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On the Contrary Averting a Hostel Takeover

September 7, 2001
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Next week, I will be attending a writer's conference in the Rocky Mountains where the youth-hostel accommodations consist of a room with two sets of wooden bunk beds, a swayback queen mattress, an enormous table lamp straight off the set of The Brady Bunch, and a view into the men's public rest room, which is not as interesting as you might imagine. Total cost of lodging? Twenty dollars per night, plus an additional $3 if guests fail to bring their own sheets and towels.

I speak with authority about the lodging because I attended the same conference last year and somehow managed to convince myself -- in between searching for earplugs and waiting for the Germans to get out of the shower -- that even though I was 40 years old, youth hostels were still pretty neat. Truth be known, the only reason I could endure the accommodations was that I managed to snag a room all to myself.

I signed up for the conference this year after being assured I could again have a private room. Knowing I could escape to the seclusion of my own digs made it easier to accept spending five days going to breakfast, lunch, dinner, all workshops, and the bathroom with the other attendees.

But about a month ago, my private haven became threatened when the conference organizer told me I was one of only two people out of 28 to be granted a private room. "Only two of you are snobby and antisocial enough to hog whole rooms to yourselves," she said. Actually, she didn't say that. But that's how I interpreted the news.

I imagined arriving at breakfast well-rested from a night of solitary slumber only to hear others complain about their snoring roommates. "What???" they would ask, on learning that I didn't have a roommate. "What makes you so special?"

Despite these misgivings, I reasoned that it was better to feel like a prima donna than to negotiate with strangers over who gets the bottom bunk.

Then, three days ago, the situation got even worse when the conference organizer happened to mention that there were now several people on the waiting list. "You snotty, so-above-it-all Queen Bee.

If you didn't have to have your own room, then everybody who wished to attend the conference could do so," she said. Actually, she didn't say that. But that's how I interpreted the news.

I started to feel that wanting to change my clothes in private was immature, that the desire for a good night's sleep was selfish. I was ashamed that I could afford the extra 50 bucks it took to secure a private room for five nights. What was wrong with me, anyway? Why couldn't I invite strangers into my abode?
Failing to find any answers, I grew resentful. How dare they hint that I should give up my room? Private rooms were offered as an option. They should have planned better. It wasn't my responsibility to accommodate their lack of foresight.

Unfortunately, the anger was short-lived, and a teensy bit of paranoia set in.

I managed to convince myself that the other attendees were part of a secret youth hostel society happily traveling the globe, trying on each other's pajamas, and talking with great eye-rolling disdain about people who couldn't share their space. Sure, other conference-goers had told me they too were worried about the accommodations. But I assumed they said these things to publicly throw me off-guard, while privately they passed notes about my pimply-faced modesty. Why couldn't I be like everyone else?

Then, from a distance, I heard my mother's voice: "Shari, would you leap off the Golden Gate Bridge simply because everyone else did?" She used to trot out this line whenever I tried to convince her I needed a certain type of shoes because all my friends wore them. Although this argument didn't work when I was a teenager, it suddenly made perfect sense when I applied it to this issue.

Reason slowly began to take hold as I listed my motives for wanting a private room: 1) As a work-at-home freelancer, I'm not used to sharing space with people; 2) I'm a light sleeper; and 3) Even when I was 24 and touring Europe on $20 a day, I managed to avoid the youth hostel environment. I'm just not a group-going gal. Never will be.

Realizing this, I gave up the idea of staying at the hostel altogether and rented a small cabin on a lake just minutes from the conference location. I'll still be able to eat and interact with the other writers by day, but at night I'll be able to unwind -- and shower -- in my own private nirvana.

This has several advantages, as you might expect. One, I get my own space. Two, I don't have to bring my own sheets. Three, I'm now really looking forward to the conference. And four, there is now room for several additional people to attend.

What's the lesson in all this? The lesson is that sometimes being selfish and understanding what is best for you can also prove beneficial for other people. If I'd trusted my instincts earlier, I could have avoided the Sturm und Drang of the last week, and the organizers could have signed up everybody who wished to attend. I didn't want to stay at the hostel to begin with, but I reserved space because I thought that's what I was supposed to do. Next time, I'll think harder about what I want to do.

Armed with my own private cabin, I'm now feeling so good about next week's conference that I'm actually eager to interact with others. I'm even thinking that maybe, just maybe, I'll invite a few folks over for a pajama party.

Workforce, September 2001, pp. 24-26 -- Subscribe Now!

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