I pack along my oddities

I went to a fiction-writing workshop this past week. I sometimes wonder why I go.
It’s not as though I think the workshop leader will say something profound, and I’ll leap out of my chair with my arms thrown over my head and shout, “Oh, if only I had known.”
But I like to go; like to sit in a room that is oozing with hope, with what ifs.
The thing about going to a workshop, or really any gathering of strangers, is I bring along with me all my eccentric-ness. I carefully pack all my oddities in with my pens and pencils and fresh paper.
First of all, I will be early—perpetually prepared should the building burn down and the workshop moved to another venue, or in case time fast-forwarded and someone forgot to tell me.
I might get lost, be attacked by wolves and I will need extra time to fight them off. Being early is an absolute given.
I’ll try to be friendly because I am a friendly person, but it seems in these situations my friendliness isn’t as obvious; has to be poked a bit, prodded even. I don’t make a lot of eye-contact and I always bring something to do, something to busy myself with.
It’s a pre-emptive strike: just in case you don’t want to talk to me, I’m busy so don’t bother me.
Then I have to find the perfect seat. I’m not a front-row person and my years of church-going confirms not many are willing to march right up front and take a seat with a grand exhaling of air that says, “I’m pretty sure I’m top dog.”
I’m not a back-row person, either. The back of the class, the back of the bus is reserved for those who exude certainty and self-confidence, but not in the same way the front-row people do.
It’s more of a brawn thing and perhaps a little less brain, though that seems a bit harsh. If you ever spent time on a school bus, you know the resident thugs often occupied the back seats.
I’m a sit-in-the-middle sort of person, on the far right side, on the aisle, for ease of escape; sort of like a gunslinger who never sits with his back to the saloon door.
I like my right arm to be unencumbered so that I can write freely without cramping up, and without someone reading my work in case I’m describing his or her appearance for later character development.
I can’t resist wild hair and vintage clothing—the sometimes uniform of those who write.
At every workshop, without fail, comes the individual who feels the need to share. When the group is asked if there are any questions, this individual inevitably will speak at great length and nowhere in the monologue will there be evidence of a question.
I will wince and wish I hadn’t come. Foghorn Leghorns lurk in every gathering and, despite tightened security measures, they seem to sneak through.
Lots of questions swirl around in my head while I’m listening, but I hardly can think of a single question that has ever found a voice. I was never that kid at school whose hand shot up at the hint of a question.
I am a listener, a writer, and speaking out loud is not my forte. I am still mustering the courage to use the telephone without fainting (unsuccessfully as of yet).
Despite all my years at the Kiwanis Festival when I was a kid, I never did develop any verbal confidence.
I won the Elfie Forsberg Trophy for the most promising voice under age 16 (I was 10). One of the mothers of another contestant congratulated me with, “It’s interesting that a pretty smile wins out over talent.” Then she smiled and patted my hand.
That simple statement by an adult kept my self-confidence firmly in check and my voice hesitant.
Funny, though not funny at all, how those things stick with us. Makes one want to be careful what we say to a child.
When the workshop is over, I will dash for the door, like a prisoner set free from solitary confinement. Next time, I promise myself, I’ll linger, interact with other writers, and ask for their stories.
I’ll want to, but I won’t.