The Conversation is Dangling

When it comes to writing, there are many ways to accomplish the purpose. Song writing is just one of them. This week, I’d to examine the depth of one song written by Paul Simon over a half century ago – The Dangling Conversation. It has since been recorded by other artists as well, but no one has ever touched on the brilliance of the original.

There is an art to writing poetry and lyrics, and Paul Simon has fine-tuned his ability into this song of sorrow and remorse. His use of figurative language stands with some of the greats.He paints with words a detailed picture of a failing relationship – no doubt something most of us can identify with. Somehow, the story takes on a life of its own in this, The Dangling Conversation.

It was during the folk-rock period of the late 60s and early 70s that Paul Simon, along with Art Garfunkel, rose to fame.

It was the release of The Graduate in 1967 that catapulted them to stardom. The movie contained the hits Mrs. Robinson, and Scarborough Fair/Canticle.

We remember songs like The Sounds of Silence, The Boxer, Bridge over Troubled Water, and others, but few have heard of The Dangling Conversation, much less paid attention to the message.

The story deals with the crumbling relationship between a couple, perhaps husband and wife. The hopes of early life have dwindled into the past and leaves in its place loneliness and regret.

Let’s analyze the lyrics to this classic.

It’s a still-life watercolor
As the sun shines through the curtain lace
And shadows wash the room
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference
Like shells upon the shore You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
The borders of our lives

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we’ve lost
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm
Couplets out of rhyme In syncopated time
And the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives

Yes, we speak of thing that matter
With words that must be said
Can analysis be worthwhile?
Is the theater really dead?
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow
I cannot feel your hand
You’re a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives ~Paul Simon (©1966 Paul Simon Music)

Simon mentions in the first verse that he is observing a still-life watercolor of late afternoon. His description of still-life is fitting as the relationship has come to a standstill. Watercolors in comparison to oils tend to run and fade. The couple’s lives has begun to run in different directions and hope fades into the late afternoon.

As the day is divided into three sections – morning, afternoon, and evening, we see that we are approaching the end of the day or the end of the relationship. The evening of their relationship has not fallen yet, but time is running out.

The sun which gives light is partially hidden behind a curtain – the end of the play, but yet the curtain hasn’t fallen yet. Shadows of past lives still linger hoping to salvage whatever might be left.

The couple still share a common habit – that of drinking coffee; we sit and drink OUR coffee. But yet they’re both couched in indifference. What could be a time of intimate communication is reduced to neither one caring to take a step toward healing.

They’re couched in their indifference like the shells of the seashore. One shell is completely oblivious to the others although they share common ground. Likewise, the two, although sharing the common ground of drinking a coffee, are not connected in any way.

Simon uses the line, “you can hear the ocean roar,” and fits it neatly between two statements. The shells are close enough to hear the ocean roar, but yet they are not in the waters that give life. On the other hand, you can hear the ocean roar in the dangling conversation that is marked by superficial sighs and seals off the borders that neither one can pass.

Verse Two

Again, reference is made to a shared interest – that of poetry. Poetry could have been a good connecting hobby for the couple, but even in their mutual interest of poetry they disagreed. She liked Emily Dickinson. He favored Robert Frost. Even though both poets were from New England, their lives were very different, just as the couple’s lives had become very different.

Simon uses the symbolism of the book marker to measure what was lost. The intimacy that both needed was sacrificed on the altar of self and independence. They themselves became a poorly written poem of life, not rhyming, and walking out of step with each other. To emphasize this point, Art Garfunkel sings the line in a syncopated rhythm on the recording. Their relationship has deteriorated to nothing more than dangling conversations and superficial sighs.

Verse Three

Now the sun of the late afternoon has disappeared. Evening is approaching. The end is near. She’s not there for him. He can only kiss her shadow. He cannot feel her hand as he once did. He must face what he knew all along. Their lives have been lost in the dangling conversation and superficial sighs. The borders of their lives have been set, and they can go no further - and neither shall we. Have a great new year. See you next week!


To Kill a Pastor

Well, it’s Wednesday again. The older I get, the faster time passes. Another year is about to end. Can you believe it? Since time is running out, let’s get to it.

Where do your ideas for stories come from? Last week we talked about you, the author, hidden in the characters you create. Let’s consider real life in a story line. I think I’ll title my next book, To Kill a Pastor. What I’m about to share is not fiction, but it certainly could create some fictional what ifs.

A year and a half ago, a man became unruly at our church and unfortunately had to be removed. That is never pleasant for me, but sometimes it is necessary. He stalked my family, and eventually we needed to get a restraining order against him.

During the past three weeks, he broke that order three times. He acted out (hopefully) for the last time this past Sunday.

In the middle of our church service at Lifegate, he attempted to enter the church toting two handguns calling for my death. The men of the church quickly secured the doors as I called 911. Within minutes, the police arrived, disarmed him, and arrested him.

To be honest, the situation angers me, but I also feel sorry for the man. There are mental issues that have never been dealt with. What makes the mind succumb to such unreasonable actions? What if he succeeded? What if, in the end, his own demons attacked him? What if this was only the beginning of a murderous rampage? What if? What if? What if?

Fortunately, nobody was injured or killed. Everything worked out, but the scenarios are practically endless. Take your life events. Dress them up in some fancy what if clothes and go for it.

I better get going. Next Wednesday will be here before we know it.


I Have No Idea

First things first – I apologize for not posting the last two weeks. Things at the church are terribly busy this time of year and will continue to be until after the holidays.

Second things second – weather report: typical Central Pennsylvania weather for late fall. Cold and damp.

Now – on to the good stuff, whatever that may be. Seriously, as I sit here at the keyboard, I have no idea what to write about. This is an exercise in complete pantzing, if you know what I mean. Let’s see where it leads.

Writing is giving imagination life. In fiction writing, w can imagine our own world, our own friends, our own agony, our own triumphs. It’s as easy as asking “what if?” I am sure that much fiction is based on actual life – the life of the author. I’m not talking memoir. I’m talking fiction. There is a little bit of us in every story. Even though we might mask the details, we know what’s behind the scene – a slice of real life.

Think about the theme, the character arc, the setting, certain scenes. We know you’re hiding somewhere in there. I wonder if you are the protagonist or the antagonist. Or maybe a character not in the spotlight. Maybe the story is set in your hometown, or maybe one of your characters actually represents a friend (or enemy) you had growing up. Maybe it’s a hate letter to your present employer that you’re not ready to deliver yet. We don’t know for sure, but we know you’re in there. So write away.

Another week is history. Where has the time gone? I have no idea. See you next time!