Monday, March 9, 2009

The Lunch Table

Recently, I’ve been to several writers’ retreats and conferences that involve eating in a cafeteria for lunch. Writers, by nature, tend to be introverted people, often with past experiences of being outcast in some way — but shyness and the lunchroom simply don’t mix. It’s come up in my conversations with people at some of these functions that no matter how old we get, it can still be awkward to walk into a cafeteria, tray in hand, and have to decide where to sit.

So many things go through your mind in those moments – where is there an empty seat? Who is it next to? Do they like me? Do I like them? Is this a person I can make conversation with? Or is it going to be weird? Are they saving the seat for someone? Will I ask to join them and be denied? Et cetera...

After repeated experiences entering the dining room solo, you learn that it’s best to arrive in packs. You wait to get in line until you see a friend, so you automatically know who you’ll be sitting with. Or, you cultivate your social skills enough that you can link up with new acquaintances in the lunch line. You do whatever you can to avoid starting from scratch when you walk in.

Inevitably, the experience throws us back to our younger days, when navigating the lunchroom was an everyday occurrence. It reminds some of us why we’re glad to have grown up, after all, so we don’t have to deal with this kind of stress all the time.

It’s amazing how old uncertainties can linger. These writer friends I’ve made are, for the most part, bold and self-assured individuals who are making their mark on the world in various ways. Some work in libraries fighting censorship and helping little readers find the books that will blow their minds. Some are schoolteachers, who face the toughest audiences on a daily basis with confidence and calm. Yet, we feel nervous about sitting at big tables, just like when we were kids.

1 comment:

sally said...

This happens to me all the time, which is why I try to go to events with friends. If I have to go alone, I do, it just then takes a certain amount of preparation for me to realize that I'll have to deal with all the awkwardness.

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