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If God Wanted Me to Schmooze More, He Would Have Given Me Ass-Shaped Lips

I attended the New Yorker Stories From the Near Future conference a week or so ago, and managed not to schmooze with a single New Yorker writer. This was harder than it sounds. They were all over the place — one could hardly move without tripping over Malcolm Gladwell or stepping on James Surowiecki’s toes. Thanks to convention center designer Frank Gehry’s non-eye for detail, New Yorker writers were easier to find than trash bins. But with the exception of offering my jacket to a shivering (and fetching) Rebecca Mead when we happened to use adjacent computers, I didn’t reach out to a single one.

For a relatively young, aspiring journalist, this was a grand opportunity lost. Such is life.

It’s not a matter of shyness — had John McPhee been there, I would gladly have invited him to dinner and later asked for a few snippets of hair on the off chance that I could someday clone him, or at least derive a gelatinous blob posing both serious ethical dilemmas and a jackpot Talk of the Town. I’m just constitutionally averse to using people as means to my ends, except in an open and transparent way.  The intersection of social and professional makes me uncomfortable.

By this I don’t mean talking shop, or enjoying a conversation with someone who happens to be a colleague, but pretending to be interested when I’m bored and friendly when I don’t care. It’s probably less about ethics than cognitive dissonance. The sensation makes me want to break things.

Naturally, I found out later that Mead wrote an article I deeply admired about the commercialization of eggs used for in vitro fertilization , and a friend from the conference ended up doing drunk late-night karaoke with a bunch of New Yorker writers while I rushed off on a belly full of free booze to a date that ended flatly. Oh well. I’ll never know what opportunities I lost, but I certainly gained one hell of a hangover.

Image: Eric Kilby

Comments (2 comments)

This is why creatives have agents. And I suppose good agents are people who are genuinely interested in almost anything, so they don’t appear disingenuous when networking.

On the other hand, I had exactly this experience at some kind of TechCrunch meetup — spent 20 minutes talking to a PR person, all the while wanting to poke my eyes out.

Christopher / June 2nd, 2008, 2:54 pm

I’m a PR person and I dislike shmoozing (otherwise known as ‘networking’) even though it’s an unspoken part of my job. When I’m required to go to an event with a client, it always feels like putting on an ill-fitting sweater. Sometimes it all feels so contrived, that I’m embarrassed to even show up.

That being said, there are writers I truly admire that show up at some of these events and I want to fangirl to my heart’s content. The one time I did do this though, a journalist took one look at my badge and walked away, muttering something about “PR people.” I was heartbroken. At the end of the day, PR person or not, I’m just a reader.

Anyway, my point is. Me too. Crossing the lines between professional and personal makes me uncomfortable.

Kristin F. / November 10th, 2008, 7:49 pm

What do you think?

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