Since I’m spending the weekend at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Conference in Denver, I thought I’d write a few posts about my “Conference Challenge” list and my progress (or pathetic failures) to match up to my expectations.
The reason for the challenges is simple: I am an introvert by nature, and if I don’t make a conscious effort to counter that tendency, I spend most of my time with my nose in a book – my own or someone else’s.
The reason for posting about them is twofold: first, to entertain you with my bumbling attempts to socialize myself (let’s hear it for lost causes) and second, because some of you might want to play along when you go to conferences yourselves. (Or, if you’re at Denver or Alaska right now, feel free to mention your progress in the comments if you want to play along.)
The conference doesn’t actually start for another four hours, but I’m pleased to say I’ve already achieved Challenge #1: go to a restaurant alone and have a conversation with a total stranger during the meal.
The setup of the Denver Renaissance hotel lends itself to this challenge. There’s a row of tables along one wall that sit close enough together for conversation, and the staff tends to seat “singles” along the wall. This morning I found myself at a table between two couples, both of whom attended the conference of retired military chaplains which was held at the hotel earlier in the week. I had taken a book to the restaurant as a fallback (as it’s hard to talk with empty air, and though I’ve managed it on occasion it doesn’t encourage strangers) but I set it on the table, ordered coffee and water, and turned to the gentleman next to me (who was finishing his orange juice) intending to say hello.
Only he beat me to it.
The conversation started with a brief discussion of why I opted for water rather than orange juice (I prefer OJ, but the first 24 hours at high altitude I push water to ensure I don’t feel the effects of the change) but quickly moved on to books, work and faith. His wife returned to the table a few minutes later, bringing her Kindle, which opened yet another topic – and since I love my Kindle as much as they do theirs, we connected well on that one too.
We talked so long that the waitress mistook me for a member of their conference, and after they left she expressed surprise that I hadn’t known them before. “You didn’t look like strangers,” she said.
Well, they weren’t when they left.
Five years ago I never would have eaten in a restaurant by myself. I don’t much like the feeling that strangers are staring at me. But at conference, the solution isn’t hiding in my room. It’s changing a stranger into a friend, at least for the space of a breakfast.
I really enjoyed my conversation with the chaplain and his wife. Their love of books, and life in general, brightened my morning and made me comfortable even though I walked in and sat down alone.
Conference challenge #1: go eat breakfast by yourself, with a friend you haven’t met.