Nine Worlds 2017

I got back from Nine Worlds Geekfest yesterday, and before I get working on my packing for Worldcon – it’s tomorrow! Aah! – I thought I’d get down some brief thoughts about it, particularly given my last post.

This year went better than last year, I’d say. The content was mostly great again, but the main thing is that I managed to not fall down an anxiety rabbit hole again, managing it by just giving myself permission to go off to my room and do something on my own a couple of times. Though I still spent far too much time standing around awkwardly on my own, the folks at Nine Worlds are pretty friendly and welcoming. I got onto quiz teams at the beginning and end of the con, and spent a little more time gaming than I did last year.

I’m still terrible at eating properly and looking after myself while on holiday. I survived on the included breakfast in the morning and a Tesco meal deal in the afternoon, which isn’t exactly a balanced diet. I’m not sure what I’ll do in Helsinki – in Norway last year I managed, but would spend far too much time trying to convince myself to go inside restaurants for each meal. I’ll survive, I guess.

But overall it was pretty good this year. I think if I keep going I’m likely to get gradually more comfortable there – at least in part because I might start to feel like I know people. I’m not quite there yet, since I still managed to feel like an outsider whenever I was around other people. Whether I go again next year might depend a little on my employment situation, though. We’ll see.

Anyway, Worldcon 75 awaits! I’m curious how the culture of the two cons will contrast.

Advertisements

Anticipation

(This is a personal post.)

In little over a week, I’ll be setting out for a long month of events, starting with Nine Worlds Geekfest, followed immediately by Worldcon in Helsinki, and then a week later my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m excited and eager, but there’s one little bit of me wondering if it’s a bit too much.

The first convention I attended was Loncon3, the 2014 Worldcon in London. Overall it was pretty great, I enjoyed the panels and readings, but the whole thing was undercut with frustration at myself for not being able to socialise. I’m far too self conscious and uncomfortable to approach people I don’t already know, and I tend to end up staying isolated even among these big groups of people with presumably shared interests. I’m very grateful to Meg Frank, who generously showed me around and introduced me to a bunch of people at Worldcon, but even then I wasn’t really able to engage with people and didn’t feel comfortable approaching them again afterward.

The anxiety and frustration culminated in a bit of a breakdown in my hotel room on the last night, where I’d retreated after leaving the Hugo ceremony and finding I didn’t really know what to do with myself while everyone else was heading off to the various parties. I found myself venting on Twitter, which helped me calm down but wasn’t exactly a good idea.

The second convention I attended was Nine Worlds 2016. I loved Nine Worlds – it covers a very broad range of geeky interests, but comes at every part of it with a focus on inclusion, and the understanding you can love things and still be critical of them. It just ticked all my boxes as far as the programme content went, which is why I immediately bought a ticket to go again this year. But in between panels, I spent most of my time hanging around the edges, sitting alone watching everyone else. I managed to have some fun in the games room, but half my visits there still involved me standing around awkwardly for a few minutes then leaving. This disconnection from the other attendees wasn’t helped by having a hotel room ten minutes walk away. Once again, the con ended with me falling apart back in my room and venting on Twitter.

(I should probably be embarrassed at myself for those tweet threads, but somehow I’m not? I still don’t know if I was attention-seeking or just thinking out loud.)

Which brings me to next month. My third and fourth conventions, back to back. I’m really looking forward to it, and I expect to enjoy it a lot – I’m not really anxious, at the moment. But I think back on those two nights, the hour or so I let myself fall apart each time, and I wonder. What is it going to be like for me, going through that not for 3 or 4 nights but for two long weekends in a row? I don’t see any reason why I should struggle with it now, but I was hardly having a rational reaction the other times it happened. I honestly don’t know if this will get to me again on the same level, or possibly worse.

Overall I expect to enjoy the experience, I just feel like I’ll be going into it constantly anticipating those anxiety-induced tears.

(I guess I’m lucky I only get anxiety, and not depression.)

Loncon3 – Sunday

Another day, another Stroll with the Stars; I said hi to a few people but once again didn’t really manage to chat with anyone. On the panels side, I started with The Spies We (Still) Love, all about spies in mostly TV and movies but also a little in literature. This was one that kind of got into just a series of people calling out names of spy shows they like, and it felt like the 1 hour slot didn’t give much room for discussion.

After a lunch break, I ignored some of my instincts and went to Learning the World, a panel about worldbuilding in secondary world fiction. I figured it’d be interesting, and the panelists – mostly experts in one area or another, like medicine or archaeology – did offer some good points on various things, but the panel seemed to spend a bit too much time focusing on small details. There were a couple of pretty bad questions from obvious amateur writers in the audience, and the moderator had a tendency to talk at length about what he was doing in his own work-in-progress (the words “In my fantasy novel…” came up too many times to count).

The Wrong Apocalypse was next, a panel about climate change and the environment, and the ways our media does, does not, and should tackle this serious issue. It was a good, interesting panel, which gave a lot of things to think about. I was planning to hop straight into another panel afterward, but by that point I was sore from sitting so long and very thirsty, so I didn’t go to my next panel. Not sure that was the right decision, because it left me with nothing to do for most of that hour and a half.

When I did get back to programming, it was for the We Have Always Fought panel, which used Kameron Hurley’s essay as a starting off point for a discussion of depictions of women’s roles in fiction, in history, and just in general culture. This was one of the more interesting panels, which touched on a lot of topics: real female figures in combat roles in history, particularly discussing female pilots; how gendered pronouns in language affect perception of characters; the gendered perceptions of genre as pertains to the labels “hard” and “soft” sci fi… There were just a lot of good points here, although the moderator got a little lost in her notes now and then. I was also happy to hear Rupetta by Nike Sulway recommended, because I really loved that book. I still need to get around to James Tiptree, Jr and Joanna Russ, sometime.

The last thing before the big event of the night was a reading by Elizabeth Bear; she read a portion of her short story Shoggoths in Bloom, which has me very tempted to go buy her collection in the dealer’s room tomorrow before I leave…

Finally, I did in fact attend the Hugo Awards ceremony. I’m not sure I gained anything from being there in person, other than tired hands from all the clapping, to be honest. I would’ve tried to chat with people beforehand, but I wound up sat between a group of friends talking in French and another guy who didn’t come across as feeling sociable. As for the results of the awards, I wasn’t very surprised, although I really didn’t expect Charles Stross’ story to win; I’ve come to think of Wakulla Springs as the best thing on that ballot (even though you may recall I actually voted it second place to Cat Valente). I’ll be taking a look at the full results at some point soon, and might decide to write about it a little.

So, that was my Worldcon. I leave tomorrow, and don’t really have time for any programme items at all, so this is the last of Loncon3 I’ll see. I have of course only seen a tiny portion of all that’s on here, and one person’s Worldcon will be very different from the next, there is such a huge variety of things to do. Being as unsocial as I am, my experience is certainly not representative of what the convention is for a lot of other attendees.

I have enjoyed the con a lot, though the question is still unsettled in my mind as to whether cons are my type of thing. It’s supposed to be a very social event, but as expected I myself have gone through it pretty isolated. While I’ve enjoyed the programming, generally, I’ve not so much enjoyed the dead spots in between panels, where I, not knowing people and not being able to go up and talk to people I don’t know, would find myself lapping the fan village, dealer’s room, and exhibition area, or just sitting on a bench checking twitter. If I’d had longer here I might have eventually started to relax about starting conversations, but almost as soon as it’s started this is done, and who knows how long it might be until I come to something like this again. I don’t know if I could manage the same thing while also having to travel into a foreign country for it.

I didn’t talk about it here on the blog, saving it for Twitter, but my anxiety issues hit me pretty bad yesterday, and I don’t know if that was just a single specific incident, or a sign of what I’m likely to go through if I keep putting myself in these situations. Maybe I just can’t cope with it.

As always, I wish I knew more people in real life who shared my interests in science fiction and fantasy. I wish I knew how and where to find those people. It would help me a lot to actually be able to engage with people about the things I love, rather than only the kind of shouting into the void I do here. This trip was supposed to give me a taste of that, and it did, briefly, at Friday’s Welcome Party, but I guess I just can’t get past the way I am.

Anyway, I did not go into this post intending to run off on this particular tangent; I came here to talk about the things I did do at Worldcon, not what I didn’t do. And what I did was hear a lot of interesting, informative, and entertaining discussion of science fiction and fantasy and related issues. I enjoyed that side of it and that’s the memory I want to try to take away with me.

Loncon3 – Thursday

Hello! I am now in London, for my second trip of the week. This time I’m attending Loncon3, the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention.

Today was a pretty light day for activity, because it takes 4 hours to get to London by train. I took that as an opportunity to read half of Elizabeth Bear’s Shattered Pillars, because after finishing Range of Ghosts on Tuesday I just couldn’t resist moving straight on to the next one.

I got to my hotel by the convention centre at 2pm, which didn’t leave me all that much time to see things. After getting my badge from registration I did some wandering around the halls, and didn’t keep track of time enough to hit a 3pm panel. I wound up in the games tent for a quick game of Pandemic instead (we lost). What I did then have time for, by sacrificing the chance to have a full sit-down meal, was a 4.30 panel, Ideology vs Politics in Science Fiction, which was pretty interesting.

That’s all I managed at the con today, though. After the panel I grabbed a quick sandwich and headed off on the tube to Leicester Square, because I had a ticket to see Book of Mormon. I’m still not convinced I should have spent so much on a single show, particularly coming back from the much cheaper Edinburgh Fringe, but the show was good and I enjoyed it a lot.

Tomorrow, my con starts for real. I’m still trying to talk myself into the Stroll with the Stars first thing, but I’m not sure I can get over my fear of talking to people I don’t know. (I have similar thoughts regarding the Welcome Party on Friday night, but that’s farther away and I’m able to not think about it much.) I will be attending a lot more other stuff, though, and will post another update.

Awkward

This post is something of a companion piece to my post “Anxiety“, and it’s one I was supposed to write over a month ago.

At the end of November I went down to Leeds for a day, for two reasons. Firstly, to see old friends I had been out of touch with for years, and secondly, to visit the Thought Bubble comic convention. Each of these things served as an excuse to do the other, really.

Thought Bubble became the first convention I’d ever attended, then. I can’t say I was entirely certain what to expect, though I wasn’t surprised by how it went. I spent several hours walking around the halls, and attended one panel, the Writer’s Roundtable, which was interesting.

But that’s pretty much all I did: I walked around the three halls. For hours. I saw some interesting art, I saw creators I recognised, but I was too uncomfortable and awkward to actually interact with people.

I did manage to exchange a few awkward words with a few people – usually with the easy excuse of buying something from them. I managed to mutter some very awkward praise to one creator whose book I’d recently read (“It was… uh… really good.”)

I couldn’t bring myself to line up for signings. I bought a signed print, but only while the artist (Fiona Staples, of the excellent Saga) was away from her table.

I don’t know how people do it – go up to a stranger and praise their work, ask them to sign something, whatever. I just wander round awkwardly keeping to myself.

And now I’m wondering how bad I’m going to be at Loncon3 in August. Will I just not dare interact with the great authors I see there, get books signed, say I liked their work? It’s entirely possible, knowing me, that I’ll find myself still just walking past and looking…

After

I kind of feel like I owe a follow-up to the last blog post. This will be a short one, fortunately.

I went on Saturday. First try I walked right past the place and kept going because I wasn’t sure where the right entrance was. I half convinced myself I was in entirely the wrong place. On the second pass I saw someone coming out of a door, and though I hesitated, I pushed myself and walked in. Then I stood around awkwardly on my own for quite a while.

In the end, though, I played a bunch of games and had some fun. It wasn’t bad at all (and I’m kind of used to the awkward standing around at the edge of the room situation). So I call this a success.

Anxiety

This is going to be a personal post. It’s about something I’ve never really opened up about before. It’s long, and rambling, and doesn’t have all that much of a point to it other than opening up.

Right now I’m about halfway through reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, a memoir by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess. In it, she writes about her anxiety disorder – with the associated panic attacks, and embarrassing conversations – and the things that go through her head when meeting people, and making friends. And I identify with a lot of what she is saying.

I suffer from social anxiety. Not as severe as Jenny Lawson’s, but very real. I’ve never been medicated, never been in therapy (although I had one professor in University who recognised my nervousness and told me I should consider it). But it makes it hard for me to talk to people. To go places and do things. I can’t initiate conversations, for example, unless I have a good idea of what I want from it and how it will go.

To give another example: When I moved house in January, I needed to get a haircut shortly afterward. It took me over a week of walking past various hairdressers and barbers in the area before I settled on one in particular, and longer to actually convince myself to go in. On the day I did, I walked straight past the door and kept going on the first try. I had to convince myself to stop and go back.

The worst part about this anxiety? I don’t get nervous any more when interacting with people. Hardly at all. The anxiety hits me before I talk to someone, before I go in somewhere, in the minutes-to-hours I spend working myself up towards dialling the phone. Once I actually engage, I’m mostly fine. Knowing that doesn’t stop me panicking.

So I live with this problem by not engaging. I very rarely have a big attack of nerves, because I’m so accustomed to never putting myself in the positions that make me nervous.

This is how my life goes:

I go to work on the weekdays. I interact with people there, I chat during downtime, I mumble hellos when I pass people. I do most of my work through email, which is easier. Then when it gets to 4 o’clock, I switch off, I walk home, and I spend the rest of my day reading, gaming, watching TV, or on the internet. On the weekends I might go into the city to buy things, or I might go to the cinema, but whatever I do, I do alone, and the rest of the time is the same: online, reading, watching, gaming. I don’t have any contact with coworkers outside of work, and I don’t have any (non-internet) friends outside of work.

I have been like this since my teens. As a young child, there were a bunch of other kids on the street I lived in that I’d spend most of my free time with. There were kids from school I’d sometimes go out riding bikes with. I slept over with friends a few times. As I got older, I made friends less easily and got more uncomfortable with people. Starting in secondary school, and especially after we moved house when I was about 14, I didn’t see friends outside of school any more. We had the internet by then, and I got sucked in to spending time on that very easily.

I did have friends at school, then – a few people I’d spend most breaks talking to, who I got on well with, although I never felt quite like I fit in with them. It was just that when the end of the day came along, once again, I’d switch off and go off on my own. I’d chat to a few of them online, sometimes, although I did that less and less – because I was nervous about starting conversations, prone to long awkward silences when not face-to-face, and got annoyed when people wanted to chat and I wasn’t ready for it.

University was better. I met a small group of guys on my first night there and spent the next few years around them. We lived in the same college, and then shared houses, so there wasn’t that disconnect between work and home that allowed me to cut myself off. I was also pretty awkward and clueless, so I may have been annoying to be around sometimes.

That didn’t last. See that bit above about why I stopped talking to schoolfriends online? Well, when univsersity ended the same thing happened. I don’t know what to say to people, and the longer I go without contacting them the more uncomfortable I get about getting in touch, and so I wound up losing contact entirely with the guys I’d lived with for three years. That was six years ago.

Since then, my life’s been as described above. I spent a couple of years unemployed, got way-too-deeply into World of Warcraft, then I got jobs and I toned that back and I settled into what my life is. A couple of months back my World of Warcraft guild disbanded, and since then I’ve come to realise that raiding with them a couple of times a week had probably been standing in for actual social interaction in my life.

I hope this isn’t coming across self-pitying. I should make it clear that I have been pretty comfortable with my life being this way up to now. I’m accustomed to it. But, that said, lately the isolation has been getting to me.

I’ve done some things in the last year that have pushed me out of myself. I’ve moved out of my parents’ house, I’ve taken holidays alone, I’ve met people from the internet, I’ve made plans to go to Worldcon next year (which scares the hell out of me, right now). But I’m not used to actually goin out and engaging with other people on a regular basis, and I feel like that’s something I need to do. My mind’s been rolling this around for the last month or so, and it’s been sparked further by coming across things like Jessica Mills’ Social Guides for the Socially Awkward.

And there’s where I come to what’s really brought me to write all this out. Top on the list of how to meet people is to find groups that share your interests and join in. The problem is that as far as I can tell no one ever actually does anything in this town. So I’ve been looking, and looking further afield, and the best I’ve been able to come up with is a tabletop gaming group in the next city over, who happen to be having an event tomorrow. I don’t know anything about tabletop gaming, and I don’t know anyone in the group, two facts that are really good for feeding into my anxiety. I’ve spent the last week trying to convince myself to go.

The real nerves haven’t hit me yet (although the “publishing this post” panic just kicked in, yay) but I have a strong feeling it’ll be like the hairdresser: I’ll spend far too long hanging around nearby and walking past, unable to convince myself to walk in. Or I might not even manage to leave the house (but will still spend plenty of time beating myself up for not going).

I’m trying to talk myself up to this and instead seem to be talking myself down. I should probably stop.

Anyway, there it is, out in the open. I have actually made progress, thanks to my time at university and, even more so, in the workplace, and I hope I can improve, but… it’s always there. No matter how good I get at talking to people, I don’t think I’ll ever shake the anxiety. I hate having to go through it, but I hope I hate being isolated more.

This post has gone on far too long. (Don’t overthink it, just hit publish before you chicken out.)