Adult Small Talk

For someone who believes she has social skills but often proves otherwise, awkward interactions are common place. Misunderstandings, silences, oddly placed giggles, and the utilization of self-deprecating humor to make friends or meet new people are my specialty.

A few days ago, while piled in the back of a truck turned open-air mini bus on my way to an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand, I was confronted with a new challenge of social interaction: adult introductions. Next to me was a nurse, who was next to her husband who works in technology, who was across from my boyfriend–a teacher–who was next to me…who is a…well, “What do you do?”

“Oh, nothing.” I said, laughing, looking to my boyfriend for a sympathy chuckle. He gave me one, but I realized I hadn’t yet fulfilled the talking requirement of the exchange when I saw the expectant faces of the couple next to me.

“I mean, I well, I’m here visiting him, but I mean I do nothing.”

At this point I was concentrating more on not vomiting due to car sickness and not shitting my pants due to the fried chicken I had for breakfast than leaving a good impression.

“I don’t know what I’m doing. I have to, you know, figure that out–ha ha–you know what I mean.” I let my voice wander and met their uncomfortable glares.

And the interrogation was over, moving on to other small talk topics like how the couple was on their honeymoon and just came from Bangkok but didn’t love it and were hoping to find a snazzy restaurant tonight. Grasping the side of the truck, I felt like I hadn’t done a good enough job, so I picked up again without being asked, “I mean, I studied sociology in college, like I have interests. Ha ha. I just haven’t done anything yet.”

The next night, while lounging on a rooftop bar with my boyfriend, I let him be my life coach for a moment.

“Let’s try it again, Lily. What do you do?”

“Well,” I say, gathering my posture and gesturing with my gin and tonic. “I’m studying music.” I pause with punctuated confidence. “I enjoy singing and am actually, well, writing an album.”

“Lily stop” he said, cracking up. “You’re not being interviewed on Ellen, like chill out.” He pauses, “that’s also a straight up lie.”

It was. While I impulsively bought a cheap guitar the other day, and would love to write an album, I’ve been a beginner guitar player for years. I get discouraged and put the instrument down a lot.

“I’m very passionate about yoga,” I continue. “I’ve really been, uh, taking advantage of, how do you say, the abundant and bountiful yoga opportunities—”


“Hello there, I am a writer and have taken the time I have to myself here to really, well, progress as a writer so one day I reach my writing goals.”

“Just tell them what you’re doing. You’re visiting me. You just graduated. That’s enough as it is.”

Although it’s hard to take advice when you are an incredibly stubborn person and love being the person giving the advice, his words soothed me for a moment. “That’s enough as it is. It made me think… why was the response, “I’m a nurse” enough but “I just graduated” not? Why was the fact that I wasn’t yet an <insert profession here>  so embarrassing for me?

I tried again, “I just graduated from college and am visiting my boyfriend,” I said.

“And if they’re curious, they’ll ask you more questions and you can tell them what you’ve been up to then.”

What I am coming to realize is that this pressure to be something is stressful as fuck. But taking some time to travel and roam around is actually pretty healthy. I’m not unemployed, I saved up money and am traveling. I sit in dusty cafes and write down silly stories. I’m reading a book about Cambodia. I swear to Jesus I will wake up early and sometimes actually do. I’m a little lost but a little found. That’s totally okay.

But for the sake of social interactions, I’m a recent graduate, checking out the world. I should be able to say that with confidence. While I’m great at not taking my life too seriously, it’s important to know when I am putting myself down unnecessarily. To all the other confused ex-students out there, don’t sell yourself short! You are more than what you “are”. You are more than your job. Don’t sweat it, get it girl.


Day 29/30: 30 Days of Animals

Today marks 34 days after the first day of my 30 days of animals drawing challenge! Wait… 34 days? Let’s ~reflect~ on the failures and successes of the challenge…

FAILURE: I remember sitting in my room, laughing with my friend Gabe because the most productive thing I had done that day was draw a picture of a turtle and come to terms with the fact that not only am I roaming the earth as an unemployed, unskilled farm aid, but I failed my own drawing challenge.

“All I had to do was draw a friggin’ animal once a day for 30 days.” I said, cracking up.

“I can’t even do that.”

At this point in my life and in the lives of many of my peers, we are grappling with life after college… when suddenly we are free to do all the things we dreamed up doing when we were boggled down in homework and assignments… when suddenly we are expected to do something with our ~potential~.

As someone who just loves to come up with plans and struggles with following through with them, this is, well, a nightmarish time. What is my life purpose?!!!!

With hours of time spend weeding, putting honey in jars, shoveling hay, feeding sheep, selling cheese, making cheese, making yogurt, folding old rags, and petting dogs and donkeys, I have had more than enough time to try to answer that question.

I have no idea what my life purpose is.

But for the moment, I intend to challenge myself, to pick myself up when I fail, and to try again and again and again and again.

Despite the fact that I did not fulfill my 30 days of animal challenge as originally intended, I am happy I embarked on the challenge.

And here’s to believing that the next challenge is realized with no “buts” and “sorrys”!

SUCCESS: 30 drawings of animals completed! Some friends encouraged to draw! (Audrey Darnis, Christine Gros, and Gabe Levine-Drizin get 1 star for sending one drawing each! Mackenzie Bettmann and Jacob Wallace get 2 stars for sending me multiple drawings each!)

❤ Until the next challenge… xoxo

Shout out to Gabe for this drawing he completed on a rainy day in the South of France:


At the Dinner Table

The dinner table, at my third WWOOFing location, has assigned seats. Unofficially of course, but I sit across from Evelyn, the 64 year old woman who loves television and cross words, who sits adjacent to Antoni , the 26 year old Belgian with Jesus hair, who sits across from Gabe, my 22 year old boisterous American friend, who sits next to Dominique, the 64 year old bearded man with a slight lazy eye and round red cheeks. Dominique sits at the head of the table.

When communicating with Dominique over email, Gabe and I often referred to who we thought was a nice old lady as “warm” and “kind,” two adjectives that work just as well to describe the friendly giant. As a comedic parallel to what was sometimes a disastrous experience with my two other WWOOFing hosts, my new hosts are incredibly accommodating. Sometimes too accommodating– I inform them that I am going to town to buy some tooth paste and Dominique searches for 20 minutes in his bathroom for an extra tube of tooth paste, kind of accommodating, or I mention one time that I love the cake and now I’m gaining a pound a day in brioche and french yogurt cake, kind of accommodating. In conversation, unlike the first farm where I would often get lost, and then forgotten by the family who either did not choose to engage in small talk or would speak in the speed of hiccups, the dinner table is filled with digestible french. Or rather, the dinner table is filled with over the top, incredibly in-depth descriptions and explanations. 

In an average night, we will move from discussing the protests taking place in France against the current French President Macron to long-winded explanations on the necessity to not spread butter on a burn. Once gotten started, it’s hard to stop the explain-train. 

Dominique stands in front of the TV rolling up his sleeve to better explain the process of tending to a wound. Evelyn stands to his right, nodding where necessary and trying to get some words in.

“Il faut absolument pas mettre du beurre sur votre brûlure si vous êtes brûlé!” It is absolutely necessary to not put butter on your burn if you get burned! Dominique says, his eyes wide and his finger pointed to the ceiling.

“Surtout pas du beurre!” Surely not butter! Evelyn confirms, shaking her index finger.

“Parce que, si tu mets du beurre sur ton brûlure, tu commenceras à cuisiner toi-même et tu seras encore plus brûlé.” Because if you put butter on your burn you will begin to cook yourself and then you will be even more burned. Dominique continues, miming the act of applying a thick wad of butter to his “wound” and then miming that it is not good by making x’s with his arms.

Evelyn senses something has not been explained well enough, she begins again.

“Alors, si tu te brûle, il faut que tu te souviennes, souviennes, pas de beurre. Le beurre va commencer a cuir!” So, if you burn yourself, just remember, remember, no butter. The butter will continue to cook!

Dominique interjects, “il faut que tu mise ton peau brûlé dans un seau de l’eau avant d’appliquer n’importe quel type de substance de beurre.” You must put your burned skin in water before applying any kind of butter substance.

I look at Gabe who is covering his face. What is left to do? I’ve nodded as much as my neck will allow me to, and we all know that whenever I try to speak I get interrupted by someone.

“Oui, oui. D’accord. Ha ha, alors–” Yes, yes, okay. Ha ha, so– I try to speak, speeding up my words with hopes to finish my sentence. Evelyn interrupts, 

“Surtout pas du beurre. Pas du beurre. Si tu est brûlé.” 

“Oui. Pas du beurre. D’accord, je comprends.” Gabe says, gesturing with his arms the act of placing a piece of butter on his arm, then crossing his arms to signal it is not allowed. I search for the words and courage to say, I swear to god I will never let a piece of butter near my burnt arm if we could just start talking about something else!! But we are saved by a particularly loud advertisement on the forever burning television set. 

The screen is black, then flash! Flash! A piece of skin, a silhouette of a stick thin model, a man emerges from the darkness, they kiss, flash! Water! Flash! Sexy music. We all get quiet. 

“Ah! Il y a beaucoup de pubs pour les parfums!” Ah! There are a lot of advertisements for perfumes! Gabe says, successfully shifting the conversation topic and calming the nervous energy that often arrises when you witness a sex scene on TV with your grandparents (or in this case, your temporary French family).

When the ad finishes, we watch a fascinating progression of news. There are forest fires in California. A stuffed koala bear is traveling the globe. A Japanese man has married a famous virtual singer (virtual, aka, not a real human). After this news reel, a talk show begins. In a white room, seven people sit around on couches discussing different topics and responding to questions. The first question of the night, “Pouvez-vous hériter de prêts de votre figure parentale décédée?” Can you inherit loans from your deceased parental figure? We stare avidly at the television screen. 

Evelyn turns to me, “quand tu as dit que tu n’aimes pas le saumon, est-ce que c’est parce-que tu n’aime pas le goût ou tu n’aimes pas que c’est fumé?” When you said you did not like salmon, is it because you do not like the taste or you do not like that it’s smoked?

Gabe starts crying. This is only the fourth time that Evelyn has brought up this topic of conversation concerning my salmon allergy and he can’t handle it. I hand him a box of tissues and try not to start laughing as I try my best to communicate again that I am allergic to salmon.

“Non, non. Alors, je ne peut pas manger le salmon. Je suis allergique.” Non, non. So, I can not eat salmon. I am allergic. 

“Oui, mais est-ce que c’est le goût de saumon ou que c’est fumé? Je veut seulement être sûr.” Yes but is it the taste of salmon or that it’s smoked? I just want to make sure.

“Non, alors, si je mange le saumon, je vais commencer à mourir.” No, so if I eat salmon I will start to die. I mime choking noises, a struggle, and then death. 

“Oh, no! Surtout pas ici. Surtout pas.” Oh, no! Definitely not here. Definitely not.

The conversation feels settled, so I go back to my bread. To my left I see the cute adorable three-month old rat terrier puppy Augie, struggling to jump up onto my lap. As a dinner ritual, when I am done eating, I pick up the three month old puppy and give him some ham. 

“Mon dieu! Mais, c’est important de savoir, quoi!” My god! Well, it’s important to know, what! (Adding “quoi” to the end of your sentence, we have learned, is quite normal for most people living in this area). Gabe points to the television screen and reads the next question for discussion on.

“Pouvez-vous congeler du jambon tranché?” Can you freeze sliced ham?

On the TV, the seven show hosts are discussing this topic with sincere expressions. One woman comes in hot, giving a long-winded account of her perspective while holding a laminated photo of sliced ham. A screen next to her shows a larger photo of sliced ham.  A balding man wearing white gives his side of the argument. After a lengthy discussion, everyone seems to agree that you should only freeze sliced ham to preserve ham that is about to go bad, otherwise you should only refrigerate it.

Back at the dinner table, Dominique is trying to remember the name of an American film he likes. This family, or perhaps France in general, love American films, and television series, with appropriate dubbing of course. 

“C’est, le nom, c’est… Schwarzenegger! C’est quel film avec Schwarzenegger?” Dominique asks, rubbing his beard with his fingers and staring intensely into space, crinkling his right eye.

“Terminator?” Gabe asks. 

“Quoi?” Dominique responds, turning his attention to Gabe and shrinking his eyes more.

“Terminator?” Gabe repeats. 

“Non, non…” Dominique says, returning to his pensive position.

“Tairhmeenateaur?” I say with an exaggerated French accent.

“AH! Oui!! Terminateur!!!” Dominique says, opening his eyes wide and letting out a big smile. We have learned that American words such as “milk shake,” “Terminator,” “Burger King,” etc will not be understood with an American accent. And it works the other way too. Just the other day, I found myself confused during a conversation and turned to Gabe for help,

“bourgeois?” I asked.

To which he responded, “bourgeois.”

And I understood.