Sunday, January 4, 2009

Give Bambi Some Shades!

"This conversation is over!" Actually, it never got started, but I felt the words boiling inside as I recently stood at a cocktail party filled with dead air. You know how it is. A party invitation comes actually intended for your significant other, but it's a given that you're invited, too. And there you are in a room full of people you have little to nothing in common. Conversations buzz; people chat about events that never involved you, and the only time you can add anything to the discussion is if someone mentions how great the food is. "Oh, yes, I love those fudge brownies, too. Does anyone else think there's hash in them?"

Could it have been obvious that I was the shrinking violet in the room? I felt like time shifted back forty years to my first school dance. New to the town, I sat on the sidelines while all the popular kids made fun of the usual suspects, or nibbled nails to the quick waiting for that slow song. I did neither. It was torture in any event, me being the new kid in town. Nothing says "geek" louder.

Years have passed, as well as at least 5,428 cocktail parties, and at seventy-two percent of those I was a player. I got out more, was in the work-force and possibly slightly inebriated at most cocktail parties and other various soirees. Conversation flowed like the Hoover Dam exploded; there was always something to talk about. "Hey, did you hear that Edith in shipping was spotted with Kenneth in marketing? And let me tell you, the giving and receiving had nothing to do with getting it there over-night."

As a writer I value the importance of getting myself out there in order to suck up some material, but when the conversation flowing is a vast wasteland, my mind wanders to a different zone. And then someone always notices that my eyes are glazed over, and they try dragging me back into the conversation. "Did you guys know that Kathy wrote a book?" was announced at said recent party, to which I held up three fingers, and for those who couldn't count, I said, "Three books."

Now that's an accomplishment, right? Apparently it was a tough room, because every pair of eyes in the room glazed over while an occasional "Oh, uh-huh" floated half way around the room and then fizzled. Tough room. Could it be that no one in the room thought it was possible? I really didn't want to expound on my feat, but damn, not one "Oh, you've got to be shittin' me?" was uttered, just "Uh-huh."

Well, I wasn't crushed, but I did wonder when I lost the knack for controlling a conversation. At home I can talk about anything and not care if it's ridiculous or not. My husband still listens (or acts like it). But I have to admit, I don't get out much, and really don't like getting out. Shopping, going out to dinner, or attending a party - if I could do it all on-line I'd be thrilled beyond thrilled.

But it does worry me that I'm turning into a hermit because when in a swarm of people I feel the old armpits getting damp. When someone tries pulling me into a conversation my tongue swells and my eyes bulge. Cocktail party anxiety, that's what I suffer from, and there's an easy cure being that cocktails are right there. The only problem is, I don't drink as well as I used to.

As a writer it is essential to get out with the masses, but the fact remains that I do my writing inside, on a computer or in a notepad, a place where no other humans exist except for those I create. My social circle consists of friends I've made electronically, through on-line writing groups, etc. and that's where the problem rests. I'd rather co-exist with like souls, albeit electronic, than have face-to-face with humans right here in suburbia.

My writing friends get me, and right back at them. When I suffer a set-back, they're right there talking me through it, and when I've conquered anything that gives me great joy, they celebrate with me. Yet, I'm not exactly filling the creative pond by not riding the eavesdropping highway known as information gathering.

I imagine I can still eavesdrop, but that would entail leaving the house. Can I be the only writer turning into Howard Hughes, minus the bizillions? Could this be why some of our greatest literati were alcoholics or junkies? Is that where their brilliance was really rooted? Somewhere on a coke spoon or at the bottom of a Jim Beam bottle? I often wondered about Lewis Carroll and his giant caterpillar sitting on a mushroom while smoking a water-pipe. It had to take a little acid dropping to come up with that and all those pills that made Alice shrink and grow, right? (No disrespect to Mr. Carroll intended, but I really do wonder about that guy.)

I'm too old to develop another habit just so I can remain creative in my hermit-hovel. But I do feel the pressure both while trying to write and when in the midst of a social situation. Perhaps the key is in trying to get those situations to co-exist. One can't live without the other it seems to me. Maybe returning to college at the end of January will rejuvenate my creativity, but will it cure my social ineptness?

Am I forever doomed to be Bambi in the headlights? Am I alone or have other writers felt the same angst? This hermit's mind wants to know...


Edie said...

Sorry you had a sucky time. I don't go to cocktail parties, so I couldn't say. I've been to a few parties this last week, but always with people I know.

I do think back to when I joined my local chapter. It took me maybe two years before I felt comfortable. I think if I did it over again, I'd be different. The older I get, the more outgoing I get. Although I'll always be more of an introvert than an extrovert.

Robin said...

First off, OH MY GOD! You've written three books?! That's awesome! :)

Second, you are so not alone! I'm right there with ya! My armpits get sweaty all the time! I rather like being a hermit too, but I am trying to not be so shy when I do meet new people. It's not easy though. And your so right about the relationship we writers have - online or otherwise. We get each other and it's so nice! I feel very lucky.

Kath Calarco said...

Edie, I'm going in the opposite direction. The older I get the more introverted I become. There just has to be some middle ground, or maybe I need to find a new circle of peeps.

Kath Calarco said...

Robin, you know, three books sounds great, but after reading Erica Orloff's blog today, I realized that it's not quantity, but quality. Not saying those books are dogs, because I still love each one, but they are in need of a do-over, which I'm doing to one already while three other WIP's sit on the hard-drive. (I started each knowing I'd get back to them, just not yet.)

Anyway, I'm glad that I'm not alone in the introverted world. This just has to be a writer thing.

lainey bancroft said...

Yep. Outside of my 'circle of comfort' I'm right there in the headlights with ya, dear...or is that deer?

And as Robin said: OMG. You've written three books. Celebrate.

I can feel the pain of eyes glazing over when you mention it, but for the opposite perspective: In 'real life' I run an hvac company--a predominantly male dominated profession--and once a year I attend a conference. Word got out (via my mouth piece husband) and at last years conference many of the attendees had purchased my paperback and brought it along for me to sign. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable I was feilding questions from my 'blue collar boys' who wanted to know if the book content was suitable for them to give it as a gift to their mother/daughter etc? "Show me the naughty parts!"...Ah, no thanks.

And worse, last years release didn't have any really bad 'naughty parts' This years does!

Kath Calarco said...

Lainey! Great story! I wish I were a fly on the wall when you were asked about the book's content (and now I have to read the new release).

I hope to one day be in your shoes. (not the hvac ones lol)

Kath Calarco said...

At my brother's request, here's his comment. (He's unable to comment from wherever he does his cyber-surfing.)

Hi sis,

Here are some thoughts on Give Bambi Some Shades. Yes if you like it you can post it.

I think it’s a common phenomenon that happens to all people in all walks of life. It happens to composers, firemen, tool makers, janitors, teachers you name it, it happens. It is more commonly referred to as The Clique.

We have all been there and any one that says they have not is either lying to them self or is a very gregarious person that can blend in with any situation.

It starts in kindergarten where you have the PB&J Clique, the thumb sucking Clique, the Oshkosh Clique and the Sears & Roebucks Clique. As we grow and mature one would think that this would just fade away. But it does not it just morphs into a different Clique; the football hero, the cheer leader, the chess club, the art club, the writers club.

It is what it is. I don’t think it makes us socially inept, I think it is just our comfort zone. Our Clique is our comforter that place where no matter what happens we feel we are in control. So go for it, talk about what you know best and just keep on talking. Now you have turned the tables and they are feeling left out. Maybe give them a little sample of your writings and let them know that you typed it real slow so they could better understand it.

But if this does not work for you then all you can do is tough it out and use antiperspirant so they don’t see you sweat.

Edie said...

There are cliques, no argument. There are also people like my sister and several friends of mine who are so friendly and expect people to like them and want to talk to them. Faced with this smiling, confident person, most people do accept them.

I'm not one of them, but I'm much better in social situations than I used to be. As for my writing, I don't announce it unless someone asks what I do. I think it's true that most people care about themselves.

Nancy said...

Kathy, you're so not alone, and you've had great feedback! Your bro is right about the cliques being a comfort zone.

I also tend to being introverted, but have learned to circulate. I ask people I don't know about their jobs, their families, their hobbies, their vacations. Anything to engage in conversation instead of me doing the dreaded smiling and nodding.

La Vida Vampire
Last Vampire Standing

Robin said...

I really liked what your brother had to say.

And my first off, in my first comment, was supposed to come off as kind of funny, like if I was at that cocktail party with you I would have been your wing man (wing woman?) and made sure everyone knew what a big deal that was. I don't think it came across that way. That is the one downside of blogging - when I think I've come off a certain way, I might not have. Anyways, good luck with the writing!

Edie said...

Like Robin, I'm explaining my last comment. lol I know you didn't announce that you wrote books and someone else did, but I find unless the other people are writers (or wannabe writers), they don't care. Only other writers know what a big thing that is. Even the people who love me most don't completely understand.

Anonymous said...

Your brother is right on about the cliques. They're there and there's no getting rid of them.

I sort of had the same experience when my neighbors invited me to their home for a New Year's get together. Now keep in mind, they're gay, but the nicest guys in the world. So there in lies the problem. I'm not gay, so half the time I have no idea who or what they're talking about and I feel like I'm standing out in left field. The good thing is, when they try to incorportate me, I run with it, knowing I might not get another chance. They especially like it when I boldly say, "Your conversation is so far over my head I'll need a telescope to see it." They laugh and it's a nice icebreaker. Another interesting thing to tell people, especially if someone else announces you're a writer is to reply, "I was invited by our lovely host (or husband) to study your guys' social interactions for my next book. I write horror, by the way." That usually gets people talking and before I know it, I'm not so much the stranger anymore. But of course, it pays to know your crowd, too. Some might not get the joke.

Look at the bright side. It truly is a good time to study people and make mental dialogue notes. Always hang out by the food, too. Everyone is always striking up a conversation around there. ;-) And don't forget, it could also be that holidays dragging you down, too. Trust me, I was just as happy not to interact with people Christmas and New Years.

Kath Calarco said...

Robin, you can be my "wing woman" any time. That'd be so much fun! I can just hear you screeching, "Oh my GOD! Three books? Tell me more." Can I hire you for the next party? :)

Kath Calarco said...

Edie, other than writers knowing what a big deal finishing a book is, I think that those who read a lot appreciate it, too. Most of the girls in my library club were thrilled about it (one even asked for my autograph, bless her heart, and I gave it).

I have to say, my buoyant moments come from my on-line writing friends. Ain't it the truth, pals?

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Kath:
Well, you know MY solution. Think of a profession or hobby NO ONE would ask a question about.

Actuary. Penny collector focusing only on 1962.

Whatever. It cures having to make conversation. ;-)

Kath Calarco said...

Nancy, I can take cues from you, and would also like to hire you out for the next gathering I have to attend. :) I learn by watching, so you could work the room while I take notes, lol.

Kath Calarco said...

Marcia, I did take plenty-o-mental notes (even though they're useless. I don't write gossip columns, wink-wink). Rather than say "Your conversation is so far over my head I need a telescope to see it" I'd say, "Your conversation is so titillating that I won't need to take my Lunesta tonight." LOL

Kath Calarco said...

Erica, LOVE IT! I really need to choose a pseudo profession, study up on it, and then lay it on at the next soiree. I'm thinking serial killer with a conscience...:)

Robin said...

Oh! You'll need a new name, Kath! Like um, Dexiana, no that doesn't sound good. How about Lex? That can be short for a few different girl names. And I will totally be your wing woman - might want to be it more so with your pseudo profession. :) lol

Kath Calarco said...

Ha! Robin, how did you know? LOL I still haven't gotten into the book you gave me, but it's first on my list. (I'm in Dexter withdrawal)

Dube said...

I found your blog through SpyScribbler's, and I'm glad that I did! I found this post comforting, since I am exactly the same way. Sometimes I go through seasons of extroversion and seasons of introversion. Right now it's more of the latter. I do enjoy being social (and, like you said, soaking up experiences that lead to story ideas.) But I'm choosier about my social outings now.

I'm a writer, but I also just started law school this last semester. Since I'm about 11-12 years older than everyone else, I experience a version of this "Bambi in headlights" quite frequently. My peers are AWESOME, sweet, intelligent, very kind, and fun. But I'm still in a very different season of life, even while we are all in the same classroom.

Kath Calarco said...

Dube, I'm glad you found me, too. It's never too late to go to law school. My husband went when he was around 32. Prior to that he was a Physician's Assistant (still is, just not practicing). There was also a woman who returned to Syracuse Law School, getting her degree at 82. So, it's never too late.

Visit me again. I was once a slave to lawyers; now I'm just married to one, lol.