Arts and Entertainment

Building community with conversation, caffeine

Kat Gjovik (R) and Dave Henry discuss the issues at the Conversation Cafe event at Pegasus Coffee House. - DEE AXELROD photo
Kat Gjovik (R) and Dave Henry discuss the issues at the Conversation Cafe event at Pegasus Coffee House.
— image credit: DEE AXELROD photo

The power of palaver drives Conversation Cafe.

The moderated open discussions of selected topics, conceived by Seattle author Vicki Robins, were brought to Pegasus last summer by islander Kat Gjovik.

“I learned about it by word of mouth,” Gjovik said. “Then I went to an orientation session at Antioch College for Conversation Cafe facilitators and found that I was absolutely compelled to start one here.”

Gjovik found an ally in Pegasus owner Hazel Van Evera, who agreed to keep the cafe open for an extra hour and a half on Thursday evenings.

Van Evera supports Conversation Cafe as more of a public service than a money-making proposition, she says, and she participates, as well.

Fueled, Gjovik speculates, by the need for connection many have felt in the wake of the events of Sept. 11, the Cafe has been well-attended, attracting at least 10 to 15 participants each week.

Bainbridge’s Cafe has covered a lot of conversational ground since the first meeting last August.

Aspiring “talkers” have addressed such meaty topics as “love,” “media,” “earth stewardship” – and, for the last four weeks, “power.”

While many are “repeat talkers,” new people are always welcome, Gjovik says.

To participate in Conversation Cafe, one need only be generally civil, listen as well as speak, communicate from the heart – and know when to stop.

Talking circles

There is a loose structure to the gathering at Pegasus that makes participation easy for both new and experienced participants.

Large groups break up into tables of about five. The facilitator introduces the subject and helps the group focus with a moment of silence.

Possible approaches to the topic are suggested, and then each table holds a “talking circle” that allows each person to speak uninterrupted, followed by open discussion. Last is a closing statement from each table, summarizing the talk.

The format builds a safe space where anyone can be heard, Gjovik says. Last Thursday, for example, the three talking circles dissected power in the light of gender, politics, spirituality, money and family, among other variations.

“This is our fourth week on ‘power,’” Gjovik said. “I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough juice left. But I was wrong. If anything, the energy is building.”

Conversation Cafe has been called an elaboration on the venerable tradition of the coffeehouse that has sometimes brewed more than the caffeinated beverage – a tradition officially acknowledged by the British Parliament, which banned coffeehouses in the 1700s as potential hotbeds of sedition.

“The only safe space for real communication used to be a stranger I would never see again,” Gjovik said. “It’s been amazing to listen to people and to learn to express myself as well. Now, I’m so comfortable I find myself thinking out loud and I find that stumbling over words is much less bothersome.

“I feel strongly about the power of conversation to build community. The bonds that are being forged here are what power truly is.”

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Conversation Cafe takes place 7:30-9 p.m. every Thursday at Pegasus Coffee House. Future topics include: “Youth,” “Community” and “From Talk to Action.” Information: 842-6725.

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