The Great Chicago Tweetup; the Relentless Monologue.
So, I’m not going to bother rehashing the whole trip out to East Coasty University. There’s still a chance that the department I’m already in there would be interested in having me part-time. Which is alluring for me, still. But it would require a collaboration with East Coasty Healthcare Engineering Institute. Which does seem like a possibility. They were more impressed with me, and also eager to expand their scope from pure problem solving to research. And since my goals include bridging that gap, I feel like it would be a good fit there if I could find a way to make it happen. And I’d be decidedly happy to go there if my prospects here fall apart. Though, Local Research University seems to be finally making a push to get financing for the line for my promised Assistant Professorship. We’ll see. They’ve been saying that for a year.
Anyway. Fuck all that. It’ll happen or it won’t.
After going out to the east coast, I flew into Chicago to meet some friends from twitter. There I got to spend about two full days hanging out with @geeka, @katiesci, @scitrigrrl, and then a day with them and @labroides, and even breakfast with @highlyanne and @allochthonous. I found it was hard to refer to people by their real names, rather than their twitter-handles. I kept slipping. No one else seemed to have that problem.
I got in very late Friday night and met @geeka and @katiesci for dinner. I was deliriously tired after a plane delay of more than three hours, a terrible job talk, and a paper rejection (ed: “very well written but insufficiently novel” me: “no, YOU’RE insufficiently novel!”). I think I had arugula. I know I had pie. I crashed, and then in the morning we met up with Chicago Joe, my friend from undergrad and grad school, for breakfast.
After that, we headed in to the city and met up with @scitrigrrl, who is a newly hired assistant prof at a major research university, and on her way out of Chicago permanently. So she showed us around, and we went to the Art Institute, and Navy Pier, and took an architectural tour of the city. Then we had tapas and later had dessert at a really swank bar called Selby’s or something. There was a lot of glass, and I kept expecting to see people doing blow in the bathroom. Because it was classy (That sounds snarky. It isn’t meant to be. The joint was very classy and had a lot of young, fit, pretty people who looked like they should be doing blow in a Scorsese picture.).
The next morning we met up with @highlyanne and @allochthonous and @labroides, and their children and @labroides’ wife, who has a twitter handle I can’t remember. We had breakfast and then @geeka and @katiesci and @labroides and I went to a White Sox game, which was awesome, and I had a helmet full of ice cream, and Alex Rios stole a home run by going two feet over the wall in right field. Sadly, I had to leave in the 5th inning to go to the airport. I made it home safe and tired and happy.
I really had a wonderful time. It was exciting to meet these people, my sort of natural comrades, and travel around seeing things and having fun and jabbering about science and telling stories, and learning about people’s backgrounds. Putting voices on to tweets.
But my social anxiety was not willing to sit in relief. I never know if I’m fitting in. I think I project the image of someone comfortable with myself and how I fit into a social group, but I am often not. I found myself having to fight not to interrupt people so that I could tell the story about me that was a propos. This led me to making a bunch of abortive syllabic ejaculations that I would then silently berate myself for. I make too many jokes. I don’t know if they’re funny. Hell, I’m not even sure that other people recognize them as jokes half the time.
Whenever I’m in a social situation like that for so long, a couple of days at a time, I end up wondering if people wish I hadn’t come. Did I add to the experience, or detract from it? I’m never sure. I always fear the worst. I’d love to do it again, I really would. But there’s a part of me that’s afraid to even suggest such a thing, because, what if everyone else was thinking that it would have been a lovely time, if only @Dr24hours weren’t there?
I find myself listing all my faults. I’m brash. I don’t hear well, so I’m loud. I wore cargo pants. I’m not as good a scientist as they are. I’m not as comfortable. I sweat. I tend to make suggestions first, and then seek other people’s ideas. Seriously, what was I thinking with the cargo pants?
In AA, we often talk about this as thinking of ourselves as “less than”. I do that a lot. I am always comparing myself to other people, finding myself short. Stupid. Loud. Irritating. It’s relentless. And the thing is, some of it might be true. Some of it is surely false. But I’m not the best judge of it. I can’t see myself from the outside. I have many good friends. That must mean that I’m not as horrible to be around as I fear. Many of my friends will give me counsel about how to be more pleasant to be around. So I’m not completely off base with regard to people finding me to be a lot to take.
And it all comes back to shame and fear. I don’t know how to be comfortable with myself, so I don’t know how to assess if others are comfortable with me. I don’t catch social clues when they’re subtle. It often takes people deciding to be very explicit with me before I understand that I’m not behaving appropriately. So I often feel like apologizing for my behavior even when I don’t know if I’ve done anything wrong. Just in case. But that’s weird and anti-social too. I feel trapped and confused a lot.
But my best assessment of the Great Chicago Tweetup was that it went well. I’m taking people at their word. Everyone said they had a nice time. I’ll accept that and trust that I didn’t destroy what could have been a good thing for other people. And I’ll be grateful, knowing that I certainly would have if I’d been drinking. I know, because I have.
There was a brief moment at the bar, Saturday night, when I had about 3 minutes to talk to one of the other attendees about what it was like to be around the rest of them while they had cocktails, one on one. It felt like a tiny little connection, a moment where I got to talk about something real and full and honest and sincere about myself. Where I was comfortable saying: “I feel perfectly comfortable around people drinking. Sometimes I miss it, but what I miss isn’t how it really was.” Because I didn’t have to fear that what I was saying was unwelcome. It was solicited. I didn’t have to worry that my experience wouldn’t mesh with hers. It didn’t need to. I could just describe my experience. Postureless honesty. And that felt really good.
When we left the bar, @katiesci left a nearly full cocktail behind. Apparently it was too gingery. I remain baffled by people who can do this. Sure, I liked some drinks better than others. But abandoning a glass full of alcohol? I can’t fathom it. Except that I did. And now I have. I don’t have to be chained to the last drink, fearful of what will happen when I get on the train to go home, where there’s nothing else to drink.
But I clearly still have a long way to go before I understand how I fit into this big, strange system. This lattice of connections we call a society. But I’m learning. And I’m good at that.