Sunday, August 21, 2011
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."
* 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."
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!