Everything was new.
I’d never been to Texas before. I’d never met my publisher before. I was teaching two workshops I’d never taught before. You get the idea.
The first thing I did upon arriving was what most of us do after a long flight and ride from the airport. I asked where the restrooms were. Someone pointed the way.
After taking care of business, I exited the stall and stopped short. It took my addled brain a minute or two to realize the significance of the row of urinals before me.
In this age of gender-neutral bathrooms, you might think I overreacted when I tell you I made a dash for the door. But dash for the door I did, cheeks burning—no pun intended.
This isn’t an uncommon story. I bet many of you have wandered into the wrong bathroom at even more embarrassing moments. So why do I bring it up? It illustrates a point.
Feeling like we don’t belong is uncomfortable.
This is the reason writers write “fish out of water stories.” We all relate to the emotions being an outsider engenders, and they’re powerful ones.
I changed a scene in which my main character hides in a public restroom after I had the above experience. She’s now in the men’s room instead of the ladies’. Why? It brought more tension and a little humor to the story.
As Director of O.C. Writers, I’m used to being a medium sized fish in a relatively small pond. I know most of the other fish swimming around me. I know where the best fish food is found, the dangers in my environment, and where to hide. On day one in Texas, I didn’t know the agents from the event staff, the authors from those still aspiring, or, most importantly, who the AV guy was.
Day two dawned hot and sunny. I trudged to the conference center to teach my first class, regretting my choice of shoes. I’d worn the right kind of shoes for the Southern California Writers Conference. Who knew things in Texas were so far apart and so hot?
The attendees filed in and took their seats. They looked a lot like the So. Cal. folks, but they didn’t talk like me, and they were all wearing sensible shoes.
I started to get that cheek-burning sensation again.
Then my phone dinged.
It was my husband wishing me luck. He also reminded me of something I used to say when I was nervous about standing in front of a new crowd: Seek to bless, not impress.
I began to talk to the writers in the room, to see them as individuals. I asked them what they were working on, and what they hoped to get from the conference. Pretty soon I felt so comfortable, I told them I walked into the men’s room the night before.
This universal experience bonded us. Me and them. Left Coast and Texas right. We were one nation.
The moral of the story is: We should all walk into the wrong restroom now and again.
It’s good for the psyche and the soul. Plus my new book will be better because of it.
Come on, tell me your worst wrong restroom story in the comments below. I won’t laugh. Alright, I will laugh. But only because I can relate.