While I know that all of the cool kids want to be introverts these days, there are still some of us who actually are introverts. And ridiculously shy in new situations, which together can be a lethal combo. It means that you spend significant time introspecting about your shyness.
Send such a person to a conference alone, and he is going to engage in any number of strange behaviors. Like hanging out in his hotel room and watching an Arnold Swartzenegger movie. Like getting carryout from P.F. Chang instead of eating in the restaurant. Like not walking up to a group of strangers at the conference and saying, "Hey, I'm Bob. I'm from Tennessee. What's going on?"
But, I also can't go to a large city with hundreds of thousands of people and withdraw from the human race. Simple, everyday life forces human engagement, and in unexpected ways. Which makes each day a challenge, a risk, a new adventure.
My first event in Indianapolis was a school visit. When you registered for the conference, you had the option of going to spend time at a local school the day before. I signed up. I'm interested in schools that have a January mini-semester where students do something different. But I wouldn't be able to get there in time to ride the bus from the hotel with the others, so I drove directly to the school. And sat dutifully in the parking lot until the minute the visit was supposed to start so I could go in and link up with the others with little time for fanfare.
No one else showed up. So when I walked in the door, the head and assistant head immediately swooped in on me, it being a school where you have to sign in, and that place being at the administrative offices. Instead of being an anonymous straggler at the back of a school tour, I became the main attraction. What aspects of the school was I interested in? What did I want to see? Had I heard about their _________? Did I want some coffee? Would I be able to meet with Mrs. ____ when her class was finished? How long could I stay?
I met the challenge. I was friendly, convivial, asked questions, became interested, rose to the occasion. All of the above. Thrust into the position of a couple of one-on-one hours with a proud, interesting headmaster, I became a one-man counter school to the school I was visiting. We circled his one building school as partners, around and around as he led me through the classrooms and programs and events that he was so proud of.
That night I went to a concert alone. It was someone I wanted to see--Nora Jane Struthers--and I had first planned to see her when I had hoped a friend might come along on the trip. Now, going alone was a badge of honor, a must do. I arrived early and sat in the car in a dark parking space until about 15 minutes after the doors opened. I didn't want to be first; I didn't want to walk into a vibe already established.
I found a stool along a wall about 30 feet from the stage and staked out my turf. I got the first of several beers. I played with my phone. But the place never filled up--there were about 20 people max--and most had come to see a local duo, not the opener. I was in my own cocoon of personal space, but a group of young lesbians started camping out in front of me, hugging and flirting and putting their hands in each others' back pockets. I watched them, I looked past them. After the opening act, the safe, alone guy from out of town who was nursing his beer on a stool against the wall was asked to take a bunch of group photos for them. So I did.
For Nora Jane Struthers, the main act, they left for other climes. A woman took the stool in front of me. It was a good show--strong, countryside songs played with exuberance to a very small crowd, audience interaction, good fun. Eventually Nora Jane, who is a bit of a pistol, a cute young songwriter, declared that she was turning the bar into a honky Tonk and that everyone should come down in front of the stage and do the Tennessee Two-Step.
Oh no, I thought, as I looked around, we were down to about 12 people in the audience.
To be continued...............