The other morning I read a post from a woman who deliberately stayed home from LDS Storymakers conference because she has discovered that writer’s conferences are a negative experience for her. The post got me thinking about my experiences at conferences and conventions. They are always a mixed bag for me. I usually come home very glad that I went and exhausted. Yet there is almost always a time during the event when I wonder why I’m even there. Suddenly all the differences between me and the other attendees loom large, I feel outside, like I don’t belong. One of my least favorite manifestations of this is when I go home in the evening and spend the next several hours stewing over how everything I said was dumb and convincing myself that everyone was offended and/or thought I was an idiot. None of those things are true, at least not from an outward perspective, but they feel true to me in those moments and those moments are definitely part of every convention or conference experience.
I think there are those who experience these conferences and conventions differently. Perhaps in their regular lives they are constantly misunderstood or disregarded, then they arrive at the conference to discover it full of people who are passionate about the same things. For them convention attendance has a profound feeling of coming home to a safe place. Over time a few events have developed that feel for me, LTUE is like home, CONduit used to be, but isn’t anymore, Storymakers began to feel like home just this year. An event feels like home when people there are glad to see me and I don’t feel like I have anything to prove. All the other conventions and conferences in my life have me feeling like a stranger in a strange land. I spend lots of time observing and thinking.
I was at a convention last summer where Lois McMaster Bujold was also in attendance. She is one of my writing heroes and so I watched her for things I could emulate. I saw many things, one of which was that she went to panels and presentations as an audience member. I almost never do that anymore, in part because many of the panels cover topics that I’ve already heard a dozen times. Yet I admire that teachable quality and I do try to seek out those people from whom I can learn. There are some teachers who pour out good information even if the stated topic is not something I particularly need. Most of my best convention moments come from quiet conversations that happen in the green room or the hotel lobby. Then the chaos of an entire convention narrows down to a conversation between a few. These are the moments when connections are made, hearts are healed, and the beginnings of new opportunities are begun. Those moments would not happen if I did not come to the chaotic show. These days my primary defense against feeling out of place is to find someone to talk to and ask a hundred questions about their life.
Even having acquired a suite of emotional management techniques for conventions, there are times when I decide to stay home. This past year I stayed home a lot. It was what I needed to do. I’ll be staying home again in September when Howard goes to Worldcon. The primary reason for this is bad timing, Worldcon lands the week after my kids start school. They need me at home to provide stability. There is a lesser, but still significant reason as well; Worldcon has been really rough for me the last two times I went. I’ve spent a couple of years stepping back and figuring out which emotional strings to disconnect so that the event will no longer turn me into knots. The process is not complete, but I think it will be by 2014, so perhaps I’ll attend Worldcon then. There are other shows I’ve skipped and been glad that I did. Sometimes staying home is the right answer.
The thing I have to remember is that my presence at a conference changes that conference. I add something to it by being there. This is hard to realize because the conventions and conferences are big and it is very obvious that I am irrelevant to most of the people there. All that accumulated irrelevance is what sends me into spirals of self doubt. Yet I never know when a comment or class from me will be the piece that another person desperately needs. Sometimes I never find out that I helped another person, other times I get to see it happen. I love when I get to see it, but I have to remember that these effects are often invisible. I can’t help others if I don’t show up.
In the next year I’ll be venturing forth more, at least I think I will. I have to consider each event individually to decide whether going is right for me.
This morning I’m thinking about The Doctor’s speech about time during the episode Blink. It is all about how time is wibbley wobbley Timey Wimey. My brain adds that to The Doctor’s insistence that some points are fixed in time and unchangeable. My life is like that. There are some spots that are fixed, usually not by me and definitely not to my convenience. They are events that can’t be moved like graduation ceremonies, birthdays, or school performances. Everything else wibbles and wobbles its way around those fixed points. Usually I can see the fixed points coming from a long way away and adjust to make space for them. These next two weeks are like a slalom course of fixed points. The opportunities to forget something important arrive daily. My lists are my friends right now.
On the other hand, it is 8 am and I’ve already completed the things that absolutely had to be done before 9 am. So maybe we can manage it all if we just do one thing at a time.
These are my things, not all of my things, because I know I am forgetting some of them. I’m pretty sure the kid leaving junior high also has some things, but I haven’t seen that list of events, so I don’t know what they are or where they fit.
After that there is more stuff. I’ll think about it when I either get all of this stuff right or recover from failing at it.
Last Thursday I uploaded the final files for The Body Politic to our printer in China. When I clicked to close the ftp program I noticed that the machine was behaving oddly, like it had to think extra hard about what to do next. I use this machine all the time and I could tell something was significantly wrong. Sure enough, halfway through the back up process it failed completely. Diagnostics at JPL Computers have diagnosed a hard drive failure. No data is retrievable from the drive.
Hard drive failure is never good news. Yet, as with Howard’s recent hard drive failure, this one happened as conveniently as possible. I was in between projects and in a schedule lull. Reconfiguring my computer was not how I wanted to spend this week, but at least I have time for it. Also, in the wake of Howard’s computer failure, I stepped up my back-up habits. They’re pretty good. Most of my writing in progress exists in dropbox where I still have all of it. Using my back up drives I’ve been able to switch most of my processes over to Calcifer, who is supposed to be my writing machine, but he’s been great about stepping up and handling business tasks for me. My desktop machine has been out of commission for almost a week and I’ve been fine.
Later today or tomorrow the desk machine will come back to me with fresh new drives. I’ll have a clean slate on which to install my programs. In some ways that appeals to me. I like having things be organized and new. Unfortunately then I’ll begin to discover the gaps in my back up processes. I know that there are pieces of data that I will need which I’ve missed. There will be some things I’ll have to re-create. Yet I don’t think I’ll have lost anything that is worth a $1500 drive reconstruction to get back.
The most astonishing thing about this adventure in hardware failure is that I haven’t panicked even once. This is the sort of event which is tailor made to send me into an emotional spiral of doom, sure that everything will fall apart. I did have a moment of shock “Are you sure it is the hard drive?” I asked twice, as if I could make the answer be different just by wishing. But after that moment of disbelief most of my reaction has been to shrug and get to work putting things back together. The story would have been quite different if we didn’t have the money to get the new drives, if I did not have a laptop that could be re-purposed for a few days, if I hadn’t been using dropbox as a storage medium for my writing, if I hadn’t run a bunch of back ups last week, if the timing had been different. So many ifs. I’m grateful that even with a bad thing so many good things fell into place.
The end of school is close. Some part of my brain keeps wandering me to where I can stand and look at the calendar. My finger drifts up and I count the days. I look at the multi-colored plethora of events between now and that final school day. Each kid has a color, it allows me to quickly scan who is busy and who is not. Right now they all are. We have 6th grade graduation, field trips, rocket day, a settlers meetup, class stores, unveiling of mummified chickens, school dances, senior sluff day, seminary graduation, field day, a dance festival, and more. All of these things parade across the calendar in rainbow hues. I can’t keep track of it. I don’t want to. I am tired of tracking all of the school things and encouraging responsibility. We all need a rest, but there are days left.
The work will not stop when school does, not by a long shot. We’re expecting coins next week just before Howard runs off to Phoenix comic con. Kiki is avidly preparing art to be displayed in the CONduit art show. June is double booked pretty much every weekend. Yet the energy of the house shifts when school is out. I’m able to declare that the kids must help with the housework and not feel guilty that I’m impinging on their limited free time. The daily schedule becomes more relaxed, which is both a gift and a challenge. I’m looking forward to that shift.
Strange that the simple click of a button takes fifteen minutes to accomplish. I’d already gone through all the steps to select a flight, debating about convenience and cost, arguing with myself about whether I should go at all. It is a luxury to be able to go. I know this. The writing retreat will be fine without me. I am not needed there. In contrast I will be missed every single day at home. Yet, the kids are anticipating what I’ve arranged for them while I am gone. They’ll miss me, but they won’t be uncomfortable, neglected, or bereft. All the pieces were in place. All the players had agreed that this was the right action. Except some deep part of me wanted to abort, call the whole thing off, stay safe at home. Ah. The pause before clicking is not about logic, it is fear. I am afraid because the last retreat was difficult, because this one has unknowns, because my brain can fabricate worlds of what-if flavored regrets. If I let fear determine my actions my life will grow ever smaller. I will become smaller. I clicked.
The room was not empty. I was quite grateful for this, as that had been my first fear. LDS Storymakers is primarily a conference for the writers of fiction and I did not know if a presentation on blogging would draw an audience, particularly since I made as clear as possible in the panel description that we would not cover using a blog as a marketing tool. I was grateful that the conference organizers decided to schedule it and then grateful again when people showed up. There were only a few empty seats when I turned on the microphone and began speaking.
The trouble with speaking about blogging is that it covers such a vast array of motivations and means. All blogs are on the internet. All blogs hope to be read by people who are not the writer. Other than that, everything varies. The forms, aims, intents, hopes, and needs of one blog can be polar opposite to those of another. In speaking on the topic I could choose to speak broadly and be mildly useful to most of my audience, or I could narrow my focus in order to be extremely useful to some and completely irrelevant to others. Speaking broadly about setting up a blog or gaining readers did not interest me. I wanted to speak about the creation of content and how to manage the meanness of people on the internet. In hindsight those two halves should have been separate presentations, but I’d welded them together and forged onward.
The first woman left right after I clarified what I would and would not cover. I saw her go and thought that I had done my job well. My introduction made clear that my class would not be useful to her, so she went to find one that would. I was fine and I kept speaking. More people left as my presentation continued. Whatever need had drawn them to my class was not being addressed by my presentation. I began to feel bad about that, wondering if I could have done a better job of clarifying in the class description, but comforting myself that this was just to be expected. One presentation simply can’t address all the issues.
It was a strange experience. I’ve spoken often enough that I have a good sense for when a presentation is working. There is a feedback loop with the audience. They smile, they nod, they quickly write a note, I see these things and direct the speech to emphasize the points which seem to get the most response, even when it takes me off script. My purpose is to be useful, to give information that will help. I stood in front of that class and I saw all the signs of engagement. My audience was with me, or at least half of them were. One by one the others left. When I wrapped up the room was about half full.
I pondered it later when the voices of self doubt began howling that if I’d only been better I could have been useful to them all. My logical brain was, of course, countering that I was glad they quietly and politely went to find something else they needed. They were the ones paying for the conference. They had every right to change lectures if they wished. My confident self noted that several people came to thank me and said my class was very helpful. Yet it is a hard thing to see visible evidence that my words were both exactly what they should have been and not at all what was wanted depending upon who was listening.
No matter what I write or what I say, I can’t be brilliant enough to matter to everyone. My blog collects readers, but it also loses them. The same will be true of my fiction. If I had panicked at the departure of audience and tried to bring them back I would only have been pulled off course. I would have floundered and probably lost even more. Instead I stayed with those for whom my presentation was working and did my best to make it work even better.
I hope I get more chances to speak about blogging. I walked out of that presentation with a hundred ideas about how to divide the presentation into more focused topics. These were things I learned from my audience. The questions they asked taught me what I should have prepared and will prepare next time. One woman came to me in the hallway hours later.
Gifts from my children today:
I remember all of the times when I experience the opposite of everything above, to the point where I wondered why I bothered to go anywhere. Today they demonstrated that they’ve actually learned all the lessons in self-sufficiency, hard work, empathy, kindness for others, and home management that I’ve been trying to teach for so many years. It is hard to believe in evenings like this one when at the beginning end of raising kids, but here I am and life is good.
I’ll have thoughts about the Storymakers Conference tomorrow. Tonight I am quite tired.
This morning I’m headed down to the Marriott Hotel in Provo to teach at the LDS Storymakers conference. If you’re planning to be there too, I hope you’ll find me and say hello. My first presentation will be one that I gave last February at LTUE. Structuring Life to Make Room for Creativity. If you click on that title it’ll take you to the post I did of my presentation notes. In fact, since most of you will not be able to attend the conference, I’ll list several blog posts where I report on a panel or presentation:
On Saturday I’ll be giving a presentation on blogging where I talk, not about marketing or setting up a blog, but about the actual content generation parts of blogging. I have a hundred ideas that I’m still pounding into shape. When I’m done I’m likely to write up that presentation as well.
If you’d like to follow the conference in more real time, you can follow the #storymaker13 hash tag on twitter. I can’t guarantee that anyone will tweet from my panels, but if they did, that’s where you’d see it.
Alternately you could step away from the internet and go enjoy the outdoors, which is a lovely way to spend a Friday and Saturday.
I promised to let all of you see the photographer’s shots of Kiki wearing the butterfly dress. Here they are along with appropriate credit for those involved.
My original write up of the photo shoot can be found here. It has pictures that I took.