As an expat Brit new to Omaha ten years ago, I wanted to crack open the rigid carapace of “Nebraska nice” and reveal the intimacy of a people’s truer characters. In 2010 my wife and I began hosting conversation salons in our home reminiscent of those from Enlightenment France. Since then, spurred on by a spirit of curiosity, my belief in conversation’s benefits has motivated an active artistic and humanities practice centered around conversation-based interactions. I develop and deliver a variety of conversational programs and engagements for individuals and organizations.
Telling and hearing our stories is an affirmation of our common dignity and a simple act that contributes collectively to our sense of togetherness.
Having read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley in my teens, I long imagined embarking on the archetypal American road-trip experience. Some thirty years later, and now with a belief that community thrives through conversation, I devised the project, a couple of 830 mile long conversations. Approaching Nebraska with honest warmth, open acceptance and sincere curiosity, I am traveling the side roads of the state in an RV to engage with Nebraskans. Honoring a long line of oral history tradition, from traveling troubadours to Alexis de Tocqueville to John Steinbeck to Charles Kuralt, I am creating or engaging in public conversation spaces in towns on the route. In each conversation, I am inquiring into our shared culture and evoking a place and its people, connecting us to Nebraskans, their stories and their lives.
a couple of 830 mile long conversations is especially concerned with using the art of conversation to explore the nature of our togetherness and our lived experience of community. Owen in St. Paul expressed a personal desire for community, saying that “everybody wants to feel appreciated.” In Hastings, Lisa observed, “The differences are what make us more, not the similarities.” When I asked a morning coffee group in the Danish Baker in Dannebrog, the simple response was community is “What you see right here.”
Telling and hearing our stories is an affirmation of our common dignity and a simple act that contributes collectively to our sense of togetherness. I believe that conversation enables us to live better and well, and it is my calling.
Stuart Chittenden is a British expatriate who, with his wife Amy, has called Omaha home since 2004. He believes that conversation helps us to live better and well, as individuals, families, and communities. Driven by that belief, he founded Squishtalks to design conversation programs for corporate and non-profit organizations and for public, personal, artistic and community purposes. Stuart also is a partner at the branding consultancy, david day associates, where he consults on brand strategy with local and national clients. As an amateur poet, his work has been published in The Antigonish Review, the Blue Moon Literary & Art Review, Euphony Journal and the Tulane Review.
To read more about a couple of 830 mile long conversations, visit http://830nebraska.com/ .