I have a story to tell about the night of the Hugo Awards. It is not the story I wanted to tell. In fact it fell so far off of my pre-planned story possibility tree that it has taken me more than a week to sort out the beginning from the end. Going in to the Hugos I knew Howard was unlikely to win and that the demons of self-doubt would begin their assault upon him the moment the announcement was made. I figured the one variable in the situation that I could manage was myself. Whatever else happened, I would be with Howard, holding his hand, supporting him. So I made myself a beautiful dress, bought new shoes, put up my hair, and marched nervously into the evening. Then I fell right into a trap I had made for myself.
I spent the four days prior to the award evening being outwardly social. I enjoyed it very much, but it drained my reserves. I spent the four nights prior shorting myself on sleep. I stayed up late visiting with amazing people. Then stayed up even later as my brain spun trying to process it all. I put away all of the home and mother thoughts, which often provide me with a sense of perspective on life events as they pass. I did not take breaks during the days. I intended to, but without realizing it, I shifted my breaks out of existence so that the people on my team would have them. Then there was the dress itself, my beautiful dress. I loved making it. I felt beautiful wearing it. It was snug around my ribcage, but not uncomfortable. It swished around my legs. I’d deliberately chosen the colors to stand out and attract attention. It was so different from the formal wear I’d worn to the Montreal Hugo Awards, when I was dismissed from attention by two women who proceeded to exclude me from the conversation while they dissected the styles and clothing around them. I was going to stand up and own the dress I’d made, hoping it had the effect I desired. Before I even arrived at the convention I spent weeks in stressed preparation. The moment I left the convention I had to scramble to get kids into school. The entire time at the convention, I was outside my usual context and away from my usual means of decompression. There were no plants or grass anywhere I went. I could not have picked a more toxic mess of stresses (both good and bad) had I taken time to plan it out.
So the story I wanted was me in my lovely dress, holding Howard’s hand no matter what happened. Instead I found myself half way through the Hugo ceremony, just after the announcement that Girl Genius had won again, oppressed by the heat of the room and unable to sit still. I leaned over to Howard and he told me to go find some place cooler. I stepped out into a quiet hallway where it became all-too-apparent that heat was not the real issue. I had outrun my strength and over tapped my reserves. I spent the rest of the ceremony pacing in a dark corner, hoping to be seen by no one, unable to leave because I wanted to hear the results, unable to re-enter the hall because I did not feel fit to be seen. Have I mentioned the crying? I did that too. I didn’t want anyone to see, for fear they would think that I was crying over losing the award. I wasn’t. My tears were guilt because I had abandoned my post by Howard’s side. Standing in a corner, with my face to the wall, wearing a dress like sunlight, was the moment when I most felt the spiritual radio shadow of the casino hotels. I prayed frantically for peace, but my emotional state banished the peace I sought.
Howard found me when the ceremony was over, or I found him. He hugged me tight and told me it was all okay. Afterward, he said that my tears were oddly useful, because it have him a sharp and clear perspective about what really mattered to him. The demons of self doubt found him armored against them. It was not how I wanted to be helpful, but at least I can hold to the fact that I did not drag Howard down. We left the quiet corridor together and walked out with brave faces. When we met up with some friends, Howard sent me back to our hotel with them. He got me to go by looking me in the eyes and assuring me that he would be better off for the rest of the evening if I left. He was right. All I could do beside him was to throw him off balance. So I truncated all the planned branches of story tree which had me wearing my dress far into the night. I returned to my room, hung up the dress, and slept.
At this point I imagine some of my friends, who were at the event, friends who read this blog, and probably my parents as well are all feeling some distress themselves. They didn’t know, they wish they could have helped, am I okay now? This is part of why I did not want to tell the story. Somehow in my head there is this illusion that an award ceremony like the Hugos should be a lovely event full of happy winners and gracious losers. To be so honored is marvelous, and I wish to always speak gratefully about it because it is the collective good will of the fans which carried us there. Yet the emotional mix of all that hope, anticipation, and disappointment of so many people fills the air. I pick up on it, and apparently it can overwhelm me. This makes me sad, because I have so few opportunities in my life to dress up in a place full of fascinating people who love so many of the same things that I love. I want my stories of the Hugo Awards to be straightforward, unambiguous. I want them to be filled with honor, gratitude, joy, beauty, and support. Dark corners and tears don’t have much to do with that. But the effort to bury the dark corner also took with it some of the bright moments of the evening. In fact it also dragged into obscurity many of the bright moments of the entire event. In order to rescue them, I had to tell this story.
We had dinner right before the pre-Hugo reception. Sal arranged it for us. Howard and I showed up wearing our evening wear. Caryn showed up with a bundle of silk roses that someone had given to her. The tones of the roses matched my clothing perfectly, so she pulled several out and wound them into my hair. I still have them. I suppose I should have given them back, but seeing them makes me remember that moment when the evening was still bright. Howard and I walked from dinner to the shuttle. When we stepped outside, the breeze caught at my skirt and the drapes from my shoulders blowing them behind me. I caught a glimpse of the effect in the building windows as a I walked past. I wish I had that photo. Instead we have serious faced ones of us standing very statically. I wish there were photographic record of the smiles during that evening. I smiled often. I was delighted to see all my friends, each in their evening wear of choice. I loved seeing how the clothes expressed the person wearing them. I wish I’d had more time to sit back and people watch.
During the ceremony I got to watch Chris Garcia win the Hugo for best Fanzine. I will treasure that moment always. I know Chris as only a passing acquaintance, but he was so incredibly happy that it radiated across the whole audience. I cried tears of joy with him, though previously the outcome of that particular category hadn’t much mattered to me. Late the ceremony, I listened to Robert Silverberg’s brilliant deadpan speech as he deliberately taunted his friend Connie Willis who was up for an award. My friend Mary Robinette Kowal won in the short story category, which makes me very happy. I loved that everyone from Writing Excuses was there. Travis Walton, our colorist, came. I wish he’d been able to take home a rocket, because his beautiful colors make Schlock look good. I’m very glad that I finally got to see Phil and Kaja accept a Hugo. In Montreal they weren’t there. I wasn’t there in Australia. They were wonderful and charming as always. Many, many people complimented my dress and my hair.
All these bright things were contained in that evening, but they were obscured from memory because I wanted to be able to tell a different story about my experiences that evening. I’ve also spent time pondering how this story, which is so divergent from what I intended, affects story trees into my future. I already know that I need to wear my dress again, probably several times. I need to disconnect the dress from the dark spots in the evening. I need to run my conventions differently, and with less surrounding stress. I need to bring things with me that ground me and provide perspective. Most of all I need to review the bright memories, savor the lovely things. Then the dark spots fade in importance and I can go forward.