Friday, April 20, 2007

for which I owe janet more champagne

On Wednesday, I had to go to a wee shindig for the Steinbeck Center. The shindig was to "unveil" the online Bibliography of Secondary Materials on Steinbeck (although it's been available/in use for a few months) and to show off a new donation of a ton of Steinbeck stuff.

It was a catered event, and all I knew of it was:
* the director (one of the Important to Me Profs) asked if I could answer a few questions about the project should anyone ask
* free champagne

I stopped by the English Dept/my office/the mailbox on the way to the library, saw Janet's office light was on (English & Philosophy share a building), and said "What are you doing?" and she said "Grading before class" and I said "Hey, free champagne. Want to come with?" and she said "Sure!"

If you think it sounds like an after-school special, it kinda was.

So we get to the Steinbeck Center and I see many people milling about, wearing decent clothes, and including other professors and deans. Deans! I tell you. And the chairs: arranged such that they were facing a podium. I started to get a sinking feeling but I thought, "No, Paul would have said something about speaking in front of donors, patrons, profs, and deans."

He made some introductory remarks and the woman who did all the raw data collection for the bibliography said a few words and then he looked at me and I looked at Janet and I said "Oh shit, I think I have to go up there and speak."

Sure enough, I did. Unprepared. In front of important people.

Let me just stop for a moment and tell you how things work in my world. I don't like being caught unaware. If, at my job, we have a meeting scheduled with a client, I pepper my boss with questions like "what are we going to talk about? what do I need to have planned?" and so on, to the point where she wants to beat me over the head with a stick because she doesn't know, and would I please shut up? I need time to prepare, because if I don't prepare then I'll do some stream-of-consciousness pointless "chat" and sound like an idiot. Or, god forbid, I won't know the answer to a question. So I try to think of all possible questions and their answers. Also? I'm Italian and turn red and sweat easily. I need time to psych myself out of that.

So back to the podium. I quickly accessed all the charm and humor I could muster, and went the "if you're completely unprepared, just make 'em laugh" route. It worked ok. Several people came up to me afterward and said they enjoyed my few minutes of ramblingness (ok, that's not what they called it).

After I said my thing, two other people had things to say about other stuff and at this point it's 45 minutes into the thing and we still haven't had any freaking champagne and here I dragged someone from another department over with me and sheesh if this is boring for me think about how it must be for her!

But she was a good sport, and I thoroughly appreciate that she was there for moral support even though neither of us knew she had to be, and I totally owe her even more champagne.