A few times a year, I find myself flying here and there around the country, giving speeches about this and that. Lots of people do this; no big deal.
The only reason I’m bothering to tell you about it is because this is not the kind of thing I do. I mean, I do it, but it sure doesn’t come naturally.
I didn’t even learn to drive until I was 23. I didn’t even learn how to look people in the eye until I was 26. I’m pathologically shy, wracked with anxiety, and utterly lacking in self-confidence. I’m easily intimidated, have poor body image, tend to mutter and babble, am afraid of flying, have face blindness, don’t know how to apply eyeliner, get lost in the town I’ve lived in for eight years, hate leaving the baby, and never know how much to tip.
However, those 30-45 minutes when I’m actually in front of the microphone? Love them. And I love having met people and having made friends, even if the process of actually encountering them for the first time is terrifying. For better or worse, traveling is part of my job now.
I’ve learned some survival tips for the surrounding logistics, to prevent me from falling apart or coming completely unmoored when I’m away from home:
At the hotel, go ahead and call the concierge for anything, from “What’s the number of a pizza place that will deliver to my room?” to “Which hotel exit do I use if I want to walk over to that big rock thing I can see from my window?” to “How can I tell if my alarm clock is on?” They’ve heard much stupider questions, and even if they haven’t, who cares? You’re flying away and probably never coming back. If you ask a dumb question and the concierge gives a useless answer, hang up and call again. You’ll probably get a different concierge and you can start fresh.
Same is true if you’re at the airport and have gotten overwhelmed. For some reason, airports are designed to be confusing, and each airline has a slightly different brand of confusingness. So go ahead and wave your important bit of paper at anyone with a lanyard around their neck, and ask them repeatedly what you’re supposed to do next. If it’s the wrong bit of paper, they’ll tell you. Are you a terrorist planning to blow up the plane? No, you are not. Therefore, you have the right to expect them to help you.
If you do get overwhelmed and are about to cry in public, speak to yourself (in your head!) in a firm but compassionate voice, in the third person: “Now, Simmy, I know you’re exhausted, but I really don’t think you’re going to cry. You’ve gotten through this kind of thing before. It’s okay to stand still for three minutes, and then I want you to walk over to that kiosk and ask advice, okay? You can do this!” It’s ridiculous how well this works.
In a fabulous new city? Got a wonderful opportunity to explore untried vistas and climb new climes? Finally have a little bit of time to yourself, with no one else’s needs or plans to consider? Feeling horribly guilty because here you are in your hotel room, squandering it all by holing up on your Naugahyde lounger, eating granola out of the pouch with the AC cranked up? You’re fine. You’re fine. If this is what you want to do with your free time, then go ahead and do it. Shy, introverted people need to recharge before and after meeting other people, so it’s not wasted time, it’s preparation time. If you push your limits now, you won’t have anything left when you really need it.
Go ahead and stream your hometown radio station. Normally, that fool announcer who groans when he breathes is the last thing you want to hear, but when you look out your hotel window and see weird, alien kinetic art installments and mountains that are the wrong shape, and outside your door are chattering ice machines, sad-looking housekeepers, and some kind of wall art made of neon lights, fish gravel, and wheat . . . you go ahead and stream your hometown radio station. Find out what the weather is back home.
Speaking of housekeepers, you can tell them to skip your room and come back tomorrow. They won’t mind, honest.
Stay away from magnifying mirrors. I know you’re thinking, “Hey, I have forty minutes before I have to be out the door and get on stage! I’ll just take a peek and see if my eyebrows couldn’t use a little touch up!” No. Stay away. Trust me on this one. Or if you don’t trust me, trust Liz Lemon:
Shut it down!
If you have to make conversation, ask people about themselves. That is what people really want to talk about. Also compliment their jewelry, their babies, their car, their lovely downtown area, or their shoes. Line up some questions ahead of time if you need to.
If you have unassigned seating on the airplane, your best bet is an old person, preferably an old man. He is far less likely to make hideous conversation, snap his gum, blast the music in his earbuds, shove his knees into you, use up more than his share of the armrest, watch filthy things on his laptop, or try to impress you with his carry-on-stowing prowess. He will likely make little phlegmy noises in his throat from time to time, but you can manage that until he falls asleep.
Find Jesus. It doesn’t matter what city you’re in, how bizarre the neighborhood is, how peculiar and foreign the architecture is. If you’re anywhere near a church, go find the tabernacle and you’ll be at home.