WisCon 40, OR a Very Nice Ending to One Year in the United States

Actually, if I quit writing in understatements for a moment, it was probably the most perfect and apt ending that this year could have. And now that I’m back home and recovering from jet lag and the overall fatigue of the year, the fact that I spent the last long weekend in Madison, WI, hanging out with a thousand spec-fic people is putting a huge smile on my face, and reminding me why I do what I do.

It’s been almost exactly 12 months for me in the United States. I first landed in America on 18 June 2015. It was on the West coast, in Seattle, where was picked up by Huw from the SeaTac airport and driven (on the right side of the road!) to the Clarion West house, where I was about to spend probably the most enriching six weeks of my life. I left earlier this month, on 1 June, from the JFK airport in New York. I haven’t travelled across the country, but I’ve had a long, eventful year. I went to Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Madison. I met a lot of (mostly) interesting people in different places. I was caught unawares and overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers, not-quite-strangers but friends I’ve known only a little, friends of friends whom I had never met. I shared a couple of kisses replete with tenderness and joy. I encountered covert racism and sexism from people who don’t espouse themselves as practitioners of such. I had a lot of remarkable conversations – and, on one occasion, some excellent homegrown weed (Disclaimer: this was in LA; totally legal homegrown weed) – with Uber drivers. I lived through a few dark months of self-hatred and soul-searching, and learned a few things about myself that I didn’t know or acknowledge before.

I wrote a few stories, and a few beginnings of stories.
I wrote a couple of memoir pieces, which I’ve never done before.
I wrote a draft-y poem for a love that had run its course.
I signed a book deal, which wasn’t in the US, but I printed out and scanned back the contract from the printing machine in Armitage Hall, where I had a little office.
I taught a class; admittedly, not with the greatest enjoyment.
I packed up and moved out of an apartment on my own.

Neil Gaiman wished me a happy birthday over Skype in July, which I don’t think he’ll do again this year, but well.

One’s first year in a country is always long and eventful, but I think my first year in the US has been much richer in experience than my first year in the UK. In the UK, for the longest time, I lived in the furthest interiors of a remote Scottish campus that was off the highway from a deadbeat town. Then I shifted to London, and lived with a partner who – for all his good qualities (of which he had many) – was aggressively unwilling to be social. I travelled a lot in my UK year, mostly out to Europe (Germany, Luxembourg, Hungary, Spain), but also to Oxford, Canterbury, Wales, Manchester, but I met fewer people, did fewer things that I’d never done before, and nursed different delusions about myself.

WisCon was the fourth con I’ve ever been to. The first three were all in England – DiscworldCon and WorldCon in 2014, then EasterCon in 2015 (I also went to the Hay Festival in 2014) – but con-going experience is very different when you don’t know anyone, and no one knows you. The ex-boyfriend and I attended a lot of panels. We played games with strangers at DiscworldCon; he chatted with and got books signed by his favourite author at WorldCon; there was that hilarious story of (literally) running into George R.R. Martin, but mostly what we did was hang out with each other, and discuss with each other the new things we’d seen and heard, and then go home. WisCon was very different from all that.

This time I went with friends: Julia, Magpie and Nibs from my Clarion West class. This time I knew a few people. I had started running into people going WisCon-wards right from my stopover at Minneapolis, so even before it officially started, it had begun to feeling like a large festival, a pilgrimage. The people I knew introduced me to other people. I had breakfasts and lunches and dinners and dances and ice-cream walks and 2-a.m.-cigarette-hunts with lovely and interesting people I’d never met before. (I was also aggressively propositioned by a stranger inside an elevator, but this was not a con attendee, and well, real life always finds a way to intervene.) I felt validated. I felt like I didn’t need to feel validated, which is an even nicer way to feel. I felt my brain engaging at its 100% capacity, zero indifference, which is probably the nicest way to feel, and beats every other emotion. Even my body felt rested and healed, almost energetic, even though it was a complete wreck. 

Since Clarion West ended last August, I felt like I was gently drifting out of touch with the speculative fiction community. The world of the MFA is very allied to “mainstream” writing; and Philly has a few spec-fic people, including my friend and Clarion West classmate Christine, but obviously everyone’s on their own schedule, as I was on mine. There was too much real life and too little nerding out all these months; and while real life isn’t essentially a bad thing, there’s that thing they say about too much of anything. I almost didn’t go to WisCon this year – I stayed around in Camden for a month after my classes ended; I missed two buses on the night I left and nearly failed to catch to my flight to Madison – but I’m glad it worked out. I’m glad I made it. I’m glad I now have other directions to go. It has been a good year. 


Sometimes I think I could write in this blog more often if I actually knew who read it. (Or who didn’t, equally important.) I know Moplah and Bedatri occasionally wander across to it (Hi Moplah! Hi Bedatri!) but our generation – and everyone else on the Internet – has quite decisively ridden out the personal-blogging wave. And I’m not really a book blogger. I don’t have the time or the tenacity, besides being privileged to live in the middle of nowhere in the Scottish lowlands where even the GPS network names different places between one room and the next. (The University of Stirling is not actually in the one-horse town called Stirling, where the last exciting event took place in the 14th century and may be found documented in the film Braveheart. Unless you count the debatable first sighting of the Slenderman in the 1986 Stirling Library Blaze. And Alexander Court is bounded by forestry on two sides, a cemetery on one and a golf course on the fourth. Welcome to the A___-End of the Universe, as the Corvus calls it.)

Halfway through last year I decided to turn the blog into a repository for all the articles I write for Kindle and other places, but it doesn’t feel like an immediate concern. I can do it all at one go whenever I really need to, creating back-dated posts – it’s not like the world is about to end for the absence of my tantalizing ‘original versions’ – and I’ve had other more important things to do. Honestly, when you’re in your proverbial Late Twenties, sometimes the ‘other more important things’ end up becoming making a list of things to order from Tesco. Trying (and failing) to cook dinner. Endless agonising about what the future will bring. Even where the next month’s money is coming from. All the things that do not make halfway decent reading.

It’s been cold, dark and rainy for about two weeks now, immediately following a brief elusive phase of bright blue skies and flowers. I do not know why it should be so, except that you do not ask such questions of British Weather. The worst result of it all is that I had really hoped to go swimming every single day for my final month on campus (which is this), and I haven’t managed to drag myself out of the room ever since I nearly caught a cold the first day. Every morning I flip open the blinds and look at the leaden skies… and my spirit just wilts. I’m half-torn between being morose about leaving and not being able to wait.


In a way, with the dying of the thriving communities that surrounded them about 5–6 years ago, our blogs have reverted to the being the noiseless, semi-private public spaces that we’d originally hoped them to be. They’re out on the Internet, but nobody but your close friends, hopeful romantic aspirants or any other description of stalker probably reads them. You can once again post a bit of inane poetry or what you did today without the pressure of being interesting to a ‘readership’. I cannot say I entirely dislike the freedom.

This particular blog, which is going to complete four years in a couple of months, was created when the personal-blogging wave was already on an ebb. I have used it primarily for cryptic private musings, more often than not to practise new word or turn of phrase. I was reading through the archives today and they make me quite happy. There’s very little I wish I had never written. Often, I wish I had written more.



A more beautiful month of May has never been. May, being the month of exams, has always ensured us incarcerated in Calcutta with textbooks and terror while the heat and the humidity shoot up to the sky. (This, too, will soon cease to be. One more year and May shall no longer be branded thus. The epoch that has been so long in coming, and yet we wish/unwish it. But at this point we digress and must retrace our thoughtsteps.) I don’t know what turbulence is bringing this but every day it rains, and the old and the squalid are — not dissipated, never entirely dissipated — but at least glossed over with new. I could do with just this much. I could do with the dawns paling violet and crisp, the quiet, heavy skies of afternoon rolling gently into evening showers. I could do with the simple (but complete, but unadulterated) ecstasy of sitting with a favourite novel in the balcony in the spluttering gray-yellow translucence of three o’clock rain; I could be left in that moment — without escapes to the past or the future — for ever and ever and not mind at all. I think of you and what you would make of these pleasures, with your reluctance to travel and your fear of thunderstorms. (This evening, there was a thunderstorm.) It is imperfect empathy, of course–I will never truly understand you. I try not to think of your days, nor think of you in your house, your customs and prohibitions, your dinner-table conversations with father mother brother sister-in-law; for that way lies madness. I think of you only in terms of metaphor: as strangeness and hope, as a landscape beyond the ones I have known to traverse.

Five years is more than one-fifth of your life when you’re still under twenty-five. Simple math, but I suppose I am one of those individuals who never quite register the temporal. To whom all the memorable moments seem like yesterday and the long stretches of nothing-much simply dissolve into unaccountability. I have one year to go but all I want to do is leave and keep moving and keep collecting a few more handfuls of those moments, for the rest will simply melt away; nothing will stick. If you ask me how I’ve grown, I won’t be able to tell you. Only grown wary, only grown restless, grown a fatal patience like a weed.

I want to do the 30 Day Song Challenge but I think I’m too late for it this time. Bye bye, blog. :)


It is not the hour I should’ve been awake, having gone to bed nearly at 5, having only half-finished the book I was speed-reading through (being Thief of Time, with all the force of irony that can hit you at one go). Today is not the day I should’ve kept for going to the Bookfair, considering that my back aches, the insides of my eyes are a little woozy and I have no idea what to buy (this third being possibly a good thing). I have SMSes to reply from yesterday, which is a truly sad state of being. I don’t have a paper idea for the Students’ Seminar. I haven’t even began to visualise a website I should ideally finish designing by next week because all I can feel inside the cranial cavity is something that puts to mind half-boiled eggs. And I’ll go out in (less than) an hour and won’t be home before night. I hope at least the evening is fun.

But who’d say this forceful overwhelming is worse than not having anything to do!


This is the interesting paradox: because I wake up late these days my days are a little bleak, I always end up missing the warmth and light of the morning sun in my bones. It is a cold, cold winter; for the first time I understand what the expression “bitterly cold” means, and you would too if you have to come back home every night with a long autoride, dressed in only a flimsy pullover. This is also funny, for just how cold can a tropical winter be? Years and years we complained about it never being cold enough, and years and years we hung out in January in shorts and joke scarves and multicoloured socks and this winter just caught us unawares. I have a cupboardful of winterwear and day in and day out I’ve only been wearing the humongous jacket because the rest will just not withstand this cold. Or maybe I am cold. Inside. It’s been a weird, weird year. Unforgiving life lessons. I’m trying to think/believe they toughen you up in several ways, but the last thing they leave in their wake is warmth.

This week the days have gone brighter. On Saturday I was numb, on Sunday I was upset (again), I was really really unsure (and rather relucant) about Monday but Monday and Tuesday have been unexpectedly nice. On Thursday afternoon I was absolutely elated, there is fantastic work happening which I don’t think I’m allowed to write about or post pictures, although I have the pictures that I’m nearly dying to post! Last afternoon, late last afternoon, I was sitting and chatting with S at the step under the ledge and it occured to me this was exactly the place I wanted to be, right then, that perfectly happy (though transient, of course transient) moment of perfect bliss and zero longing. And then that other afternoon which I spent lounging in R’s room, and R was singing me a song he’d written and I was staring out of the window in the west and there was the sunset in my eye, sharp and blinding and more peaceful than I’ve been in a long time to remember. It occurs to me all my best memories are sun memories. Like the long winter morning/afternoons spent with R (another R, the one more written about in this blog) at the Dakshinapan steps, two years ago, and the things we talked about and the unreality of it and how both of us knew we were creating a bright, shiny bubble – a bauble – in the mostly bleak stream of memory, one that would keep glowing years later and fill our insides with warmth, but one that we would (we could) never return to. A thing of magic. R has been back in town this winter but we’ve barely spent time together, we have gone along different paths in life and have little in common any more, I know we will go farther and farther away but we will always think of that winter with fondness and a kind of naive, absurd idealisation that no degree of cynicism can touch. And because life is long and will change, and because we are stubborn and inconsolable, I keep collecting and loving these little baubles of memory that will – one hopes, one hopes – stand the test of tarnish and time. Everything else will go, but I’ll be there to wave them goodbye and I’ll smile.