Jumping Up and Down

I’ve never been all that good at parties.

Oh, I sometimes have fun. And I like them, I really do. Love to host them.Hand me a glass of wine or champagne and a few snacks and I’m a happy kitty cat.

But I don’t do well with competing conversations. Part of it’s because I’m a Western girl. The pauses in East Coast conversations go by so fleetingly that, by the time, I’ve heard the opening, someone else has taken the reins and run with the topic. By the time I get a chance, the moment is gone and my comment no longer relevant. It’s like I’m forever running behind the big kids, jumping up and down, shouting wait for me!

It’s a funny thing, because I’m generally an assertive person. I think it’s more that I don’t like competition. I don’t like struggling for the conversational ball. If someone talks over me, I’ll back off rather than fight for it. I easily fall into my preferred writerly habit of listening and putting together the stories behind the people.

It only occurred to me the other day that I have a lifelong pattern of avoiding competition. David and I were talking about our childhoods and how we were both kind of sensitive kids who were shocked to hit the bigger world of school, where people yelled at each other and did mean things. We grew tougher hides over time, but I realized that my dislike of sports (please don’t yell at me because I ducked instead of catching the ball) all the way up to my avoiding the rest of the Pre-Med crowd in college (no, I really don’t want to tell you my grade on that exam) reflect that I don’t like competing.

I’m sure many would say this is a fear of failure.

But it feels more like I just don’t like being in the mosh pit.

I’ll hand you the conversational ball before I elbow you in the eye-socket to keep it.

Sometimes the social media world feels like this to me. It’s a great big cocktail party and I love the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. The support network is a fundamental part of my life. But sometimes the party gets really loud. Some people are trying to stand in the middle of the room and talk over everyone else. Others are gathering people around them, relentlessly counting how many there are, yanking them back when they try to wander off. Some spend the whole time trying to get people to go off to their private blog-party room. Have you been there yet? Lots of people like it. Go there and see!

I find myself standing on the edges of the room, retreating to the comfort of listening. My mother taught me how to make social conversation by asking people about themselves, but then I sometimes get trapped near the potted plant with the guy who wants to tell me how much money he’s made self-publishing.

I think the trick – as with all parties – is to mingle freely and find the people you want to talk to. I find myself avoiding the loud talkers, the big groups, the ones running around, flailing their hands in the air yelling Look at Me! Look at Meeee!!!! I want people to read my books because they enjoy them, not because I talked them into it. I don’t want my writing to be about competition, any more than I want the rest of my life to be about it.

Yeah, I know this means that the bigger boys, who throw the ball hard and sneer at my timidity will rule the game. This is why the James Frey’s of the world not only get away with their shit, they profit from it. Nice guys might not finish last, but they don’t necessarily finish first either.

Still, what it comes down to me is not that I have a fear of failure, but that I don’t think winning is all it’s cracked up to be. It certainly isn’t worth sacrificing happiness or what I believe to be a generous and loving way to treat other people.

If you want to find me, I’ll be over on the sofa in the corner, sipping my wine.

16 Replies to “Jumping Up and Down”

  1. Well, I'm glad you're one of my twitter friends. I've enjoyed seeing your comments in my stream so much that I've taken to reading your blog when I get a chance. 🙂


  2. Heh. Apt post, honestly – and I totally agree. It's like getting blog followers – sure it's nice to have them and more followers means more people are listening to what I have to say (in theory) – but the truth is that I'd blog even if I didn't have any. I blog because I enjoy blogging. (And same with twitter to a point). I like catching little snippets of other conversations and maybe commenting on them, but I also like how I'm not trapped by them. I can comment and bail. I certainly mention things that are happening to me in the pubbing world on my blog and twitter, but I don't market on them. (Or not much. I'll retweet others and announce once for myself and that's it. Anything else is really annoying, I think.)

  3. Once again reminding me why I like having you be part of my twitter stream.

    You've said exactly how I feel about this whole new era we are in and why I feel like a wall flower most times. 🙂

  4. Thanks Theresa! You're one of the bright spots in my stream, too!

    Yeah, Allison, having the "followers" is nice – but it doesn't mean they're actually reading. And oh yes, how I love to lurk. But it's the closing the loop thing: wanting to know what you wrote has been read. Mostly we don't get to know that, I suppose.

    There's a spot right here on the couch next to me Kristina!

  5. I'm with Allison. I started blogging as something I needed to do to build my platform, but after a couple of months, I've grown to love it. It's a way for me to write without worrying whether it's going to be accepted.

    I just read that article and I can now say that I'm glad to be a small fish in a big pond. I might not go down in history as being the most eccentric or interesting writer, but I won't go down as being an asshole either. I hope.

  6. Great post, Jeffe. Lots of food for thought. Social navigation in cyberspace is doubly tough, I think. We can't really read each other's body language or facial expressions. Feedback, like a raised eyebrow or twitch of the mouth, is invisible.

  7. Thank you for this. I suck at Twitter and often feel like I'm in the corner, sipping my drink, watching the popular crowd. You've explained this perfectly.

    Now that I know I'm not alone, I'll keep trying.

    – Rachel

  8. Good word, Jami – I know other people don't regard it as being "pushy", but it's hard for me to get past that.

    Rachel, you are so not alone! Wallflowers unite!

  9. I could really relate to this. I often wind up being quiet – too quiet – at social events and even sometimes during meetings at work because I'm just not going to fight to be heard. It's less an aversion to competition and more that I'll only expend energy to insert myself if I think it's worth it, and it usually isn't. (In the rare cases I judge it is worth it, I'll try harder.)

    Besides, most of the time I'd rather listen.

  10. Still, what it comes down to me is not that I have a fear of failure, but that I don't think winning is all it's cracked up to be. It certainly isn't worth sacrificing happiness or what I believe to be a generous and loving way to treat other people.

    That kind of "winning" may not be all it's cracked up to be. But success is self-defined, and it looks like you're comfortable with how you've defined it. So really, you've won after all.

  11. Ah, Gabi, alas for us geeky types!

    Lt. – I really notice it at work, too. Particularly on conference calls where people wrestle for control of the speakerphone. I find it much easier to have conversations *after* the meeting with key people.

    Faith, you're exactly right. That's a lovely way to see it.

  12. The pauses in East Coast conversations go by so fleetingly that, by the time, I've heard the opening, someone else has taken the reins and run with the topic.

    OH! This is so true for me. I grew up in California and recently I had a chance to go to New England (for the first time). I felt so out-of-whack and was starting to get really depressed about it. It took my boyfriend saying "Just because you are back in the US doesn't mean you are home" to make me realise how different the tempo was. There was one New Yorker there that I couldn't hold a conversation with at all, I just couldn't keep up. I didn't actually spot the reason but I think you've got it exactly.

  13. Sylvia, when I lived in Wyoming, a writer came from New York to teach a the university. She complained that she'd ask discussion questions and no one would participate. Turned out that she'd ask the question, pause, then keep talking. Over time she said she learned to count ten full seconds after the question. By then one of us Westerners would have processed the pause and offered a response. Very funny.

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