Do you miss those wonderful,
late-night conversations
you had in college?

My name’s Ted Pearlman and The Trees is my passion project.

It’s for folks whose favorite thing in the world is a great conversation with people they like.

What it is.

The Trees is a free, carefully curated telephone conversation club, filled with intellectually curious, generous, smart, left-leaning, laughter-prone people.

Exactly what I was looking for.”

Kristin Dura
Retired Mom of Four Grown Daughters

 

More on how it works in a moment, but first…

Why I started this.

I grew up with stereotypically over-educated, New York, Jewish, argumentative, reliably-brought-to-tears-by-Aaron-Copland’s-Lincoln-Portrait, liberal parents.

What wasn’t stereotypical about them was their boundless energy for gathering groups of folks they though would enjoy talking to one another.

My mom, a writer and college professor, organized regular, elaborate, over-the-top parties at our apartment, filled with carefully thought-out rosters of conversationally compatible people.

One of my mom’s parties, complete with presents for every attendee. 2001.

My dad, a 50’s borscht belt comedian, and, from the early sixties onward, a television journalist, organized a big cadre of fellow NBC News people and Columbia Journalism School alums, like clockwork, at Manhattan Chinese restaurants, every week, for forty years. Mostly for the purpose of laughing their asses off.

Dad and me in the Grunewald, a giant forest park in Berlin near the family apartment, 1969. NBC News had stationed dad, a fluent German and Russian speaker, there to cover the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. After that we moved to Israel, where he was NBC News’ bureau chief during two more armed conflicts.

When I arrived at Cornell, in 1986, as a freshman, for orientation week, I somehow didn’t anticipate that nearly every kid I met that week was going to be friendless.

That’s when my conversation-organizer genes first started to express themselves.

The path down Libe(rary) Slope to my freshman dorm at Cornell.

Conversation organizing has been my favorite hobby ever since.

My approach has typically been to send conversationally compatible folks out to lunch together.

The best lunch date of my life. We were there for two-and-a-half hours but could easily have stayed for five.”

Tina Roth Eisenberg
Founder of Creative Mornings and Tattly

 

I love what you’re doing.”

Jason Fried
Founder of Basecamp and NY Times best-selling author of Rework, Remote and It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work

 

But I started experimenting with gathering folks over the phone, in 2016. So, when COVID-19 hit, I shifted over completely.

How it works.

Every day, I

— Send out a morning invite to everyone on the invite list asking who’s up for a conversation later that day or that evening.

— Hand-assemble the respondents into compatible, ephemeral, four-person groups.

— Give each group something I think will fascinate them — an article, conundrum, video, tweet — to look at before their call, so they have something they can use to jumpstart their conversation.

The groups then

— Meet at their pre-arranged time, over the phone, later that day or that evening, for an hour.

— Introduce themselves and have at it. Some groups end up talking about the conversation starter for the whole hour. Some talk about it for five minutes and then move on to something they find much more interesting.

After each group meets, I

— Privately ask each participant if there was anyone in the group they particularly resonated with.

— If two people express mutual interest, I give them each other’s contact info, and I make sure to reunite them on a group call the next time they’re sign up on the same day.

What the calls are like.

There isn’t really a typical call. Some are super serious. Some are hysterically funny. Some are a mix of the two.

The call below is the first call I ever organized. (As a rule, the calls are not recorded, but I wanted to capture this one as a memory and was able to do so with the gracious permission of the participants.)

When: December 18, 2016.

The participants: Suzanne, a novelist from Atlanta, Emma, a tech entrepreneur from Seattle, Kat, an organizational training consultant from Schenectady, NY, and Claire Michelle, a public children’s librarian from eastern Pennsylvania.

The item I gave them to jump-start the discussion: An article from the Washington Post, A new poll shows 52% of Republicans actually think Trump won the popular vote”.

How often people participate.

I encourage folks to participate as often or as seldom as they like. Some join calls every day. Some join every few weeks.

If an eagle and a tiger had a human baby that was then raised by ninjas, it would be Ted.”

Allan Branch
Founder of Less Everything

 

How it's free.

I love this so much. And I have a day gig that allows me to cover the costs.

If the roster of participants grows so big that things start to go off the rails — and I need to hire someone to help me — I may start to think about a monthly membership fee.

Ted is extraordinary at what he does. And he’s a man of his word.”

Phil Caravaggio
Co-founder of Precision Nutrition

 

How YOU can participate.

Fill out my fun, 4-minute questionnaire, by tapping the button below. This will get you on the invite list.


Frequently asked questions.

Will the same people be on all of the calls I participate in?

No.

The groups are ephemeral.

Having groups that stick together would be lovely. But it’d require folks to make a time commitment I don’t want them to have to make. And it would limit the diversity of people they’d be able to have conversations with.

How long do the conversations last?

An hour.

Why do you call the project 'The Trees'?

Two reasons.

First, it refers to the phrase, see the forest for the trees”, used in the affirmative. It’s about conversations that delve into the details and the big picture.

Second, it’s dedicated to my childhood trumpet teacher, Edward Treutel.

Mr. Treutel had an enormously curious nature, a great laugh, and a big, beautiful sugar maple tree at the curb in front of his studio. I waited under it for my mom to pick me up after each lesson, every Tuesday from 1974 through 1986. Whenever I think of him, I think of beautiful trees. And vice versa.

Even though he died just when the Internet was budding, I know he would have loved this. And he’d have been first on my invitee list.

How do you figure out which folks to get together on each call?

It’s pretty much intuition, informed by what I’ve learned about each person’s politics, sense of humor, interests, background, risk aversion, and spontanaiety.

To get me started learning about what you’re like, fill out this fun, 4-minute questionnaire.

Are you going to sell my data? Will I ever have to look at ads?

I will never sell your data. And you will never have to look at ads.

Are the calls recorded?

Rarely. And only with the express and in-advance consent of all the participants.

This sounds like it'd make a good podcast. Do you have one?

Not yet. But it’s in the works.

Who are you? What do you do for a living?

You can find out more about me and what I do for a living on the bio page.

Can I send someone I think might be interested your way?

Absolutely.

Do you use a conferencing service for the calls?

Yes. We use UberConference.

What, no Zoom?

I’m a firm believer that everyone has the right to stay in their pajamas 247. I wouldn’t want to infringe on that by forcing people to video conference. Plus, I grew up with rotary handsets in the house. I find the telephone comforting.

Who created the illustration of the trees and leaves?

Howell Golson. You can see a full-sized version of it, without the color wash overlay, here.

Who created the logo?

Me, sort of. It’s a reworked stock vector graphic.