I had a new experience this past weekend. I went to a Homeschooling conference to “promote myself” as a tutor and teacher. I made brochures to hand out and everything. I have never done something like that before.
When I first got there, as people walked by me, chatted with others, or listened to some opening remarks in the hotel conference room, I felt alienated. I had all these brochures that seemed to be whispering incessantly to me: “So hand me out already. What are you waiting for? Promote yourself.” But I didn’t want to. It felt icky. I tried smiling at some people, but that felt forced. It was a smile with an agenda. The bullshit smile of a salesman.
I went back to my AirBnB disappointed and lonely, wondering if I’d made a big mistake coming to this thing. Maybe I’m not a promoter. I just don’t like doing that.
I allowed myself to consider the option of bailing on the whole thing and driving home that night. That didn’t feel good either. But I knew there was a third option. Go back to the conference the next day with a different approach.
I remembered the time I did an author’s meet-and-greet at a bookstore for the first time and how it ended up being a rich and fun experience. When people walked up to my little table, I found myself naturally not wanting to talk about my poetry and more naturally wanting to know about them. I like finding out about someone. With that approach, if my poetry, or my background or whatever, came up in the conversation, it felt easy and natural to say something about it. I realized I don’t like talking at people. I like having a conversation with a person.
That’s how I approached things when I went back to the conference the next day. I let myself relax. I let things unfold. I was naturally drawn to a person, and then to another, and we had good conversations, full of humor and honesty. Or a person was drawn to me. Perhaps the best conversation grew from someone approaching me while I was amusing myself with a cheeseburger. Every person I talked to was interesting. (Well, except for the one guy that talked at me—and everybody else he met—with a sales pitch masquerading as friendliness.) I learned a lot about various resources and about why parents decide to homeschool their kids.
I noticed a tendency sometimes to start spouting my philosophy or general thoughts about education or schools or kids or parents. Things always went better, though, when I let that kind of thing leak or pop out naturally here and there, one fragment at a time, where appropriate. If they want more, the relationship will continue somehow. All in good time. “Haste is of the devil.”
I also notice this tendency when writing an essay, like the one I’m in the middle of right now. It’s a tendency to lecture, to dump everything I think I know all at once in front of the reader. What works better is to wait for inspiration, to let it unfold like a conversation unfolds, to let myself be surprised by what is said.
By the end of the conference, I had given my brochure to quite a few interested people in a way that felt natural. It would be nice if something comes from that. But even if nothing does, the experience was worth it. I actually found myself texting a friend that I had “had a blast” there. It also reinforced an idea I like. Life is a conversation. It's no good lecturing it. But don't let it lecture you either. When it talks to you, talk back. Then see what it says to that. Things get revealed a little at a time. And go to interesting places. Often too, the number of words you speak is inversely proportional to the amount of your enjoyment.
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