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“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or a hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quotation recently. It seems both particularly jarring and particularly relevant.

As an empathetic person, as a sensitive person, this world has never been an especially easy place to live. Perhaps as a writer, also; I went to hear Elizabeth Strout speak tonight and she said for as long as she could remember she’d known she was a writer and she’d known she was somehow different. She talked about the essential estrangement of being a writer. I don’t know what causes it exactly, but I did know exactly what she was talking about.

One night long ago when I was at university, I was staring out my window at the redwood trees and for a stretch of time it was as if I could feel the suffering of everyone in the city from my own little room. The experience struck me, and I told one of my best friends about it. He laughed at me and made a derisive comment about how I sounded religious (he was a fervent atheist). I felt embarrassed and didn’t speak of it again. It was only many years later that I remembered that moment and saw it for the awakening of empathy that it perhaps was.

But this world is hard on empathy. It is particularly easy for me to see this right now, when inequality in my country is growing at an ever more rapid rate and we’re seeing the promotion of legislation that will continue to speed its advance and disenfranchise a growing population. It is incredibly painful to witness. People are being cruel, on both an individual and a societal level, and while I have always felt that peculiar displacement that is the hallmark of a writer, I have never felt it more acutely than I do now. I told my sister earlier this week, “I don’t feel like I belong in this world.” And I suspect I am not alone in this feeling.

And then there is my personal journey. When you’ve never learned how to institute boundaries properly or how to advocate for needs of your own, you get to see some pretty ugly behavior. Even now I get to see some of this, although it happily no longer has the chance to escalate as far. And then there are people who are perfectly happy to normalize and make excuses for this behavior, which is pretty bad behavior in and of itself. All of this is not exactly uplifting or encouraging.

So then why am I thinking about this quotation in which Einstein appears to at the very least believe in the possibility of a friendly universe? Why am I thinking about this when things are so bad? Why am I thinking about this when I know people can be so awful to one another? Oh God, is Amy going to start harping about positivity again?

Okay, look, here is what I know. I know people do shitty, shitty things. I know it’s important to be realistic and protect yourself. I know some people and groups of people are incredibly self-interested, greedy, ignorant, and intolerant. I know that humanity sometimes takes steps forward and sometimes takes steps back. The steps back can be truly awful to witness.

I also know people can do wonderful things. I know they can surprise you with their kindness, their integrity, their generosity, and their wisdom. I know they create beautiful works of art and useful technologies that make lives better.

I know when you see a lot of suffering and chaos around you, when you take hit after hit until it feels like life is personally against you, that it can be easy to see only the bad. That you can stop hoping for anything better, or even being able to imagine anything better, in an act of self-preservation. That you can dramatically say, “I don’t feel like I belong in this world” (cough guilty cough).

I have this uncanny sense of impending crisis. I’ve had it since adolescence. When a lot depends on being able to predict when something bad is about to happen, you can become remarkably good at it, and so I did. I actually kind of hate it though because it is ALWAYS FREAKING RIGHT. And then I have to go ahead and deal with it as if there’s a chance of me not stepping into chaos instead of, you know, spending more time in blissful ignorance before it hits.

Anyway, recently I had my sense of impending crisis. And as usual I told myself, “Well, you don’t know for sure, even though your danger sense is pinging wildly, so you still have to behave in a mature and thoughtful manner.” Which is something of a feat when your nervous system is basically screaming at you to do a roll dive into cover and never come out. Because of a danger sense that is ALWAYS FREAKING RIGHT.

Only this time something different happened. This time the danger sense was…wrong? It was. I am still surprised as I type this, but it was wrong. It finally happened. And I said to myself, “I need to always remember this moment when the danger wasn’t real after all.”

My point is this: By all means, have your danger sense. You probably need it. It will help you. It might even save your life.

But also leave open at least the barest possibility that something good will come. Leave open the possibility that the danger sense that appears to be foolproof can in fact be wrong. Instead of shifting into automatic pilot, continue to ask questions and continue to be present.

It is a privilege to be able to perceive the universe as friendly. It is also a practice. Sadly, we don’t always have the privilege. And reality is never so cut and dried anyway; the universe can be both friendly AND hostile. But we can continue carrying on the practice in believing in the good as well as the bad and do our part to make the good manifest. 

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And I’m back to talk some more about books! This time I’ll be discussing SF/F novels I read and liked this year. Most of the titles I’m going to be talking about are fantasy. A few of them are alternative history, and one of them is post-apocalyptic. I’ve been feeling a little sad I haven’t been reading more good science fiction lately, but hopefully next year! And I did read some really great fantasy novels this year, so there are compensations.

My Real Children, by Jo Walton. SF alternate history

This book is fascinating to me because I feel like it shouldn’t have worked but for me it totally did. The premise of the novel is that it follows the life of a single female protagonist who makes a key choice rather early on in the novel, and then the books splits into two potential life (and world) paths and follows them both to their conclusions. The book focuses very intimately on the life of this one woman, and in a lot of chapters, nothing much happens. You’re just watching this woman live her life in two different trajectories, with all the normal life minutiae you would expect. So why is it compelling? I think it must because of Walton’s deft characterization and selection of minutiae, and the interest of watching the world unfold in two distinct ways.

SPOILER: My one main quibble is that the branching-off decision is about a man, namely, whether the protagonist will marry him or not. While I think this is a super realistic branching off point for a life, I wish the entire narrative hadn’t hung on this choice in particular. Still very worthwhile to read if this premise sounds interesting to you.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson. Fantasy

I love this book so much. I know not everyone did, so you might want to take a look at the synopsis or maybe try out the first chapter before committing (which I am assuming you’re doing anyway), but I was spellbound by it. The protagonist isn’t the most likeable ever, which I see as a feature since I enjoy flawed characters. Plus given her history of being deeply affected and afflicted by imperialism from an early age,  I feel like her development and the decisions she makes are completely understandable, if sometimes tragic. The worldbuilding here is ambitious and fascinating. Probably the least successful component is plot, and even that is not bad but does drag a bit from time to time.

This novel is the first of a series (or a trilogy? I’m not sure) but in my opinion stands on its own.

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett. Fantasy

City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett. Fantasy

Last year everyone was talking about how great City of Stairs was. They wouldn’t shut up about it. And yes, it turns out I agree with them. The sequel/companion novel City of Blades is also strong, although by necessity lacking the freshness of worldbuilding that was part of what made the first installment so stunning. The worldbuilding and characters both shine in these books, and the mystery/spy plots are fun to follow.

Wylding Hall, By Elizabeth Hand. Fantasy

I keep thinking about this novella even though I read it many months ago. I think it’s one of the most effective haunted house narratives I’ve ever read. I like the framing device of having many first-person accounts of what happened after a period of years have passed. The handling of music is also deft and realistic, which I appreciate.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. Horror.

Speaking of haunted house stories, I finally got around to reading this classic. And big shocker, it’s a classic for good reason! I didn’t love it as much as I loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is possibly one of my favorite novels of all time, but it was pleasingly creepy and well crafted.

Farthing, by Jo Walton. SF alternate history/cosy mystery

This mystery, which takes place in an alternate UK that made peace with Hitler, is so charming. Okay, and horrifying in that the reader has a front-row seat on watching fascism descend on Great Britain. Not a novel that is AT ALL RELEVANT right now, oh no. This was like reading a top-notch Agatha Christie mystery with added social commentary, aka Amy awesomesauce.

For reference, the second book in this trilogy is fine although not as good as this one, and the third one, well….not my cup of tea and doesn’t have what I consider to be a plausible resolution. But the first one is excellent!

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, by Meg Elison. SF

This book is so dark. It is so dark you might not want to read it. But if you are willing to slog through depressing most-of-humanity-is-shockingly-terrible level stuff, this post-apocalyptic novel is probably worth it. The premise is that most of humanity was wiped out by some plague, a disease that killed a lot more women than men. Atrocities ensue. Our protagonist is a female nurse trying to survive the end of the world. If this sounds bleak to you, that’s because it really really is.

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. Fantasy

The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin. Fantasy

Everyone was talking about how great The Fifth Season was last year too. It turns out I agree again! In this case I’ve really enjoyed Jemisin’s work in the past so I wasn’t surprised.

What can I say to encapsulate these novels? Well, they’re dark. Not as dark as The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, though, not that that’s saying much. The worldbuilding is excellent. The characters are flawed and compelling. (Are we sensing any trends here?) The plotting is a teensy bit uneven, but not enough to seriously impair my enjoyment. There is a really fun reveal in the first book. I can’t wait for the last book in the trilogy to come out!

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Rumbullion, by Molly Tanzer. Fantasy

This is a weird little book. And it is transgressive in the most enjoyable ways. A young aristocrat attempts to discover what actually went on at a party of his that went askew. This book is part reaction and speculation from said aristocrat and partly an archive of the letters he collects while trying to get to the bottom of what happened, and reveals are skillfully woven throughout. If you’re in the mood for something out of the ordinary, maybe give this book a shot.

Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges. Speculative

Well, after hearing about Borges for–ten years, maybe?–I finally got around to reading some of his stories. They were both what I expected and not what I expected. The prose was on the dry and academic side; its style reminded me a bit of Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. Also pretty much no women to speak of. And rarely are the stories very character-focused. No, these stories are almost purely idea stories, and they really are jewels of that genre. There’s also a fair amount of metafictional aspects at play here, which I tend to enjoy. Borges leaps through all kinds of intellectual hoops and experiments with a particular flavor of magical realism, and it is very enjoyable to watch him play. Overall these stories aren’t emotionally moving on a deep level, but occasionally one of them sneaks up behind you and packs a wallop. The rest of the time it’s pure enjoyment to watch a great mind wrestle with interesting questions and fresh metaphors.

And that completes my review of my reading in 2016. Overall I feel like it was a decent year reading-wise, in spite of various challenges. Looking forward to seeing what new gems reveal themselves in 2017!

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It’s time for my year-end reading wrap-up posts. It’s been a weird year for many reasons, but over the course of the year I’ve still been able to read about the same amount as last year, so that makes me happy. As does talking about my most interesting reads!

First, some stats. I’ve read 56 books this year, and I expect I’ll probably read a few more before the year ends. About a third of the books I read were speculative fiction for adults, about the same as last year. Only 20% of the books I read this year were YA, which is less than usual, and I also read much less nonfiction than last year. The difference was made up in literary fiction and mysteries. 79% of my reading was by women, so I guess my theory that my ease in reading lots of women writers is because of my YA reading is only partly true. And 23% of my reading was by writers of color, which isn’t as good as last year but still not horrible. Given everything else that went on this year, I’ll take it!

In this post I’m going to talk about YA, literary fiction, and nonfiction. Then I plan to write another post all about the speculative fiction I read this year. Some of these titles are new and some are not, but they are all new to me.

YA titles:

Complicit, by Stephanie Kuehn. YA contemporary

I read this at the beginning of the year and so my memory of it is a bit fuzzy. But what I do recall is that it has some interesting unreliable narrator stuff going on, which I tend to enjoy when done well. Also some sibling stuff, which I also tend to like.

The Spectacular Now, by Tim Tharp. YA contemporary.

Apparently a movie has been made that is based on this book, and it’s supposed to be pretty good, but I haven’t seen it. What stands out to me about the book is its voice. Also it’s really dark, and it’s dark done well.

The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma. YA magical realism

This book is so messed up, and I mean that in a good way. It’s beautifully written, and kind of strange, and you should just go read it right now.

Enter Title Here, by Rahul Kanakia. YA contemporary

Disclosure: Rahul is a friend of mine. This is his debut novel, and it features an unlikeable female protagonist who kicks butt (and who, incidentally, I like in spite of (or is it BECAUSE OF) her unlikeability). It also has some metafictional aspects that were fun.

Still Life with Tornado, by A.S. King. YA magical realism

I really like A.S. King’s work, plus by looking it up just now I’ve realized I’ve missed a title, so I’m feeling much joy. In this book, the protagonist begins meeting versions of herself at different ages as she struggles to come to terms with an abusive home life and what it means to be an artist. It’s kind of off-beat, and I love it. My favorite YA read of 2016.

Mystery titles:

The Peter Wimsey Mysteries, by Dorothy Sayers

I’ve been reading these during my convalescence, starting with Whose Body? Since I’ve already read almost every mystery Agatha Christie wrote, these are the next best thing. They are not overly taxing while still being interesting, which is not an easy feat. Lord Peter Wimsey is not my first choice of sleuth (he’s more in the Columbo school as opposed to the Poirot school that I like best), but he’s definitely been growing on me.

Nonfiction titles:

The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley (essays)

Would this book have made this list if the election had gone differently? Unclear. Hurley does write one mean essay. But I have found it to be of especial comfort given current events.

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (memoir)

This book is beautiful and raw and it hurts to read and you should read it. It isn’t an easy read but not all reads are meant to be. 

Literary fiction titles:

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

This is one of those novels that could be classified as literary or speculative, and was shelved in literary because of Atkinson’s previous work. It follows the life (or rather lives) of a female protagonist born in England shortly before World War I. Every time she dies, the book loops back and starts her life again, so we get to see all sorts of possibilities. You probably have to love this conceit to enjoy this book, and I do love it when it’s done well and isn’t too painfully repetitive. Atkinson did a good job on that front, and the book captured my imagination.

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Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood

I’m slowly chipping away at Atwood’s significant oeuvre, and this one did not disappoint. What she does here with voice and tense and POV is interesting and masterful. Set in Canada soon before the Civil War, a young doctor tries to determine if an imprisoned female servant is innocent or guilty of a double murder that happened many years before. It unfolds somewhat slowly but I found it to be entirely gripping.

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

This is a cycle of stories, all of which in some way or another feature the character Olive Kitteridge. In some stories she is the POV character, in some a supporting character, and in others she merely shows up in passing. In this way we get a multi-dimensional view of who this woman is and what her life has been. Strout is insightful about human behavior and has a keen eye for convincing details. One of my favorite reads of the year.

The Hours, by Michael Cunningham

One of my other favorite reads of the year, so much so that I wrote a love letter blog post to this book. I want to read it again, along with Olive Kitteridge. I feel like one time was not enough for either of these books.
All right then. Next time I’ll write about some speculative fiction I read this year. And in the meantime, let me know what books you most enjoyed this year. I could particularly use some YA recommendations, but all are welcome.

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  1. You write in an effervescent, breathless style that makes you think of tiny, tiny bubbles in champagne that tickles your nose. You know it tickles your nose because hundreds of writers have insisted this is so.
  2. You must repeat words. Especially adjectives. Especially simple yet descriptive adjectives like fresh and soft and tiny and smooth.
  3. Also fragments and short sentences. As many as you have the stomach for. A firm, taut stomach or a poochy, loveable stomach. Any kind of stomach. The type of stomach does not matter.
  4. Lists shine like chronicles of diamond brilliance. Everyone loves lists because NUMBERS and PERIODS. Even if you actually have no structure whatsoever, a list will make it seem like your mind works in an orderly yet quirky fashion.
  5. Irony oozes out of your articles like fresh, fresh honey. It hardens into impenetrable armor that allows you to say what you want with fewer repercussions because no one can entirely tell where the irony ends and the truth begins.
  6. Or fuck, you can also just swear a whole fucking lot so you sound like you have a goddamned edge, like maybe you’re a little angry but also you’re just so fucking cool that everyone should shut the fuck up and listen to what you have to say, which is good old-fashioned hard-nosed no-shit wisdom, y’know?
  7. But if you’ve already got some of the manic pixie dream girl vibe going on, then the gentle sarcasm-dripping flow of honey armour is definitely the way to go. People will love you. They will love you so much, they will share your article on Facebook without ever knowing your name. Eventually you can start the next Toast except named after a different breakfast food or maybe crème brûlée.
  8. Your irony is like a scythe if you’ve ever used a scythe. Otherwise it’s like the X-acto blade in sixth grade art class. You make long careful cuts against the grain of society’s bullshit. Long, smooth cuts. Long, incisive cuts. Long, insightful, sharp yet understanding cuts that are way healthier than the way physicians used to practice bloodletting on sick people via cupping or leaches.
  9. You can also use ridiculous metaphors and not-very-obscure historical and pop culture references that may or may not apply. Either way you will be creating sly but searing commentary. People will think you are clever.
  10. It also helps if you include a refined and artful graphic related in some way to the past. Here is an 18th century painting. Here is a bucolic landscape. Here is a brass lamp that is definitely more than ten years old. Even better if you can insert either a sweet sense of superiority or a relevant allusion to one of today’s societal woes.

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    Each one of these objects holds a profound yet subtle significance.

  11. Suddenly you know how to write tongue-in-cheek articles about Seattlites’ obsession with bridges, men’s urges to make a pass at you while you’re crying, Burners’ conviction that by not going to Burning Man, you are missing out on the greatest experience known to man, and the strange propensity to want others to admit you have it worse than them while simultaneously acknowledging your innate and glowing greatness.
  12. You also begin to plan the most ironic post on dating that has ever been conceived by a human mind. It will be scathing but human. Bitter but sweet. Absurd but relatable. Your single friends will read it and laugh. Your married friends will read it and polish their rings.
  13. Bubbles. Fresh. Fresh fresh bubbles. We all love bubbles and freshness and everything about this post that makes us remember that pleasant sensation of being too clever and fresh and laundered to breathe. Like a magazine ad. Like crisp ironed cotton. Like a blog post that has gone at least one list item too far.

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Once upon a time I was talking to someone about my writing. And this person said to me, “Yeah, but if you don’t succeed in a year or so, you’d probably quit and try something else, right?”

And I thought to myself, “Wow, we are really not on the same page here. In fact, we are so far apart I don’t know that there’s anything I can do to change that.”

So when I recently read an essay by Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, I was happy to see the following:

“The most defeatist thing I hear is, “I’m going to give it a couple of years.” You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul.”

I don’t know about the “should” in that statement, but for me, the sentiment is true. I’ve been a writer since I was seven. When I wasn’t writing prose, I was writing music and lyrics. This impulse to write is so deeply buried in who I am, I don’t have the first idea how I’d extricate it. Nor would I want to.

Because commitment matters. As Elizabeth Bear says, “…to succeed at a thing–a job, a relationship–in the long term, the thing is: You Must Commit, even though commitment is scary.”

I used to joke that I had commitment issues because I like to take a bit of time before I commit. I’m a “stick my toe in the water to test the temperature” kind of person, and then I hesitate at the first step or two of the pool, thinking about how cold the water is and wondering if this is actually a good idea, and then suddenly I rush all the way in, and I’m done. I’m committed.

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I even hesitated a little bit about adopting this cutie.

But the reason I like to take my time is because once I commit, I AM COMMITTED. And I will put everything I have into whatever it is. So being a little cautious at the beginning is an important protective measure.

Do I think this means I make better decisions? I have no idea. It’s part of my temperament, more than anything else. And I still make mistakes, and I still have failures, and I still make commitments I wish I hadn’t made, not because of failure so much as because the price I paid was too high.

Ultimately I think commitment requires a lot of trust: trust in whatever or whoever you’re committing to, yes, but perhaps even more importantly, trust in yourself. Trust that you can be there–really show up–for yourself. Trust that you can brave the storms and survive the failures. Trust that you can keep learning, that you can keep adjusting, that you can keep in touch with the things that matter to you. Trust that you can leave old commitments behind if it is time. Trust, even, that you can keep trusting instead of clamming up so tight it will become impossible to function in an open-hearted way. (Or, if that’s where you are, that you can figure out how to begin opening that heart back up.)

And finally, trust that we can’t always know and yet we must act anyway. None of us know what the future will bring. We can do our research and collect data, we can try things out, we can discuss the pros and cons, but ultimately, at that point of commitment, there is a LEAP. That leap is unavoidable. And it is terrifying. And it is glorious.

So if I had actually answered the question this person had asked me instead of being polite, I would have said, “What? No, are you kidding? I took the leap to write seriously years ago, and so far it has been a fabulous decision. It’s not always easy, by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t know when or if I’ll succeed in the way I want. But NO REGRETS. On the contrary, I feel incredibly lucky to be doing this at all. And I really doubt I’ll stop in a year’s time, whatever happens. I kind of doubt I’ll ever stop. I guess we’ll find out.”

Here’s to that glory.

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When you have a lot on your mind, going to the Rainforest Writers Retreat is a pretty great thing to do.

There’s something so freeing about having no cell reception. No one can reach you. NO ONE. Even the internet is unreliable and spotty, and by Saturday it sputtered out almost completely.

Without the internet and my cell phone, the world grows large once more. Large, and quiet. There is extra space around myself and every action I take. I can relax into myself and really listen. I care about depth, and with more space I can sink in and take a look at the heart of things. I can see what I feel, and why I feel, and what has happened, and where I might go next.

Also I write. I write and write, and then I write some more. I write until my characters and their stories feel almost as real as everything else around me. I become intoxicated on writing, and my brain feels slippery, and the words rise up from where they’ve been coiled inside me, and I emerge feeling dazed and virtuous and a little bit raw around the edges.

Also I spend time with my friends. We talk about what’s going on with our lives, and we listen to and support each other, and we laugh until our diaphragms hurt, and we eat a lot of salmon and soup, and they drink lots of Scotch and whiskey while I have my signature drink. When we aren’t talking about other things, we are talking about writing, and it is such a grand relief to talk to people who understand what it is to have writing inhabit such an integral role in life.

I live, I write. I overflow with happiness, I write. Everything goes to shit, I write. I’m done with so…many…things, just done, I write. And when I don’t write, that’s when I fear the most. Writing isn’t like breathing, not really, but when there are no words, when they’ve all dried up and I feel as fragile as spun sugar, it’s never a good thing.

And sharing this backbone with other people, it makes me feel more known.

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You never know in advance which decisions are going to prove to be particularly good ones. But going to Rainforest for the first time was definitely one of them.

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Before this last weekend, I hadn’t attended a convention in a year. And the last convention I attended was somewhat memorable.

Before I left for ConFusion last week, I told myself I had to take it easy. I had been sick for much of the three or four weeks preceding the con, and in addition to that, I’ve been a bit burned out, which seems to mostly mean I’m more tired than usual and have less social energy. I’ve been forcing myself to go out some, but wow, am I much more of an introvert than I usually am.

The perfect time to go to a con!

(Cue maniacal laughter.)

I’ve found it difficult to explain the experience of attending a con as a early-career writer to people who have never been to a con and are not writers, but I will try now. It is incredibly intense. It is both one of the best times ever and an enormous amount of work. It sounds like a big party, and it kind of is, but you never forget you’re there because of writing, which is one of the most important things in your life, and therefore everything that happens at a con has the tendency to take on an overinflated importance. It is difficult to avoid some feelings of being judged, and this doesn’t seem to go away even for many seasoned pros.

The entire con experience is laced through with an undercurrent of PRESSURE. Pressure to make good use of the time because you spent a bunch of money to be there. Pressure to sound intelligent and not say anything incredibly stupid or offensive. Especially on a panel or when talking to a writer you particularly admire. Pressure to smooth over social awkwardness. Pressure to find someone to talk to at the bar. Pressure to prove yourself. Pressure to find an interesting topic to discuss or be on Twitter more or make sure your opinions have some actual thought behind them. Whatever your particular pressure poison is.

Lest you begin to get the wrong idea, the con experience is also jam-packed with amazing moments, fun excursions, and stimulating conversations you’re still thinking about long afterwards. It’s a pressure cooker of mostly awesome.

I had a wonderful and tiring time this weekend. Everyone was very kind to me. There was no running off to cry in public bathrooms (always a plus). Three of the four panels I was on went extremely well, and the fourth one wasn’t a train wreck or anything, I just thought it was kind of boring. I got to spend lots of time with Ferrett, along with many other friends and acquaintances, and I met several new people who I liked a lot. While I heard stories from other writers about stuff that went down at this con, I personally had a very positive experience.

Yay!

Yay!

But I did notice a difference.

I took a lot more time alone in my hotel room. I’d reach a lull in my schedule or have no companions at the bar, and instead of pushing myself to seek out THE BEST USE OF MY TIME, I’d go back up to my room and play Splendor on my iPad and relax. However, this self-permission turned out to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having some quiet time was really nice. On the other hand, I definitely felt like I was using more willpower than I normally do because eventually I’d have to force myself back out into the thick of things, and the expenditure of that extra willpower took away some of the gains of taking the quiet time in the first place. So that was one unexpected thing that happened.

The other thing I noticed was that I cared less overall about what other people thought. The main result of this seemed to be that I circulated less. I pushed myself less to be a flitting social butterfly moving from group to group. I moved some, but not as much as usual, and I had pretty much zero concern about thinking about whether I should be mingling more or considering with whom I should be talking more. I’d see a group of people I kind of knew and think about joining them, and if that seemed like it might cost me a lot of work or energy or awkwardness, I didn’t care enough to do it. Because I realized it didn’t really matter; I already can’t remember the specific cases when this happened. Instead I spent my time more organically; I didn’t work to engage people but talked with people with whom the engagement came naturally.

Interestingly, I met plenty of new people this way (although it’s hard to say if this was less or more than previously), and the general quality of conversation seemed to go up. Usually at cons I spend a lot of time having almost the exact same conversation fifty times or more. This time there was a lot less of that, and the increased variety of topic was something I deeply enjoyed. At various times I had really quality conversations about music, dance, various books, social justice, female friendships, transmedia, psychology, relationships, cooking and food, story ideas, theater and musical theater, television, the film industry, economics, several panel topics, and more. Of course, good conversation is a hallmark of most cons, but this time there was simply MORE of it, which is an unalloyed positive as far as I’m concerned.

Even so, the pressure was still present. I simply wasn’t allowing it to shape as much of my time or determine as many of my actions. Even in the face of pressure, there is often a choice: what do I value the most here? And in my case, it was allowing room for moments of significance and connection, and also, perhaps the biggest change, allowing myself room to do what was good for me.

Photo by Al Bogdan

Photo by Al Bogdan, 2016

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