Friday, September 13, 2013

In Which I Attend A Panel Discussion In My Career Field

Last night, I went into the city (Manhattan for you non-locals - we all just refer to it as 'the city' and call the other boroughs by their real names) for an archival panel discussion on digitization of archival holdings and how it changes the research practices of historians and others. It was honestly great and I loved sitting in and listening to some leading figures in my field - well, both of my fields, since I'm trained as a historian and am now training as an archivist.

I'll be honest, though - I was terrified to go.

I don't really like going to events where I don't know anybody because my social anxiety flares up big-time and I have trouble keeping myself calm. This particular event even had a reception afterwards with food, so I was excited for the food but utterly horrified at the prospect of not knowing a soul in the room. I felt the anxiety coming on at least 24 hours in advance and I was sick to my stomach on the train ride into the city. I was just waiting for myself to screw something up when talking to somebody.

I tried psyching myself up in the only way a historian knows how - I attempted to get into the head of a socially adept person from history, someone who could command a room and make friends with ease. Being from New Jersey and therefore having a propensity to swear often, I told myself to pretend to be like Carole Lombard for the evening (as she swore extremely often too). To be fair, I actually tell myself to aspire to be more like Carole a lot since she was just so darn cool, but on this particular occasion I really needed her gregariousness just so that I would survive the evening. We also have similar senses of humor, so she's a natural person for me to try to emulate. (I just want to avoid the plane crash part, of course. I do not want to avoid marrying someone as hot as Clark Gable.)

As it was, I walked into the venue for the program and noticed that most of my fellow archivists were arriving in groups or at least knew each other already. I sank down into a seat in the lobby, even more uncomfortable than I had been on the way there, and told myself to breathe. I knew I didn't have to stay for the reception after the panel discussion, but I hadn't eaten dinner and there was going to be food there, so I was planning on at least grabbing something to eat.

The auditorium opened up soon after I arrived and I got settled in and actually made some small talk with people I didn't know regarding the wi-fi, which I was pretty proud of. The ultimate accomplishment for me, however, was seeing a fairly attractive guy around my age with the same Moleskine notebook as me and catching his eye and smiling at him, holding my notebook up. He actually smiled back at me. This was huge for me because I tend to have a lot of problems in that area. The moment he smiled back at me, I calmed down completely. I didn't feel inept anymore. I felt like I could survive the night after all because I actually accomplished something that I always thought I was too shy to even try. I just did it without even thinking.

Maybe that's my problem, actually - I think too much and feel too little.

I took a ton of notes during the panel discussion, which I'm going to shape into a blog post on Tumblr at a later time (i.e. when I have a chance to). Things then ended, and we all went back into the lobby to find that the food was just appetizers. That wasn't going to cut it for me - I hadn't had dinner - and so I joined a lot of other attendees in simply leaving. Seeing other people heading out reminded me that I wasn't actually socially obligated to remain after all, so I very happily headed to the door, opened my umbrella, and departed in the pouring rain. (Said pouring rain caused my train home from Hoboken to be delayed by over an hour, but that's why I still live at home - my dad came and grabbed me at the station instead.)

Overall, it was actually a successful evening for me. I was certainly relieved to be home, for sure, but I had actually gone to an adult function in my field and not made anybody around me feel uncomfortable. Nobody made fun of me or said anything mean, and I even initiated eye contact with a guy in my age group.

Last night was pretty darn good. Except for the rain.