Conference Etiquette

The woman with the severe skirt settles down across the aisle from me. “I’ve won twenty short story awards.” Her voice is a melody of Southern culture, the “I” and “r’s” softened just enough to reveal her region, but the grammar word perfect. She smiles at me.

“Hi, I’m Jessie.”  I exaggerate my long Midwestern “I” and type into the computer straddling my lap..

“Oh. I’m Camille. You said you are… Jerry?” She squints at my name badge, which has been flipped around backwards since I got on the conference center elevator and bent over to tie some kid’s shoe.

“Lisa actually. Lisa Kudrow.”

The woman directly behind me develops a coughing fit.

“Oh hello, Lisa. I thought you said… Jerry.”  She squints at the badge again. Up front, the speaker has laid out a computer beside the box of donuts she’s offering the room, but she shows no sign of beginning her presentation.

“That’s my middle name.” I stare harder at my screen and type.

The woman behind me makes choking noises, and Camille turns to her. “Do you need some water?” she asks.

“No,” the woman says. “I’m fine.”

Camille faces the front again. “Well, as I was saying, I’ve won twenty short story awards.”

“I won some business cards one time.”

The choking woman had started to subside, but now she breaks out into a fresh fit of snorting coughs. Camille turns to her, no doubt to ask again if she needs water, when the back door bursts open to admit a small boy and his heavily laden mother. “Come on Grant,” says the mother. “Let’s sit in the back.”

Camille says, “I thought children weren’t allowed.”

“Sorry, my sitter cancelled.” The mother thumps down her conference bag, another bag brimming with toys, and an overstuffed purse. “He won’t be any trouble once he settles in.”

As if in direct response, the little boy zooms forward. “Hey, Shoe Lady!” he greets me.

“Hey, Shoe Dude!” We high five.

“Whatcha doing?” He glues himself to my elbow and stares at my screen.


“Is that a game?”

“Sort of.”

“Grant, sweetie,” his mother calls, “Come sit with me.”

“No! I want to sit with Shoe Lady.” He’s nudging the laptop out of his way to climb up in its place.

Camille says, “Really, a conference like this…”

I speak loudly to drown out the rest of her sentence. “I think my son forgot his trucks in my bag this morning, let’s check.” I push the laptop onto another chair and put Grant down so I can get to my conference bag.

“Grant, honey?”

“TWUCKS!” Grant produces three of Sam’s beloved Hot Wheels in two little fists.

“You want to drive them here in the aisle?” I get down and demonstrate my own voice-motor technique.  Camille sniffs. I wave to Grant’s Mom as I stand. “I’ll scoot down so you can come sit by him.”

With an eye to Camille, Grant’s Mom collects her bags and walks forward. As she settles in beside me, the speaker taps the microphone and stands up.

Camille says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

The woman behind me leans forward and lays a hand on Grant’s mother’s shoulder. “Don’t you recognize her? That’s Jennifer Aniston.”


About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


Conference Etiquette — 48 Comments

  1. Hahahahaha. This is writer’s conferences, but it is so many things ‘adult.’ I can’t stand networking events, either. “Hiletmeshovemycardinyourhandwhoeveryouareandtellyouallaboutme” moments are just the pits. Seriously, when I attend anything, and I mean ANYTHING like this stuff anymore, I go in and immediately ask about the other person, nod like they’re saying the most fascinating things I’ve ever heard for as long as I can stand it, and find where the kids are playing when I can’t take it anymore. At least, the kids have real conversations. Some of the time, this technique does work really well, and I actually have great conversations with adults.

    Camille sounds like a good possibility for a character in a longer story. *evil wink*
    Hop over and visit Andra Watkins’s recent post The Artistry of Calvin & HobbesMy Profile

  2. I think I would have told Camille she needed to quit talking to me so she could work on her 21st short story award. Grant was much more interesting.

    Entertaining read!
    Hop over and visit Kenja’s recent post The Wedding InvitationMy Profile

    • Creative nonfiction. I took events from a couple of different panels and amalgamated them. Camille, though not her real name, was pretty much rendered as is, sadly.

  3. Do you think if you and I attended a conference together they would make us sit apart? Like kids in a classroom? I think we’d make a lot of noise together… Yeah, it would be fun!
    Hop over and visit Marie Nicole’s recent post Ladies NightMy Profile

    • That part is absolutely real. I pulled in Grant and his Mom from another panel for this story, because I could just imagine Camille’s reaction to them.

  4. I wonder who ‘taught’ that woman how to network. Besides the folly of leading with that piece of information, why doesn’t she realize that those who’ve also won awards won’t be impressed by hers, and those who haven’t will be immediately put off?

  5. Love, love, love it! And this is why I have forsaken Writerly Events in favor of the interwebs. If I read a Camille blog and tap out all my vitriole then breathe, delete, and write something like, “Wow. I sure read that!”

    Great post. Hilariously awesome.

    • I love “Wow, I sure read that!” I’ve seen comments in that vein before, and I always get a kick out of them. She was, happily, the only person all weekend like that, but she made up for ten or eleven like her.

  6. Love this. And I’d totally sit by you and Grant and the snorting woman behind you.

    Camille needs to go faint on a couch somewhere, right?
    Hop over and visit iasoupmama’s recent post The BabyMy Profile

    • Although it’s creative nonfiction, I mostly pulled together people from a couple of panels to write it. Camille was real, and there was this sea of open seats around her. Huh. Wonder why.

  7. As the woman who just had her sitter cancel on her, I love you for this. Kids are much better networkers, anyway. The last “conference” I went to – which was really a big intergenerational family camp – I met a surprising number of people through my kid – she’s that awesome. Love the story.
    Hop over and visit A Place of Greater Safety’s recent post AntechamberMy Profile

  8. Don’t you just love people who take themselves too seriously?! Good thing you were able to find the humor. So fun!
    Hop over and visit Kianwi’s recent post Please DoorMy Profile

  9. Funny story. There’s one in every crowd. I love the woman sitting behind you acknowledging she’s there to help. I love your wit. What else can one use in deflecting the Camille’s of the world?
    Hop over and visit stephanie’s recent post FlawlessMy Profile

  10. Sweet! I always carry the random toddler-ish toy in my purse in case I meet an unhappy kid somewhere.
    Hop over and visit Louise Ducote’s recent post FasterMy Profile

  11. This made me laugh so hard. Keeping a straight face in this situation would have been tou with the woman behind you practically choking down her giggles! Some people have no f-in clue and I’m glad Sam’s trucks were still in your bag. I used to do that with crayons and paper (always had them) when my kids were small and never minded sharing with a mom in need of distraction. She was out woman out with Lisa, Jennifer and jerry! Hysterical as always!
    Hop over and visit Gina’s recent post Ground Hog Day, The Movie And What I Learned From MattMy Profile