Monday, November 23, 2015

Faking It, vis-à-vis Making It

Sorry, y'all. I've been behind.

It's a funny thing about being behind, though. When you're really in the weeds, you don't have the time or energy to notice other people like they deserve to be noticed. Emails and messages and callbacks and check-ins - all your little thoughtfulnesses choke down to a trickle, and the ones from other people pile up unreturned. It's not a good feeling - but it's not one I'm unfamiliar with either.

I tell you what, though: there's a weird extra dimension to it when you're playing in the pro leagues. When you can't promote other people properly, it feels doubly greasy to go on promoting yourself. So you stop doing any promotion at all... which means that all the people who are out there promoting YOU get utterly shafted, because spotlighting their efforts means spotlighting yourself, and since you just absolutely can't bring yourself to do that, you end up doing nothing and helping nobody.

Look, I never said it wasn't dumb as hell.

Here's the thing, though. The longer I play this game (and granted, it's not been long at all), the more I notice the reputation I'm garnering - and honestly, it's a prize in itself. I love walking into a room and instantly getting hollered on (which, for those of you unfamiliar with redneck prepositions, is totally different from getting hollered at). I love it when somebody I don't even recognize holds an elevator door for me and says "get in here, Tex!" I love, love, love being the kind of person people want to glom onto. More than anything, I love sucking up all that energy and blasting it back out, like the sea receding in the moments before a devastating tidal wave of enthusiasm.

But the thing is, that only works because it's REAL - and because it involves feeding off the realness of other people. I am 100% legit psyched to be there, and it's the easiest thing in the world to reflect that back on other people. Much harder to feel that joy when there's nobody around to draw from, and it's just me alone in a room with a blinking cursor and a to-do list.

I'm still working on that.

And I know that no job is fun all the time, and that sometimes you just have to fake it 'til you make it. But man... as dumb as it feels to write this, I just 100% seriously don't want to end up like one of those plastic talk show hosts - you know, always SUPER PSYCHED about how whoever/whatever is their FAVORITE BEST EVER, even as that weird dead-eyed expression sets in and rumors swirl about a secret drug problem. Enthusiasm is a sacred thing, at least to me. It feels like a special kind of wrong to fake it.

Or better to say, I know I need to do better at this - be more present and consistent, especially online - if I'm serious about getting somewhere. And I am. But there's got to be a way to do it that doesn't involve selling out my one special mutant power. I don't want to get better at pretending to be excited. I want to find new ways to actually get excited, and do a better job of expressing that, especially here in cyber-land.

So I'm going to take this week to do some visible and long-overdue appreciation of the people whose work I am genuinely enjoying. I'm also going to play board games and eat ridiculous things with my family and read books in the bathtub and enjoy the little quiet spaces in between. Enjoy the reprieve, citizens - next week, we're getting back on the wagon!

Monday, November 9, 2015

No Longer At Ease

Well, it's not quite official yet: as I type, I'm sitting in seat 22F, watching Tom Cruise get the stuffing knocked out of him by Russian heavies on an 8" screen. But if you're reading this, it's safe to say that after three weeks, eight flights, four time zones, and more wonderful people than I can count, my grandiose gallivanting is finally over, and I'm home again.

I'm really, really glad I got to do that.

I really, really should not have done that.

But let me back up.

I spent the weekend at World Fantasy Con in Saratoga Springs, New York. Getting there was an adventure in itself, but I'm so glad I got to go: WFC is the first "all-pro" convention I've attended, and spending a weekend at what feels like the ends of the earth, stuck in with a few hundred of your peers, is a real experience.

I'm calling it "Still Life in Hilton Bathroom: How To Tell Your Roomie Had a Great Night."
I got to sit in on some TERRIFIC readings – truly, you don't know how badly you need psychic elephant-men, wind-tunnel aerial knife-fights, or grade-school taxidermists until you finally get some – and meet wonderful new people and have tremendous conversations. There were shenanigans and shoe-hunting expeditions and the most lavish ice cream bar I've ever seen.

And this guy. THIS FRICKIN' GUY.
Then on Friday night, a funny thing happened.

There was an "all-call" mass autograph session, which if you ask me, is a really great idea: they just filled up a ballroom with tables and chairs and invited everyone who wanted to (not just the people on programming!) to find a seat and sign their books.

And boy, it was the best kind of bedlam. I had never seen so many people rushing around with armfuls of books – not comics, but actual honest-to-god novels to be signed. It was glorious!

Look at it! Isn't it the most stupendous sight?
It was also kind of a mess: since it was open seating, there was no alphabetical order – no order of any kind. You had to cruise the aisles one at a time, angling to try to get a glimpse of the little printed name-cards – not an easy feat with people clumped up and queuing in front of the tables. After I'd looked and looked and still couldn't find the author I wanted (one of the guests of honor, no less!), I decided to go find a staffer who might be able to direct me.

That's when I realized that I hadn't seen any staffers. No volunteers at all – not one in the entire weekend.

They were there, of course. Handing out packets at the registration desk, flashing five-minute signs at the panels, setting table tents between each of the readings. But they weren't marked at all: no vests or shirts or colored badges. Just the same street-wear (okay, nerd-shirt-wear) as the rest of us. If you weren't actively watching them at work, they were invisible.

And that's when it hit me: what would I do if there were an actual problem? Forget missing out on an autograph – what if I got the bad touch, or watched it happen to someone else? What if there were a fight, or a theft, or a creeper?

Look again: which of these people do you go to for help?
Graceful segue goes here.

One of the readings I went to was Mike Underwood's. Well, tried to go to: I showed up, along with a few other people. Mike never did. That was unusual: we knew he was at the con, and he's not one to flake on a gig.

When I caught up to him later and gave him grief about it, I found out what I would have known days ago, if I'd been paying literally any attention to the digi-sphere: he'd declined his programming as a matter of principle – as a way of protesting WFC's disaster of a harassment non-policy.

And like... I did know about that. I wasn't so completely up myself that I hadn't learned about the controversy. But I'm ashamed to say that it wasn't until that moment in the autograph hall that I actually felt it: that it finally occurred to me that I might not be in a safe place.

I'm not proud of that. I don't like to think of myself as a person whose empathy doesn't extend past her own nose, whose concerns stop at the boundaries of her own experience. I've been doing this convention thing for two years now – more than enough time to catch wise to the serious, pervasive behavior issues that have long festered in our backyard.

Reminders of which were literally spelled out for us this weekend.
And I wonder if it's easier to dismiss those issues when it's "just us". Just us pros, or just us fans, or just us girls, or just us anything. It's easy to drop your guard around people you've known since forever, easy to forget the duty of care we accept when we undertake stewardship and hospitality. Much harder to see your community's potential for causing harm and distress, especially when you yourself have such generous intentions, and have benefited so much from the generosity of others. And downright impossible to know who's missing – who you're missing out on – because you were so caught up in the camaraderie that you neglected to take on any accountability for your guests' well-being.

I'm not sure what the right answer is for those of us on the attending side of the table. There's not a firm consensus, even among the leading lights of our community: John Scalzi has implemented a standing boycott of conventions that fail on this front, while Kameron Hurley has critiqued this approach as unfeasible if not blatantly counterproductive.

Regardless: I know what the ancient Greeks said about hosts who disregarded their sacred duties. I know we can work harder and do better. And with all my '90s-kid heart, I know I wanna be like Mike.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Bold, the Beautiful, and the Badass

Oh, friends. Oh, blog. Where do I even start?

Well, let me start back at the beginning of this trip. Earlier this year, the fantastic Dr. Maslen invited me to speak at the University of Glasgow, which was a huge honor, and turned out to be an amazing time. I'd asked to do more of a discussion than a lecture, and he kindly rounded up a conference room and as many willing bodies as would fit in it (and then some!) It was a terrific conversation, and a phenomenal evening.

As you would expect, given that he's one TARDIS away from world domination!
A few of the hardiest souls joined us for drinks afterward, and then I learned an amazing thing: of the students at our table, none were from Scotland – and most had only been at school for six weeks. We had students from China, from the US, from Italy and Greece, all packing up their lives – sometimes on less than a month's notice! – and moving to Glasgow for the promise of a first-rate education.

That was nearly two weeks ago, and I'm still thinking about it. Like, I just can't fathom what kind of guts it takes to do a thing like that.

Nor am I a very good photographer for the people who are actually doing it!
I guess I've been thinking a lot about bravery this year, and on this trip in particular. Since I left Dallas, I've done things that my soft, doughy soul couldn't have contemplated five years ago. I sang karaoke, badly and stone-cold sober. I went by myself to a country where I can't even read the alphabet, nevermind speak the language. I held a baby. I let myself get lost. I ate horse meat and beef tongue and things I didn't even think to ask about. By the time I go home, I'll have solo'd New York City public transit, shared a room and a bed with someone I haven't actually met, and probably racked up another couple of firsts along the way. And while I'm proud of all those things, I still don't feel even half as brazen as those students, some of whom are at least ten years my junior.

For the record, this is свински късчета по кметскн, or "pork nibblies in the mayoral style." I didn't meet the mayor, but let me tell you - she's got serious swagger.

While I was in Bulgaria, Evil Dan and I had a great discussion about this, because (as someone who likewise packed up his life and moved halfway around the world) he's also high on my list of unfathomable badasses. His theory is this: a badass is someone who's been through something worse than you have. When you're five and the worst thing you've done is shut your finger in a door, it's the kid who broke his arm falling out of a tree. When you're twenty and just moved away to college, it's the student who spent two years living on the street. When you're thirty and just had a baby, it's the parents who had preemie triplets and lost one.  It goes on forever, because there's always someone who's had it worse than you. 

And of course, we all have to deal with something sometime. Badness happens, and you just have to suck it up and handle it somehow. So what really stands out to me at the moment are the people who have actually volunteered for that up-suckery - who willingly put themselves out there for something that they knew was going to be tough (even if it's also worthwhile, because why else would you do it?)

Because you can't get to the land of immaculate patisserie by staying safely in your house, that's why!
Actually, I didn't intend to talk about book stuff here, but that's one reason I'm so glad that Pamela Skjolsvik asked me to edit her first book, Death Becomes Us (which I just finished last week!) She's a friend of mine from our writers' workshop, and she's a lot like me, bravery-wise: we both feel like sheltered little homebody hobbits for whom the wizard never came calling. The difference is, when she decided to hitch up her britches and do something about that, she really went the whole nine yards.
Hello, my name is Pamela Skjolsvik and you don't know me and neither does your son, but he agreed to talk with me the day before the State of Texas kills him, so um, can I take the 9 to 10 slot or would you prefer if I spoke to him later in the day?
And yes, she is exactly as awkwardly, sweatily badass as she sounds. You'll be hearing more about her before her book comes out on the 13th, but don't wait on me – check her out and then get you some.

I mention awkward and sweaty because I think that's what really holds us back, most of the time. There's the brain-stem fear, sure (what if you get lost and mugged and eaten?) – but past that is that insidious fear of failure, of humiliation, of looking foolish and feeling ashamed. It's SO hard to do the hard things, not just because they're hard, but because you know you'll do them badly (at least at first). That's probably killed more dreams than anything else: whatever you do, your first efforts are going to suck – and it takes real courage to be okay with sucking. Or as they say in Saga, "You have to be brave before you can be good."

So whether you're doing NaNoWriMo, moving to the other side of the planet, or just trying to work up the guts to say hello – go bravely, y'all. Goodness awaits.