The Martian Probe

How about I’m here at this event because I was invited like I presume you were? (Actually, I don’t presume.  My mind doesn’t even go there.)

I know. I know.  Some people need to ask questions when you’re at an event and they don’t know you.   It’s their way of making a connection.  Many of them are quite earnest and honestly mean no harm but sometimes it wears me out.  There’s a special onslaught when you look different from the majority of the people at the event. Someone, sometimes a succession of someones rush over and begin the probe…the Martian probe.  Picture a long fingernail, shaped like a screw on the end that begins to drill for your information.

There’s nothing so bad with:

  •  “How do you know so-and-so (the host) or

  • “What brings you to this event” or

  • “What do you do” or

  • “What’s going on in Roxbury these days” (because you used to work in Roxbury and they assume you still work there, or live there, and stay on top of the things that happen there.

Individually, these inquiries are not so bad, but taken together these and other questions feel like an unwelcome Martian probe from one of those scary sci-fi movies.  Experiments, including (perhaps) dismemberment are bound to follow.

Why are you here?”  (Translation: I don’t know you so I must know why you are here.)

Guess what?  I don’t know you either but I always presume that you’re here because you were invited.

It’s not that I won’t make small or even meaningful conversation.  It’s just that I like to have conversation flow naturally.  Let’s remark about the loveliness of the place where we are gathered, or say Happy New Year since the new year just started, or talk about how lovely the spread looks.  We don’t have to talk at all.  We can just say hello and keep it moving.

Music would help at these events; a little background music to soften the room.

It’s not that I don’t want to know things about people I don’t know (although a lot of times I don’t – I can be a cool cucumber and I tend to be slow-to-warm-up),  but and this sounds mean:

  • Sometimes I don’t feel my brain has room enough to know things about people I’m not going to have to interact with again.

  • Sometimes I don’t feel like being introduced again to the person I’ve met at a half-dozen or so of these and other gatherings and convenings. 

  • Sometimes what I want to know is impolite –  like how this organization that is smack in the middle of the inner city can really have no people of color in its employ – or how my husband and I are among the 3 or 4 black people who will pass through on this night with more than 100 people in attendance – yet again. 

My husband deals with this using the boomerang technique.  He throws back each question he is asked.  And how do you know…(the host)?  Well, where did you go to school?  And where do you live?

I borrowed his technique the other night.  “You’ve asked me three questions, “ I said to the inquisitive Martian.  “Why don’t you tell me your answers to the three questions you’ve asked me.”  (In such rapid succession I might have noted but didn’t because that would have been impolite.)

“Where do you live?” I started to ask the woman who’d asked me “What was going on in Roxbury these days?”  If she’d answered Scituate or Dedham or Lexington or even JP, I would have said, “What’s going on there these days?”  And given her a score for whether or not she gave me the answers I wanted like she seemed to be scoring me.  (She didn’t seem to think I could talk about anything else but Roxbury.)

Here’s an actual exchange that happened two years ago when I first thought of writing this post:

“Do you live in Cambridge? ”  Attendee I didn’t know asked.
No, I don’t live in Cambridge.
How are you familiar with this group?
I did some consulting for them and became friends with a couple of the people and they invited me.
Oh. Did you go to Yale?  (It was a fundraising event held at a private home for a group at Yale.)
No, I didn’t go to Yale. My husband graduated from one of the Ivies (if that will help you feel me/us being here.)
Pause. (He didn’t ask but so wanted to – Why are you here?  Who are you?  I don’t know you , so how could you belong here.)
Not deterred, he asked, So, do you know the host?
Bingo! I wanted to give him a prize.  I know her – she was one of the people who invited me.
Oh.  that shut him down because if I knew her, the person with the power and prestige, then I must belong after all.

A new response I’m going to try the next time I’m at one of these functions that I’m not getting paid to attend as part of a job is, “I don’t really feel like answering questions right now.  It’s good to meet you.  I’m glad that we both know…and are able to be here/support them/blah-blah-blah.”

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About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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