Here's one of the photos Inez took of my toothbrush after Ricky had his way with it. This is also a good metaphor for how I feel at the moment: frazzled, out of sorts, and slightly out of focus. The past few mornings, I've woken up in a knot of anxiety, with cramped muscles and churning stomach. My best guess is that most of this is nervousness about the Silver Pen Award ceremony, which is tomorrow night.
Before I go on, let me emphasize two things. First, I'm genuinely delighted to have won the award. I love Nevada, and being recognized as a Nevada writer means a lot to me. And secondly, I know that a lot of writers would love to have this kind of problem. I don't want anyone to think that I'm ungrateful.
But, at the same time, fancy award ceremonies often send me into a weird state of panic.
This isn't fear of public speaking; I'm perfectly comfortable doing readings at bookstores, preaching at church, talking to my classes. I didn't have any trouble at the ALA Alex Award panel in New Orleans in June, maybe because that was really a panel rather than an awards ceremony. And this isn't will-I-win anxiety, either, because I know I've won; it's not like there's a shortlist and I'm waiting for them to open the envelope. (I don't know how people in that position deal with it. I'd melt down entirely.)
In 1993, I won a Crawford Award for Flying in Place. The fine folks at Tor Books flew me down to Florida, to the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, so I could accept the award. As with the Silver Pen, I knew ahead of time that I'd won. There was no suspense.
But the minute I got off the plane in Florida, my brain was seized by the Imp of the Perverse. If there was something I could screw up, I did, starting with going to the wrong place to get the hotel shuttle. If there was some way for me to put my foot in my mouth, I did. I probably offended a lot of people that weekend (and if any of them are reading this, I hope they'll accept my apologies!) I couldn't do anything right.
This went on for the two days until the award ceremony. I was wearing a long skirt with a zipper down the back. At the end of the stage farthest from me were the stairs leading up to the podium. When they called my name, the rational part of my brain said, "Okay, now go to the far end of the stage and walk up the stairs."
But the Imp of the Perverse said, "No, no, that will take too long! Get onto the stage from the other end, instead! You can do it!"
The Imp won.
I scrambled up the wrong side of the stage. In the process, the zipper on my skirt gave way, and I wound up holding the skirt on with one hand clamped behind my back. At that point, anything gracious I'd been planning to say flew right out of my head: I mumbled some very garbled thanks, took my award plaque in my free hand, and escaped down the correct end of the stage. (The Imp went back to sleep the second I'd actually accepted the award; I was fine the rest of the weekend.) David Hartwell, who was waiting at the bottom of the stairs to take my picture, told me later, "I didn't know what had happened, but I knew that you didn't look like someone who'd just won an award for her first novel, so I decided not to take the picture."
I was sitting at a table in the back. To get there without exposing my backside -- which was covered by a long blouse, luckily -- I slid along the ballroom wall, with my back to it, until I was as close to my table as possible: then I made a dash to get there. When the people at my table realized what had happened, they cracked up. Then people at neighboring tables started cracking up. Then people at the front of the room started shushing us, because someone else was accepting another award, and we were being rude.
I'm eternally grateful to the supremely kind and competent Suzy McKee Charnas, who found a couple of safety pins and then managed to fix the zipper. (She's an amazing writer, too.) And the experience did teach me that most of the time, the worst thing you can imagine really isn't that bad. This was the real live version of that "I'm accepting an award and my clothing falls off" nightmare, but nothing horrible happened. It turned into a very funny story, one I've since used to reassure people who felt self-conscious about some public blunder. "You think you're a dork? Hey, listen to this!"
But the Imp of the Perverse has already started doing some warm-up jigs around the Silver Pen.
Thursday, there was a story about the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame awards in our local paper. At work on Thursday, a few people congratulated me, and one colleague made the offhand comment, "I went to that award ceremony a few years ago. All the Reno glitterati will be there."
My stomach immediately knotted. I'd been fussing about what to wear anyway -- nothing with zippers, for sure! -- even though Gary keeps telling me, "You're one of the guests of honor. You can wear whatever you want." I tend to feel acutely self-conscious around Rich Beautiful People even when I'm not accepting an award; there are all kinds of class-based childhood insecurities I haven't managed to outgrow yet, although I'm working on it. So the phrase "glitterati" kicked my anxieties into high gear.
Yesterday morning at church, a few people congratulated me, too, but church is the equivalent of my living room, so that was fine. My homily went well, and I had time to swim in the afternoon before my hospital shift.
Then I walked into the hospital, and people starting saying, "Hey! I saw your picture in the paper! Congratulations!" I mean, lots of people. A couple of admitting clerks, a doctor, at least seven nurses. I'd been wondering if any hospital folks had seen the article, but I'd figured that there'd be at most one or two of them, and that most people who see me at the hospital wouldn't recognize me out of context, anyway. (One nurse told me, "I kept thinking, She looks really familiar; how do I know her? And then I finally figured it out.")
And the Imp of the Perverse woke right up. I felt really awkward accepting the congratulations, and I know I said a bunch of stuff that must have sounded very ungracious, and that didn't even quite parse as actual English. Towards the end of the shift, I managed to tell someone, "I'm very surprised and flattered that so many people here even noticed," but before that, it was all slightly snarky-sounding gabble, and I feel really bad about that. Along the way, I managed to commit a howling double-entendre with a male nurse, on another topic entirely, although the way he teased me about it -- "Aren't you supposed to be part of a religious order or something? Don't they screen you people?" -- probably means that he really did know that I wasn't trying to hit on him.
All in all, not a terrific shift, especially since there wasn't a lot for me to do patient-wise. We had our share of sad and dramatic cases, but none of those people wanted to talk to me.
Some of my verbal clumsiness may just have been fatigue, since I'd had to get up at 6:00 a.m. to preach. But I'm pretty sure that a lot of it was the Imp of the Perverse.
So I'm already scared about tomorrow night, especially since I'm still not sure what to wear -- I'll do a quick shopping run later today -- and since the awards ceremony has created some technical difficulties at work, like my having to cut one of my classes short. It's going to be a rushed and chaotic day.
Am I a Neurotic Writer, or what?
If you have any prayers or charms to quiet perverse Imps, and to make me feel less like a spindled and mutilated toothbrush, please let me know!