Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Meet-and-Greet Fail

My Fragile Ego: Meet-and-Greet Fail with Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem had me at “I Was a Playboy Bunny.” She was real. She was funny. She was smart and pretty. By the way, her book was called Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, and was presumably a book about feminism, but that didn’t matter much to me. I was an impressionable 14 year old, eager for gals I could idolize and idealize. I was in eighth grade.

Annoyingly, I started incorporating her ideas into my English papers at school. Didn’t much matter what the paper was about; I was determined to prove to my teachers that I was an original thinker (and by original, it seems that meant transmuting 1980’s Gloria Steinem ideas into an analysis of Tess of the D’Urbervilles).

When I was a senior in high school, Steinem released Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. My spring term papers were thus loaded heavily with arguments from this well. My teacher at St. Christopher’s School saw right through the charade, and he asserted, impatiently, “So…if we all just feel good about ourselves, we’ll all succeed?”

When I landed in Ann Arbor freshman year, I didn’t know a single one of the 30,000 undergrads at University of Michigan. I introduced myself to a gal I recognized from orientation. Dana. Turns out she was from Toledo. “Toledo!” I exclaimed, excitedly. “That’s where Gloria Steinem is from!” She gave me a blank look and asked, “Who?”

Dana became my best friend. I dragged her, and several other freshmen women from our dorm, to the Michigan Theater when Gloria Steinem came to speak. I was excited to hear my idol in person, and I couldn’t believe my good luck when she announced that she’d be signing books after the presentation. We freshmen stood in line, edging closer in anticipation.

Finally, it was our turn. I shook Steinem’s hand and blurted, “I have read all of your books, I’ve admired your work for so many years, thank you so much for coming to Ann Arbor, blah, blah blah….” I ended the worshipful monologue with, “This is my best friend Dana, and she is also from Toledo!” Steinem barely glanced at me, turned to Dana and said “Wow! You’re from Toledo! That’s fantastic—it’s really great to meet you, Dana. What are you majoring in? Why are you here?” And so on. I stood there, the bump on the log, while Gloria and Dana had their moment.

Later, Dana and I laughed about the encounter. I made fun of myself for being the over-zealot. She laughed about her innocence (she’d actually never read a Steinem book, nor was she actually all that interested in Steinem—she’d attended the presentation to spend time with me).

But I never read another Gloria Steinem book again. And I lost touch with her work and her ideas. Not intentionally—not like, “Ha, I’ll show HER for ignoring me”—more like, a vague, unintentional disconnection took place over time. If I’d actually thought about it, it might’ve sounded something like this: “I’ve lost that special inner connection I thought I had with her. I thought her ideas were special to me, but I am not even connected enough for a brief, meaningful hello with her.”

Years later, I’m now a touring folk musician. In bluegrass, I’ve been through plenty of meet-and-greets. We call it the “Shake and Howdy” portion of the show. We wait in line to talk to bluegrass artists, and we have our moment—get the album signed, get the picture taken. I’ve been touring for a long enough to understand that it’s part of the show. Or, less euphemistically, it’s part of the…job.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it? But some audience members seem to intuit this, and they give a quick spiel about how much they’ve enjoyed your work, or why they felt connected with a certain song. It really is a wonderful part of the gig—to meet people who’ve connected with your work. But if you’re at the level of someone like Gloria Steinem—a generational feminist icon—how on earth can you patiently trudge through all of the many self-respecting admirers, enthusiasts, casual attendees, and/or insecure over-zealots as each night’s meet-and-greet goes on, and on, and on, and on?

It was probably refreshing to meet good ol’ Dana, the pretty Toledo freshman who had never heard of Gloria Steinem a few months ago.

But, in your fatigue, is it okay to unintentionally alienate a true and honest young fan—someone who has waded through all of your literature and dragged a horde of innocent young bystanders (and potential fans) to the show, besides?

So this brings me to my proposition. There needs to be a “Fragile Ego” line at meet-and-greets. You are allowed to stand in this line if you have met these requirements: A) You have read all of the presenter’s works/ listened to all of their albums. B) You have studied these works with great intensity, fervor, and passion, and you have attempted to assimilate them into your own work or daily life. C) This meeting holds great importance to your self-worth, for you have wrapped up a great deal of your self-acceptance in how well you’ve assimilated that person’s work.

From a business perspective: good call, right? Who wants to alienate her die-hard fans--the ones who go great lengths to champion your work and spread your virtues? But…how was Gloria to know that she’d alienate me by blowing me off? I was one of thousands of handshakes on a long book tour. From my naive perspective, though, I didn’t realize that I was that unimportant to her.

For true fans, it’s not business. It’s passion, ideas, and connection.

I mentioned my Fragile Ego Line idea to a music biz friend the other day. Her face lit up in recognition, and she said, “Yeah! You mean those people who come up to criticize you after the show?” I said, “Oh, no, actually; my line is for the opposite problem. But, very good point. There needs to be a different Fragile Ego line for those people!”

Those people can be in Line C, for criticism. They’ll come after ‘normal’ people and the other innocent ‘fragile ego’ die-hard fans, and the artist can then run away to the green room before Line C gets their turn on the platform.  Problem solved?