Sunday, August 21, 2011

WorldCon


This WorldCon has, at the very least, been wonderful for me. It may turn out to have been life-changing.

For one thing, I got to see all kinds of old friends, including my beloved former students Kurt Adams and Inez Schaechterle -- with whom I've hung out for much of the con -- and my editor/NYC buddies Ellen Datlow, David Hartwell and Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden (most of whom have also edited me at one time or another).

I got very satisfying strokes for the panels I moderated, especially the one on "Faith and Science," which went very smoothly despite the potential for catastrophe. I went to excellent panels and presentations. I got a lot of knitting done.

But I also got a lot of very specific reinforcement about my own identity as a writer. For instance:

* At my first panel, someone showed up with, I swear, a copy of every book and story I've ever written, asked me to sign them, and then gave me a beautiful piece of fluorite to thank me.

* When I was wandering around the Dealers Room, someone told me that "Gestella" is "the best werewolf story ever written."

* Only ten people attended my reading, but one of them was Cory Doctorow, a Much Bigger Name than I am, who appeared to genuinely love the reading and told me it reminded him of some of Kelly Link's work. She's an Infinitely Bigger Name than I am.

* I didn't expect many people to come to my signing today. It was a group signing, and Carrie Vaughn was signing at the same time; I figured she'd have lines around the block and I'd be twiddling my thumbs, so I brought my knitting. Carrie -- sitting next to me, as it turned out -- indeed had long lines, but mine weren't bad. I signed solidly for the first half hour. After that, it got a bit spottier, but not enough for me to get any knitting done. There were a few people who had multiple copies of my books, and someone who had a copy of my very first story, published in 1985 in Asimov's, and someone who said that he's bought anthologies simply because they contained stories I'd written, and several people who heaped praise on "Gestella." And towards the end of the hour, Mega-Infinitely Bigger Name Than I Am Carrie Vaughn turned to me and said, "Susan, I just want you to know that 'Gestella' blew my mind, and as a writer of werewolf fiction I tell other people to read your story, because I think it's definitive."

Holy crap.

* I've always been deeply moved and honored that Jo Walton, whose work I admire tremendously (and who's also much better known than I am), has said glowing things about my work in print. I was very excited to learn that she'd be at Renovation. I looked forward to meeting her in person. I was flattered when she asked if we could have tea together and hang out for an hour between panels, and more than a little startled when she said that one of the reasons she came to the con was to meet me, "because you don't travel much, and I knew you lived here."

Jo proceeded to give me a bracing pep talk. She reads the blog (hi, Jo!), and, among other things, said briskly, "It's perfectly obvious from your blog that you spiral down into depression and then pull yourself back out, but you need to get to more cons. The external validation's really important." We talked about cons: WorldCon and World Fantasy are often impossible because they conflict with teaching. Lately, the only cons I've attended have been WisCon and Mythcon, and even that's been spotty. I'm going to Mythcon again next year; I've been waffling about WisCon. Jo recommended the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention, which I've heard about but have never gotten to. Inez and I are talking about sharing a room there next year.

After tea with Jo (coffee for me, actually, which may have been unwise that late in the afternoon), I went home to help Gary get ready for dinner, since we were having Inez and Kurt and Kurt's wife Shauna over. I babbled to Gary about all this. Before I'd even told him about Jo's depression comment, he said, "You need to get to more cons. This is doing you more good than all the meds you've ever taken. It's all about connection and community."

Yep.

I know this probably sounds like a lot of insufferable bragging, but I've effectively been in exile from my community for a long time. Part of that's geographical; a lot of it's been self-imposed; and it's been reinforced and deepened by my increasing marginalization within my department. Some people there admire the fact that I write, but as far as I can tell, none of my English Department colleagues read my fiction, or particularly like it if they do (other university friends, especially in the music department, have been loyal fans and a wonderful cheering section). Various of my colleagues clearly think I'm a little strange -- one person I like and admire once called me a "fanatic" to my face -- and between all that and the fact that the job's become more difficult and less rewarding for all of us, leading to a universal nosedive in morale, I haven't felt deeply affirmed at work. I know some of that's my fault, especially because I'm terrible at certain kinds of political games, but blaming myself only makes me feel worse.

Church has filled in a lot of the holes -- faith's really a huge antidepressant -- but it can't do everything.

The recent three-year grief-fest hasn't helped any of this, of course (and that's not my fault, and I think my reactions have been entirely human and understandable).

So I went to WorldCon figuring that I'd see some old friends and that nobody else would know who I was, and that would be okay, because it would be my fault, because I haven't been writing much.

What I discovered instead is that people in my field know my work and admire it. People I've never met know my work and admire it. People I admire, blazingly successful and famous and talented people, know my work and admire it. I've written things that matter to other human beings.

It is very difficult to communicate what this feels like. Like floating in airless space and then finding yourself standing on solid ground in a beautiful forest? Like being a ghost and then regaining a body? (Good heavens: am I empathizing with Sauron and Voldemort?) Those are cheesy metaphors, and unsatisfying besides. Let's just say that I've found my country again, or my planet, and learned that I was always welcome there.

So yes, I'll definitely try to get to more cons. I'm exhausted, and I'll be grateful to get back to a normal schedule when WorldCon's over, but I'm going to be very sad when everyone leaves.

In the meantime, I may buy myself a token of citizenship. Y'know how in some fantasy stories, people think their adventures Elsewhere were just a dream, until they discover that they still have a coin or a key or a crown they were given there? The fluorite rock would work, but I can't keep it with me all the time, so I may indulge my shopping obsession and buy a ring. Laurie Edison makes gorgeous jewelry and sells it at cons. It's pricy, so I've never bought any of it. But today I tried on a series of rings and both Laurie and I went, "Oh, wow," at one particular one with a shiny blue stone that looks like opal but I think is something else I can't remember at the moment.

If that's still available tomorrow, I may spring for it, as a sign of renewed commitment to my SF/F citizenship. If it isn't available, I'll cart the fluorite around, maybe, or get some smaller thing. Either way, I'll be registering for Fourth Street.

This is an exceedingly long post. Thank you for bearing with me!

12 comments:

  1. Wow...you sound so positive and upbeat and happy and fulfilled.... Everyone is right...you need to go to more of these functions. You need to rub elbows with "your own kind". I am so happy for you that you are enjoying your experience and that it has done so much to raise your confidence level.

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  2. This is a great post! Congrats on those good things.

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  3. As a fellow depressive (bipolar type II in my case) I totally identified with what you've said here. I was feeling low pre-con, but it was impossible not be pumped up by all the positive reinforcement the con offered (and losing the Hugo didn't change that at all). Part of that energy was from our Faith & Science panel, which you helmed in exemplary fashion and upon which I've gotten compliments the rest of the weekend. (P.S.: You can write a werewolf novel for me any time!)

    Care to join us for dinner with the Sandersons tonight? (And even if not, I'd love a local's recommendations of nice places to go.)

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  4. Anonymous7:34 PM

    Yeah, baby!

    XO,

    Claire

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  5. Anonymous7:07 AM

    It's amazing what hanging out w/ one's tribe after a long period in isolation can do, huh? I have the same problem up here in Maine, and also have depressive tendencies. I go to Readercon in Massachusetts every summer and get a shot of needed enthusiasm for my true love, fiction of the fantastic. If I had more $ and no daytime job, I'd go to more cons myself. Went to World Fantasy in 1982, but not again until 2007. 25 years is too long.

    Since reading your blog, I've wondered why you don't write fiction more. I certainly understand the depression and the death of your parents have a huge impact, but my experience is losing ourselves in work we truly love helps us to heal. It's the mind equivalent of physical exercise---you always feel better afterward. But i also know that getting yourself in the chair is a major challenge when you're not in a good place.

    I have yet to read any of your novels, but I have read The Fate of Mice, and was blown away. I, too, am a huge werewolf fan (so sad no one's doing the icon any real justice these days; I strongly dislike urban fantasy, and that genre seems to have co-opted my furry friends for now), and was moved by Gestella, such a beautiful take on what can be a cliched monster.

    As an aspiring writer, I put your collection down, slowly shaking my head and asking myself, "How did she DO that?". Actually, after reading this post, I'm going to dig out the book, re-read it, and study it closer.

    I'm glad you got some well-deserved external recognition. As a 12 step friend of mine once told me, our minds are not good neighborhoods for us to wander alone. Being at the con gave you a reality check that blew away the fog of depression, low self-esteem, and lethargy.

    OK, this comment is nearly as long as your post. I'll stop here.

    Jeff P.

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  6. You know, I've been reading your blog for about three years or so now, having stumbled over during my travels in the Anglican blogosphere. I knew you were a writer and stuff, but I somehow missed you wrote fantasy, which is my one true love in literature.

    So tonight when I get home I'm going to hack my NookColor and put the Kindle app on it so I can read The Fate of Mice (I have 8 hours of trains in my future this week as I'm traveling to a gaming convention in Seattle, I need books to read and this is most fortuitous).

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  7. Anonymous9:30 AM

    Susan,

    I don't know you at all and I've only read FLYING IN PLACE but this post made my day. I miss all my writer connections in Chicago and Arizona and from Clarion '90 and at the cons. Haven't gone to a con in many years but now am trying to get everyone together to go to Chicon next year. Would love to go to something closer (I live in Greenville SC) but being unemployed, it's not at the top of my concerns at the moment.

    Anyway, thanks for your post. I'm passing it on to a few others who no doubt feel like you and me.

    Mark

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  8. Thanks for the comments, everyone! Jeff: I find writing blog posts, and some other kinds of nonfiction (like my Church Health Reader columns) very easy; I find writing fiction very hard, and I've never been prolific even when there haven't been multiple family losses to deal with. I love having written; I don't usually love the process of writing itself. So if I want to lose myself in work I love, I weave!

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  9. Susan,

    How wonderful that you had such rewarding time at the Con. You seem to know a lot of my favorite writers and it's great to discover that they like you and your work as much as I do. I totally identify with the self isolation thing and agree with Gary that more cons is a good idea. Hope you two planning on coming to the 2013 World Con in my neck of the woods.

    Love,
    Lee

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  10. Anonymous10:34 AM

    Dear Susan,

    Returning to reading after a few days away, I find your news of all these wonderful experiences and insights - and I am so, so happy for you!

    Jean, who has loved your work for a long, long time

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  11. Anonymous11:59 PM

    Susan,
    As a Christian and an SF lover I have to say that your works have affirmed my life on both levels. The Necessary Beggar and Flying in Place reduce me to tears each time.

    I, too, have a very depressive nature but you should know that all your writing (and I think I have all that's published) remains on my best of the best shelves.

    You give me great hope for this depressive Sf reading Lutheran. Thank you.

    Bob Blough

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  12. Thanks, everyone, so much. (And Lee, I'd love to get to San Antonio, but we start teaching before Labor Day and the con's Labor Day Weekend, so it's iffy. We'll see, though!)

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