Monday, July 27, 2015

Being me

The conference was wonderful. I learned a ton and met some great people along the way. Here's the thing: it is possible for me to break out of my shell a little and talk to strangers.

I'll wait while you collect yourself.

Basically I had a choice: allow myself to be swallowed by social anxiety and spend the weekend curled up in a ball in the corner OR jump into the pool and doggy paddle for a while. (I may have taken the metaphor too literally though because on the first night I decided to join a new friend in the hot tub. In my dress. Because why not.)

The most difficult part of meeting new people is that initial conversation where you break the ice with something witty enough to get another person to talk to you, and then the part where you keep the conversation going by being a good listener and not letting the dreaded awkward silence creep in, oh and the part where you don't say anything stupid or embarrassing. Okay, so basically everything about meeting new people scares the crap out of me. But I kept telling myself that there was a good chance that most of the other people at the conference were likely experiencing the same fears and anxieties. It was a conference full of writers. We lock ourselves in a room and spend hours typing away into a void FOR A REASON.

Here's an example: It's lunchtime. TACO BAR. I enthusiastically fill my plate with taco goodness and enter into the large meeting room. There are round tables full of happy, chatty people, and I don't recognize a single face. It's like that time in middle school when you walk out of the cafeteria line with your tray and decide you'd rather eat lunch in the hallway/bathroom/inside your locker than face the sea of strangers. So I see this guy who sat with us the night before at introductions, and he has the same eyes-scanning-the-crowd-for-someone-he-knows expression. I walk up to him and say, "This is way too much like middle school." He laughs. Doesn't run away with his plate full of tacos. So I follow with, "Let's sit over there," and head for an empty table. He agrees, and we have a great chat during the meal.

Imagine that. I CAN be a normal person.

I keep the energy up for most of the weekend. Introduce myself to people in line, ask them about their writing, their families, listen to their stories. It's as if the introvert in me got left behind at the security checkpoint. (Those body scan machines are weird, people. Weird.)

But then, I hit a wall. It's Saturday afternoon and I'm feeling a bit drained from a harsh (but helpful and necessary) manuscript critique from an agent. I sit through the final session at a table with some women I had chatted with before, but they aren't talking to me. Then it's happy hour. Happy hour is a great time for people who like to drink and socialize. But I just want to crawl into a comfy chair and be alone. I stand around for a few minutes with no one to talk to. Find my friend from home, but she's got a line of people waiting to pick her brain. Feel the panic start to set in.

You see, people can push themselves out of their comfort zone, and it may even feel good for a while, but we always come back to who we truly are. And I am truly an introvert. I'm not ashamed of it, and I have learned to pick up on the signs that it is time to get the hell out of dodge before my breath quickens and tears start to flow. It happened when I was at camp with the boys last week, and I was determined to get myself together before it happened in front of all the nice writerly types. So I take a walk. Calm myself down. Call CJ because he truly gets me and knows what I need to hear. Go back inside and find my hot tub friend and tell her to stay by my side. She understands.

It's tough to be shy in a world that expects you to network, to sell yourself, to be someone people want to follow on twitter. But I'm okay with that. I am me, and if you don't like it, oh well. Sometimes I say inappropriate things. Sometimes I create the world's most uncomfortable silence. Sometimes I want everyone to just leave me alone.

But sometimes I am witty and fun to be around. Sometimes I go hot tubbing in my dress and make jokes that cause the whole table to laugh. I guess the bottom line is that while wandering out of the comfort zone is important and healthy, it's okay to be who you are. Whatever that may be.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Going Solo

The last time I traveled alone was in 2003. The husband was on deployment for pretty much the entire year, and although I can't remember the exact date I'm sure I traveled back home at least once that year. That was also the year I went on my scariest adventure: Hong Kong. While hubs was sure to point out that I wasn't technically alone for that trip - a group of wives traveled together, but none of them were my friends so it only sort of counts - it was pretty darn terrifying. And once in China I needed to navigate to my hotel alone and then walk to the dock by myself in the morning.


You see I'm not the best traveler. I get nervous. Like, I can't eat for 24 hours prior because my stomach is in ragey knots nervous. It doesn't matter where we are going, what we plan to do there, or who is coming. So it's not a big surprise that I am a ball of nerves right now and have been since yesterday. Today I am setting off to my third writing conference and the biggest one yet. Oh, and I'm traveling alone. Which is pretty awesome on one hand - no one to entertain but myself, no one whining about how hungry/bored/full of pee they are. Just me. And my tiny little bag filled with just  my stuff that took about 10 minutes to pack. Okay, it took about two hours to pick out what I was going to wear, but the actual packing part was super fast.

I'm meeting my friend on the other end and then we have a driver taking us to the hotel. A driver. As in some guy is going to hold up a sign with her name on it and everything. Here's the thing. My friend is kinda famous in the writing community and she's part of the faculty for this conference, and I am crazy lucky because she still wants to hang out with me despite the emotional word dump she endured on our last few road trips. (Seriously. Sometimes I don't know when to shut up.) Oh, and she lets me tag along with her on conferences. And she brings sponge candy. And introduces me to amazing people. So yeah. Anyway, the conference is going to be huge and a bunch of well known people from the writing community will be there, and I get to meet them and sit down and talk about my book with them and holy crap that is a lot of things to make me a nervous wreck.

My husband told me this morning that I can't put my best face forward when I feel this way, and he's right. I need to get out of my head and enjoy the journey. I had an amazing time at the last conference - made new friends, had a ton of fun, and learned a lot about writing and about myself. I didn't want it to end. It's something I get to do that is entirely selfish and hey - I'm not going to apologize for this - it feels good. So as I sit here waiting to board and thinking about what is just around the corner, I'm hoping the nervous feelings with hit the road because frankly, I am sick of them holding me back. I walked through a communist country alone and lived to tell the tale; this is easy compared to that. Right?