April 1, 2014

STRANGER: Elizabeth Moore
LOCATION: Pesce, 2002 P Street NW, Washington, DC
THEME: Dinner with a woman who says “yes” to everything

It’s possible Elizabeth Moore likes meeting strangers even more than I do.

It took only five minutes after she sat down to dinner with me before she was on first-name terms with the waiter, and had quizzed the gentleman sitting near us about his meal. And as I’d learn over the course of almost two hours together, that’s pretty typical behavior for her.

Elizabeth, 24, said that she wasn’t always outgoing and instead considered herself an introvert. But a series of life experiences prompted her to do a complete character overhaul, and now she’s an extrovert who’s eager to meet new people and try new things. The weeknight we met, she had been up since 6am for a babysitting job, followed by a full day in the office, then straight to dinner. That schedule would be enough to send me to bed early, but she pushed through her energy deficit.

“Right now, I’m exhausted. I could go home and sleep, but then I’d worry I’m missing out a great experience, and I’d kick myself for that,” she said. “I’d go crazy at home. I need to be talking to someone all the time or doing something.”

Speaking at a quick clip that would push the limits of even the best stenographers, Elizabeth listed the activities that fill her calendar. Her days are filled with trying to make the most out of life, be it practicing the ukulele — an instrument she picked up on a whim — or taking part in a weekly spoken word and music show at a local bar.

Elizabeth’s full agenda stems from her willingness to approach strangers, to experience the new, to say “yes” to most of the opportunities presented to her.

One such opportunity was reaching out to me for a dinner interview. After I read her effervescent email it was impossible to say no. That’s how we arranged to meet at Pesce in Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. It’s a pleasant restaurant with low ambient noise. Random pieces of fish-themed artwork dot the walls of a brightly-lit dining room and a long bar.

I arrived early, so killed the time by sipping on a Pesce Mule, a zesty cocktail of Grey Goose vodka, squeezed lime and lemon, and Blenheim ginger beer. Delicious.

Elizabeth breezed in to the bar a few minutes later, a smile on her face and already talking at an accelerated patter. I wasn’t the only one to get an effusive greeting from Elizabeth, as she cheerily greeted our waiter, who brought over the menu on a chalkboard.

Pesce has rotating specials and dishes of the day, and the board — seated temporarily on a chair next to our table — showed our options. Our waiter (Daniel, as I learned via Elizabeth’s questions to him) gave us some suggestions and then we made our picks.

While we waited for our starters, Elizabeth told me that she was a quieter, introverted person in her childhood, which involved a lot of relocation until settling in San Francisco before college. It was a formative time for her, as the teachers at her all-girls Catholic high school “were always telling us to speak up, try things, stand up for what we believe in.”

After school, it was on to Virginia for university where she studied art history and communication. At college she did some teaching on public speaking, pushing her more toward being an extrovert. But she still hadn’t entirely shed her introverted character.

When she graduated, Elizabeth took up the chance to work abroad in southwest Spain on a placement with that country’s Ministry of Education. She taught English at a bilingual school, a role she says she “just jumped into. I like children and I connected with the students a lot. I loved working with them, seeing that light go off when they understood something. But it’s hard, you have to learn as you go, and how to adapt, figuring out what works and what doesn’t.”

In an effort to immerse herself during her time overseas, Elizabeth stayed in a group house of non-English speakers. That’s when her personality really started to change.

She was nervous the first two weeks in Spain. “But then my level of energy just spiked tremendously,” she said. “It was something about being in another country and not speaking the language, I was forced to talk to people and learn it. In order to learn it, I had to be more confident and just put myself out there. Otherwise I would never meet people or learn the language.”

She also had some common sense knocked into her — literally — by the mother of one of her housemates. During her initial quiet, nervy fortnight in Spain, Elizabeth was having dinner with the friend’s family. She hadn’t been saying much, and the friend’s mother was getting agitated. Eventually, the mother hit Elizabeth on the arm and shouted, “Talk!”

And so she did. That self-described “wake-up call” was enough to cement her transition to extrovert. She decided to make herself outgoing, however uncomfortable the process.

“The easiest way to win a game is to pretend that you’ve already won. If you pretend you already are the person you want to be, you’ll become it. It’s an act of convincing yourself. I was constantly psyching myself up to be more outgoing or more confident. If you come across as that, people will believe you and you’ll start to believe yourself,” Elizabeth said.

She combined the new outgoing Ms. Moore with a willingness to say “yes” to everything, which soon led her into experiences she’d have never otherwise had. For instance, while still in Spain, she was wandering around a town and heard music. She followed it to the source: a film festival opening reception. Elizabeth walked in, and got talking to a group visiting from France. They were a band that had stopped off in the town. Cut to a few hours later, and they did an impromptu gig on the streets to raise gas money, handing Elizabeth a shaker so she could join in the playing. Just one example of the kind of things she’d never be talking about if she stayed home and quiet.

After Spain, it was back to the east coast and Washington, DC, with the promise of a job that she’d been tipped off to through a friend. That gave her a whole new city of thousands of people to meet and things and places to explore, including Pesce — the first visit there for us both.

It probably won’t be my last time in the restaurant. The starter immediately won me over, with Daniel bringing me a beet Napoleon. Layers of rich goat cheese and beets were pressed into a creamy rectangle, topped off with a sharp red wine vinaigrette, arugula and pistachio. Great beginning.

Elizabeth went for the arugula salad that came with smoked trout, pine nuts, red onions, parmesan cheese and a lemon vinaigrette. She also spoke highly of her first course.

So far, so good. Elizabeth had picked a splendid restaurant, and as we made our way through the light but surprisingly filling starters, she told me about her move to DC. At the first company she worked for, she was awed by the manager, an “incredible woman” who wore nothing but the color red and whose personality and magnetism commanded attention. “I saw her radiance and light and knew I wanted that. From that point on I had a phrase in my head: ‘winning, winning, winning.’ I just wanted to get that persona because of what a good time it seemed to be.”

The focus on elevating her new extroverted personality to new heights became all-consuming. “I would wake up in the middle of the night with ‘winning, winning, winning’ in my head. I would have so much energy, thinking I was invincible, that if something knocked me down, I’d bounce right back up. It’s ridiculous, but it had a domino effect in building myself up.”

Her increasingly outgoing nature meant she started to meet and engage people everywhere she went, from a ride on the bus to a walk down the sidewalk. From there, she’d learn about musicals and other events around town. At those events, she met other people. And so on.

“People invite you to other things, so much is just asking, asking for directions, or how to do things. There’s so much going on but people don’t ask and just stay home,” she said.

One event she stumbled upon is La-Ti-Do, a spoken word and musical theater cabaret show performed every Monday at DC’s Black Fox Lounge. The venue (whose resident jazz pianist Aaron Myers III is a former Dining With Strangers interviewee) hosts the event in its basement bar. I swung by one night to check it out — hooray for journalistic research! — and was impressed with the quality of the performers and the range of material. I heard everything from a spoken word version of Beyonce’s “Drunk In Love” to a couple of Broadway tunes.

Elizabeth had been at the Black Fox Lounge one night to watch a big band performance, which ended with an announcement about the next La-Ti-Do show. So she made a mental note to go back to it. That was February 2013, and she’s only missed a handful of La-Ti-Do gatherings since. “I’ve met so many people through it, and I love going,” she said.

She’ll occasionally take part in the show doing musical numbers, but more often than not she’s content to sit in the audience and revel in the performances. This past summer she was also assistant stage manager for La-Ti-Do’s production of the musical Love, NY, during DC’s Capital Fringe festival. They’d rehearse for that show in a room with no air conditioning even though it was pushing 100 degrees outside. “But it was worth it, it was amazing to be part of it,” she said.

Elizabeth enjoys performing when she gets the chance, but also enjoys the mentoring and guidance she gets from the professionals at La-Ti-Do. But she’s not looking to be a musical star, and instead just does what she enjoys. Like teaching herself to play the ukulele.

Every morning before she heads to her day job of recruiting researchers for a real estate firm, she does a couple of hours babysitting. One day the kids had left out a ukelele. Elizabeth picked it up, started strumming, and soon was hooked on the instrument. She’s been playing it for fun ever since, and she’s put clips of what she calls her “not professional in any way” practicing online.

The weekly attendance at La-Ti-Do seems to be one of the more constant things in Elizabeth’s life, with the rest occurring on whims.

I’m glad she made dinner with a stranger one of those experiences, as her peppy nature kept my interest during the almost two hours at Pesce. Our waiter Daniel never once made us feel like we were overstaying our welcome.

He even offered to help Elizabeth pick the bones out of her fish main course, a whole branzino pan roasted and served with spinach and mushrooms. She’d never ordered a whole fish before but said yes to the idea, though she worked on the plate without Daniel’s help. Echoing her compliments for the salad, she praised the fish, though it seemed like a lot of work for dinner.

Thankfully my entree required minimal manual labor. I went for the Linguine con le Vongol —  clams, garlic, white wine and parsley served over perfectly cooked linguine pasta.

It was a first for me too as I’ve never had clams before. Elizabeth had to teach me how to to scoop them out and what to do with the shells (I didn’t realize the little glass bowl served alongside the dish was where to ditch them). I’m not a huge seafood fan, but this was a fine dish. I think the chef had been a bit too generous with the red pepper and other seasoning as the pasta sauce had more of a kick than I was expecting, but it was still so delectably rich that I cleaned the bowl.

While Elizabeth and I both picked at our plates, I expressed my gratitude for doing the interview. She waved that off, smiling, and saying it’s just one example of agreeing to anything and meeting new people, which she said is easy in DC.

“I love DC for all the things people hate about it: the networking, the name dropping. There’s so much going on all the time, so many people coming in and out. It’s constant change. Which is perfect. For someone like me that gets so bored so easily there are so many things to do,” she said. And she’s made a lot of new acquaintances through that approach to life.

Acquaintances, mind you, not close friends. Her handful of really close friends live in other states. I wondered if she missed having such longtime companions close-by. But she said that although it’s “a little unsettling” to have no solidly close friends in DC, she is happy with the acquaintances she has. And she’s always meeting more of them. “I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.”

What about downtime? Does exhaustion ever get to her?

Apparently not. The weekend prior to our dinner, the city had experienced dreary day-long rain showers. The elements kept Elizabeth at home. After practicing her ukelele for a few hours she got bored, and started going through her phone directory until she reached people to chat with. The engagement with others is all about making new experiences and meeting new people.

As if she doesn’t already have enough to fill her time, Elizabeth said she also recently started a blog called The Unfamous, which she hopes will chronicle things that ordinary people do, rather than other sites’ focus on celebrities. It’ll be a mix of interviews, essays, art and photos, and the first few entries that Elizabeth wrote are an apt reflection of her conversational, upbeat nature.

When we finished dinner — both too full to order dessert — Elizabeth said she has no regrets about shedding her introverted self. “I literally feel like I did a complete 180,” she said. “I still feel a connection to the basic principles that I had about life, but in terms of personality, I feel almost no connection to the person that I was. That’s not who I am now.”

The overhaul seems to be working. It’s impossible to spend any time with Elizabeth and not be caught up in her energy. She’s so engaging that it makes you respond in kind, stepping up your game to try and offer back as much enthusiasm as she constantly emits.

I walked her to the bus stop where she’d catch her ride home, and she promised to send me invites to the dozens of events she signs up for (she has, and still does). As I headed home, I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d strike up a conversation with one of the other people waiting for their bus home. The answer is probably yes.

3 thoughts on “#55 Yes Woman

  1. Leanne Grove Reply

    This is fascinating! I am an introvert, and I can’t even imagine changing my personality in this way.

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