Work the Room

this past Saturday with my art on the walls...
this past Saturday with my art on the walls...

The women were in the kitchen. The men were in the living room. It was a wine tasting party and I was there because I was related to the hostess. Otherwise, I didn’t know these women.

One of these women, an executive at Wal-Mart, was telling the other wives about how she screwed up her husband’s laundry so that he’d give her permission to quit work and stay home with the kids. All the women began talking about their husbands and the problems they had to get them to do one thing or another. They all had tricks to deal with these problems.

And I said, “The problem is that we’re in kitchen talking about them, but they aren’t in the living room talking about us.”

They quieted and looked at me. I took another sip of wine and looked at the countertop. They resumed their conversation as if I hadn’t said anything. I polished off that glass of wine and poured another. I said nothing else.

If you want to take your fiction or your art out into the world these days, you can’t play Salinger. You have to get out and socialize, network, pitch, and be on. Recently I had an artist–someone who makes his living with his art–tell me that when he meets people, he’s playing a role. He’s the artist they want him to be. “Some people want to know they are talking to an artist,” he said.

Do you think this is true? Can you network and socialize with anyone and everyone? In what social situations do you shine and in what situations do you disappear? Or dread? Do you say the right thing, the wrong thing, or nothing at all?

13 thoughts on “Work the Room

  1. The only situations where I shine are when no one’s paying attention to me, and no one can hear what I’m saying but the select few I choose to be around and whisper to, laugh with, and open up to. I get knotted up and close-lipped otherwise. I stink ala Pepe LePew otherwise.


  2. I’m best one-on-one socially, never in groups, and I tend to have foot-in-mouth disease too.

    Often, that whole “gender separation” thing at social events kind of bothers me. Is there a law or something I’m not aware of? Because frankly, I’d usually rather go sit with the guys. They’re not nearly as catty, like the women you were around seemed to demonstrate.

  3. Interesting comment from the artist you met.

    I’ve got copies of most of my tech books on my shelf at work, including the Chinese translation that I can’t read. Not that I refer to them that much AS, y’know, reference books. But I’ve gotten used to people bringing other people (often new employees) by and introducing them to me as “The writer [implied: that I was telling you about].” It doesn’t happen often — maybe once every 6-9 months — but often enough that I feel compelled to have the evidence at hand. (Maybe to remind myself as much as to remind them.)

    And you know what? It helps, a lot, that those books are on subjects which pretty much nobody I show them to will have any idea what they’re about. They let the pages flop open randomly, and there’s almost always a big chunk of HTML(-like) code on the spread, and their eyes glaze over and they hand it back to me — wanting to know (often) if I’ve written anything “else.” By which I assume they mean …something I might pick up off a shelf on my own.

    I don’t know how to act, really, around people in general — when expected to be The Writer or in just about any other circumstance. I do a lot of eavesdropping and woolgathering. I’ve got business cards (for the day job)… in my drawer at work. Thanks to Squirrel, recently I encountered instructions on making an origami frog from a business card; it’s the biggest workout that box of cards has gotten since it was first delivered to me a couple years ago. 🙂

    1. Oh, the other night I was introduced as The Artist all night. Very weird. Don’t know how to respond. Made me feel silly.

      ANd my son loves to make those paper frogs. We’ve got lots of them around the apartment.

  4. P.S. Haha, funny coincidence — just ran across this quotation (from Aldous Huxley) on another blog: “I’m afraid of losing my obscurity. Genuineness only thrives in the dark. Like celery.”

  5. socializing…? I am not in a social phase, although I have been. I think I was starting to do that “the artist” thing before I had kids… but then the hormones and exhaustion and lack of time knocked that right out. And then I think while I was a teacher and before I was doing “the writer” thing… but I think I got scared whenever it got to be too much attention.

    I’m not *really* shy and I’m *kinda* good with people, I’m even okay with public speaking and I particularly like reading aloud… but I do not like being the center of attention. I’d rather be behind the lens that in front of it, if you know what I mean.

    I think putting on the role of writer/artist might be the key to getting out there when so many of us are introverts and feel awkward with the spotlight. I do know that putting on the role of “teacher” helped me with that public speaking thing and other personality ticks of the retiring sort. Actually, I think I would still put on the teacher role, even as an artist. The artist who enables other to create. I guess I feel more comfortable with that role.

    1. You don’t strike me as someone afraid to get in the crowd–or in front of the crowd. Being in front of students is fine. But in the artist/writer role… I’m not so sure.

  6. I’m actually better in a group. I have stories to tell, and I can be funny when called upon to be so, and I can work a room. I can razzle dazzle ’em. At least, I think I can. I generally get good reactions, but maybe it’s because they’re laughing AT me, not with me. Nah. I think that ability comes from years of customer service. I’m really good at the my-husband-won’t-help-around-the-house type conversation you describe above.

    But you know what? I stink at playing the “writer” in a group. Because I think “writers” are aloof and quiet and talk about their work like it’s important. I still haven’t figured out how to do that last thing.

    I also stink at one-on-one conversations, because that razzle-dazzle-em doesn’t work in a real conversation. I feel self-conscious revealing my true inner thoughts to another person, so I prefer not to. I hate talking on the phone for that reason.

      1. I was hoping you’d teach me how to keep my mouth shut. LOL

        I forgot to ask how your reading went. I’m assuming you didn’t faint. Will you write a post about it?

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