclosed in an area many people call Rome. Our infinitesimal path is expanded by the web of humans interacting with each other, through panoramas, culture, history and thought. Travel is not a spatiotemporal phenomenon only. It's a subjective act, like art, using the space of a place as its medium.

Feb 25: Rome, Trastevere

Italians less comfortable with prolonged eye contact than the French.

Balconies everywhere! Balconies facing balconies. High stakes game of catch possible. More space between buildings. Potted plants everywhere. Traveler as voyeur. I hate being in touristy areas because I feel like I'm being watched. Here, I feel like I vanish into the background.

(Now, sitting at Piazza Navona)

...for a moment, I imagined her by my side. All throughout my travels I've found places that were best experienced alone, and places that seemed designed to evoke loneliness in the lone.

One simple way to define good taste is: a resistance to gimmicks.

Most futile conversation topic for a group of tourists: where to eat.

Mar 4: Sienna

Just binged on gelato, pizza and pan forte. NEVER AGAIN. I feel awful.


Mar 6: Vienna

3 Euro coffee. I've not only crossed a geographic border into Austria, but also a socioeconomic one. Well dressed man smoking in this cafe, Lutz--is it cafe or cafeterria now? I'm all mixed up. I like this setting. Very warm, very modern. The key is lighting. No direct lighting; everything is either filtered by glass or scattered off of a white or brown surface.

This trip has ruined me. I've acquired a fondness for fine things. I have seen how good life can be when spent in idleness. I have realized how little I've seen, how much more the world can offer. I've experienced so many states of being that I hardly know who I am anymore, but at the same time, especially in recent days, my old preferences reassert themselves: reading, thinking, shyness. The core remains and perhaps is strengthened by being tested and probed on all sides, like skin that hardens after a blister.

Mar 10: Salzburg

Woman in white. Her auburn hair matches her bag and shoes.

Squat, fat man with a rough face. His cheeks and neck bulge out and fuse into one.

My sleep has not been restful. Damn hostel beds. Will take melatonin tonight.

March 11: Hallstatt

What does it say, that when I was for sure out of earshot of the nearest human, which had not occurred for as long as I remember, that the first thing I did was to cry, harder than I have my entire life?

(The following is an excerpt from an info sign in the old town)

"But why is it such Beauty is found only here, where there is hardly a stretch of flat land--apart from the Lahn--to be found? Where after an earthquake in 1808, even the alluvial soil of the Muehlbach sank into the water? Where in early winter the shadow of the Dachstein Massif lies over the valley and on certain days the sun disappears completely? Where one used to joke that there were only two forms of death here: drowning and being hit by a falling stone?"

How old am I?

Derek
Chronological age (from birth): 20
Bodily age: 30
Experiential age: 18
Temperamental age: 40
Preferred age of companion: 27
Intellectual age: 30
Educational age: 24
Social age: 12
Emotional age: 16

217/9 = 24.1

I am 24.1 years old.

March 14: Vienna

But in the end, not to take it so seriously. Careers are forged and fortunes are made out of our culture's insufficiency to deal with that uneasy feeling that things aren't as they should be. How much of my striving has been a liberation, and how much has simply been me being dragged ( mostly by myself) in chains?

Some places bloom for us, while others are unripe, waiting for us to reach a state of mind, a destination in our internal journey, before they show us their highest form.

Born simple, grow complicated, learn to be simple again. So a childish state is the goal, but a child is fragile, always vulnerable to any complicating factor that enters his life, whereas an old human has achieved stability. Unstable vs. Stable equilibrium and in the approx. 70 years between, a mess of chaos.

...

Americans are paradoxically more accepting of diversity and less at the same time. When I meet an American, he/she does not automatically assume I am foreign. He/she sees me as very much like him/her, assumes that we can talk freely and get along. So American friendliness and American tolerance go hand-in-hand. But it also makes Americans seem presumptious. To them one might say: "How dare you assume you know or even have a right to know who I am, which I share only with my true friends!" That is the German attitude. Which is not to say Germans are completely standoffish. It is only that they require either a process or a context (e.g. University) for another person to enter the Freundzone. Americans are also more insular and ignorant, so almost by default, they simply do not see the wide gulf between themselves and others. Here we see more paradoxes arise in their attitude towards other cultures. Tolerant of diversity, yes, but only of a kind of limited diversity that is essentially still American.

But I take for granted the privilege I've been given, to grow up Asian-American rather than Asian in Germany. For I am treated in America first as an American, with my differences "discovered" anew every time someone gets to know me. In Germany, I would always be viewed first as Asian, with my Germanness discovered instead.

It's in many ways easier not to be aware of racial issues, to suffer injustices unknowingly. Then it's like living with an ugly boil on one's nose, a fact of nature that one deals with. To be instead a member of the righteous minority is tiring. The entire world becomes a project, a cause, which one is either fighting for or neglecting.

...

(At Porgy and Bess, a jazz venue in Vienna)

The jazz crowd is younger, hipper than the opera crowd. They dress eccentrically, comfortably. Many of the women have short hair and many men, long hair. I could see them as college professors. The opera crowd I could see as diplomats, state officials. Deep rich red. Very strong, easy way to create sensuality and deep relaxation, but also all to easily slips into hellishness. Red is a strong, dangerous color.

When you're with company, the atmosphere of a place colors your conversation. When you're alone, it colors your thoughts.

March 17: Prague

An idea: take oft-repeated maxims that seem to contradict each other and show how they are particular ways of describing a deeper truth--that is, reconcile them.

Thoreau: travel at home; it's just as good
Travelers: there's nothing like traveling the world, makes you a better person

Disillusioned academics: Academia is awful, get out while you can
Everyone ever: Follow your passion!

City: Dressing well is important
Some people: Fashion is a waste of money and time

Perhaps what I'm looking for, the insight that will change me, is not a thought, idea, philosophy, feeling or action, but the absence of certain of the aforementioned. Then the idea is simplicity, but how? and what? or I look for just the right way to neutralize a toxic idea that has taken root.

(No more entries.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Heidelberger Herbst

Last Saturday I took part in Heidelberger Herbst, which is the fall festival and one of the biggest events Heidelberg hosts in the year. It was an all-day affair, starting with flea markets in the early morning and going until late night when most of the drunken revelers would migrate into the bars or clubs. I've found that I enjoy tourist activities more when I try to direct my experiences toward a couple overarching themes. In the Heidelberger Herbst, I strived to explore as many different places and events as I could, while paying special attention to music performances. 

Flea market in the basement of the theater building. The best deals were to be found in little nooks like this one, not the main streets.
By far the most interesting items on sale (for me) were the books. Even though my understanding of German wasn't good enough for me to really take advantage of these deals, I did find a couple interesting ones that I'll save as incentives for improving my reading skills: a book of poems by Derek Walcott, with English and German versions side-by-side, a little book on Physics, and a collection of fictional letters written by a Chinese Mandarin from the year 1000 AD who travels through time and finds himself in modern-day Munich (a reminder that no matter how much one feels like a fish-out-of-water, there is someone else who, in comparison, feels like a fish-flying-through-the-air-among-birds).
These guys are old school, just like the general atmosphere at Uni-Platz, where all the vendors are dressed in Medieval garb.

Yeah. 



There were probably about six different locations around the Altstadt in which music was constantly being performed throughout the afternoon and evening. Smaller acts in the streets varied from musicians jamming out on guitars to DJ's of both hip-hop and electronic styles.

Three different graffiti artists worked on each side of this billboard stand while skateboarders flipped tricks on the street nearby.
Up until the late afternoon, I was just an observer, making my circuit around the streets, ingesting, imbibing, listening and photographing like a true traveler-consumer. Then, at Friedrich-Ebert Platz I came across a DJ performing an interesting mix of songs, and I decided to dance along. A crowd started to gather around to watch me, and I realized that I had become part of the show, a notion further reinforced when the DJ himself approached me to offer a can of Red Bull, gratis. "Don't stop dancing!"

At one point during my dancing, a toddler who had been bouncing to the beat stepped forth from the crowd and gave me a curious look, but alas, he shortly ran back to mom and dad. Fortunately, there was another person who was willing to dance alongside me. Here's the video:


I'm a little embarrassed by this video because I misunderstood what the girl (Lorena) was saying. She complimented me on my dancing and said something about dancing together with me, while pointing to a group of people (cameraman included). I thought she was asking if I wanted to go along with a group of friends to dance somewhere else (maybe a club or something?) and asked her, "Where?" which must've sounded totally ridiculous but anyway, I'm really glad she kept insisting instead of giving up, and eventually we got around to a wonderful "duet."

Later that night I went to a concert and discovered that I had become a minor local celebrity of sorts. At the club entrance, the ticket seller recognized me immediately. "You danced wonderfully!" she said. "Thanks!" I replied, pulling out my wallet. "How much does a ticket cost?" She shook her head and waved me in. After a moment of confusion, I understood and said again, "Ah, thanks!"

At the concert, I met another student, Sven, who saw me dance earlier; we talked and introduced ourselves over the music and noise (which means talking loudly into the other person's ear and then tilting your head to hear what their response is, which is done out of necessity so often in clubs that it no longer seems weird, a fact which is pretty weird if you think about it.) We talked about the best places in Europe to travel to, and what living in Heidelberg is like. A couple hours into the concert, I had finally exhausted myself, and decided to return to my dorm.

So those were the highlights of my day at the Heidelberger Herbst. It was the first bona fide adventure I've had since arriving in Germany: great food, interesting music and new friends. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

First Experiences With German Bread


When I first bit into this loaf of bread, I wanted to cry. It was sour, a little sweet, and very bitter (not in the way that medicine is bitter, but rather more like coffee made from dark roast beans). The flavors seemed to morph--first bitter as I chew the crust, then sour near the center. The crust is hard and painful to chew but with a very satisfying graininess, and the center of the bread is soft enough for a baby's palette. I think to myself, "My god, how have I been missing out on this my whole life, why do Americans not demand their bakeries for bread with CHARACTER, bread that weighs like a brick and FIGHTS BACK against even the sharpest knife and conveys a taste that contains all the bitterness and joy of life itself? (Images come to mind of a Nietzschean Over-man standing on a cliff, watching his weaker brethren fall into the abyss below whilst he chews heroically on a loaf of bread. A tear trickles down his expressionless face.)" 

The picture you see above was taken 10 minutes ago. Right now I've eaten about half of the loaf, because I can't stand the thought of letting it sit and lose its freshness. Every waft of breadiness that I smell now is another miniscule fraction of the bread's vitality, lost forever. And another thought strikes me. I need to start using a bread knife! Ripping out chunks of bread entails digging my fingers into the exoskeletal crust and compressing the soft interior, thus ruining to an extent the wonderful contrast of texture that this bread offers.

Shockingly, I have no reason to believe that this loaf of bread is anything special. There seems to be a bakery in nearly every block near Bismarckplatz (the commercial hub of Heidelberg), all offering similar varieties of bread, baked fresh daily. I can already guess at what I will miss the most when I return to the States. Before I thought it would definitely be German beer, but the bread is now a contender, for sure.



Friday, September 2, 2011

So here I am--in Heidelberg, Germany--feeling simultaneously like a grown-up and a child, grown-up because I´ve never really lived by myself before (even in college I was just a two hour car drive away from my parents, whom I visited every few weeks), and also childlike because in this different culture, I find so many facets of daily life I take for granted are different, with the differences ranging from subtle to mind-blowing, e.g. my apartment door has a knob on the outside that will not turn, being solely designed for pulling and only coincidentally for confusing Americans. And the most important contributor to my childlike feeling is that the language is very new to me. When I was child (and still learning English as a second language), I would annoy my parents by reading signs aloud, wherever we went. This was especially amusing during car rides, where the frequency of passing signs allowed for continuous English practice. Now, over a decade later, I've found myself engaging in this practice again, though thankfully I've learned to keep most of the speaking in my head.

I've been asked whether I will write a travel blog. The answer is yes, in the sense that I will continue to update this blog with whatever is important to me at the moment, travel experiences included. But I find that I prefer to write about experiences only after they have been filtered by a period of contemplation and consolidation (I am not a live-by-the-senses person).

What am I to say about my first two days in Heidelberg? This place is a tourist stop, college town, bustling science center and historical landmark. I have listened to my housing advisor speak to me in German and English, stopping occasionally to speak with a colleague in Spanish. I have heard German spoken in a Chinese accent for the first time in my life (apparently there is a sizeable population of non-tourist Chinese here). I have sampled a Mexican restaurant's Tostada de Carne Asada, which would be more accurately described as a quasi-Turkish kebab. I have seen not a single bike rack; most riders are content to simply lock the back wheel to the frame, rendering the bike only marginally more difficult to steal. I wonder why Tucson bike thieves don't emigrate here en masse, but the higher cost of nearly everything is surely a deterrent.

I said that I'm not a live-by-the-senses person but that is partly a lie. This experience has happened to me before, when I was three years old, an age where no-one is cerebral as much as they are in-the-moment. At least I remember some moments, like when I fell mute and sat down utterly embarassed during a show-and-tell presentation, or when I learned the word "water" by noting that "wa" means "to dig" in Mandarin, as in: to dig a well. I wish I remembered more from that time, what it was like to be surrounded by a language I did not know, and a culture that was foreign to me.

When I was bidding farewell to my friends, almost every one of them said some variant of "enjoy yourself" or "have fun." I'm not saying that's bad, but why does our culture have such a limited view on the worth of experience? Goodbye, have an *enlightening* time! I wish you the very *strange and paradigm-shifting*! Hey there, what's up and do you use language mostly as a shared script or as a creative medium, and how do you switch between the two modes? What does it mean to be an adult, and is that something you truly want for yourself, or something you just have to accept when you blow out your *somewhat arbitrary number*th candle?

Bis sp├Ąter,

Derek

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Decision Fatigue and Daily Scheduling

Some recent psychological research indicates that making decisions causes us to feel mental fatigue, diminishing our ability to exert self-control. A NY Times article describes one study where researchers gave free products to college students. One group had to make a series of choices regarding the products: "Would they prefer a pen or a candle? A vanilla-scented candle or an almond-scented one? A candle or a T-shirt? A black T-shirt or a red T-shirt?" The other group was the control group, and were merely asked to evaluate these various products.

Then, after getting free stuff, they got to participate in a fun experiment:
Afterward, all the participants were given one of the classic tests of self-control: holding your hand in ice water for as long as you can. The impulse is to pull your hand out, so self-discipline is needed to keep the hand underwater. The deciders gave up much faster; they lasted 28 seconds, less than half the 67-second average of the nondeciders. Making all those choices had apparently sapped their willpower, and it wasn’t an isolated effect. It was confirmed in other experiments testing students after they went through exercises like choosing courses from the college catalog.
This is a significant effect, and it's especially applicable in my own case because I often find that the most unpleasant part of any productive session is the beginning. For example, when I sit down to write a paper, my mind is still on other things, I usually have no idea where to start and suddenly I might remember that I haven't checked Facebook in a while... But once I make it through that period, I'm in concentration mode. Then paper-writing can actually be enjoyable. This seems to be true for a lot of hard-but-rewarding activities. So the real enemy is that initial period where you really have to exert yourself to disregard distracting temptations and get to work. So a person who is able to exert self-control for 67 seconds is going to be much more effective than someone who can only exert self-control for 28 seconds.

The problem is that every day we are bombarded with choices. Every single moment of free-time is essentially a choice, unless you are already preoccupied with something so engrossing that you don't stop to think, "What could I be doing right now?" According to the decision fatigue hypothesis, these choices eventually deplete your store of self-control. People who are suddenly given great freedom (i.e. many decisions to make) may find themselves having problems with procrastination and lack of motivation.

When I entered college, it was not lost on me that suddenly I had more free time (compared to high school) but also more things to do. I think the single most important productivity tool I used was something I took from the Study Hacks blog, called Fixed-Schedule Productivity. The idea is simple: at the beginning of each day, you think about what you need to accomplish, and block out a schedule for yourself. I like to write it on a slip of paper to carry in my pocket throughout the day.

Here's a real example that I scrounged up, from my freshman year.

8 - Piano
9 - Class
12- Lunch
1 - Library: Physics PS, 5 problems
3 - English paper, Brainstorm
4 - Gym
6 - Dinner
7 - Read/Free Time
This may seem quite constraining, but the times were approximate, and the schedule itself was not set in stone. I could have decided, for example, that the English paper could wait, and that I wanted to watch a movie instead.

In the context of decision fatigue, this system is wonderful. It lends me the same amount of freedom that I would have in an unscheduled day (remember, the schedule's flexible) while vastly reducing the number of decisions that I have to make. Imagine if I went through the day, described above, without scheduling. I'd have to wake up, decide that I want to practice piano; then, after lunch, decide that I should probably get an early start on the Physics problem set; then, decide to work on the English paper, etc. Even if I heroically managed to get through all of those decisions, I'd probably be tempted somewhere along the way to waste time procrastinating. Then my block of free time might start at 8 or 9 rather than 7.

But, you ask, doesn't all the decision fatigue simply get collected into one dose at the beginning of the day? I haven't found that to be true. There seems to be an overhead cost in energy whenever I recall deadlines and tasks. Multiply that overhead by all the times I have to decide what to do next, and the result is exhaustion. With this system, I can sit in front of a calendar and get it done in one easy swoop. There's a certain joy in planning, like moving pieces on a chess board. And if you feel like you're in control, rather than the various deadlines that come and go, then deciding isn't such a chore after all.



Sunday, August 7, 2011

Conversations Worth Remembering

This past summer I will remember as the summer of conversations worth remembering. I have had many conversations with friends both old and new, in all sorts of settings, occasionally with a drink in hand (both of the energy boosting and the inhibition weakening varieties). Over time, I've found that I've become more aware of what separates a stimulating, thought-provoking conversation from a mundane one. I've also identified many of the skills that make for a better conversationalist, though until recently, I've not been aware of these skills at all.

I used to have a very pluralist, relativist view about a great many social norms, including conversations, i.e. some people just prefer small talk; who am I to say that deep conversations are better? Some people just prefer to socialize in large party situations; who am I to say that one-on-one talking--which I also prefer--is better?

But I think deep, memorable conversations are too rare, and will always be in short supply. For one, it seems that we rarely invest enough time or effort in friendships for them to develop to the point where we are familiar enough with each other's interests to guide the conversation accordingly. Without really knowing someone, it is very easy for one to talk too much about something that bores or offends the other; fearing this, they may err on the side of remaining too inhibited and cautious.

Yet familiarity also breeds, if not contempt, then at least, various pitfalls that can preclude deep conversations. Repeated conversations with a person creates a repertoire of "safe topics" that the conversation partners tend to return to. No doubt these topics can be quite interesting; however, they lack surprise. The other person stops being a source of wonderment and becomes more a source of validation, entertainment, information, etc. The conversation ceases to be an opportunity for two people to grow, and more like a transaction, or even a tedious obligation. Perhaps this is a result of familiarity that serial daters know all too well.

So a deep conversation is a bit like a flower that only grows in just the right conditions. One can try to encourage its growth without making a value judgment about its beauty relative to more common flowers. Surely we would not want to live in a world where the only way to socialize was through conversation, no matter how enjoyable they were, just as we would not want to live in a world where large parties are the only place to meet people. In this world where deep conversation is rare, we should aim to encourage its proliferation. And that is impossible to do without understanding at least some of the characteristics of deep conversation.

Most importantly, a deep conversation is ripe with relevance for both partners. In many of the memorable conversations I've had, there were many moments in which I, as the listener, would say to myself, "That reminds me of _______." If I then verbalized that thought, hopefully it would strike the other person as an interesting extension of what they were saying. More importantly, it demonstrates that I was truly listening. If, on the other hand, they viewed it as an unrelated tangent, they might become frustrated at not being truly listened to.

In a certain snippet of conversation, there may be many things that are evocative enough to provoke an enthusiastic response from the listener. I will call these "hooks." For example, in the second paragraph of this post, I say:
I used to have a very pluralist, relativist view about a great many social norms, including conversations, i.e. some people just prefer small talk; who am I to say that deep conversations are better? Some people just prefer to socialize in large party situations; who am I to say that one-on-one talking--which I also prefer--is better?
If I said this in a conversation, an interested listener would see at least one very compelling hook that allows them to enter with a valuable response. Perhaps they will latch onto the phrase "I used to have a very pluralist, relativist view." What caused you to change your mind? Or maybe they will challenge my position, or agree and provide an example from their own life. All of these are possibilities that may differ in their interestingness, but they are the fuel of good conversations.

I think it is useful to think in terms of conversations as a series of "hooks" that can be latched onto, because it enables you to be a better conversationalist. A listener who is actively digesting every word of every sentence is bound to find something interesting to expand upon.

"Hooks" can be thought of on multiple levels as well. A listener can ask about a single word, or a story, or the general theme of the entire conversation so far. One of my favorite things to do is to introduce a meta-conversation into the conversation. I can comment about how I feel when I'm talking to that person, or analyze both of our speaking patterns e.g. we are mirroring each other's gestures.

This can be quite uncomfortable for some people! Where it might satisfy my need to analyze everything, it might make them self-conscious. Some topics of conversation will never be interesting to some people, no matter how skilled the conversationalist is. In that sense, a rewarding conversation is partly a function of well-matched people, and partly a function of skill and effort.

But most people seem to think of conversations as solely a function of matching. If someone bores me, it must be because we don't share similar interests. It might not occur to me that I am a bad listener, that I can't recognize enough "hooks" in the conversation. Conversely, if I seem to be boring others, then they must not "get it." It usually does not occur to me that perhaps I should work on my story-telling, my jokes, or my delivery.

In the end, however, I think that the most important way we can cultivate deep conversation is to make it a priority. The excuse, "I haven't had the time" is often a way of saying "I haven't made it a priority." It is important, also, to recognize the difference between small talk and deep conversation. Even if we've talked with someone recently, it doesn't mean we've really connected with them on a meaningful level.