Fortnightly Flotsam: Small Talk, Cheerfulness, Illegal Vodka, the Paragraph, Michoacan

Eric Scheske
5 min readJul 27, 2022
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

“I liked small talk, so I was a wretched sinner.”

That, anyway, is how I interpreted an early chunk of St. Theresa Avila’s Autobiography. I’ve long had an aversion to small talk, unless I’m drinking. Older people were constantly interrupting me with small talk. I remember waiting for my wheels to get rotated, the dialogues of Plato in my hand (pretentiousness, I’ve never lacked) and a guy came into the repair waiting room, grabbed a cup of coffee, and said, “If it’s free, might as well take some.” It was immediately understood that I was supposed to chit chat for the next 20 minutes. As a young father with zero free time, it was a major annoyance.

I’ve mellowed over the years. I no longer consider small talk the province of borderline morons who want to impose their lack of inner direction on the innocent. I sometimes do, sure, and I still have a long introverted streak that makes small talk as welcomed as Gavin McGinnes in Portland, but I’ve also come to respect small talk as a type of art, which is also the conclusion Joseph Epstein reaches in this 2004 Forbes essay, which, like many Epstein essays, has aged well.

Gimme Some Cheer

The dour impression left by the spiritual masters notwithstanding, they all seem fairly uniform in their opinion that cheerfulness is a virtue. At least the modern spiritual masters. Joy was melded to Chesterton’s persona like melted wax on a candlestick base. A quiet cheerfulness pervaded Therese Lisieux’s Little Way. Mother Teresa made it a staple of her thought and advice. I can’t say I’ve seen many (any?) references to it in, say, The Philokalia or the writings of the Desert Fathers, and the great St. Jerome was a notorious curmudgeon.

But the last of the Church Fathers, John Damascene, identified cheerfulness as one of the soul’s virtues and joy clearly has had a spot in the Christian tradition from Day One: the Resurrection, meriting its own chapter in Mike Aquilina’s splendid little book.

Eric Scheske

Former editor of Gilbert Mag and columnist for NC Register. Freelance for many print pubs. Publishes here every Monday, plus. Paid Medium Member.