Before I launch into this post, I'd like to explain just how hard it was for me to come up with something suitable to write about. Every time I plopped down in my desk chair, my mind just wandered. Facebook, refresh. Ooh, look, Play-Dough. What's that speck on the wall? I wonder if my hair looks as terrible as I think it does. Do I have anything important to do today? What if I was Whitney Houston? Oh, I wanna dance with somebody...
Okay, maybe not that scattered, but pretty scattered. Until, of course, I found a hole in the fabric of society - a big, gaping hole. You've felt it at home. You've felt it at parties. You've felt it at huge family gatherings that no one really wants to go to, those ones where everyone shows up out of a sense of obligation.
It's called, what am I supposed to do right now?
Commonly mistaken as "awkwardness," the "what-am-I-supposed-to-do-right-now" syndrome is a brain malfunction where not a single directive thought runs through your mind for a few minutes, sometimes even a few hours. You feel like a trout in the Sahara - incapable of saying anything intelligent, or doing anything intelligent, so far outside of your "zone." (We're excluding, of course, the fact that a trout in the Sahara would die almost instantaneously.)
But sometimes we feel like that, don't we? I do. I want to melt into my shoes like a Fudgesicle in a greenhouse. Red face, sweaty hands (gross), shuffling of feet, awkward conversation ("I like your hair! I mean, your lack of hair. When did you shave your entire head? It looks fantastic!").
And so on.
So, how do we know what-we're-supposed to-do-right-now? Unless you, by some divine providence, already know, you can't know exactly what-to-do-right-now - but you can pretend you know what you're doing, which fools most people who don't really look.
I give you, How to Accomplish Anything Without Knowing What You're Doing (A Five-Step Plan):
1. Bring a buddy. No, this is not just for elementary-school field trips! This is for any situation in life. Whether you're headed to a Memorial Day barbecue this weekend or a wedding in Manhattan, you always need someone to pal around with, preferably someone who's just as desperate as you to look like they're doing something. It's amazing how much less awkward you feel when you've got someone laughing nervously over your shoulder.
2. Throw a line. Stuck in a conversation? Don't know how to continue it? Want to save yourself some silent gaps? Here's how: talk about the other person. Ask them about their recent move to Manitoba or their new fiance (under no circumstances may you talk about their ex-fiance), or, if they're younger, their least-favorite class in school. This one's important - never, ever, ever ask any student "How's school going?" You'll get "Fine," they'll think you're as unimaginative as the rest of 'em, and you're stuck again. Instead, talk about how Math was your least-favorite class and about that one time you cut Molly's hair with safety scissors. I'm cutting up the old adage: if you don't have anything nice to say about their personality, mention their dress/shirt/skirt/shorts/skort/dress pants/earrings/cuff links/lack of hair/new hairstyle/white teeth/sparkly shoes/expensive watch. Not saying anything at all won't help you much. If you ask them interesting things, you'll make a new friend. I guarantee it.
3. Carry something. A purse, a box, a notebook, a Kindle, a pencil, a tray of cookies, your sister. You always look busier with something in your hands. That way, if you're stuck in a conversation, you can say "Whoops, look at the time, look how important this thing in my hands is, yes, I have to put
4. Don't touch anything. Yes, everything in the room looks oh-so-interesting, but that glass vase could be worth your entire left arm. I don't care if you're deadly curious. I don't care if you want to poke around the china cabinet. If you're anything like me, it'll end up broken, and then you won't have a left arm. Console yourself with snooping around their bathroom cabinet - there's likely nothing breakable in there.*
*Oh, come on, you've done it. You've snooped. Studies show that 70% of those surveyed admitted to poking in guests' bathroom cabinet. How's that for creepy? (How many of you went to go clean your bathroom cabinet?)
5. Remember: you're less weird-looking than you think. So what if you're standing in the corner? So what if you look a bit like a trout in the Sahara? These gatherings are supposed to be fun. Most everyone else in the room feels trout-like. Find your buddy, grab your object, make some small talk - you'll survive. I promise.
Good luck at the Memorial Day barbecue (and for heaven's sakes, stop cleaning out your bathroom cabinet),