In Which Litlove Tries To Party

I did have a book review scheduled for today, but as I was eating a packet of crisps this morning and realising that the sound of crunching was actually painful on the tender inside of my head, I understood that it wasn’t going to happen.

‘I’d say you had a hangover if I didn’t know you never touched a drop,’ Mr Litlove told me.

‘I do have a hangover, ‘ I replied. ‘An over-stimulation hangover.’

For today is the morning after Mr Litlove’s office Christmas party. Yes, I was foolish enough to say I would attend. The urge to please Mr Litlove combined fatally with the knowledge that I really must try and get out more and overcome my social inhibitions, and it only took one half-hearted maybe for Mr Litlove to be sending me menus over the email. He knows he has to take swift advantage of any weakening on my part.

So yesterday I went so far as to put on a party frock and face the problem that a friend of mine so neatly outlined when she said, ‘Science can put a man on the moon, so how come it can’t create a pair of hold-up stockings that don’t fall down?’ This is an excellent question. I was acutely aware that I was in the middle of a rather good book, and as I was putting my coat on in the kitchen a gust of wintry wind flung a rain shower against the windows. Oh lovely. So enticing, that black, wet night outside. The car was dank and chilly, but as I stopped at red lights, mumbling deprecations under my breath, a group of men passed by on the pavement, jogging, and the reminder that there’s always someone worse off consoled me. I parked in the underground car park, where some of my best nightmares have been set, and actually managed to find the steps up to street level (this clearly was a lucky night) and the hotel where Mr Litlove awaited me.

‘Are you all right?’ Mr Litlove asked as he guided me towards the reception room. I realised I must have that look of blind panic on my face. It’s those first moments when you sit down and commit yourself, you know? And you have to begin, not knowing when it will all end. This is, of course, completely the wrong moment to be given a bunch of strangers’ names. I had no sooner been introduced to the other people at our table than the data slid off my Teflon mind into oblivion. What we really ought to do, if only we could change social convention, is to be introduced to another person via a really good conversational gambit. Something like: ‘Now this man thinks that the magenta dress the boss’s wife is wearing is hideous.’ Or ‘this woman has left two children at home with a babysitter who she’s worried isn’t entirely competent, but given it’s her husband’s niece she can’t really say so.’ Then after a few minutes of chatting, you could be told their name with some semblance of hope you might retain it.

The room we were in was small, compared to the number of people packed in, and the volume of talk was already set at excruciating. Hotels are so odd. They have these huge sumptuous entrance areas, all marble and brass and curving lines, and then a range of ill-proportioned conference rooms without windows. They make me feel like a lamb being led up a gilt walkway into a mirrored holding pen in a crate on the back of a lorry, crammed full already of agitated, bleating sheep. The hotel staff were bringing in the starters, squeezing through the insufficient gaps between the backs of the chairs on tiptoe, plates held aloft. Mercifully, the food reduced the volume in the room to bearable, and the disco out in the atrium packed up for a while and I could hear myself think again. Not that this was necessarily an advantage as I then had to listen to my own stumbling attempts at small talk.

Our table was split between party-friendly youngsters and middle-aged senior staff. It was funny, the first time in ages I’d had the chance to compare myself to a large group of people. The youngsters were full of fun and vim, enough confidence in their beauty to pull funny faces for the camera and to launch themselves into just about any topic of conversation. They were ready, they’d decided, for the first company wedding, and were trying to decide who’d be a likely candidate to marry. The young woman they picked laughingly put them off, though admitted she’d reached the grand old age of 27. It surprised me slightly to remember that when I was 27 I had a two-year-old child and was lecturing for the university (though I was only a graduate student, no proper post at that stage). No wonder my own careless youth felt like a past life; I’d taken on so much responsibility, so young.

Then chronic fatigue had happened. Listening to the talk on the other, older side of the table where it was all about the food and holidays and children’s schooling, I felt it had been like the experience of sleeping beauty – I’d inadvertently slept for a hundred years and woken to a changed world. It has been such a strange and disorienting experience, chronic fatigue, I haven’t got anywhere near making sense of it yet, understanding what it has been in my life and how it has changed things for me. It definitely shadows everything I do; here I was, gratefully astonished to be well enough simply to attend a party, yet oversensitive still to all the ordinary things that used to spell disaster for my health – the over-adrenalised speed of social talk, the noise, the vivid sensations, food with sugar or alcohol in it, the late hour. It was remarkable to me that we were waiting for our main course at nine o’clock and I was just hungry for it, not spiralling down into a blood sugar low, starting to feel faint and shaky and anxious about having to pretend I was okay because the alternative, trying to explain, met with such complete incomprehension. Even now, I don’t know how to explain to normal, ordinarily healthy people that I struggle with confidence in my ability just to exist after more than a decade of horrible, undermining experiences that even when they were happening to me, I could scarcely understand myself.

Naturally, I didn’t attempt any such thing. I made unremarkable party small talk, just as if I were a normal person. Once the meal was over the room began to clear as people wandered out in search of the bar, or the small table that had been set up as a casino. Mr Litlove wanted a bit of a mingle, and I had just embarked on a genuinely interesting conversation (about books, of course) when the guy with the disco decided it was time to crank the volume up, and we were back to shouting at someone a hand’s span away and still not hearing their answers properly.

I thought we might give in to the party spirit. ‘Do you want to dance?’ I asked Mr Litlove. ‘Oo-err,’ he said. ‘It’s been so long I think I’ve forgotten how.’ We were just about remembering when his boss, the owner of the company, shimmied over to say hello. Now Mr Litlove’s boss is a party animal, thinking nothing of staying up all night, good grief he’d be dancing until the DJ keeled over. ‘What are you doing now?’ he asked me, agilely executing steps on the spot. ‘I’m writing a book,’ I yelled back, or at least I think I did; I couldn’t hear myself at all. ‘Who’s your publisher? Have you got an advance?’ he asked. I filled my lungs with air. ‘No,’ I shouted with all my might. ‘I’ve just got an idea.’ He nodded, keeping time to the beat. ‘So what’s the idea?’

Now this is a torturous twist that publishers haven’t thought of yet. Trying to pitch a book on a dance floor in competition with Ceelo Green’s Forget You song. I wondered how it was I always ended up in these situations rich with absurdity. ‘It’s creative non-fiction,’ I screamed, in response to a question about market orientation. ‘New! Exciting!’ Then I took the chance of looking around to send a pitiful ‘rescue me’ face to Mr Litlove, only to see him back in the room we ate in, deep in conversation. His boss beckoned to me to follow him into the thick of the dancers, but I took refuge in an energetic pantomime that involved a lot of pointing at Mr Litlove and which I hoped showed wifely loyalty but probably said louder than anything I’d managed vocally that I was Desperate! To! Escape!

I fell upon Mr Litlove’s neck and we did in fact leave at that point, before I could embarrass myself any further. My stockings were saying it was time to go home. We had that final test of initiative beloved of party-goers: locate the paystation in the vast multi-storey car park. And then we returned to the blissful quiet of our home and a sulking cat, who had been left lapless all evening and wanted to register a complaint about it. Oh I will never be a party person, but at least I didn’t have to endure the all-too-familiar experience of being made ill by things I don’t even enjoy. I’m a bit wrecked today – my throat is sore, my head still pounding – but it’s better than it used to be. I got through the whole evening intact, and that, my friends, counts as a success.


48 thoughts on “In Which Litlove Tries To Party

  1. This made me laugh! Especially the part about pitching a book in competition with Ceelo Green singing Forget You. I hope there are no publishers reading this. I can picture the meetings: “I’ve got a great idea for finding the hottest young writers! It came from the blogosphere, so it must be cool…”

    • Heh, wouldn’t that be the way – pass by all the good ideas for books only to land smack on the ironic ones! 🙂 I’m glad this made you laugh – I enjoyed writing it!

  2. This makes having to pretend that the Prof’s rock band really does rock seem like a walk in the park. I would be fatal at an event like that. I don’t do tact, I’m afraid.

    • Mr Litlove laughed at your comment about not doing tact. I am crippled by politeness, so feel sure that only being able to speak the truth is a very good thing in the end!

  3. Oh Litlove, there is a party animal in there just trying to claw her way out! I hear you about the post-party headache and feeling hungover even if you didn’t drink anything but plain water. I always feel that way too. A good excuse to pamper yourself and do nothing but “recovery reading” 🙂

    • Absolutely! Anything that leads to pampering is good by me, though I’m quite happy to cut down the party excuses to once a year. 🙂 It’s nice to know other people are affected by parties the same way I am – very comforting!

    • The one good thing about leaving the house is that returning to it is always a very sweet experience! No it wasn’t too bad this year, but I’ll never really be a party person. 🙂

  4. God, it sounds hideous! When you’re Bookworld Queen you can send a slave to stand in for this sort of occasion. It’s grossly unfair that you get a hangover without drinking, but as you note, great that you can even manage it now. Good for you!

    • Oh do you think my Bookworld Queen powers will extend that far? Great! I really must step up my election campaign. 🙂 There’s all sorts of things I could do with a slave or two….. but they can read my books if they liked. I’ll be a nice employer!

  5. Always amazed at how you turn such events into such fascinating and enjoyable reading material. Also, thank you ever so much for reminding me what such events are like, before, in a moment of madness, I leave my comfy reading chair and accidentally agree to indulge in one.

    • Heh – that’s what happened to me this year – I forgot what it was like! 🙂 It’s what keeps me going through events like this, though, the thought that I can write them up afterwards. This does mean that, logically, if I went out more, I’d have more anecdotal material…. hmm but I can’t quite bring myself to make that deal!

  6. Another article of yours which touches close to home. I’ve never been to my companies’ Xmas parties. Just the idea exhausts me, and any glimpse of a dance floor would send me fleeing in the opposite direction.
    Someone should start up an introvert’s Xmas get-together for companies to do, where we can talk in a subdued, pleasant room about books and philosophy over a cup of tea 🙂

    • Well I love that idea! Statistically, in any company there must be 20-40% introverted employees, so it would be worth doing. My husband would want to go to the noisy party, though! I do find it comforting that I am not alone in my anti-party stance. 🙂

  7. Ugh, parties. I don’t even like parties being held by my friends, let alone parties full of people I don’t know and whose names I don’t remember. The noise, the small talk, the poor food, the unspoken injunction to have fun are all quite enough, without the threat of illness hovering over you too. I am so impressed you went and glad you aren’t suffering for it.

    • I couldn’t have put it better! It’s funny, all the years I was really ill, I used to force myself to go feeling really ashamed I wasn’t better at that sort of thing. It’s only since I’ve felt better that I’ve realised I just don’t like them and that’s all there is to it!

  8. Love the image of you doing your pitch on a dancefloor. Maybe that should become an exercise in all creative writing courses??
    I find those company events tortuous also and I don’t have the fatigue problem you do. Well done for lasting the night.

    • Thank you! I wasn’t sure I would. 🙂 Can you imagine all the variations of pitching that would be opened up if we started including locations like dancefloors, swimming pools, children’s playgrounds, etc as possible meeting places with publishers? It’s a horrific thought!

  9. Dear Litlove, reading your wonderful, amusing description and the comments here makes me feel as though I have come home! I admire you for accepting the challenge and succeeding so well. I feel exactly as you and others here do about these kind of social events. I love AndrewL’s idea about having an introverts’ Christmas gathering – it sounds perfect. When can we all meet?!

    • Oh I do love it when you visit! I am a big fan of AndrewL’s idea, too. A nice bookish tea party would be so perfect. Here’s hoping the technology allows us full immersion in the virtual world soon. 🙂 Do hope you’ve been having a lovely Christmas break with your family!

  10. All I have to say to you is, “Brilliant Writing!” Absolutely top-notch. Whatever creative fiction you’re writing, I do hope you’ll include this somewhere. Perhaps not in a volume (though it certainly could!), or as a “personal experience” piece.

    I have chronic fatigue with my fibromyalgia, and when I’m flaring up with exhaustion and worst symptoms, noise is pure torture! Congrats for surviving! And best wishes during your recuperation.
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    • Judith, I find it so reassuring to have my own experiences confirmed by blog friends – I felt so weird for years until I joined the book blog community! You have all my sympathy for your fibromyalgia – I’ve had a bit of it as part of CFS and that was bad enough. Thank you so much for your lovely comment – I appreciate your encouragement hugely!

  11. I’ve had chronic fatigue so long (30 years), I forget about it and just feel like an inferior being, wan, tired, lazy, easily overwhelmed…and this is because I’m not as sick as I used to be. Put that together with introversion and the world becomes exhausting–but still beautiful and funny and I’m glad you’re in it.

    • Thirty years is a long, long time. But I understand because for me, it’s been 15 and like you, I’m a lot better, but not quite a fully functioning human being. It’s easy to feel the difference as a form of inferiority, though I do fight this. It helps a lot that people like you understand it all perfectly. That alone makes the world more beautiful!

  12. Classic litlove – should be required reading for all at the start of December, either to remind ourselves that we are not alone on the threshold of the season of goodwill, or to be kind in the maelstrom. Happy Christmas and here’s to a better 2014!

    • Aw, Deborah, you are a sweetie! This is party season, isn’t it? I am still thinking about you and all you’ve been going through in the floods. I do hope that last night didn’t raise the waters where you are again. Here’s to a better 2014, that’s for sure! 🙂

  13. So, so true. And so well written. Keep it handy when you write your creative non-fiction about CFS. The mix you achieve between humor and pain is perfect. Laughing is also more acceptable than tears. Maybe stories like yours can help others understand about hangovers from a glass of water and much over-stimulation.
    I was interested in how comments praised you for trying. Should we put ourselves through such torture? I don’t know any more what is worth the effort.

    • Your last point is very interesting. I found that for a long time I was confused by people encouraging me to do things that I knew in advance would be very difficult. I try to strike a better balance these days. I want to do a tiny amount of them because otherwise I get scared of them and that’s limiting in itself. I don’t want to be afraid. But at the same time, they ARE exhausting activities and I’ll never be suited to them. So limiting the amount I do is more important than trying to do more of something that will never really suit me. All this is to say it’s an issue I’ve thought about a lot! I’m also so glad you appreciated the balance of laughter and pain – the two go so naturally together in some ways. I always want to trace that line in my writing.

  14. Very funny and vivid account! But at the same time I really felt for what you had gone through in the past, could feel what a shattering experience that must have been.

  15. Sometimes at a party I find a quiet corner and there are a few other people there and they feel the same way I do about loudness and crowds and we have a bit of conversation about the books on the shelves in the room before I go find Mr. Non-necromancer and say I’ve had enough.

    • That is indeed the ideal party scenario for me too. At this one we were crammed into a tiny square room, five tables of people, with nowhere to hide! But any kind of bookish conversation is a lifesaver. 🙂

    • Absolutely! The headache sort of merged into Christmas (which is also a bit of a stress because it’s so excessive and stimulating, even if that is in a good way!). But now, after a few quiet days, I’m feeling more like myself again. I definitely think of you as someone who would appreciate a proper conversation. 🙂

  16. Tres amusing, LL. *smile.* I suffer from something slightly familiar, in that I usually have a feeling of dread upon approaching a party. It’s the oddest thing. Mrs. O is very amused by this, in that, once comfortably ensconced, I’m also difficult to pry out of place.

    Do take care, LL!

    • I think it’s normal for everyone to feel slight dread approaching a party. Even Mr Litlove has been known to hesitate on the threshold! He’s very hard to get out once ensconced, too. 😉 Your wife sounds very sweet.

  17. I’m glad you have survived this mortal party, if only to be able to report this here! I’m really lousy at chit chat in other people’s office party, I’m always afraid I might just say the wrong thing. And to add some dancing seems totally reckless (French office parties are kept to the minimum: champagne and foie gras, that’s what matters). I hope you have a few restorative and quiet days now!

    • Thankfully, a few restorative days is exactly what I’ve had – and they do help! It is really hard to talk to people you don’t know but who know your other half really well. Ideally, they’d tell me all the stuff about the office that I don’t know – but it’s hard to put the right questions! I’m sure French office parties are very elegantly minimal – and sensibly so.

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