3.14.2011

Cultivate an Air of Mystery Part II



Before this week's post begins, I would like to send my hope and prayers to the people of Japan. If you are looking for a way to help (and are in America) you can text REDCROSS to 90999 and $10 will automatically be donated from your phone bill and go towards the relief effort in Japan...

And now for this week's post...

In my ongoing quest to not tell every person I come in contact with my life story (i.e. cultivating an air of mystery), I have been doing a lot of experimenting. Every day is an opportunity to cultivate an air of mystery and for me it really does take daily practice. One must become comfortable with silence when amongst other people, and learn how to cope with it- in a way that is specific for you.

There is a neighbor of mine who is quite mysterious that travels a lot and is often out of town. He has his air of mystery mastered because whenever I see him he alludes to his travels but does not tell me what he does for a living (and, as the French do, I would never think to ask). But inevitably when he asks me how I am I say something lame and unmysterious and laugh shrilly. Not because I am interested in him particularly, but because this is what I do with everybody. It is a malady of mine.

So one day I decided to practice cultivating my air of mystery with my mysterious neighbor. I saw him while I was taking Gatsby out for his morning walk. I had the baby strapped to my chest in the Baby Bjorn, and Gatsby on his leash. It had been a particularly long night of not sleeping with the baby (teething) so I employed one of my techniques of ‘looking presentable always’ by putting a long coat over my pajamas. I must have looked silly because it was about 80 degrees outside and there I was in a winter coat complete with baby and dog- but never mind. At least I wasn’t in my pajamas.

This is how our conversation went:

“Hello,” said the mysterious neighbor (from here on out known as MN)
“Hello”, said I (from here on out known as DC for daily connoisseur)
MN: “How are you?”
DC: “I’m great, thank you. How are you?”
MN: “Life is treating me well. And you are you happy?”
DC: “Yes, very. I haven’t seen you recently, you must have been traveling”.
MN: “I have. Doing a lot of traveling and a lot of work”.
DC: “How wonderful. It was lovely to see you”.
MN: “And you”.
DC: “Good bye”.

Now keep in mind this conversation was peppered with looonnng pauses- which was excruciating for me. But I stuck with it and was rather pleased with the result. Nothing of substance was said, but in these particular circumstances, things of substance aren’t generally said anyway. I have a close circle of friends who know my life story and day to day occurrences, and with whom I can have substantial conversations with, but for relative strangers and passers-by (like my neighbor), I would like to remain mysterious.

That’s why this exercise was very important for me. Normally at the first sign of silence I would have laughed shrilly (i.e. uncomfortably) and said something to my neighbor about the weather or apologized for my appearance or made a joke about how the baby is teething and I am a zombie on 4 hours of sleep. But I just stayed with it. Good for me…

I would love to know… how is your air of mystery coming along?



The folded arm figures pictured above date back to 2,700 B.C. and are quite mysterious in their own right. Scholars have conjectured they could represent everything from concubines, to ritual dancers, to goddesses and symbols of fertility. They are featured at the Getty Villa in Malibu.

23 comments:

Julianne said...

This is a concept that I have mixed feelings about. I do not like it when in five minutes I hear a stranger's entire life story, bunions and all. But, I am also a caring a friendly person and I truly do care what is happening in other people's lives. I don't waht to come across as cold and uninterested in a person I am encountering. I do like the idea of an air of mystery, but in some ways I am not sure that behaving that way for me, would be artificial. I guess I strive for the happy medium.

Marguerite said...

I am an outgoing person as a result of numerous moves over a lifetime, especially growing up. I believe it was a survival skill. Girls and women were taught to be sociable, to put others at ease and be mannerly. I would find this a hard habit to break completely. I may try your experiment, Jennifer. Probably would work best on someone you don't already know. Otherwise, one could come across as moody!

Merveilleux said...

I do this generally with people I don't know (nosy store clerks, neighbors). With acquaintances, I usually keep my responses shorter and ask them questions so they can talk about themselves. Let's face it, most people in Southern CA like talking about themselves. When I walk away I get a kick out of it, wondering if they thought they only talked about themselves and didn't ask me enough questions. Little do they know it was all planned. :P

yoga teacher said...

I have a hard time with this one, too. From both ends. I talk for 10 hour-long group classes every week. It's my job to share my stories and experiences and how yoga influences them. When there are 40 other people in the room, it's a monologue, not a conversation, and when I get going, it's hard to remember where the line is between private and public. I have close relationships with my private clients, and the line can be a little looser, but it's still there. Your post has inspired me to give some advance thought to where those lines should be instead of tripping over them. And, on the other end, I do care about peoples' lives, but, I'm a yoga teacher, not a therapist. I can't believe what some people tell me!

Marie Pilgrim said...

I like the idea of cultivating an air of mystery. I picture myself cultivating this air while wearing a black trench coat, dark sunglasses, and stalking around a lonely moor. However, in reality, I cultivate it while wearing a charcoal grey wool cropped pea coat, dark sunglasses, and stalking around a lonely school playground (which I cross many times a day, as I pick up my students for speech therapy). Unfortunately, according to a close colleague, this does not read "air of mystery" as much as it does "cold and impersonal." Ah, well; I'm working on it.

leslie said...

well done!

Beth - In My World... said...

I am a work in progress...or maybe progress is being a little generous. I am really trying! I am on a quest to bring discretion back to the masses; there is WAY too much information (TMI) in our society. Sadly, when I tried to create an air of mystery, a co-worker accused me of being pretentious! I have never been called this in my life! I just chose not to participate in the TMI conversation...sheesh.

Jennifer said...

I am horrible at the air of mystery.Its so much easier talking to people online w/o blowing it because I can calculate each word I type, but in person, I get very nervous in front of people and then I ramble and end up saying something stupid or embarassing or both haha, I think the air of mystery is easy when we can relax and be calm.

Ms. M said...

What you described is the way I am normally. I never thought of it as mysterious! :)

Some people do interpret my behavior as cold and impersonal. Others appreciate the fact that I'm a "no-drama" type of person. Since I also feel more at ease with "no-drama" people, it works for me.

But it is interesting to read about how others feel expected to chat, more than others do.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I am not at all mysterious but will try to employ some aura of it whenever possible!

Your outfit does conjure up an air of mystery...

jennifer said...

I find this to be very hard to do in our culture and yet my French friends are so subtle about it. I feel sometimes resentment when I don't share personal details. I keep working at it and hope someday I am more mysterious..

Penelope Bianchi said...

I can only say........if one "wants" or "tries" to be mysterious.........it is just another "affectation" and false pretense. Don't.

I have found joy in my long life by being myself.....I went through (or my mother did) very difficult times......(schools......many......"not asked back") but forging ahead.......I think what saved me......is I never ever pretended to be something I am not. "an air of mystery" in my case would have been an enormous fake thing! I never knew how to be anyone but myself.......never.

I am blessed beyond.....and happily married for 33 years......to my husband......to whom I was my real self from day one..........we are soul-mates . and he is the "love of my life"!

My suggestion would be.......be yourself.....who knows who else you could try to be? Stick with your self.

I feel really sorry for people who try to be other than who they are. And I don't understand it at all.

Denise said...

I agree with what some of the other commenters have said about being yourself, but on the other hand, I'm often annoyed by hearing every gory detail of strangers' and acquaintances' personal lives. For close friends and family, of course, I don't mind that.

Blah, blah, blah...hearing every detail in a loud cell phone or face-to-face conversation at the next table in a coffee house drives me bonkers.

On the other hand, sometimes I find myself making excuses for the way I look, what I'm eating, etc. I'm trying harder not to do that - no excuses, no explanations

LunaStitches said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Daily Connoisseur said...

Hello everyone- Thank you for your comments and input on this very polarizing topic! So… let’s get into it.

I completely understand where some of you are coming from with regards to not wanting to come off as cold, impersonal and uncaring. Believe me- that is the last thing I want to come off as either! I pride myself on being a warm, friendly and positive person so that is not where I was going with this experiment. I just think (and I know many of you agree) that most of us suffer from TMI (too much information) syndrome… I believe that the words that come out of our mouths should strive to be quality (and I’m going to do a future post on that very topic). Talking expends a lot of energy and if you tell every person you have a conversation with each day too much information, you are expending a lot of unnecessary energy (In my opinion).

When I was speaking with my neighbor, I was genuinely interested in how he was. This can still be achieved without telling him too much information about myself. Did he need to know that I was wearing my pajamas under my coat? That I had been up for two hours between midnight and 2am with my baby and that I wished I had been able to sleep a little longer but I couldn’t because I needed to go to the grocery store as we were out of fruit? No, he probably could do without all of that information ☺ And that is probably what I would have told him had I not partaken of this experiment.

I also believe that if you have the desire to cultivate an air of mystery that you are still able to be yourself… much like Penelope said- an affectation is not good. I am not suggesting any sort of affectation- just to guard your words more carefully and to be OK with silence if you encounter it in a conversation with someone else.

People had a lot to say about this topic so I will explore it more in the future (and I’m also writing a chapter on it in my book!) Thank you again for your input- let’s keep the dialogue going! xx

Fiona said...

Thank you for this reminder, J. I blab out too much as well. I don't think it is a matter of trying to be something you are not, or being cold and impersonal. 'Thinking before speaking', perhaps is a good description.

You can be warm and friendly and completely yourself without boring your conversation partner with unnecessary detritus just because it happens to float by in your mind.

Jean said...

I have been struggling with this as well. TMI is so much a part of our culture now, and when you don't share you can be looked down on. At work, so many topics that shouldn't be there are shared, and I have been trying to participate less in these conversations, they can end up being very comfrontational at times. We have a woman who thinks her way is the right way. This post reminds me to keep working at it.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Jean you are not alone- a lot of other people have commented that they go through the same struggle in the work place- Marie Pilgrim, Beth and yoga teacher have expressed the same concerns!

Hmmm... I might work on a future post to address the issue of TMI in the workplace and how to deal when you don't wish to participate in the conversation xx

Tabitha said...

Oh how much would I love to live between Santa Monica and London. You are living my dream.

lady jicky said...

This is something I need to do for I will blab on about my business in those breaks and the others do not! I then regret it and wish I just shut my mouth.
Why is it that we hate that "dead air" - I am going to try to get over it! Mystery is good for you!

LuxeBytes said...

I think it really does come down to thinking before speaking. Just a new habit to create, that's all!

I am a very private person, except with friends (and I mean close friends) and family. I'm very friendly at work and toward acquaintances, but if I'm ever having a personal problem, they'd be the last people to know about it.

Debra Ollivier talks about what subjects are good for public consumption versus close friends in "Entre Nous." It's a very good list to keep in mind.

Lisa D. said...

I enjoyed this post about your exchange with your neighbor. =)

I'm not sure if I cultivate an air of mystery or not. I like to think I'm pretty funny, so I have noticed that in trying to make people laugh that I often over-share. Sometimes that makes me feel a little silly, but I can that I'll probably never be very mysterious if I can make people smile. =)

I do think mysteriousness is a beautiful characteristic though, and I love your posts about cultivating an air of mystery. Perfecting a balance of mystery and humor is definitely something I could strive for in my 30s (which start in approximately 16 days...)!

thebeautyphilosopher.com said...

LOL this post is so cute! I love the idea of actively cultivating and practicing an air of mystery.

 
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