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Life, the Universe & Everything

The Newness Equation

It’s raining, and the church bells are ringing. Dusk. My computer screens, lit with Twitter and WordPress, are brighter than the fading evening light.

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In a couple of months, I’m scheduled to go to MisfitConf 2014 in Fargo, North Dakota. This is partly exciting, and partly nerve-wracking.

Exciting components: I’ve never been to Fargo, and I like exploring new places. Also Fargo sounds artsy and small, both things I like. I’ve been following AJ and Melissa’s work for a while now; I’m looking forward to meeting them, and seeing what kind of event these two misfits create. And this is a conference that’s right up my alley: intimate, intentional, crafted. Good food. Not too many people. And the people who do attend will, I’m guessing, have a higher than average likelihood of sharing a good percentage of my interests and values. It’s conceivable, even likely, that I’ll get to converse about the cognitive science of acting, or using complexity theory to drive social change via new media, or whether to use vodka or water in pie crust.

Nerve-wracking components: Mainly, that there will be lots of really Cool people there and they will be polite to me while wondering who let this oddball (me) in the room. (Yes, I know it’s called Misfit Conf, which suggests being an oddball will be an advantage rather than a detriment, but this is standard human neurosis; early hominids didn’t use the word “cool” to describe their fellows, but I’m convinced they still fretted about the fundamental concept.) I’m introverted, and also what I may as well call an empath, so right there, new groups of people are bound to inspire some nerviness. Plus, I have to acquaint myself to new spaces; I have to get to know landscapes and architecture and rooms just as much as people. It’s a lot of energy to expend.

Reducing the equation: New = Exciting + Nerve-Wracking.

In the past, I would have (unconsciously) adopted one of two approaches to this impending Nerve-Wracking Excitement:

  1. The Forget It Solution: Literally forget about the conference until one week out. Buy an overpriced plane ticket and scramble to find a hotel room. Pack at 11pm the previous night and forget to include enough underwear. Inhabit the edges of the conference and excuse myself from social situations when they approach genuine interaction.
  2. The Hermione Solution: Meticulously research every speaker and known attendee in advance. Arrive with a checklist of interactions to seek out, all designed to set myself in the most flattering light. Locate and attach to a suitable subgroup of people and use them as a social shield against undesirable attention.

That’s a bit of a caricature, but the underlying pattern with both approaches is finding a way to avoid vulnerability, either by simply not being available, or by aggressively trying to control everything so that Nothing Bad Happens.

These days, I’m finding a new pattern emerge. It’s simpler. Requires a lot less energy, in the long run. It’s just this: show up.

Show up before I leave. Accept my own conflicting emotions. Accept that the experience might be wonderful, or miserable, or something in between, or a blend of both.

Show up during the journey. Enjoy the plane flight. Enjoy getting to know the place. Allow myself time to meet the streets, the trees, the buildings, the people.

Show up to the people. Notice the ways I judge them, and the ways I expect to be judged. Let people form their own conclusions about me, without trying to manage the process. Bring my real thoughts and feelings and opinions to the table, and if someone does squash them, feel the sting and then move on.

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It’s still raining. Outside is complete darkness now; the window reflects my lamps in dimensionless black. All this talk of newness lets me enjoy oldness: the familiarity of my office, my Jeep (which will dump cold rainwater on my feet when I back out of the driveway), this town.