The workshop continued with a series of speakers, the younger ones speaking in vocal fry. I’m not the first one to notice this trend, and I haven’t heard an explanation for it. My theory is that it’s a class marker—a way for young, mostly white women to signal to each other that they are highly educated members of the professional class. I find it irritating but no one under 30 seems to even notice it.
They also used a lot of modifiers like “sort of” and “kind of.” I’ve written about this before but here I noticed the younger men as well as women doing it. I realize it’s an unconscious habit, but did it originate from a need to ingratiate one’s self? Is it something you would hear in a corporate setting, or is it only used in the nonprofit and government world, where everyone is concerned with not appearing too overbearing?
The third feature of the younger speakers was fast mumbling. They would let fly a lightning bolt of words that dropped to an indecipherable end.
These people were clearly smart and earnest and good speakers in general. I thought back to when I was 30. Did I talk in some way that grated on my elders’ ears? I don’t think so. Back then, valley speak was the speech trend derided by all, and that wasn’t anything you would have adopted at work to get ahead.
Wait, that’s a lie. I know I say “like” way too much. That comes from working at a university for 10 years, where I was surrounded by students who did it. Because yes, speech styles are contagious.
Lunch time. I know USG agencies try to use taxpayer dollars responsibly, but really, the box lunch was a huge disappointment. Mine contained rendered “turkey breast” on white bread with a limp piece of iceberg lettuce. There was a four-ounce bottle of water and a small bag of potato chips but no potato salad or cole slaw, no cookie, not even a pickle.
But I was one of the lucky ones. As I watched others open their boxes, some of them looked like this otter who thought he was getting a chocolate chip cookie but it was oatmeal raisin.
Their boxes contained Fritos, not potato chips. The woman across from me said, “I haven’t had Fritos since I was 12.”
“Right?” the guy next to her said (“right?” is another new filler), “and there’s a reason for that. They suck.” They looked around hopefully, as though maybe one of us lucky ones who got potato chips might want to trade. Each table had a pile of Fritos bags at the end of lunch.
The networking was good though. It was so nice to be around people who do similar work on similar issues. I exchanged a lot of business cards and will be following up to try to establish partnerships with other organizations.
For the afternoon sessions I moved to be away from the paper rustling sigher and wound up sitting right behind a head bobber. This guy nodded enthusiastically at everything every speaker said. As usual I seemed to be the only one who noticed. Why am I so bothered by the way people talk or sigh or crinkle their gum wrappers or nod? Sometimes I think I must be farther along the spectrum than most people.
After the workshop I walked up to Dupont Circle. I had stayed there years ago and remembered it as a lively shopping area. But there were no shops except CVS and a comic book store. It was lively with restaurants but I didn’t feel like fine dining alone.
I walked back toward the flat and went into the Marriott across the street from it. There was a beautiful, quiet outdoor area with comfy seating. The rest of the customers were inside watching a football game. “You get $2 off your beer because of the game!” exclaimed my server. “Wow, that’s awesome!” I replied, as I sat with my back to windows and read my book for hours before going back for my second night in the grotty flat.