Hello World, Once Again

This is an introduction post. It might seem strange for a blog that’s somewhere around a decade old to post an introduction, but in that decade I don’t really think I’ve made much of an impression on anyone, so it seems like a fresh start might be in order. (Plus my About page probably needs an update.)

My name is Alan, I’m a 30-something guy from the UK, and I’ve been reading fantasy novels for pretty much my whole life, and regularly reading comics for around a decade. This blog is a place for me to talk about those things, along with my other interests, and hopefully share some of my enthusiasm for that stuff with like-minded readers.

Because I think it’s worth stating, I’m a liberal; I support intersectional feminism and reject discrimination of all kinds, be it about appearance, ethnicity, disability, sexuality or gender expression, and I believe in promoting representation and diverse voices in our media. I hope I can live up to those beliefs in writing about that media here.

I’ve been very quiet at times over the years – which I’ve blamed on things like World of Warcraft addiction (not true for some time now) – and despite all the times I’ve come back and said I’d write here more frequently, it’s never stuck, and I never allowed myself to develop the habit of regular updates. I’m hoping to finally fix that. Obviously my past performance isn’t very promising, but I want to do more with this space than I have, and I want to finally put in the effort that requires. This might mean more personal posts, and it’ll definitely mean posts about more than just books. I’ll see what I can come up with.

I’ll end with this: Hello, and thanks for visiting my site. Hopefully you’ll find something interesting here.

(Also, you can follow me on Twitter @sometimesKysen.)

Book Posts I Want to Write But Can’t Seem to Finish

It has been a long time since I’ve written full length posts about books I’m reading. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to say anything – it’s that the times I’ve tried to write, nothing has worked. There are several posts I’ve started since, oh, April or May last year that wound up languishing in my Drafts folder, forever unfinished, some of which are still there now. Here’s what I tried to talk about but couldn’t, for whatever reason:

Tehanu, by Ursula Le Guin – This was the big one, the one I actually finished. I wrote 2000 words on Tehanu, the fourth book in Le Guin’s Earthsea series, and in particular on its strong feminist themes in contrast with the lack of women with agency in the three books that preceded it. I passed it to a couple of other readers to look it over before posting, and one of them came back and let me know that the premise of my post was fatally flawed. My option then was to completely rewrite the post with the new information in mind, which probably could be done. Turns out I’m terrified of revising. No idea where to start. The unaltered, incorrect post has been in my drafts for well over a year.

Women in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – Until I sat down to write this bit right now, I could have sworn that last year I talked here on the blog about The Last Dark, the final book in Stephen R Donaldson’s ten-book, four-decade series, and mentioned that I wanted to write about the series’ issues with women. Looking back, I can’t find anything about it. Maybe I only tweeted it. In any case, I made a few attempts to write a big blog post, about the problems the series has in its depiction of women, and also the problems with fan response to the series’ female lead. I could never work out how to say it well, though, and found myself too often just describing plot points. Eventually I gave up trying.

Quick Book Thoughts on RupettaRupetta by N. A. Sulway was one of my favourite novels published in 2013, and was on my nomination ballot for the Hugo awards. Back when I was reading all those 2013 books for nomination ideas, I intended to do a quick thoughts post on each of them, but only got around to posting one – about Ancillary Justice, the eventual Hugo winner. I did make a couple of attempts to write about Rupetta, but could never quite order my thoughts in a way that formed a good post. I recommend the book highly, but still can’t work out how to write a full post about it.

The Eternal Sky Trilogy, by Elizabeth Bear – I’ve mentioned this one before, recently. I read the full trilogy in August this year, and it is really great. There are so many things I want to talk about regarding this series… but when I try to write them down, I can’t get it right. I have half a post written, but I can’t work out how to structure my thoughts in a way that works.

The problem I’ve been having for most of these, clearly, is “how do I put all these thoughts into the shape of a blog post”? When I try, I find myself very unsatisfied with the way my words are coming out. I’m much the same with fiction writing for the last nine months or so: nothing comes out right. I can’t say I’ve been all that good at book blogging in the past, but I’ve written some posts I still feel fairly happy about. I just can’t seem to hit that any more.

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.

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…

Thursday Linkdump

That time again. Running through them quickly.

1. Why I Will Never Return to the USA
A Dutch man’s experience trying to cross the US border.

2. Female in Public

3. Why an Attack on Sexism in Tech is NOT an Attack on Men

4. Matt Fraction on Suicidal Thoughts
Very good, honest post.

5. Race and the Changing Face of Geekdom

6. Nicola Griffith on Characters’ Sexuality

7. The Blog Post That Lost Me Half My Audience
Kameron Hurley on including men in feminist conversations.

8. Writing is not Breathing
On those old cliches about writers needing to keep writing.

9. “Keep Your Politics Out of My Video Games” (video)

10. You Have Body Issues
Excellent short comic about body issues. I’ve decided to end this list by talking a bit personally on this subject.

Whenever I’m not at work, I wear polo shirts. Several years back, I used to wear t-shirts all the time – now I never do. What changed? I started noticing my chest.

If I put on a t-shirt now, all I can see in the mirror is my slightly flabby chest sticking out. Polo shirts, with the buttons and collar, seem to distract from it. I know its irrational, and there’s actually very little difference, but I can’t bring myself to go outside in a t-shirt any more. I get way too self-conscious.

So yes, we all have our body issues.

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.)