About 8 years ago, I was attending my first (and only) Writer’s Conference. I had fun, I was filled with intimidation and the phrase “self-publish” was still derogatory in 2008. I didn’t network much, but I didn’t really know what I needed, as a writer and as a business woman. I wouldn’t say that I still know, but lurking on a great many sites and groups has definitely pointed out items to consider, if not wholly embrace.
But this reminiscence isn’t about business. It’s about social survival skills.
At a conference of any kind, one is supposed to rub elbows, strike up conversation and suss out those you feel you fit with for networking purposes. Of course a tthis conference, we would all get thrown together at random tables for lunches and dinners to enhance this experience.
Prior to this, I thought there were given rules when talking to people for the first time – don’t talk about your foot fungus that your doctor wants to write a paper on; if you must speak about sports, do it in a way that is jocular and fun; “some weather we’re having” is understood to be an opener by someone floundering for a subject, not an invitation for a dissertation on how the weather patterns have changed due to *insert the global calamity name of your choice here*. You certainly don’t talk about personal religious or political views.
Apparently someone didn’t get that memo.
I was seated with that individual and 5 others. She looked like a nice lady – she was bright and cheerful (perhaps a little too much so, but some people are like that), and took charge of starting the conversation ball rolling. Sort of like a teacher telling everyone to go around the table and introduce themselves (and what you write) to the class. Not a problem.
Her immediate question once that task was completed was: “So who are you voting for?”
This was early 2008 – a presidential election year. It wasn’t nearly as contentious as this 2016 cycle, but idiocy was already being noted on all sides (as politics are wont to do).
But everyone had the same brief twist on their faces – the twist of “Are you seriously dropping this question on a table of strangers?” combined with “Goddammit, how do I get out of this without being rude?”
And she made it sound like the most natural thing to talk about, smiling at us expectantly like some sort of Stepfordian serial killer who’s going to lose her shit if someone says something even the slightest bit off regarding HER candidate of choice.
One muttered he hadn’t made up his mind. Number two mentioned that they traditionally voted one party or the other. The responses were mumbled in a rather shame-faced “please don’t get angry” kind of way.
I’m Person 3 at the table and I CANNOT STOP MYSELF. With a perfectly straight face I say “I’m actually hoping Cthulhu steps up at the last minute, because, if you think about his stated goals in terms of campaign promises which statistically don’t come to fruition, how bad is the use of all of humanity as snack cakes and the total devastation or our plane of existence?”
A gentleman at the table asked “Who’s Cthulhu?”
At which point everybody (except the original questioner) jumped in on the conversation, eagerly explaining about H.P. Lovecraft, his influence on fiction, blahblahblah. I, of course, kept the ball rolling by describing little nerdy details such as how his work managed to survive as long as it has, the hilariousness of his errors (The Temple is a riot if you look at it for mechanically accurate structure and working of a WWI submarine), friends with Robert E. Howard – the original author of Conan the Barbarian “and did you know Howard also wrote westerns?”
I swear I have never seen such relief on a group of strangers faces at anything I’ve ever said before that “Cthulhu” moment.
Except for Miss Stepford. She wore the tolerant smile of a teacher watching her students play with childish things as she tried her best not to scream in irritation.
It was that moment in which I learned embracing your inner smart-ass can get you out of a lot of socially sticky situations.
Although it can probably get you into just as many. Like all super powers, it can be used for good or evil.