If You See Me Holding Court At The Convention, Recognize The King Has No Clothes

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

The elevator doors slide open, and I walk out into the convention bar.  The room’s filled with the chatter of happy authors, people standing in small groups, smiling, ordering drinks.
My brain locks up.
I see an author whose work I enjoy, and my brain stabs me with the thought of: She doesn’t want to talk to some random schmuck.  Why would you bother her?
I see a person I stayed up with until 2:00 in the morning at the last convention, talking until we finally had to slog off to bed, and my brain shrieks: He doesn’t remember you. You’re going to introduce yourself, and get that long awkward silence, and then slink away.
I see someone who I’ve been friends with Twitter on forever, with strings of long @-exchanges that made me laugh, and I go, Well, that’s Twitter, we’re not real friends, and besides, they probably don’t remember our interactions as fondly as I do.
And on the rare occasions I see someone I do know really likes me, who’s told me they actively want to speak to me at this convention, they’re talking with other people I don’t know, and the thought of shouldering my way into that talk feels like poking grizzly bears.
I stand outside of the elevator, blushing furiously, feeling this dumb animal need to run back to my room and call it all off.  Except I’ve spent the last hour in my room psyching myself up for this, sweating, telling myself that this is what I came here for, it’ll be fine, it usually is fine once I break this frozen river of ice, trying to buy into my own hype that yes, people actually want to see me sometimes.
I pick a target.
I step out.
If I do my job right, they never realize that literally four hours of effort have gone into crafting that first casual “Hello.”


 
At this year’s ConFusion, at least three people said they wanted to talk to me, but they saw me “Holding court.”  I get that a lot.  I tend to accumulate groups of people when I’m chatting.
And I realize as I write this essay that part of the whole “holding court” thing comes from the fact that I try to be aware of my surroundings.  If I see someone creeping up on the edges, I try to welcome them in.  I know how scary that shit is, hanging around the periphery, listening, hoping not to intrude… and so I tend to talk in groups of five and six.
But man, I am not holding court. Or if I am, I am a naked and terrified king, never quite sure why anyone’s here in my presence, thrilled to see you but eternally bewildered.
The thing about breaking the ice is that for me, once I get going, the bravery snowballs.  If I talk to three people, I can usually strike up a conversation with the fourth at no effort.  If I’ve talked with six people, I can snag an invite to dinner.
Yet that effort evaporates ludicrously fast.  I remember spending all of Thursday and Friday chatting effortlessly once I’d finally broken into my first conversation – and then I went up to my room on Saturday for an hour’s nap.  When I returned, I was freeze-locked again, and my good friend Amy had to come down to help me through my anxiety.
I love people, but man, they terrify me.
Yet what I hear over and over again is how well I do at conventions. I always seem to be talking with somebody, or several somebodies, I always seem to be in the thick of social situations, I always seem to be making friends –
– and sometimes folks tell me this with a secret degree of envy, as though they wish they had the trick.  And there are tricks you can deploy; have a rock-solid friend you’ve hung out with outside of conventions to be your wingman, chat a lot on Twitter so you know people without “knowing” them, recognize that you can be scared and still act.  (Also, sometimes? Anti-anxiety drugs.)
But mostly, it’s just stepping out onto the killing floor and discovering that on the whole, people are more welcoming than you’d thought.
And so if you see me holding court, please realize that this isn’t a fiefdom.  It’s a shelter.  If you’re as socially anxious as I am, I want you there.  I’ll welcome you as best I can. I’ll introduce you around. I’ll say hello and be friendly, because man, I’m in the zone now but I am one nap away from being knocked back down to feeling like the out-of-town kid walking into a new classroom full of hostile students.
But if you have to view me as a king holding court, then please view me as a benevolent leader wishing to knight you.  I come from humble origins.  My skills are overrated.
Please. Step into the circle.  Speak “friend,” and enter.
Because you and I are knotted by the same stupid fears.  The only difference between us? Is that maybe I have a little more experience navigating these anxious waters.
I’ll talk to you.
I’ve been there.

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