A sea of rainbow colored hair unfolds in front of me. Reds, pinks, greens, and all hues of blue. Smiling faces, eager and bright, speaking in hushed tones, interrupted only by bursts of laughter and shy but welcoming glances. People who have already found their tribes of fellow bibliophiles flocked together, happy for the camaraderie, while others who are not so fortunate sit together in unevenly spaced clumps, content to ignore each other, choosing a cell phone screen or the pages of a book over in-person interaction. And then, there was me. I must admit, my hair too, is unnaturally hued. My braids of red and gold, heralded my presence where ever I went, screaming that I was… different. The styling of my hair is normal in the city that I’m from, and no one who saw me in New Jersey would bat an eye, but the colors that I saw at Booknet Fest were something out of a psychedelic dream of kaleidoscope proportions. Loud and brass, bold and commanding. And yet, they all blended together as if the bloggers and vloggers who sported them were all from the same locale and the rambunctiously colored tresses were their calling card. Demanding the attention of any eyes not afflicted by colorblindness, these people must be social… or so I thought.
By my very nature, I am loud and conversational. I take neither pride nor shame in stating this, but I figure it a fact that you should know before continuing to read my experience. Being the youngest of four children while living in a household of six, I learned even before I could talk that noise was important and without making it, you quickly began to go unnoticed. The old adage, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the oil,’ has never been more true than the moment that you hear it while driving on a highway. Nothing else has more importance in ones mind than a wheel that sounds or feels off while in a vulnerable position. This is a lesson that I took to heart at an early age and that has stuck with me, even now. And it helped to mold me into who I am as a person. I am an extrovert. I feed off of the energy of others while giving off my own as well. To recharge, I seek out the company of others, not shy away from it. I look forward to engaging with people I don’t know, not shrink back from it. In short, interpersonal interactions give me LIFE! That said, the vast majority of the Booktube world is introverted.
Picture it, an extrovert walking into a large, ornately decorated room filled nearly to the brim with shiny, brand new people to explore with exciting stories and playful banter to be exchanged. It was Shangri-La in the flesh. Or at least so it appeared. As I walked through the lobby of the hotel, I pictured how it would all go. I would say, ‘hi I’m Tin,’ and to that they would say, ‘hello Tin, I’m So-and-So,’ and we would talk books, both new and old, and either lament or rejoice over the latest book trends or ill-fated ships. What I got was, not so straight forward. Ctina from Ctina Loves 2 Read presented me with my first hug of the convention and for that, I will forever be grateful (even though I didn’t know that at the time). Her bubbly personality online pales in comparison to the warm and effervescent woman that I met in person. But as I walked around the room, hers was the only friendly face I’d seen. No one seemed particularly unfriendly as I smiled and made eye contact, the age old sign of hi, let’s talk, but only hesitant smiles or confused frowns greeted me. One reaction however, remained the same. All eyes, whether nervous or puzzled, skidded and darted away from mine, almost as if shocked that I would even look at them. I won’t lie, a meet and greet is no fun, if there is no one willing to exchange a greeting, making the ‘meet’ part a near impossible option.
Some would imagine that extroverts are ambivalent, having a special power to be above it all, able to keep moving ever forward even through a hail of rejection. But, we don’t have any superpowers. In fact, if anything, we have a super weakness. Loneliness. After about thirty minutes of feeling eyes shift away from mine and groups seem to grow tighter as I passed by, I finally walked out of the convention center and out of the hotel. Feeling out of place and alone, is not easy for me. I will talk to anyone about anything but once I feel rejected in a situation, I am out. I called my big sister, as I often do for advice and of course, she had the right one to give me. “You just got there, give it some time.” I sighed, still holding her hostage on the phone in the way needy little sisters do when they’re fearful. I went back into the hotel and taking a deep breath, made my way slowly back into the convention center. ‘You didn’t come here to make friends,’ my inner voice chastised, ‘you came here to learn, so do exactly that.’ The thing is, that wasn’t the only reason I went there. Maybe I wouldn’t make new friends, but I was interested in at least meeting new people. The thought of not talking to one single person for two whole days while surrounded by possibly hundreds of viable interactions, weighed on me like an anvil, filled with lead bricks, being pressed down upon by Goliath himself, back from the dead and in the flesh.
Doing my best to push that thought away, I skirted the door to the convention center, choosing instead to visit the vendor stands located right outside of the venue. The vendors were friendly and amicable, the southern accent of one putting me instantly at ease for ASMR- related reasons. I purchased three bargain priced pins, an interesting book, and received a free pair of socks! Things were starting to look up. Going back into the convention center, I went to sit at a table at the far end of it, away from everyone else, and seemingly, away from inevitable rejection. A few moments later a woman sat down three chairs away from me. She smiled quickly as she took her seat, but then began to look at her phone before taking out a notepad. I sat there, my sister still on the line, her low yet rhythmic breathing coming through my headset, letting me know that no matter what, I was not alone. I was tempted to stare at my phone as well, pretending that I had just seen something interesting to look at on Facebook, or found something to update my Twitter feed with. But, there was something interesting about the woman that I just could not shake.
Her more-pepper-than-salt hair was a well kept waterfall of near perfectly formed curls that stopped a little bit after the swell and fall of her cheeks. Cheeks that showed no sign of the advanced age associated with black hair beginning to lighten with time. Her dark brown eyes had a playful but busy glint to them, with no crows feet to be had. I still wasn’t looking back up at her, but from memory, I knew two things. Her youthful spirit seemed to thrive in her smile and face, even as her hair threatened to reveal her age. And, she had a story, a good story. And I wanted desperately to hear it. But, the fear of rejection weighed heavily on me. After all, we were the only two people at the table. If I somehow managed to make her uncomfortable by trying to strike up a conversation, she might get up and I’d be left alone. All alone. At a table with seven quiet, empty, lonely, chairs. Was the possibly infinite but loaded silence preferable to chancing chatter and ending up actually alone? For a few tense moments, I erred on the side of caution, choosing to remain silent, but like I said before, that’s not in my nature.
“So, do you have a Booktube?” I said, my voice full and friendly, perfectly hiding my fear of imminent rejection. This was the moment of truth. Would she answer my question with equal friendliness, or was another blank stare followed by an immediate evacuation from my presence on the horizon?
‘Not really a Booktube,’ she said, putting her notepad down and looking up at me. “But I do watch it a lot. I have a website that talks about Booktube and what goes on on it.”
“Oh,” I say playfully, “like a Gossip Girl.” I cleared my throat and did my best Kristen Bell impersonation while pretending to type on an invisible keyboard. “Word on the street is your favorite author may have sunk your favorite ship in the most anticipated series sequel of the Fall. Is it true? I’ll never tell. XoXo, Booktube Gossip Girl.” She laughed, and I laughed, fears gone. Her name was Sonnie and we went on to have a wonderful conversation until the opening address began. By then, others had joined us at our table and although they remained quiet, their eyes darted between us as we spoke and laughed. I turned to them a few times and smiled, and they sheepishly smiled back, nodding at one point or another. Once the opening address was over, Sonnie and I talked some more, chatting about our favorite authors, and our shared distaste for Black Trauma Porn. Eventually we parted ways, and I was once again left struggling with meeting new people. Finally, after several failed attempts, I got in my rented car and went back to my hotel room.
This is how the average extrovert works. We are like solar powered calculators. Keep us in the light, any light, whether artificial or natural, and we thrive. But, leave us in a dark drawer and we slowly cease to function. I was that calculator in a drawer. Dejected and discourage, the whole experience of low to no interaction left me feeling lifeless and drained. I didn’t even bother to eat. Instead, I binged watched the entire first season of Carol and Tuesday on Netflix while in bed. If I couldn’t have conversations of my own, I would at least be able to live vicariously through cartoon characters that did. I suppose that is also the guiding principle behind porn, but that’s neither here nor there.
I called my sister again, lamenting over my experience to her. I told her that I had begun greeting people and although most responded in some timid way, no one really wanted to talk. After listening patiently as she always does, she said, “what about the people that smiled, but then looked away?”
Let me stop here to explain something else. My sister is an introvert. That’s right, she was raised in the same home, with the same six people, but instead of learning that noise gets you noticed, she learned silence sets you free. By default, if the squeaky wheel gets the oil, then surely the quiet wheel is left alone, allowed to turn freely on it’s merry way. While I would purposely be making noise to get my parent’s attention and then receive it, she would be purposefully remaining silent and enjoying the ability of being a young child who got to move around relatively free. Sound got me assistance, while silence got her freedom. “What about them ?” I asked my sister who only allows her introverted tendencies to take over when not around me due to being in must-protect-baby-sister-mode. Calmly, she explained her meaning.
“Sometimes, when we are trying to branch out or break out of our shells, we set goals for ourselves in social settings. It might have been their goal to say hi to three people or maintain eye contact for five seconds while smiling. Being an introvert in a crowd can be nerve racking but choosing to be in a crowd while introverted is an accomplishment. You may have made someones day just by noticing that they were there. There’s only one day left, try again tomorrow.”
“Hey Tiesh,” I say, pretty much knowing the answer to my question before I even ask it, “are you ever shy around me?” My sister’s only reply to my question is a sound that, to the untrained ear, would be confused with a laugh interrupted rudely by an errand cough. But, I know better. That sound was Big Sister for ‘as if,’ loosely translated in Big Brother to ‘yeah right.’
But once again, she was right, or at least I assume that she was right since she is three years older than me and acts as a guiding light into the future because it feels like she’s seen everything and has a calm answer to anything. So, I force myself to eat a little something, keeping YouTube turned on high so that the gnawing feeling of loneliness doesn’t eat me alive and eventually, I sleep.
The next morning, I wake up with purpose. I am going to the dollar store for a bag to hold any swag I might get, and then maybe take a trip to the Waffle House for breakfast (there are no Waffle Houses in my part of Jersey). But thoughts of going back to Booknet Fest and being stuck feeling silent and alone, made knots grow in my stomach. Yes, I could call my sister, and yes, she would probably be willing to stay on the phone with me for hours to keep me company, only taking breaks to go to the bathroom, but it’s Saturday and I don’t want to do that to her. She may not be social, but she loves her weekend trips out to Walmart. In fact, seeking out Walmarts when we travel together and well, Walmarting, is our jam. A sudden ache in my heart adds to the knots in my stomach. I wish she were here.
I lay on my bed, back facing the ceiling, room silent and mind a blur. The sound of the water park coming alive outside my hotel room, jolts me out of the self-pity induced trance and I immediately get up. ‘We are not going to waste this day,’ I tell myself out loud. I shower quickly, dress in the African skirt I had made especially for this event and then I go outside. As I walk to my rented car, there people milling about and they comment on my outfit. I smile and stop to chat for a bit before continuing on. At the Dollar Tree, I’m not able to find a thing, so once again, my sister comes to my aide over the phone, directing me where it is I might find things. I also end up having an interesting conversation with two of the clerks there. Thus far, leaving my hotel had been a good idea but leaving it so late left me in a rush.
Hurrying out, I made my way to the convention center and sighed when I saw that I was going to be late for an event that I was really looking forward to. There was going to be a book discussion on A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa Sheimel and since I had already done a review on it (https://tinminutebookreviews.com/a-danger-to-herself-and-others/ ), I was anxious to hear what others thought about a book I loved. But, being thirty minutes late meant that I’d be self-relegated to the back of the room and probably tucked in a corner. Alone. I parked my car in front of the convention center and thought, ‘what would Tiesha say?’ She would have said you’re already there and you know you want to go in, so just go. And I did, so I did and was presented with the shock of my life (or at least of the trip).
The room where the discussion was to take place was filled with empty chairs! Only one was occupied and that was with the moderator and even she was surprised to see me. Figuring that the discussion was over and I’d missed everything, I apologized but her smile and bright eyes welcomed me. As it turned out, the discussion had not even begun yet. She and I spoke about the book until the time was up and that gave me life. Her name was Caitlin and even though her eyes were tired, her spirit was lively and engaged.
The room began to fill up for the next activity and since it was one that I had a wrist band for, I stayed. With so many people filing in and taking their seats, I asked a general question out loud. ‘What was the worst book you’ve read this year so far?’ Only one person answered and that was a woman behind me. I found out that her name was Kira, of The Book Bella She had kind eyes, framed by glasses and dark hair that flowed in tendrils past her shoulders. We had an awesome conversation. Then, to my surprise again, the event, which was about learning how to do book defacing, started with an ice breaker. The presenter, a bubbly young woman, went about asking questions to which we either stood or sat down if it applied. This was a great way to open things up and get conversations going. And, happiness of all happinesses, this was a group activity! Meeting and speaking to people was an absolute given. India from Life is a Page Turner was there and I got a hug from her too.
After it was over, lunch convened but a few of us stayed behind to chat some more. It was awesome to be able to speak to other people about books that we all loved or hated, each of us knowing exactly what the other meant. This solidified my plans for the rest of the convention. Instead of seeking out big events with lots of people, like I usually do, I sought out smaller events where everyone would have to cluster together. The next presentation that I went to was on fandom origins. I walked up to a table where a young woman was already sitting and asked if I could sit down too. She nodded and we listened to the presentation in comfortable silence. Once it was over, I turned to her and said, ‘so what’s your favorite fandom?’ She replied that she hadn’t had one in years, but the last one was MTV’s Teen Wolf. We spoke for a bit, talking about fandoms, and how totally unnecessary gate keepers were. It was a great conversation that lasted until the next panel. Her name was Courtney and she wore a white shirt that said ‘Pride’ in rainbow colors transitioning down the front.
The panel itself was very interesting and when I saw that Njeri of Onyx Pages was on it, I was even more excited. I had never met her in person but felt as though I knew her through her videos. When the questions portion opened up, I asked one and felt as though all of the presenters answered it in a kind, un-alienating way. I even got a hug from Njeri and an offer to talk later about the question I’d queried the panel on and that was extremely kind. She is so sweet and caring, always ready to lend a hand, and give a tight hug. Even Jesse from Bowties and Books came up to me with a book recommendation. Courtney and I continued to talk, even after we left the panel room and others began to join in.
By the end of the day, I was tired, foot sore, weighed down with books, but happy. I was energized beyond belief and getting to bed was such a task, I had to take a sleeping pill. Of course I told my big sister, and of course, she reminded me of the importance of not giving up. Something that started out as being a drain on my soul, ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. And, I even came home with a virtual pocket of new friends. My advice to any extroverts engaging socially at an event filled with introverts is this, don’t lose heart. Yes, it will be taxing to your spirit and at times, draining on your soul, but don’t give into the nagging feeling of loneliness. Keep pushing through, keep smiling, keep waving, and saying hello, and asking questions to open people up because eventually, someone will want to engage. And that someone just might turn out to be a new friend.
Ctina Loves 2 Read https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8xEZKSbVKSP8Tpg7fay1Mg
The Book Bella https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkju-GV9zz9EUMsRhjBIrig
Life is a Page Turner https://www.youtube.com/user/90sborneader
Bowties and Books https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTIbjVYcbwhoqFeWdiJGfkA