Today evening I attended the dinner-speaker meeting at my writers’ club. I didn’t want to go as it was cold, smoky, and dark. But I was stuck, actually, I was procrastinating answering the assignments for my class. It was either mindlessly staring at my computer screen or the going to the club. It took a lot of willpower to make up my face and shove my lethargy in warm clothes.
My club holds these meetings once a month, from six to nine, at Harry’s Houfbrau. Every meeting demands its members to buy a ten bucks dinner-ticket and pay five bucks for the speaker. It is a decent system, which works out well for the speaker, club, and restaurant. Expect it never suited me. The hours and location work me. But Harry’s is a carvery restaurant. It isn’t a place for a vegan who eats eggs. Standing in the line, sometimes for thirty minutes, with the smell of gravy and meat didn’t sit well with me. I am a Hindu whose religion worships cows. The restaurant played such a havoc on my psyche that my therapist suggested I quit the club. I didn’t. It took me years to become okay being surrounded my ribs and beef.
I used to visit the club regularly. It was a place to meet other writers. (I am still reluctant to assign myself such title.) It was interesting to hear and learn from a variety of speakers—memoir writing, travel writing, poetry, editing, publishing, cops turned writers, teams publishing a book a month. I was so active that I volunteered at the club’s board.
I think the volunteer board was always the way it was—egoists, power-hungry, stabbing in the back. But as I live in my happy place, it took me time to realize the happenings. I volunteered because I wanted to feel useful. Whereas I found that a lot of members worked at the board because they were building a legacy as if they wanted to prove something, as though it was their last hurrah. I understand their need. But trying to force opinions on other unpaid volunteers never works out. Once the president of the club chastised me, I verbally smacked her. She was aghast. (Hey, even when someone is paying me for a job, that somebody doesn’t have a right to abuse me. Just ask one of my old bosses. To him, I retaliated when I was young and desperately needed that job.) I quit the board after two years of nonsense, yet I continued attending the dinner-speaker meetings.
Slowly, I started questioning my sanity of attending these meetings. The speakers were pulled out from some worst-at-the-bottom-never-hire-them list. The meeting would start at six, followed by announcements etc., members would get their dinners and converse. Most of them would ogle at my Texas-sized salad. One man, a bulky Caucasian man, a man who used a cushion for his back, who wore keen length shorts and sat with his legs open for all the world to see his business, shoved a white bread roll in his mouth and said, “You are going to eat ALL that?” I flexed my biceps, nodded, and smiled. What else was I going to do, be as crude as him?
My breaking point was the useless mindless chatter. From six to until the speaker is presented around quarter-to-eight, one hour forty-five minutes of so-called-networking. Really, what was I supposed to be networking about? How not to use page breaks and use one-inch margins and size twelve Times New Roman font. Seriously, what? In those long dragging one hundred and five minutes, with a smile plastered on my face, I suffered the indignities of being nice and polite.
I helped older folks with their food trays; no one, not one person thanked me. I hold doors for people on wheelchairs and canes; not one acknowledgment. Once I sat next to a woman, who kept on pressing her body into me and mumbling along with the speaker. Imagine someone muttering in your ear for an hour, while you try to take notes and listen to the speaker. Once, I was working on my tablet, the woman sitting two seats away while discussing Word’s formatting with others, suddenly stood and grabbed my computer. I try to hold onto to my tablet, but she kept on pulling until it fell on the floor. No sorry, nothing. No big deal. What was I supposed to do, demand money for fixing the chip at the top left corner?
One woman, who I like, whenever she meets me, shares her experiences about Indian things. The Indian couple renting her Airbnb, the Indian man who served her coffee in the morning, the Indian food she tried, her Indian coworker. I get it, she is trying to relate. But will she like, if every time I meet her, I tell her about all the white people I meet in a day or month or year? At times, she lists names and asks me if I know those people. Hey, to all nice white people out there, we Indians don’t know each other. There are 1.2 billion Indians in India. Think of the logistics of knowing everyone.
My last straw was when a woman asked, “Where are you from?” I said, “San Jose.” She looked confused. She took a big bite on her cherry pie and said, “No, no, where are you from?” I wanted to say California. I knew what she meant. But I wanted to see if the self-proclaimed writer would ever find the right words. Of course, she didn’t. She kept on eating her pie and staring at me, until I relented and said, “I was born in India.”
Now, now, I am not a racist or sexist; I try not to judge people by their color and race and gender. Somehow, as I relate these events, I find that my writer’s club is all white as in all Snow White. Once, I met a man from India, but he never returned. One of the new board members is of Asian origin, but he mostly stays in his lane. He doesn’t make waves like me.
Today, when I needed to get away from my blank word document, away from analyzing Andrew Sean Greer’s Less, for a moment I contemplated taking a Uber to the nearest watering hole. For some vague reason, I can only consume alcohol on weekend evenings. So, instead, I drove to the writers’ club meeting. I intentionally reached late, not at six, but at seven-ish.
The usual woman at the ticket counter, who I once thought was a friend until she demeaned my most chic dress and said, “This is not a good look,” was absent. The conference-hall didn’t smell of gravy and meat and bread. Members had already finished eating and disposed of their trays. It took me only five minutes to buy an ice-tea. I found a seat away from all-those-who-shall-not-be-named. There were printed programs outlining today’s and future speakers on each table.
The woman who thinks I know all Indians hugged me, and as soon as she started to recount about the Indian Uber driver, I made an excuse and ran to the restroom. The woman who dropped my computer kept on staring at me from across the hall. I didn’t give in. To make her feel comfortable, I didn’t smile.
Two women, who I had never met before inquired about the status of my Stanford course. One acquaintance, who won a prize for an essay in the club’s newsletter told me that I should have gotten the prize as she enjoys reading my pieces in the newsletter. One woman, who I kind of know, congratulated me on my short story, which was published three years ago. And the speaker, a Stanford professor, was one of the best.
It is as if the club has sharpened its act. I know, that they only control the choice of the speaker, but hey, in my books, today was good. And the secret of it is that I need to avoid things and people who make me unhappy, that it is okay being late to things, that I don’t have to bend over backward to make others comfortable. That, probably, I will give my writers club another chance.