Greetings from my second trip to the annual PennWriters conference in Pennsylvania. The conference is in Lancaster this year, a bit farther from home base, but worth the drive. I had a wonderful stop over visit to my old stomping grounds and dinner with one of my favorite people. And solo road trips allow the advantage of singing as loudly as possible to the most ridiculous mix tape.
Yes, I said mix tape.
The original plan was to meet up with another friend of mine at the conference, but she was unable to go, a fact that sent me into a bit of a panic. Faithful readers know that I have social anxiety, as well as puts-foot-in-mouth disease. If words actually leave my mouth. Usually I create the world's most uncomfortable silence. It's bad.
So before I left I sought out the advice of my circle of trust, or should I say my circle of trust took it upon themselves to give me advice. Either way, the results were typical. Mom said to smile, be myself (but mom, that's part of the problem), and oh yeah, smile. That solves everything. She then told my sister, who sent me a confidence boosting string of texts advising me to channel the extroverts I know. It was actually rather sage-like and included the idea of putting on a "cloak of confidence." In other words, fake it till you make it. I can do that. I'm an actress, or at least I was back in the day. Mom said if I could get on stage in front of an audience then why can't I engage with a stranger in a bit of small talk. "It's a stage" has become one of this weekend's mantras.
The hubs told me to look at the weekend as an opportunity to enjoy "me time" and do the things that I like to do when I'm alone - just do them in a new setting. Wander around and people watch? check. Sit by the pool and read a book? check. Enjoy whatever weird vegan food/juice I want without having to justify myself? check. The only thing I won't get to is dance around wildly, although my suite at the hotel is big enough should I decide to.
So far the conference is going well. I miss my friend, but we've been texting throughout the day and she said it was like having a virtual reality experience. Every once in a while I get a wave of, HOLY CRAP I'M ALL ALONE, WHAT NOW. But I just breath and smile (see, mom, I do listen) and come up with something to start the conversation ball rolling. With everyone I encounter. I do not allow the evil enemy, Uncomfortable Silence, to even bare his claws.
Because here's the thing: writers are inherently introverted. And I've noticed that a lot of people come here alone. So they're probably just as freaked out on the inside as I am. It isn't a perfect system, mind you. But I'd much rather be the person who starts a benign conversation that may or may not lead anywhere than the person who sits in a puddle of negative thoughts trying to figure out what to say next. It's a stage, I'm an actress, someone who seems like she is outgoing but is really just trying to keep herself from imploding. And then, I hide away in my room to recharge.
Do what scares you, people. Figure out a way to make it work. It's worth it.