Taking a Spin in the Hugo Happy Fun Anxiety Barrel

In a recent blog post, John Scalzi described being nominated for a Hugo award as taking a ride in the Happy Fun Anxiety Barrel. I read that and I laughed out loud because it is so true. I am in an odd place in relation to the Hugo awards. I am not the one nominated. It is not my work out there for scrutiny. Except that it is. What ever happens to Howard also happens to me. If he gets on an emotional roller coaster, I am along for the ride by default. This is one of the things about loving someone that is by turns wonderful and hard. Also it really is my work. I spend as many hours on Schlock Mercenary as Howard does. Mine is supportive work rather than creation, but I still care deeply about it.

This is the third time we’ve been nominated for a Hugo. This is our third year in a row we get to ride in the barrel. We knew about this nomination two weeks before it was announced publicly. For two weeks we felt light, happy, honored. It was particularly fun that we got to share the joy with several close friends who were co-nominated with Howard for Writing Excuses. Then the full nominee list went public. My first look at the list was a quick scan for familiar names. There were many, and I rejoiced. Then I focused on the two categories where Howard is nominated. My stomach just about sank to my shoes. There was no way we could win. Ever. Not against those amazing people. And I was sad, because I feel like Howard’s work is worthy of a rocket ship trophy. I know the fact that he made the list means that lots of people agree with me. I know I should be able to bask in the glow of nomination, but I remember. I remember what the award ceremony was like these past two years and I can’t deny that I care about winning. It would be so nice if I didn’t. I try very hard not to care, which is something of a paradox really. I try to train my brain by chanting “It’s an honor just to be nominated.” It is a good mantra, because it is true.

It is the quavering between possibilities which causes the trouble. If I could abandon hope completely, then the glow of nomination would be plenty. At the moment of seeing the list, hope is quenched. But then from some dark corner of my brain a small thought sneaks onto the stage. “maybe this year it is our turn.” It is a strange little thought which assumes that the concept of “turns” has any application to the Hugo awards. It doesn’t. The Hugo award is a gift given by the voting fans of the World Science Fiction Convention. They may bestow it where ever they wish regardless of who has had it before. Knowledge of this leads to the neurotic post-Hugo-loss funk. Coming home and going back to work can be very hard if one spends too much time thinking about how one was not worthy enough. It is a patently ridiculous set of thoughts. The nomination itself is evidence that others found the work worthy. And yet these self doubting thoughts are even more difficult to eradicate than the sly hopeful thoughts in advance of the award ceremony. It is as if the award ceremony transforms the hopeful thoughts directly into self-doubt. Knowing this, I try to stomp out all hope. Yet hope persists and I find myself made anxious by every hopeful thought I detect. The only defense I have against the anxiety is to not care. Which brings me back to trying very hard not to care. Round and round I go in the barrel.

Sometimes I spin in a different direction as well. I genuinely like many of the people with whom we share a category. I love and admire their work. I want to be delighted and happy for them when they win. I had that once. When Phil and Kadja Foglio won in 2009, I honestly felt nothing but delight and relief. The worms of self-doubt came later, after we returned home. Unfortunately my mental landscape regarding the Hugos has become more self aware since then. Other emotions will be present as well as delight. Then there is the horrible/hopeful possibility that we might win. This would obviously make us very happy, but it would also mean that these other people whose work I admire have to suffer through the transformation of hope into self doubt. I don’t want that for them any more than I want it for us. Yet I wouldn’t wish any of us off the nominee list. Because being nominated is truly an honor and a joy. It is a validation of all the hours of hard work. I want to have that. I want these people I like and admire to have that. I am also very aware that I have other friends who would give up much to be on this ride. Many of them do work which is more worthy than ours, I must not be ungrateful for the gift of this trip.

Mary Robinette Kowal once wrote a marvelous post about auditions and rejections. In that post she said:

Granted, every person is different, but for the most part the mentality going into an audition is that it doesn’t matter. I mean, you want it. You want it badly sometimes, but there’s this mental adjustment you have to do in order to survive the audition process…I’m a normally rational person, around auditions I get very skittish and superstitious about jinxing things by talking about it. As I said, my brain is not rational about this. There’s this whole variety of things that I have to do to convince myself that the results of the audition don’t matter when, of course, they do… Just don’t wish me luck for an audition. It will make me think about landing the part. It will make me hope. I can’t afford that.

The emotional arcs and mental hi-jinks that Mary describes are spot on for my Hugo mind state. The primary difference is that the polite wishing of luck is actually positive for me. I can say thank you and move onward knowing that this person counts in the score of people who believe the work is worthy. I tuck the kind thoughts into my pocket and use them later to deflect the inevitable barrage of self doubt. What is really hard is when friends or fans give detailed and logical reasons for why Schlock Mercenary or Writing Excuses ought to win. Also hard is any sort of analysis which explains why the other nominees have an advantage. I know these analyses are part of the fun for Hugo voters. They love to get in and argue for their favorites. They love to crunch numbers and talk probabilities. I don’t want to spoil the fun, but I don’t want to see it. Faced with an analysis of our Hugo categories, I want to shout the Han Solo line “Never tell me the odds!” These sorts of analysis feed and multiply the hopeful thoughts. Too many hopeful thoughts accumulated together can make me believe that we are somehow entitled. I don’t want to be that person. Howard does not want to be that person. And neither of us want to be swamped by despair when all those hopeful thoughts are transformed into self doubt.

Mostly we’re trying to think about other things between now and August. Fortunately we have many things planned. We have plenty of things to focus on besides our ride in the Happy Fun Anxiety Barrel.

Addendum: It is worth noting that the emotional trip triggered by Hugo nomination has many similarities to trips triggered by the usual submission and rejection process for writing of all kinds.