At the final reception at the NCS, I was talking with Dr. Virago and some friends of hers I had just met, and found my eyes wandering around the room in the way that so often signals “You’re not important; I’m looking for a Name to talk to.” I kept telling myself, “Stop that. It’s very rude. Focus on the people you’re with,” and then I’d catch myself doing it again.
I’m sorry, fellow-NCS-delegates. Let me explain. First, crowds make me nervous; at least we were at the edge of the room, where there wasn’t anyone behind me, or I would have been even twitchier. Scanning for possible danger is almost instinctive with me, the behavior of a shy animal. What could happen? Oh, I don’t know; that’s not the point. I might be pounced on by either a very large predator or someone trying to get me turn in something I’ve forgotten about (if those aren’t the same thing). It’s just that I feel I need to keep a wary eye on a room full of people.
Second, I confess it: I was hoping to spot someone else. Not a Name, just someone (almost anyone) I’d known for longer than I’d known the people I was talking to. I was at the end of five weeks away from home, in which I had had many conversations with people I had just met, about either purely practical things or completely superficial subjects. I had spent no time at all with old friends or anyone who might be counted among my intimates. I was tired of such a public life. A few minutes with someone I had some history with would have been restorative.
As medievalists, we’re familiar with how in bono and in malo interpretations of the same scene can co-exist. I admit my behavior looked bad. But perhaps, knowing the background, you can find it in you to be charitable, as I prefer to be so long as I can imagine any alternative explanations for behavior I might otherwise object to. This person may have had a forgetful moment; that one may have been jet-lagged; another may have been profoundly nervous at seeing Professor X in the audience.
I’m no saint. Finding charitable explanations is an act of rebellion: my mother, in her own words, is a nasty old cat who can’t imagine how she raised such a mealy-mouthed child. A bland social smile is to my face as full Goth makeup once was to some of my peers.