So here I am, sitting in a plane full of total strangers who are also going to NCECA.   And  maybe you’ve heard that I have some social anxiety issues.  But I kind of forgot all of that until I got onto the plane and was confronted by the fact that I was heading to Kansas City, and, judging by the conversation snippets, so was everyone else on this flight.  It was exhilarating, but also terrifying, because I soon realized just how many ways there are to make a bad first impression.

At what point is it ok and not creepy to take a selfie with Peter Held? Because he’s definitely on this flight with me.  Maybe I should just take a subtle photo of him while dragging my carry-on luggage through the aisle.  And at what point is it ok to jump in on someone else’s conversation and answer their “where was NCECA last year” question like it’s a pub trivia bonus round? Maybe us clay-people should have a secret handshake, or maybe just a really slow, knowing nod that we give to each other.

Hey there, ceramic enthusiast who’s also on this flight. I recognized your funky glasses, sensible shoes, and unmanicured hands; we have that in common. I see you’re in boarding group 2.  Go ahead, I’m in group 3 – I’ll make eye contact with you later, when my coat gets caught on your armrest as I bellyflop into my middle seat.  See you at the cup sale? 

All of this could be communicated with a really articulate glance, maybe with a few eyebrow waggles thrown in –  like a bee dancing out the location of a secret, pretty sweet flowerbed. Given my level of excitement about the conference, I might end up just doing the full dance, wiggling like a small child who needs to use the bathroom. Again, not quite the first impression I want to make.

When I listen in on this group of friends on the same flight talking about which booths they plan to hit up, I want to say “let’s go together” because I am flying alone and they are friendly faces in the crowd. I suppose I’m just being impatient – I want to be friends with each and every person who is also going to NCECA, and it feels like the first day at school, trying to figure out how to connect while still playing it cool.  If I were a small puppy I would jump right into your lap, but I am not.  Instead, what I am is deliriously jet lagged ( as I write this, it’s been 28 hours since I slept), and I haven’t brushed my hair or teeth in a very long time. You see the problem.

But there’s another problem: the fact that I recognize you means that in the ceramic world, we travel in different circles.  I am in steerage, and in my heart, you are sitting in the first class cabin.  Though you are seated further back in the plane than me, in my heart you are deservedly enjoying your complimentary beverage, served in an actual glass, while the rest of us mow down small children with our oversized carry-ons.  The little bowl of mixed nuts in front of you were probably hulled by the squirrels on Chandra DeBuse’s cups.

Besides, I wouldn’t know what to say, and I don’t want to come off as a suck up. Actually, that’s a lie. I do want to be a suck up, I want you to like me and laugh at my jokes. So when I say I don’t want to be a suck-up, I suppose I mean that I want to be a really good suck up, and then you’ll want to be friends with me and we’ll all live happily ever after.

Or, maybe we’re all just real people, all jet-lagged, all eager to make friends, but not until we’ve had a long nap.  To preserve our dignity and spare ourselves awkward conversation, we should just circle each other, wiggling our behinds in the secret language of dancing ceramic bees as we make our way to the airport shuttle.  And when we’re surrounded by our coats and our luggage, we can give each other those knowing glances.

How do you say “Kansas City” in eyebrow semaphore?

PS – I ran after Peter Held in the conference center and made him take a selfie with me.