Wednesday, July 11, 2007

misfit dinner companion

aka: me, a couple of weeks ago.
I attended the Caldecott/Newbery/Wilder awards banquet, and because a colleague graciously pulled some strings, I landed a seat at the dinner table with important people from a heavyweight imprint in children's book publishing. In the grand scheme of things, I honestly don't know how or why this happened for me, but considering my social skills in such situations, and a number of other factors, it was a bit of a blessing and a curse. Maybe the universe decided to all at once cash in a chunk each of my good and bad karma. Maybe someone up there likes to see me squirm.

Factors that did me in:
My career path is apparently either too enigmatic or unorthodox to entertain.
I suck at small talk and BS. (These are useful skills that I somehow cannot master.)
I know about children's literature, but the bulk of this knowledge is somewhat dated.
The seating arrangement was unfortunate.

For your entertainment, I will provide some of the lowlights of the evening.

Conversation with important publishing person (IPP)--the one whose strings were pulled:
IPP: So when did you know you wanted to be a children's librarian?
Me: [Long pause. How to spin? How to spin?!?] Well, the job I have now involves working with children and I enjoy it. It also has a lot to do with outreach which I really love. Before this job I worked with people in correctional facilities, and that was pretty interesting, too.
IPP: [Long pause coupled with blank expression.] But when did you know you wanted to be a children's librarian?
Me: I guess I'm interested in a lot of things, and don't see myself solely as a children's librarian.
IPP: ...
Me: [Losing ground...think of something!] I do enjoy my work, though, and I think that children's brain development is fascinating--especially how it ties in with early literacy.

I don't believe IPP even responded to that. I can't help but wonder what sort of preface IPP was given about me that she was so dumbfounded by my response to her acute questioning.

Anyway, soon after (mind reeling), I was introduced to an up-and-coming author seated next to author I'd never heard of, of course. That conversation dead ended real quick.

My next foray into small talk was with the woman to my right. I scoped out her name tag which listed the imprint name, so I asked what she did for them. She replied, "I'm an author." I then apologized for not knowing...feeling at the same time that this could easily be construed as an insult. She was actually very gracious and continued to converse with me and learned that I hadn't been in this gig long. [I looked her up when I was back at work. She's written over twenty novels for children. I think I’ll check some of those out.]

Another wicked twist was that the one author I did know, whose books I had read, who I'd connected briefly with earlier that day, and who was by far the most chatty and friendly person at the table...was seated the farthest away from me.

Also, for good measure, though I was up close to the stage, I had to turn my back on my dinner companions for 80% of the evening in order to see the speakers. Not good for side conversation.

I don't know that anyone else at the table that evening has given a second thought to my ineptitude, but I left feeling both elated and deflated. A little more of the latter...but the last bits of this are finally shaking off.

It was far from a complete bust; there were highlights. It was incredible just being there. I did go over and talk to the outgoing author during a break and that went really well. She even invited me along to talk to and meet an eccentric editor of a review journal. Also, the brief acceptance speech given by James Marshall's partner was so simple and apt and lovely that I had to jot it down: "Thank you for indulging the triumph of his monumental silliness."

Oh, yeah, and I looked good that night. Every little bit helps.


Leila said...

being good at small talk and bs is worse, believe me. better to suck at it than come off looking frivolous. so, how long have you known you wanted to be a blogger?
leila, aka frivolous

erin said...

I was born to blog, though I could never be pegged as a children's blogger.

I'm sure you're able to strike a delicate balance between affable and laughable.