When I was younger and wiser, I loved the conversational tangent. It burst out in those irrepressibly flowing, intense, interrupting dialogues. We were at a café or pub, lingering in the half-light, a second cup, or a third round, moving from the gossip and quiddities of our days to larger, more abstract issues. We discussed memory, the meaning of life, where we might be going, and why.

The tangent was not a dining-out tale, something humorous and easily retrievable from my past with which to regale an audience who was giving me a meal. Instead it was a method to unknot something: we were putting our world to rights and figuring out how to live.

It didn’t always go well. I remember an evening in Ketcham, Idaho. We were twenty-two, full of life, two-thirds of a summer’s drive across the country. We spent a long dinner discussing the future....


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