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.