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. 

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Corvus
The Corvus, who is a gentle, if nitpicky bird. Occasionally charming (like above). Currently asleep.

People-watching 101

I

There are some people who, purely by the virtue of restraint, make themselves into a kind of elusive treasure. They do not always do it deliberately. Being pleasant/desirable does not put upon you an obligation of distributing yourself socially; just as having a sweet voice does not (must not) oblige you to sing; or an instinctive understanding of your academic subject compel you to score high marks.

These people approach the infinite by simply being intangible—since they refused to participate in your plan for them, you have no idea of knowing what would happen if they did. Anything could happen, but you’ll never know, so you cannot eliminate any of the possibilities. You cannot quite quantify (measure, classify, box) the person in question. There’s that precious little bit about them that will always evade you. Something like that should be illegal, right? But it is completely justified, and I must vouch for that too.

Because there were times I have been one of these people. At other times, I have been irresistibly attracted to them. Maybe these are flip sides of the same personality. (Maybe someday I will know that for sure.)

II

Usually, it’s not the sad people who do drugs, it’s the happy people who do. If you have an immediate problem in life, you work towards setting it all right—you keep yourself alert. You rant/rail or demolish it quietly and calculatingly, but you do not do drugs, because even if you did, in all likeliness you’d end up getting a bad trip.  But if everything’s reasonably fine in your life—you have the job you wanted, your boy/girlfriend is behaving well, your parents and friends add a gentle glow to the general picture of serenity and perfection—what do you do occasionally to add some uncertainty and fun into the mix? That’s right.

You do it to bide time, to break the monotony of the general having-nothing-to-do, of not being able to get away and experience more exciting things physically, to let yourself be able to endure the same perfect day over and over again. Doing drugs does not have any necessity, meaning, worth, but it’s not as if not-doing drugs has any of those things either. Most opinions and/or states of mind don’t. Even perfection stops being enough once it’s been long enough. If that isn’t a #firstworldproblem, I don’t know what is.

But it also explains why I never quite got into that habit.

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Do the blind dream of rainbows? The other day I dreamed of friends coming over and making me drag out my purple bicycle; and then we cleaned up the rusty old thing, filled up the tyres and got it into the streets after seven-eight years or such; and then I’m remembering the thrill of cycling, the exhilaration of zooming through the intricate lanes in my locality with the wind on my face, and how much better it is than walking under the scorching noontime sun, and how you never sweat and your shirt never sticks to your body, and the pleasant ache in your legs; and then Baba buys me a new bicycle because I’ve really outgrown the old purple bike and because even the best — the really fast and sleek — bicycle is so much cheaper than a car; and then I’m cycling, cycling, cycling, swerving and turning just for the pleasure of it; travelling through bazaars and shady lanes that I haven’t visited since I was a ruffianly schoolkid with classes done by 11:45 AM and nothing to do before lunch. When I woke up in my bed — sweat-damp and uncomfortable because the day was breaking and the heat building up — my brain was still streaked with the residue of that happiness, and I wanted to go up to Baba and ask for the new bicycle right now before it sunk in, slowly, slowly, that I had never learned how to ride a bicycle. I cannot. (The old purple kiddie bicycle — which I loved but could never control — had eventually rotted away and been sold at a junk shop, after I gave up and grew older and found other things to be interested in.) I’ve never driven a bicycle, I’ve never driven a motorbike, I’ve driven nothing but a small car and the sensation of that is quite different. Where from then that impossibly vivid dream, that I keep longing to return to but I’m afraid I never will?

The last post feels duly privileged for the attention of the weather gods, who have ensured that the ugly May weather has made a vengeful comeback. Well, maybe not. But I roasted in the heat all of yesterday the day-before and missed the brief early evening shower because just then I happened to be inside a mall. Ironic, what? This heat wave burns away all delusions and I can see clearly all the studies that haven’t been done, all the work that hasn’t materialized, basically the freedom’s-just-another-word-for-nothing-left-to-lose state of mind. I feel devastatingly free. My thoughts go where they want (mostly in the gutterwards direction, I can’t deny). I cook a little in the mornings, paint a little in the evenings, just mess around with ingredients and watch them turn into other things. Icecream, ghugni, chicken curry, the odd little sketch. Reading books that aren’t on the syllabus and articles and comics on the internet. I got happily buzzed on a can of beer the other evening (ain’t I amazing?) and reconnected with an old friend whom I think I really love (or maybe I’m just remembering the beer talking) while we hung out with a couple of new friends. Reminiscing old college days, back when we were cooler and slightly less worried about the future. Back when we’d encountered fewer shitty people and subsequently were more hopeful about the state of the world. Okay, maybe not so morbid. It was actually a rather awesome day, although what we were doing was exchanging notes for the upcoming exams and got very badly ripped by the xeroxwallah and decided to skip a party afterwards. Life is just that strange.

I’ve decided to fill up the 30 Day Song Challenge anyway, even though this is nearly halfway through the month so I’m missing out a bit of the fun. But I’ll never be punctual enough to begin it on the first of any month, so what you gonna do? Anyway, so Day 1: Your Favourite Song is this:

Obviously, it’s difficult to select one favourite song, but this one comes to mind because I’ve had it with me for a very long time and it has always made me feel spoken for, so it stands up rather well to the ravage of age.

And now this means you can expect a post tomorrow, and the day after, and the next day and so on, until I get bored. This is really a rather boring meme in the insipid, unimaginative American kind of way.

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So… well. I’ve been smiling, I’ve been writing, I’ve been thinking/hoping/thinking and I have nothing to say. Who reads this blog anyway? Three people, and I suspect only when they’re otherwise bored. The thought-of-the-day is that perhaps you can only move on (from people, places, obsessions) when you can’t move back in. I am not even sure if this is a thought of the day or a thought I’d had long ago that’s flashing in my mind a lot today but it’s a happy thought. I had lovely lovely extended weekend, there were duststorms and rain in the evenings, phuchka marathons, cheap drinks and expensive drinks, book talk and people talk, and dinner at a fantastic little restaurant with an old friend I had almost thought I’d lost.  There was a lot of lazing about and relaxed reading. A lot of happy-making phone conversations. And not much urge to blog about any of it at all. =)