Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Social Awkwardness Dread: Part 2 of 2

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(PHOTO by Derek Wuenschirs)

“What is or was your most dreaded awkward social situation?” continued...

Carolyn Black, author of the debut short story collection The Odious Child, said: “To feel socially awkward is to be of the body, excruciatingly, which is why I was puzzled to feel such excruciation in Second Life, while commandeering a virtual body. That body! I tried to dress it in clothing from a box but found myself naked, wearing the box. I tried to dress it in a new skin but found myself bald, the word ‘sample’ written across my arms and face. I hid the foul body behind a building, where it could spy on defter avatars. It was a creep, a hyena, a monster. And my other body, my real body, was blushing.”

Julie Booker, author of the debut short story collection Up Up Up, said: “I’m like the Bill Murray of Groundhog Social Faux-Pas Day. I’m at a work party and see someone from the last shindig. I remember telling him a story that was entertaining but way too personal, and the shame I felt afterward. I go up to him and apologize for the previous chat. He says, 'That was the best conversation I’ve had all year.' Which paves the way for me to reveal something funnier and even more personal.”

Nathaniel G. Moore, most recently the author of the novel Wrong Bar, said: "My episodes of embarrassing convos with authors or literati are numerous, but no more than anyone else, right? The time when a famous Michael and I were chatting (so I thought) at the Griffin Awards (most of my anecdotes revolve around the Griffins as I’m friends with the family and it’s written into our social contracts, etc.) and I was telling him about something and he said, 'It’s really loud,' and sort of returned to his cracker and wine."

Grace O’Connell, whose debut novel will be published next year, said: “Big crowds scare the Dickens out of me. And as a writer, I need my Dickens. Kidding. I don’t really like Dickens. Am I rambling? It’s really nice to meet you. Is it hot in here? Do you have the time? I always figured my crowd aversion was the result of the writerly temperament, and I dreamed of meeting other writers so we could all huddle in a corner together at events, terrified of people we didn’t know and all equally happy to head home at 9:00pm. Little did I know that other writers are charming and socially adept. Betrayed!”

Sarah Selecky, author of the debut short story collection This Cake Is for the Party, said: “I dread forgetting people’s names, or calling someone by the wrong name. I am so good at remembering faces, but I just can’t keep names in my head. When I see someone I know walking down the street and I can’t place their name, it feels like my brain is covered in a thick white sheet. I know that the dread makes it worse—in fact, it is the dread itself that makes me forget the name. But sometimes—and this is the worst—I forget my own friends’ names. For instance, I keep calling my friend Heather 'Jessica.' Perhaps this has something to do with Heather’s last name—it’s Jessup, which sounds kind of like Jessica—but that’s no excuse, and I know it. What is wrong with me?”

Meaghan Strimas, most recently the author of the poetry collection A Good Time Had By All, said: “An ex-boss asked me to go on vacation with his little brother. (‘Bro’ was a sales rep for a big-time pizza chain; he’d been awarded a trip to Italy.) I’d met the brother once. I didn’t like him. He was shifty. He drank a lot of orange pop. But that was beside the point. Who said I was for hire? ‘You mean in the same hotel? In the same room?’ ‘Come on. He’s single. You’re single.’ Obviously, I said no, but I was told, ‘You should think about it. You know you can’t afford a trip like this on your own. This is a once in a lifetime chance.’”

Meg Wolitzer, most recently the author of the novel The Uncoupling, said: “I have, on very rare occasions—'Halley’s Comet'-rare—pretended to have read someone’s book. Once at a cocktail party I offered a writer an unearned compliment, and she thanked me deeply, then came closer and asked, ‘What about that scene with Graham and Jeremy and the exposure of the Soviet woman? Which parts worked best, and which parts least?’ All I could do was pretend to choke on a chicken meatball and flee the room.”

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Jessica Westhead

Jessica Westhead's short stories have appeared in major literary journals in Canada and the United States. "Unique and Life-Changing Items," which appears in And Also Sharks, was shortlisted for the 2009 CBC Literary Awards. Her first novel, Pulpy & Midge, was nominated for the ReLit Award. Westhead lives in Toronto.

Go to Jessica Westhead’s Author Page