For the Good of the Party: Simple Steps to a Wild Bacchanal

9 May

By Alexa Day

I’m concerned about the state of the party.

Not that party. As far as I’m concerned, the politicos are a lost cause.

I’m concerned about the state of the house party.

The other night, I got to watch a documentary on George Plimpton. George was a man of many talents, a participatory journalist and one of the founders of The Paris Review. But he’s also remembered for hosting some pretty legendary parties. James Baldwin, Gay Talese, Allen Ginsberg, and the bright lights of Sixties lit fic pressed together on the couch, drinks in hand and laughing merrily.

Well, maybe not James Baldwin. He was glaring at the camera as if daring his fellow reveler to photograph him. I can empathize. I’m not big on being photographed, either.

I will concede that in the New York City of the 1960s, it was probably not all that difficult to throw a legendary party. I’ll also acknowledge that the line between literary salon and wild party was probably pretty thin at George’s place. My suspicion is that wherever two or three writers gathered, a party was likely to follow.

But I had to ask myself. Do we make parties like this anymore?

We’re right on the heels of the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. Thousands of like-minded but delightfully distinct readers and writers enjoying loads and loads of parties, sharing the kind of memorable conversation that probably marked a Plimpton party. Parties like this are safe places to talk about what we’re reading and what we’re writing, without anyone asking to help with research or wondering when we’ll write “real books” or insinuating that “those books give us unrealistic expectations.”

They’re a sanctuary disguised as a bacchanal. How could that possibly be wrong?

Now, back in the real world, is it possible to preserve the magic of the wild party?

I have to believe that it is. It takes a little effort, and I’m sorry to say that adherence to rules is sometimes necessary. But I think you can manage.

What must you do? Read on.

1. Check your phones at the door. Some of you will resist, saying that you need to be in touch with babysitters and the like. (I’m presuming you got a babysitter. You don’t need me to spell that out, I’m sure.) I’m not so sure you need your phone as much as you suppose. You can always check in with it from time to time if you have to. If you have a Fitbit, as I do, your phone will tell you if it’s ringing. In any event, your phone is going to distract you, despite your best efforts. You’ll be more present for that intense conversation if you don’t have other claims on your attention.

2. Bring a stranger. The best parties promote the collision of worlds. Work friends meeting writer friends. Local friends meeting visiting friends. Friends of friends meeting each other. It’s too easy to get locked into parties with one group of people, people who have just one thing in common, people who all know you from the same place and in the same way. After that, it’s too easy to get locked into the same conversations. A diverse crowd of people is going to take that party to some deep and unexpected places after a while. To make this work, you as the hostess will have to make sure people are meeting each other. After all, these folks don’t have their phones, and they may be surrounded by strangers. But don’t worry. Introducing people might be a tough job, but before long, it will take care of itself.

3. Be patient. We live in a swipe-left-swipe-right world, and I’m asking you to talk with strangers. It’s a big change. Conversation takes time. It won’t always seem to be working. Modern society has taught us that we know each other right away, but the truth is that we have to invest a few minutes in getting to know another person without judging them. Find a few minutes.

4. Be honest. Deception kills parties. The great parties of old were great because no one had anything to prove to anyone else. I doubt seriously that Allen Ginsberg was holding back because he was worried about what Tom Wolfe would think of him. Be you, without apology. You’ll maintain that buzz more easily and get invited to more places.

One final word of advice. It’s not a good look to exclude people. Seriously, we would not have the story of Sleeping Beauty at all if Aurora’s parents had just invited Maleficent to the christening. Maleficent would probably have said no, but she would have very little in the way of legitimate grievance. People remember not being invited to a party. They will remember it for the rest of their lives, and they will not care even a little bit about why that decision was made. Trust me. It’s not a good look.

This brings me back to George Plimpton’s legendary parties. After fifty years on The Paris Review, George has moved on to the great literary salon in the world beyond this one, but the publication he helped create lives on in the 21st century. At the bottom of the page on The Paris Review’s website is a place to sign up for a newsletter promising to keep subscribers abreast of all the latest developments … including parties.

My heart made a giddy somersault as I plugged in my email address. Could it be this simple to join the in-crowd? Would The Paris Review newsletter counteract the emails I still receive from Snctm about their far less interesting get-togethers? I wondered what my first newsletter would look like.

But clicking the sign-up button brought me to, of all things, a MailChimp error page.

I was crushed. I could not believe The Paris Review was capable of such an error, despite what the grinning chimp said. Clearly, someone out there knew I was trying to get in and set up this elaborate scam to keep me from showing up in my cheap but comfortable shoes to defile the party with my coarse discourse. And once again, I had to be impressed by the effort required to make sure I stayed on the outside.

This would be a great place to quietly commit to throwing my own soirees. To outdo The Paris Review. To direct this disappointment into a much smaller sanctuary, disguised as a bacchanal.

And maybe I will someday.

But not before I find a way onto that mailing list.

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