…to a dinner party, who would you choose?
Have you ever been asked this question? It’s one of those “getting to know you” icebreaker questions that gets trotted out in interviews, conferences, and other places people gather and try to find something interesting to talk about. I’ve been asked more times than I care to count. For most people, it’s an interesting cerebral exercise. For me, it’s a nightmare. This question fills me with the same kind of dread I’d normally save for those times I’m standing on stage about to play my rock band’s latest hit and I realise I’ve forgotten how to play the guitar… and I’m not wearing pants.
Why? I hear you ask. Let me explain.
My first thought on being asked this question is, of course: Why would anyone want to invite a dead person to their dinner party?
My second thought is: Who in the world would I invite? And what would I say to them?
I’ve taken a bit of a poll and discovered that 87.4% of people (approximately), when faced with this question, include Nelson Mandela as one of their guests. Great. Inspirational man, yadda yadda yadda. But… what do you say to him? I mean, seriously? Picture the scene. Nelson Mandela is sitting across the table from you, nibbling on a piece of garlic bread, and you say:
a) So… how’s freedom working out for you?
b) Hey, have you ever been big game hunting?
c) Hows about that local sporting team?
Alright, maybe you’re more eloquent than me. I’m prepared to accept that. But… Nelson Mandela?
I’m pretty sure the only thing I have in common with him is a goodly portion of DNA. If I was going to have a dinner party with three other people, I’d want them to be people I had something in common with. People I could relate to. People I admire and respect, but…
What if I invite someone I admire, and he/she turns out to be a terrible conversationalist? Or, even worse, what if I’m a terrible conversationalist?
Thanks so much for coming to my dinner party. I’m really pleased to meet you. We have a lot in common. I mean, I’m a writer, and you’re all writers. Ms Rowling, you’re amazing. And your writing is– and you’re– I think– How awesome is that we’re both named Jo? *crickets chirp* And, Mr King, I’m such a big fan. Like, really big. I haven’t actually read any of your books, but I really respect the way that you just keep writing them, and… and… I want to be just like you. *silence* And, Mr Pratchett… Sir Pratchett? Sir Terry? I think… Oh, um… I don’t remember what I was going to say. *uncomfortable silence* I didn’t… I wasn’t… Could you excuse me a moment? *footsteps* *door opening and closing* *car starting* *screeching tyres*
You see, I suffer from an over-abundance of awe. I completely freeze at the thought of talking to someone I admire. But not everyone has this problem.
My husband, for example, was tragically born without a sense of awe. His dinner party would rock. Within half an hour, he’d be arm-wrestling Stan Lee and telling stories to try to out-geek Wil Wheaton, while Neil Gaiman started off the karaoke with his version of Pretty Young Thing.
I’d much rather be at his dinner party than mine.
So maybe the best plan is to steer away from guests that I admire. Instead, I’ll invite actors. So, instead of writers, I’ll be sitting at the table with Johnny Depp, Mark Harmon, and Aragorn. (Okay, it would really be Viggo Mortenson, but he’d be dressed as Aragorn.)
…And I’ll be giggling behind my hand and feeling like a gangly, spotty, 15-year-old with glasses and braces all over again.
Clearly the best plan is not to invite anyone I either admire or find attractive.
And that brings me to the hardest part of this whole exercise. Because now, anyone I choose for my cerebral dinner party is going to know I think they’re boring and ugly.
So I have only one choice.
I’d like to invite three dead people, please.