Reflecties Distant Thoughts

15th of June 2021, Distant Thoughts | Mauro

This interview conversation took place on the 15th of June 2021. We talked about Distant Thoughts, a telephone conversation for two people who do not know each other. They follow a script in which some of the text is predetermined but there is also space for personal stories and conversation. This is an unusual encounter between strangers.

I was wondering if you were expecting anything beforehand? Going into it, what it would be like to talk to a stranger on the phone this way?

Yes. Let’s see. What were my feelings? Because it was the first time I ever did this. Yes, that’s… I think I had high expectations because, well it could be anyone from anywhere literally, so…

And was that scary to you? Or really nice?

The first one definitely more on the scary side. Yes. The second time it was more okay. It was also curious the first time I received the call and on the second one I had to make it.

Ah, you had a different role the second time?

Yes, even though they are similar, there was this difference from the get go.

Did that change anything for you? That one time you had to start telling a story and the other time the other person had to start?

It did make a huge difference. On the first… so I had it in mind, like I am going to tell this story. So I had it ready. But I wasn’t sure I was… one problem for me – I kept feeling I was in the dark. So as I was telling it, I was not sure. I kept having these self-conscious things, like is he hearing it? And then I think I got – I may have asked for bits of confirmation. Like a bit of sound or something and then I could keep going. But I kept being a little embarrassed. I wasn’t sure, because I wasn’t seeing him, if I was talking to much about something and the other person was expecting me to perhaps make it… is missed this…

The body language? That you could see that?

Yes, so it was a bit confusing. But after half the story I felt comfortable and I understood, okay he is listening, that is good.

I like that idea that you are in the dark. I think that is really a beautiful way of putting it. Because it is really… when you only hear sounds, it’s really a different reality. Because then it doesn’t line up with what you see actually. So you have this experience of yourself in a room and then on the phone is a different world.

Yes, I felt a lot this in the dark feeling.

Yes… yes. I think for me, this in the dark – being in the dark was actually really nice, because I felt like I was only a voice to her, so I am not really a person. And there is something you can hide about yourself or something. Which I experienced actually really comfortable.

Yes, that makes sense. That is like when you hear – I feel this way when I am listening to podcasts or radio. Like, I have no idea what that person is or zero idea about anything.

***
Could you maybe say what it meant in this case to talk to a stranger? Because it was also set up, this conversation. So in a way it is a different kind of conversation than, I don’t know, talking to someone at the supermarket that you don’t know. Because it is supposed to happen. Do you understand what I mean?

Yes, it is not that spontaneous.

Yes. So how do you relate to that in this case?

Yes… I have a tendency to prefer the spontaneous one. Or maybe not prefer, but maybe to be better at it. And there is also the fact that it’s between – that there is the cell phone in between. Or maybe the computer. It represents a downside for me. I’m not sure why, if it is just me deciding to have a difficulty with this medium or if it is just because I resent it a bit. I have like three or four people that are real friends of mine and they are all far away, so the only way we talk is this palliative thing with the way we are talking right now. So we’re not exactly meeting and it is never the same. I really miss the thing we have which is just being in the same physical place or maybe walking together.

But do you think it is different, for example this Building Conversation piece where it is also a performance in a way?

Yes, it certainly… because in a way, in the best cases evenwhen we try to get the performance out of the way, we are still playing ourselves or something. But we still have the script… so it gets…

Yes, it is maybe something you can hide behind. That it is a performance, so you can hide behind that.

Yes, and it maybe brings back the question of are we not sometimes, in real life, doing that too?

Yes.

Like, we meet somebody in a store where we are shopping. And are we not sometimes performing a bit without the other people knowing? And are they not performing for us too?

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The above is an edited extract from the conversation. Curious about the entire interview? Read it here


4th of June 2021, Distant Thoughts | Emma

This interview took place on the 4th of June 2021. We talked about Distant Thoughts, a telephone conversation for two people who do not know each other. They follow a script in which some of the text is predetermined but there is also space for personal stories and conversation. This is an unusual encounter between strangers.

What was your role in this conversation? So, how do you relate to the conversation that you
had?

I felt like everything that happened in the conversation was meant to happen. And I strongly felt that I was at the right place when I was having the conversation. Like I was supposed to be talking to her and I was supposed to share my experiences and my stories with her and that – it is like something that might help me maybe to think more about talking to my friends and family. And that it would teach me something, maybe to listen more or maybe to talk more. […] So, it was also like stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit, but in a good way. I wasn’t pushed to do that. I voluntarily decided to do that. To do that for myself. […] So, I feel like it happened just the way it should have happened and I am really satisfied with the way the conversation went.

Can you maybe explain what you mean by that it was meant to be?

That might be kind of hard. But I kind of don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that everything in the world happens for a reason and that every person I meet or every comfortable or uncomfortable situation I am put into, I just should experience that, or I should meet a person, just to get something from that… And that is probably what I mean by saying it was meant to be or supposed to happen. Am I answering it correctly?

It really creates like magic around this encounter.

You know, when I have this belief, I really feel like I have a kind of control over my life or my life decisions and stuff like that. Because sometimes people can get really – not confident about their lives or their path of life – or how to say that. So, believing in the fact that things are supposed to happen and I am supposed to meet certain people, that kind of gives me a feeling of having control over my life is good for me.

But that is also a little contradictory, right? Because it is supposed to happen, so you don’t have control over it.

Yes!

But it gives you the feeling that you do.

Yes, exactly.

***
Okay, so, if we were to talk about responsibility in relation to this performance, can you relate that to each other? Do you feel like that there was a responsibility there, that that was part of this conversation? A certain sense of responsibility?

No, I felt like it was just a genuine conversation between two people who were just talking. Yes, I felt kind of awkward from time to time because of the script, because I actually wasn’t sure how much I should be following the script. But I didn’t feel any responsibility towards the other person when it comes to asking questions and stuff like that. Because I was really interested in her story, and when she was asking, she was really interested in mine. So I felt like it was just genuine.

And with genuine – that is really interesting that you say genuine because I think you mean
normal with that? Easy?

Yes.

Which is actually was not, of course, it was not a normal conversation.

Yes, exactly! It wasn’t. It was completely two strangers who never met, and probably will never meet in our live, but it just felt like talking to a person I know and who I am connected to on so many levels. So, yes, that just happened. It was so easy and so nice.

***

The above is an edited extract from the conversation. Curious about the entire interview? Read it here


24th of May 2021, Distant Thoughts | M.

This interview conversation took place on the 24th of May 2021. In this interview M. and I talked about both Distant Thoughts and Digital Silence. I asked M. if there was anything she would like to start with. We talked about Digital Silence at first, about how she was sick during it and the presence of a third space that was made up of sounds. But quickly she changed the conversation to Distant Thoughts, because she “…had a bad experience with it”. She said:

“Okay so, of course there are always hiccups and technical errors but my person didn’t call me. I got a call 45 minutes late – it was almost 10 pm – from someone else who didn’t follow the script. I found it really – what am I supposed to do? I really thought this other person was supposed to hold the container but they weren’t following the script. And I kept trying to bring it back to it. We kind of had a nice conversation a little bit but then she started saying some really whorephobic things – speaking badly about sex workers and basically saying – I mean they were her thoughts so I let them happen. She was talking about how she met a guy and how he admitted to paying for services from sex workers and she… She didn’t like that and had a lot to say about that. And I, I don’t know if you know, I’m a former sex worker and so that was really shitty to hear. It kind of ruined my week honestly.”

She proceeded to tell me that she thought this was maybe this persons second call of the night and that she was overall unsure of this persons position. She had the feeling that this person was maybe part of the performance – that the point of the conversation was to be bad: to not listen, to purposefully misinterpret things that were said, to say things that may be problematic. This also led M. to expect this person to be holding the space and the conversation. She said:

“I followed the script and I think she did at first – for like the first two lines and then I felt like she just wanted to chat. And then I was like ‘I think you are supposed to say this’ and I was trying to bring it back to the script. But I just remember it being this weird tug of war where she didn’t want to. And again, I thought maybe this is part of it, like maybe I am not supposed to follow the script. I don’t know.”

There is a specific kind of ownership that you can take over Distant Thoughts, because you can do what you are supposed to do or you cannot, and that distinction is very clear due to the script. But this is something that you do together, something you have to negotiate between the two of you. On this topic, M. expressed that in her conversation there was no place for that negotiation. That the person on the other end of the line decided and that she “couldn’t even tell if it was a conscious choice or if she just was not really sure what she was supposed to be doing.” We continued to talk about this – I could see that it really had been an unpleasant experience for M. The situation that is created in Distant Thoughts is open, to be filled by the people calling each other. But this openness can also become unpleasant, a little dangerous even. In the end, you are left with a script and a stranger and it can become more than an uncomfortable experience, which was the case for M.

“I felt like I couldn’t even think about what I actually wanted to talk about because I was so preoccupied with – I don’t know – like ‘where are we in the script’ and ‘okay, if this part is not going to happen then I’m just going to start telling my story’. But then I felt like my mind wasn’t on my story and actually sharing, it was more on if it is was going to be too much for this person, are they going to follow?

She then expressed that she thought this was experience may have been just a fluke. And that there was also a language barrier and that she also allowed this other person to take over the conversation in a way. This made us consider the power relation that may be established by the division of roles and that there might be a certain hierarchy: the one calling above the one being called. “I think I thought that it was on her to hold the space a bit more and to guide the conversation because she was the one calling.” This may also have been amplified by the fact that M. considered it a possibility that this person had a secret agenda, that it was not a stranger at all and that she was being tricked in a way, as part of the performance.

“I think if I knew the actual power dynamic I think I would have been much more comfortable with calling the person out on what they were saying. But I didn’t think that that was what our situation was I think that was the problem.”

***
The above is an edited extract from the conversation. Curious about the entire interview? Read it here


5th of May 2021, Distant Thoughts | Jolien 

This interview conversation took place on the 5th of May 2021. We talked about Distant Thoughts, a telephone conversation for two people who do not know each other. You follow a script in which some of the text is predetermined but most of the time you are left a lot of room for your own words and thoughts. This is an unusual encounter between strangers.

When you attended the performance what did you expect? I mean what were your feelings for attending this performance?

I was really nervous, and I don’t know why… well I know why, because of my personality, but there is nothing to be nervous about. I always get nervous when I talk to strangers. So, actually there is no need to be nervous, because there was a script, so I wouldn’t have to worry about what I would say or what I didn’t know what to say, because it was already in the script. But still, I was really nervous.

The unknown is nervous or more like suspense?

Yes, I think it is both. It is the suspense of not knowing what is going to happen at 7 o’clock.

Do you feel like an actual connection with the person you were talking to? I mean did you find common things, similar stories?

Yeah, we actually had very similar experiences that we shared. So, we were asked to talk about a memorable or inspiring encounter with a stranger, and we both talked about meeting someone while traveling. So, that was a coincidence, but it was actually really similar.

Did you think beforehand about how you wanted to express this specific encounter with the stranger? Or were you influenced by the story that the other person on the line told you first?

Both. When you receive the email before the performance you are asked to think about an encounter with a stranger, and I thought of a couple and didn’t really pick one and thought that this is the one that I am going to tell. A couple of experiences popped into my head, the one story that I was thinking about traveling was more personal, and I didn’t know if I wanted to tell that, because it was the first thing that popped into my head, when I read the assignment so to say. But then, I thought that was a little bit too much maybe. She shared a really personal experience, even more personal than mine, so then I chose to tell that one, the more personal one.

Did you expect that you would hear something personal from a stranger calling from the other line?

No, it really took me by surprise. I thought wow this is really intense.

What did you feel during the time she was telling this personal story of hers to you?

I actually felt really nice. It took away all of my nerves that I had because I felt immediately that this person really trusts me with this story. So, I really liked that she shared that with me.

So, you did feel that during that conversation you built an intimate relationship with each other, accentuated by the fact that you had similar experiences?

Yes… I actually didn’t think of this before. If I would have started first with an experience, then I would have shared something less personal, which maybe would have made her share something less personal too. And then, maybe that connection would not have been there.

Is there anything that you felt like wow this is really amazing and I would remember it? Something that stood out to you?

So, we both shared an experience about encountering strangers while traveling, so we both traveled through Asia for a period of time. And that was a coincidence, but immediately became a shared experience that was very similar. We talked about your attitude towards strangers when you are traveling. How you have a more open attitude towards meeting new people, because you feel alone, or really different from the people that are there. So, you are drawn into strangers that are also traveling, like local people also. And then we talked about that feeling that completely goes away the moment that you step off the plane, cause then you are just back home, and the attitude is gone. And I remember thinking that this attitude is there again now in this phone call. So, that was a thought that I thought about after the call also and is valuable to me.

It is really interesting that you said that this feeling, when you travel and meet up with strangers, came up again during the performance, the phone call. So, you felt liberated again during that phone call?
Yeah. And when you hang up the phone you have this strange feeling, like this bitter- sweet feeling that I know this person now, but at the same time I don’t know them. We had this really personal, intimate half an hour talk with each other, and then it is just gone forever. I don’t know what she even looks like. That also made it really special. This really bitter-sweet feeling is the right word to describe this.

Have your thoughts on how we communicate through telephone changed after your talk with this stranger?

I think my attitude towards talking to a stranger changed in a sense that I realize it is really easy to connect with someone if you open up. It is actually a shame if you are really guarded all the time, because then you block that connection from happening, you do not allow that connection to be created. This is really beautiful; I don’t know if I am going to apply it in my real life…

So, you would say that overall, you didn’t expect your experience to become from the awkwardness and anxious feeling at the start to be reversed at the end?

No, definitely, because if it would have been up to me to begin, I would just call that person, follow the script and hang the phone up as quickly as possible.

What is your term for strangers now? Because we tend to believe that a stranger is someone that you meet in person by walking on the streets… but you can actually meet a stranger by a phone call. Does meeting a stranger or what a stranger is have changed for you based on that conversation that you had?

Yeah… maybe a stranger is someone that you still have the chance to meet or to know…

***
The above is an edited extract from the conversation. Curious about the entire interview? Read it here

“We had this really personal, intimate half an hour talk with each other, and then it is just gone forever. I don’t know what she even looks like. That also made it really special. This really bitter-sweet feeling is the right word to describe this.”
Jolien

“It was two strangers who never met, and probably we will never meet in our lives, but it just felt like talking to a person I know and who I am connected to on so many levels.”
Emma