Monday, March 24, 2014

IN DEFENSE OF OLD-FOGEY-ISM: AN INTROVERT’S CONFERENCE RX


I’m writing this while the wounds are still fresh.

After spending the last two weeks at the Tucson Festival of Books and Left Coast Crime, all I want to do is burrow deep under my covers and stay in my bed like a mole. Preferably for an entire month.

For extroverts, it’s impossible to understand how something so glorious as brilliant conversation with likeminded souls, set against perfect spring weather in Tucson and Monterey, could possibly take a psychic toll. Over the past weeks, I saw tons of people I genuinely like and don’t get to see near enough, and made some sterling new friendships. Every volunteer was friendly and helpful. Even the lines in the bathroom were marked by witty repartee.

And yet. I’d made plans for each evening—catching up with friends over drinks, attending parties, going out to dinner—and after the first night, I flat-out bailed. I wish I could take those invitations and spread them out over the rest of April, which is mostly travel-free. Given my solitary occupation, there are many days that I’d relish the chance to go out and socialize.

But to undertake such a schedule without breaks between is simply beyond my means. I’d liken it to trying to do pushups without a break between. There is no way I could do 55 pushups in a row, but by breaking them up into five sets with a minute rest between, they’re manageable.

A conference doesn’t allow you that “minute rest,” so you must provide it for yourself. I learned this the hard way. The remarkably hardheaded, dense way, actually. For years, I went out every night, coming back to the room during the wee hours, catching a few hours of sleep before starting the next day. (There was one conference where I think I and my early-bird roommate Sue Ann Jaffarian barely saw each other.)

The toll this behavior took on me went past sheer exhaustion: I became emotionally vulnerable, plagued by insomniac, irritable, had little appetite, and my focus went entirely out the window.

Finally, out of sheer desperation, I started begging off and retiring early. I didn’t want to risk falling ill and I couldn’t jeopardize my work schedule, given impending deadlines. I was astonished at the difference. I slept better than I do at home, no doubt because my body is smart enough to recharge from the rigors of the day. I took the time to chronicle what I learned each day and turn ideas into future action items, and to circle back to the connections I’d made so that—while I might have missed a chance to socialize over drinks or dinner—I’d laid the foundation for future collaboration and friendship. Our work is not done in sprints, but over the long haul; and I’m a firm believer that a collegial relationship nurtured over time is far superior to the mad-dash air-kiss see-ya-gotta-run sort.

I’m aware that all of this sounds like an excuse for a downward slide to old-fogey-ism. Except for this: the dawn of a new day at any conference can be far more exciting, with its bristling energy and potential, than last call the night before.

So if you see me sneaking off the elevators at future events, please don’t take it personally. Chances are I cherish our friendship, but I need to rest and rejuvenate so I can be my best the next time we meet.

1 comment:

Jen Forbus said...

Sophie, I'm right there with you!! I've been hunkered down since I got home and I only went to Monterey.

I also cut myself off each night and that allowed me love my friends so much more the next day. I completely understand. :-)

Here's to more healthy conferences, friendships and fun.