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Crowd

Do you ever just want to be alone? (Crowd on the boardwalk, Atlantic City, N.J., c. 1910. Photo by George A. McKeague Co.

Professional conferences can be exhausting. Can be? Make that “are always exhausting.” You’re running from panel to panel, perhaps sitting on your own panel, getting up early because you need that large coffee before you do anything, meeting new people, networking, catching up with old friends, socializing, getting a drink or two at night, etc.

I recently went to the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference, which was held in Los Angeles this year. Looking ahead, I plan to go to the AEJMC (Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Media) conference this summer. Then next year starts over — another AWP, hopefully Nonfiction Now in Iceland in June, AEJMC again, etc.

It was pretty neat to see blue skies and palm trees, coming from Minnesota and all.

I’m an extrovert, but even extroverts need some quiet time. That’s not happening at a conference. AWP is one of the largest conferences I go to, with around 12,000 attendees. Everywhere you go, there’s people. At the conference itself. At restaurants and bars. On the streets. Squeezed together in conference rooms, at the book fair, at the bar.

I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that post-conference, all you really want is to be alone. You need your physical space, but mental space, too, because ideally a conference should be giving you a lot of ideas on which to follow through professionally.

But if you’re coming home to your people, you really can’t say, “I’ve been away for a few days, but now I need to be alone.” You can’t be a jerk. Here’s how to not be a jerk:

* Remember that you were missed. Maybe you weren’t alone while you were away, but your spouse/significant other/kids/pets were home without you. You are loved, and because you are loved, you were missed. That’s pretty sweet. Resist the urge to be impatient or crabby.

* Recognize someone wasn’t having all fun and games while you were gone. Someone may have been taking care of all the day-to-day chores while you were away. Buying groceries. Paying the bills. Cleaning the house. Making sure the dogs were fed and walked and loved. Chores can be boring and dull, and they were doing them all alone. You kind of owe them one.

* Find little ways to have alone time. Post-conference, especially after a writing conference, you kind of crave a writing retreat. All you want to do is write and read and not talk to anyone. But that’s just not going to happen. So be good with that and steal little moments away. Do you have a commute? Maybe you download an audio version of a book you learned about at the conference and listen to it on your way to work. Maybe you get up a few minutes earlier every day to read or to write. Maybe instead of grading papers on your lunch break, you steal a few minutes to jot down some notes.

* Make a plan for future alone time. So you can’t take a writing retreat right now. Maybe this is the time to look a few months ahead and find a weekend or a week where you can get away and focus on your creative work. It’s always nice to have something on the calendar to look forward to.

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