GRL for Introverts
So you’re super excited about going to the Gay Romance Lit conference and um…you’re also a little bit terrified? Afraid of being overwhelmed by the confetti-colored squeeeeeeeee energy swirling everywhere in the air?
It’s okay. You’re alright.
You might just be an introvert when it comes to socializing.
A lot of us are.
So let’s review some tips.
Swim like a child.
Remember swimming as a kid and the obsession with getting to the next swimming pool? Get to a pool. Get to a pool. I remember diving in and staying in that water for five hours, until mom’s ninth warning to GET OUT. But my memory is skewed. As an adult, it’s funny when to watch kids swim. They run and jump in the deep end and splash around for thirty minutes, demanding you “Look at me! Look at me!” Then they swim for another five minutes and get out. Dry off. Eat nachos and lie in the sun. Then they race to the pool and start all over again.
Don’t plan on socializing for five hours.
Make strategic cannon balls into the socializing pool and stay for a while. Set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour on the hour and tell everyone around you, “I have to answer this text. Back in 10.” Go upstairs, go to the hotel parking lot, go hang out in a hallway on a floor different from your own (so that you are less likely to run into people you know). Go somewhere. Dry off and have some nachos.
The times when I end up completely overwhelmed at GRL are those times when I did not take socializing breaks. I thought, “Well, this is no big deal. I’ll just talk non-stop with 400 people for five hours and I’ll be fine.” This is not a good plan.
Plan your hiding spot
The first point suggests taking a break. This second point suggests you plan a location. Could be your room, obviously. (Probably not, if you have four roommates.) On your first day at GRL, go scout out a place in this hotel where you can be alone. Suggestions: the gym, the laundry room, a long hallway. Ask the front desk staff for a suggestion. Maybe a basement area, an unused conference room, or the stairs leading to roof access. Name it as your quiet zone destination. You can even take an introverted friend as long as you both agree on a certain amount of time without talking.
I’ve stayed in this hotel once before. I felt like I was staying in a freaky beehive with little cubbyholes and strange corners. I bet there are a million little places to hide.
But not the hot tub.
The first and only time I stayed at the Indian Lakes Resort, I was teaching a two-day intensive class in my profession. There were about fifteen students in class. Most of us didn’t have rental cars, so for meals and non-class time, we just kinda hung out in the hotel. After that first long day of teaching and facilitating group problem-solving, I decided to sit in the beehive hot tub.
Within ten minutes, five of my students were in the hot tub with me and honestly, I didn’t want to see them while I was mostly naked. It’s weird, professionally, right? Then a few more students showed up. Students with weird tattoos and overly-revealing swim suits, and just…no. I’m sure it was no treat for them to watch their chunky instructor scratchy his pale, hairy stomach. After a few work-related questions, suddenly, I was teaching class again, but this time mostly naked from a hot tub while eleven people stood around and listened, asking clarifying questions.
So, yeah. Not the hot tub. Everyone else will head there to be alone as well. Find a better spot.
If you can’t find alone-space at the hotel, go walking on the grounds. October is a gorgeous time of year in Illinois, so take a walk.
Listen to something that restores your soul. Close your eyes. The easiest way to shut out the world for a few minutes is to close your eyes and listen to The Pointer Sisters. As a treat for yourself, buy five new songs before going to GRL so there’s something fun on your phone.
Claim an introvert buddy
It does help to talk things out. Find an introvert buddy on Day One and agree to help each other process how big this conference feels. You’d be surprised how healing it is to say to someone, “I’m overwhelmed. I’m not sure I can do this.” Or, “Take a deep breath with me and remind me I’m okay.” Or, “We’ve got to hurry up and get to the next event before Anne Tenino eats all the spring rolls.”
You might also consider going to some of the big parties on the buddy system. You don’t have to agree to walk around as a pair all night, but agree to check in with each other every half-hour or so. Meet near the bar or a certain corner and take a few deep breaths together. Most people don’t realize they need a few deep breaths or a minute of downtime until after they’re already overwhelmed. If you plan with an introvert buddy, you can avoid getting to that place of feeling overwhelmed. Plus, one of you can distract Anne Tenino while the other loads up your appetizer plate with spring rolls.
Get a massage
Did you know Indian Lakes Resort has a spa? It’s true. (Apologies if this next part reads like a Dr. Seuss poem.) Massages aplenty, like Swedish and Sports and Kinks from the Links! Strawberries & Cream for your toeses and Aroma Therapy for your noses. They’ve got Scalp Rejuvenators and a Lavender Foot Massage! Renewal Peels, Skin Resonance, and Action Sublime! http://indianlakesresort.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Menu-081114.pdf
Sure, some are overpriced but you know a great way to take care of your inner introvert? Care for your body. Give yourself a massage. If you think $114 is expensive (gratuity included) for an hour massage, find a local massage therapist who you can visit or a professional willing to come to your room. With several weeks before GRL, you have time to find a reputable massage therapist. If you’re concerned about inviting a stranger to your hotel room to give you a massage, find a pal and the two of you might buy two hours of time with this person, each of you getting an hour. Most hotel-room-killers are less likely to murder you if you’re with a friend. (Wow…that sounded less dark in my head.)
At the Atlanta GRL, I scheduled a room massage for myself. He showed up and I groaned while he worked every muscle. I’ll be doing that every year now. Pampering myself physically allowed me to mentally relax myself for late night parties and three-hour laughing conversations. Who knew socializing was such physically draining work?
Eat well and hydrate
If you were going to run a race, you’d prepare: eat well, hydrate, stretch out your muscles. A large conference weekend is no different than a big race. (Well, except for the burning calories, strengthening your heart, and runner endorphins. Still. They’re basically the same thing.) To feel alert, ready, and buoyant, take care of your body. Drink water instead of another Diet Coke. Sure, partake from the lovely buffets, but don’t forget something green on your plate. A four-day intensive socializing conference is a marathon. Marathon runners plan for taxing their body.
You know that ‘conference crud,’ the snot-drenched cold people complain about the week after a conference? It’s not a requirement you take it home. But it’s so common to physically run down your body at a conference, the sniffles feel inevitable. It’s not inevitable. Bring Vitamin C and take some three times a day. Get fresh air every day. Bring some favorite, healthy snacks from home for your hotel room that don’t require refrigeration, like cherry tomatoes or pea pods.
Seems silly to suggest this to a conference of readers and writers, but we all know one of our favorite escapes is reading. So read! Take a little time every day to read a book. Maybe not your traditional three-hour reading binge, but at least a half-hour. And not just right before bed. Do it in the middle of the day! Get lost in someone else’s world and it may help prepare you to deal with ours.
And finally, a note to extraverts
Our extraverted friends who stumble upon this post might wonder ‘what’s the big deal?’ This is mostly non-stop partying with people who are already online friends and you already know you like the same kinds of books…so why is this so hard?
Well…we’re different from you. We take energy in from quiet times and one-on-one conversations. We’re thrilled to be here—we’ve been looking forward to this just like you have—and it exacts a toll on us. Please be patient when we leave the room abruptly, suddenly realizing we’re overwhelmed. If you could just be okay with us suddenly getting quiet for fifteen minutes as our conversation software reboots, that would be great.
We love having extraverted friends. You are an absolute joy to us.
And we need a little downtime at big conferences so that we can return the favor and be an absolute joy to you, too.