Some invitees take the process seriously. They understand that the goal is both to maximize the visit and ensure one's enjoyment & ease. Others want to respond in a timely matter but are crazy busy and still others barely respond. Why they don't respond is for a number of reasons: it's not important enough to interrupt their lives, it's low-priority because it's months away — regardless of their rationale the lack of quick response ends up making it a nightmare for everyone — especially the coordinator.
I never know these people until they actually arrive and I never spend any time with them. I don't listen to the talk cause I'm setting up with the caterer and making sure everyone has what they need including late-comers and early-leavers. During the reception I'm running around and don't have time to mingle. I'm never invited to the dinner. I stay after to clean up and lock up.
The form asks if you have dietary restrictions or preferences. This invited guest, I shall call him Professor James, was on sabbatical in Key West, but giving a number of talks around the country and he'd been great about responding. He didn't have constant access to the Internet or a fax but had printed off, filled in his form, and mailed it back. Under the question about dietary restrictions/preferences he'd written, "NO Onions!"
Well. Here was a man after my own heart. One of my very first posts was about my hatred of raw onions. I was a lifelong no-onions-girl, at least raw ones. I felt compelled to share this connection. So when I next emailed I mentioned my surprise, my pseudonym (and wish for privacy at work about my blog) and the link to my post and thus began a four-month back-and-forth conversation. Here was an academic who actually noticed and was interested in me, lowly me.
It was surprising. Professor James dove head in — even called for a 45-minute long chat — about the onions, writing, our troubled relationships with our fathers, and more. It was astonishing, unexpected, and made me ecstatically happy. In a short time through a distance, this stranger knew more about me than all the people in my office put together. I had been working for a long time in an environment that, for the most part, didn't recognize people without PhDs. Though we hadn't yet met — it felt incredible to have someone really "see" me. I was so grateful.
That back-and-forth with Jim gave me a shot in the arm — he was an academic and a writer and a published author who was valuing my writing, my thoughts. We strategized about how to spend some time talking during the visit. It was a moving target. He was a really popular guy. Everyone wanted time with him. The blanks on the itinerary began to fill up, chunks of time were being signed away. As a last resort we figured I could take him to the airport and that would give us an hour to share thoughts. I was so looking forward to it.
Then the week before when I sent Professor James' itinerary around, one of our secondaries emailed a request to drive Jim to the airport. He wanted to spend that time with him. I felt trumped. I felt robbed. I felt small. I deleted myself from the schedule and sank into a depression. That feeling stayed with me for the rest of the week and through Jim's visit. I found myself avoiding any connection at all. I was not among the privileged. Who did I think I was to merit a slot on his agenda? I blamed Jim. I felt betrayed and tossed aside. Later, when Jim commented on the change and said he "was counting" on that time to get together, I didn't know what to think. I felt embarrassed.
But wait, you're thinking, why didn't I just say arrangements for the ride had already been made? Why didn't I ask Jim if it was what he preferred? I didn't because emotions aren't rational and I went to a place where I didn't measure up, where I could perform and orchestrate and coordinate and dazzle and still I wouldn't matter. It was a place I'd lived since I was in second grade. It was an old place and I ricocheted into the depths of that despair. It wasn't Jim's fault at all but at the time I didn't know that.
Once his visit was complete, our connection died off. I knew he was busy with lectures, finishing his sabbatical, then getting back to his university, starting up with students and classes. After communicating with frequency (often multiple times a week), the connection, a lifeline was gone.
Then, after almost a year, Jim sent this email:
Just read "Lost without Normal." One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was: Write your way through transition. When normal is lost, THAT is the time to write. The writing will orient you & help create the new normal. It's hard but it works. Thinking of you, JD
Out of nowhere — there he was — sending me a bucketful. I got filled. My writer's cup runneth over.
So — as part of "writing my way through" — this is the shameful stuff I've been avoiding.