The Future Mr. Changeling

The Engineer and I are getting married!

Remember when I said our spring break was lovely?  That was a bit of an understatement.

At his insistence, I had gone up to visit the Engineer’s house on the peninsula, even though I could only stay for one day.  We went for a walk on the beach at Salt Creek, which was nothing unusual; since it’s one of our favorite places, sometimes we go there every single day of my visit.

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Once a group of college students left, we had the whole beach to ourselves.  It was a delightfully “west side” type of day, a little breezy and overcast but nothing like the freezing weather we’ve been having in our little college town.  We meandered down the beach and back again, chatting and pointing out pretty rocks or a bird on the water.

I didn’t notice at the time, but the Engineer was making sure to keep me on his right side and wouldn’t hug me too closely, because the ring was in his left coat pocket!  He wouldn’t even let me put my hands in his pockets to warm them, as I sometimes do; he just held my hand and kept choreographing our movements so I wouldn’t notice the box.

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The log I decided to Instagram right before he proposed

Finally, when I stopped to take an Instagram picture peer through the tunnel formed by a driftwood log, the Engineer followed me with something slightly more than his usual amused expression on his face.  He hugged me, fumbled in his pocket for a moment (“Don’t be ridiculous, it’s just his phone,” I told myself), then pulled away and got down on one knee (“That is not a phone.”).

Holding up the ring, he asked if I would marry him.

“Of course I will!” (Then I asked if he was serious, because it’s good to check, apparently.)

We walked back along the beach, both grinning, when a family of bald eagles flew overhead.  Two of them landed in the top of a nearby tree and started squawking to each other.  They stayed perched there for nearly an hour while we sat on Our Log (the log that we sit on every time we go there, where we first had a conversation about getting married years ago) and talked.  The solitude of the beach gave us a bit to process what had just happened and enjoy our shared excitement before we had to start telling people.

We still had another week of grad school visits ahead of us before going back to school, so we spent the next few days calling friends and family and swearing them to secrecy so we could tell certain people in person when we got back.  Those reactions were well worth the wait, most notably the Commodore, who was in town for her spring break as well, setting down her coffee in order to scream and jump up and down; my current roommate, who sent her parrot on a panicked circuit around the room when she leapt up to hug me; and our other friend C., who took a full ten minutes of small talk to notice the ring before stopping midsentence to stare, count my fingers to be sure that yes, it was the correct ring finger, and jumping up and down.  (A lot of jumping was involved here.)

I’m very excited for our newest adventure to start.  Can’t wait for September!

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He chose well!

Gallivanting Between Grad Schools

The Engineer and I are trying our hand at the travel side of adulting: namely, booking our own flights and transportation to all the grad schools he plans to visit before making the final decision about where he (and I) will live for the next five-ish years.  So for most of the month of March, we’ve been traipsing around the country.  For the week before spring break, we visited two schools in five days:

Purdue

At my boss’s urging, I scheduled a visit to the Purdue Writing Lab, from whence came the amazing resource that is the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) that we use for virtually every tutorial involving MLA, APA, or Chicago style citations.  Needless to say, I nerded out a bit.  Although I plan to find a job off-campus after this year, it was interesting to see how another writing lab operates.

The student union building is basically a castle.  There are stone arches and stained glass windows and double staircases and a hall where people nap on couches that look like they belong in a museum.

Also, we found the not-at-all-sketchily-labeled “Tunnel to Phys. Bldg.” on a door that looked like it should lead to a bomb shelter.  Sure enough, despite some pipes sticking out of the ceiling and a few random sets of stairs that led straight into walls, we found ourselves in the physics basement!

Though I spent most of the days in the hotel or at the Panera next door, the Engineer brought me along to the final dinner with a few professors from the physics department.  One of the profs asked each of us at the table about our area of study.  “Astrophysics.”  “Nuclear.”  “Creative writing…”  He was a tad confused.

The Ohio State University

The day after the Purdue visit ended, we rented a car and road tripped to Ohio (which was weird, since we’re used to much longer trips just to cross our single state, and also when did we get old enough to rent a car unsupervised?).  I was looking forward to this visit even more than the Purdue OWL tour, because I got to hang out with Bird!  The Engineer was whisked away on physics department activities, so I met up with my beloved sister for the evening.  She bought me chocolate covered coffee beans and we talked for hours, as we tend to do.

On our second day, after a slow start thanks to our travel-related exhaustion, Bird and I got breakfast while the Engineer saw the physics research building.  When we went back to her dorm, Bird was shivering and yawning, so I sent her to take a nap while I got some work done at her desk (leading 2 of her roommates to greet me with Bird’s name when they came in the door…for some reason people think we look alike).  Turns out she had a fever, so the Engineer and I told her to go straight to sleep and just got dinner ourselves.

The Engineer and I explored while Bird was in class the next day (she had slept for 16 hours and her fever was gone, so that was good), and then he flew home.  Bird wanted me to go with her to Bible study and a praise and worship thing at church that night, so I stayed an extra night.  It was great to meet everyone at her Newman Center – one of her friends actually ended up giving me a ride to the airport at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, having extended the offer after 5 minutes of conversation!  Sleeping on a dorm room floor for about 4 hours isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it was well worth it to spend time with my sister.


The next week was spring break, so I actually saw Bird a few days later after a brief return to our own college town.  The Engineer had gone to North Carolina right after Ohio to tour another school without me, so his spring break was a bit abbreviated.  Our vacation was lovely (more on that in another post), but at the end of the week we flew straight out for another round of visits:

Santa Barbara

We’ve agreed that the next time we go to Santa Barbara, we’ll just fly straight in to their airport rather than taking the cheaper-but-much-longer-and-more-headache-inducing route that involves LAX and a 2-hour shuttle ride.  California was pretty, but I was under the weather during our one full day there, so I didn’t get to do much exploring.  On most of these visits, the Engineer and I have sort of tag-teamed it: he goes on the academic, scheduled tours, and I try to get out and get a feel for the surrounding area, since I hope to live and work off-campus for the majority of the time he’s in grad school.  Then we compare notes on our general impressions.  Santa Barbara was fine, I guess, but I am not a warm-weather person.  (As Bird once put it, “We are of strong Norwegian stock.  We were built for 6-month winters and icy fjords.”)  Since the visit was only one day, it was most whirlwind of our visits.

And then we had another 2-hour shuttle ride to get back to LAX.

Boulder

After one full day at home (well, my home, the Engineer’s being 3 hours away), my dad dropped us off at the airport yet again for our final trip: University of Colorado, Boulder.  I got a tour guide of my own on this trip, too, since the Commodore lives in Colorado!  She was kind enough to shuttle us around, bringing us from the airport to our hotel and meeting up with me while the Engineer was busy even though she lives an hour away.

The Commodore and I being bookworms, we spent our first two days wandering around the downtown area of Pearl Street and perusing multiple bookstores.  I limited myself to only two books this time, despite the Commodore being a blatant enabler when it comes to spending money on literary pursuits.  (To be fair, I was equally encouraging of her desire to get yet another book about Tolkien.  But it was one she hadn’t read before!)  We also just hung out in our hotel room and talked, which I’ve missed doing with her since she moved.

Our departure from Boulder was weirdly scheduled, thanks to the Engineer realizing that he had to be back at school on Monday for an unavoidable commitment after we had already booked separate tickets.  My flight was Saturday night, so the Commodore came to pick me up and took me to see her new apartment, where I finally got to meet her guinea pig, before taking me to the airport.  The Engineer stayed in Boulder one more night before I picked him up Sunday morning and we both drove back to school.

The visits were definitely beneficial and will help us make our final decision, but for now both the Engineer and I are just excited to stop hopping time zones and stay in the same place for more than 3 nights in a row!

Disabling the Exasperation Filter

Whenever I decide to call in sick, my brain immediately turns on what I call the Exasperation Filter.  This filter colors every email, text message, and Facebook chat from my boss or coworkers with a tint of irritation on their part, stemming from and reinforcing my assumption that I have horribly inconvenienced everyone and therefore everyone must be annoyed with me for not sucking it up and coming in anyway.

Some of this probably comes from the classic Impostor Syndrome, which gives me the sense that I am the only person to ever call in sick without being in the hospital, clinging to life.  Never mind that I know that’s not true.  Never mind that logically I know my workplace is more caring than that.  Never mind that catching whatever has left me unable to do my job would probably inconvenience everyone far more than covering for me for one day.  No, the Exasperation Filter adds a layer of guilt and nervousness to every piece of communication on a sick day, which just makes everything worse when I’m already fuzzy-headed and exhausted.

When I caught The Death going around campus (that’s what we all call the annual virus that makes the rounds at the beginning of spring semester) immediately after getting back to work from Christmas break, I tried to push through it.  I tried to read students’ papers and direct small group workshops and ask my coworkers how their holidays had been.  But pretty soon it was clear I needed rest.  So (with the Engineer sitting supportively beside me) I sent out the dreaded sub request.  It was a Monday, one of my longest days, so I worried that not all of my hours would get covered and they would be understaffed and the Writing Center would go up in a ball of flame.  (The Exasperation Filter comes packaged with the Worst Case Scenario Upgrade.)

Instead, my boss, B., sent me a nice email with a smiley face saying not to worry and to feel better, that they would manage without me.  The next day that I did drag myself into work, B. heard me coughing and asked, “How many hours do you have after this?”  I told her.  “Any classes today?”  Yes, I was facilitating one small group.  “Go home when you’re done with that,” she said.  “You need to get better.  We’ll be fine.”

I started to protest, but she said she needed me at 100% when she would be out of the office later that week.

Her genuine concern for my wellbeing made me squirmy, especially knowing I was about to miss quite a bit of work to tour grad schools with the Engineer.  My work has always been a wonderfully affirmative place, particularly when I first started after my super-stressful and toxic internship sophomore year.  But I worried that as I started preparing to leave, the Writing Center would have no reason to keep being nice to me.  I didn’t want to damage any relationships in my last remaining months.  So I pointed out that I’d be gone a lot in the next month already, so I didn’t want to miss any more work.

B. tilted her head and looked at me.  “All the more reason you should go home and rest.  You absolutely need to go with your boyfriend and you should try to get well by then.  Those visits are important too.”

Turns out that was the phrase I needed to disable the Exasperation Filter.  Now I manually replace it with the B. Filter, forcing myself to read her emails in her actual tone of voice, not the false accusatory tone I’ve never actually heard her use, and reminding myself that she and the rest of the Writing Center actually do want the best for me.

It’s a much more pleasant way to read my emails.

Focus

n. a central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity

v. to direct one’s attention or efforts

I’ve been feeling very scatterbrained lately.  Even when I’m procrastinating on the things I should be doing, like writing, I can’t seem to pick just one method of procrastination.  I watch Netflix, but I must also simultaneously rearrange my neighborhoods on my Disney Enchanted Tales game on my phone.  I brainstorm a blog post, but I must also toggle between tabs checking that the color coding on my Google calendar is right.
I blamed some of this on my relatively new Netflix habit.  I realized part of my mental restlessness comes from not having anyone to talk to during meals, having grown up with dinner table conversations about such diverse topics as early waves of feminism and ways to annoy people in elevators.  So I started turning on a half-hour episode of something while I ate, because it was easier than holding a book open with one elbow and trying not to spill something on the page.  And then that pesky Auto Play kicked in, and I found myself watching a few hours of TV when I had only meant to occupy my brain while my body refueled.  A few months of this seems to have trained me to multitask no matter what.  Even when I journal at night, I keep flipping back and forth midsentence to reread old entries, rather than writing continuously or even pausing to collect my current thoughts.
Just about the only activity I can focus on is reading.
Books have long been a central point for me, like a magnet to my attention.  I might bring a book to the breakfast table, but I always end up focused on the book, letting my food go cold beside me or scarfing down a few bites at a time when I reach the end of a chapter.  When I pick up a book for just one chapter before bed, it usually ends with me only putting it down because the words are swimming before my eyes at 1 a.m.  Phone calls go unheard, emails go unnoticed, the sun could rise in the west and set in the east, and I would not look up from my book.
So I’m trying to figure out what allows books to act as a conduit for me to direct my attention and thoughts.  I’ve also tried some (admittedly sporadic) meditation to retrain my mind to more easily focus on Just One Thing at a time.  I downloaded a Pomodoro timer app on my phone to use when I’m writing, whether for this blog or for my own personal projects, and I made a list of little rewards for myself for when I reach a word count goal.
These steps are annoying.  My brain prefers constant entertainment (insert accusation about kids these days spending too much time on their smart phones and internet).  But then I remind myself (or I’m lucky enough to actually experience it again) how good it feels when I’m in a Writing Mood, when the words just come and there’s nothing between me and the page.  That’s the kind of focus I’m striving for, even if it means slogging through a lot of distractions.

Brain in Revolt

I just finished rereading the entire Calvin and Hobbes collection for the umpteenth time.  I’m so familiar with the eponymous boy and tiger that I found myself looking forward to specific strips, especially the Sunday ones with their bold colors and creative layouts.

Some of my favorites are when Bill Watterson shows little Calvins running around with goggles and helmets in Calvin’s brain.  These mini versions of Calvin operate his life like the crew of a spaceship.  They attempt to recalculate when Calvin missteps and falls down the stairs.  They descend to the subconscious, a cluttered dump of a place, to retrieve movie reels for that night’s dreams.

I like this imagery.  There’s something appealing about personifying the decisions and operations of one’s brain, perhaps because it makes it seem like there are little allies inside one’s head working to one’s consistent benefit.  After all, if they’re part of you, they must want your wellbeing, right?

Depression, to me, feels like a mutiny.  It feels like I can never quite trust the little workers running around in my head because they get bored, or they get lazy, or they get moody, and without consulting the protocol for Normal Operations or checking in with Management (which would ideally be, y’know, me) they decide that the Mood Balance should shift to sad.  Or irritable.  Or let’s just throw the whole system into neutral, and coast for a while, which is not as bad as sadness or anger but is still less than ideal for a productive, happy life.

I can do certain things to prevent these shifts.  I can be mindful of my stress levels, my eating habits, my sleep schedule, my exercise routine.  I can watch that Christian the lion video if I need to cry.  I can read Calvin and Hobbes if I want to cheer up.

But all of that feels like placating the tiny workers, keeping them in check.  It feels like I am not in control.  And shouldn’t I be?  This is my brain, mine, but I’m not calling the shots.

This, I think, is the problem with mental health.  It’s invisible, and even when it is made visible, whether through the images of neurons firing in our high school textbooks or through the imagined Mini-Me workers of a cartoonist, there remains a certain expectation of ownership.  The owner of the brain in question is supposed to be able to squash any rebellion.  But how do you do that when the center of control is the part of you that’s rebelling?

Misfits

something that fits badly, as a garment that is too large or too small.
a person who is not suited or is unable to adjust to the circumstances of his or her particular situation

It’s bothered Bird and me for years.  Every Christmas Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer comes on and every Christmas we wonder what on earth is wrong with the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Turns out, according to producer Arthur Rankin, it’s psychological.  In a 2007 NPR interview, he said that Dolly’s problem was low self-esteem and doubting herself.  Depending on the backstory, it sounds like a similar situation to Jessie from Toy Story 2: after being rejected by her human owner, Dolly doesn’t trust her ability to be a good companion to another person.  She’s hurt and depressed.

Some people dismiss this as inserting modern psychobabble into a cartoon from 50 years ago.  This post claims that the alternative explanation is “as plain on the nose on your face” because the thing that actually makes Dolly a misfit is her lack of a nose.

I disagree.  For one thing, plenty of cloth dolls in that style and time period didn’t have noses, or eyebrows, for that matter.  And for another, the majority of the misfit toys are not simply missing something.  Some fundamental part of them has been replaced with something different that interferes with their traditional function.  The train has square wheels.  The cowboy rides an ostrich.  The bird swims but cannot fly.  (OK, the elephant has the addition of polka dots, but he’s also a white elephant, which suggests being historically unwanted in the first place.)  These toys are misfits because something in them has changed to the point that they no longer fit the mold, and something would have to change again for them to be considered “normal.”  It’s not a one-step fix.

That’s why Dolly’s psychological misfit-ness rings true (for me, at least).  She needs more than a few stitches or a new dress.  There is something about her, as with the rest of the toys on the Island, that fits badly, that is not suited to her situation.  The visibility or invisibility of her struggles does not alter their validity.

And even if the explanation was inserted later to cover up some forgetfulness on the writers’ part, I’ll take any opportunity to point to well-known characters in popular culture who can help me normalize mental health.

 

NerdCon Stories Part 3: Saturday

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I figured if there was anywhere to wear my Augustus Waters t-shirt, this was it.

Saturday morning began bright and early with a John Green Yoga Adventure hosted by YogaQuest MN.  This was basically like MadLibs with yoga poses: one of the instructors read a narrative in which the protagonists of Green’s novels found themselves outside their stories and tried to find where they belonged, while the other instructor led us through poses associated with each character name, certain nouns, and some verbs.  Whenever Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars was mentioned, for instance, we did Warrior II, because she is a strong female lead.

After yoga I ran back to the hotel for breakfast in the Executive Lounge (leftover perks from having to stay on the pullout couch in the Executive Suite!) before heading off to “Centering Women in Fiction: Removing Your Unconscious Bias.”  A panel of amazing women creators talked about internalized and learned biases that even we women have against ourselves, and how we can combat those by supporting (and even demanding) those stories when they do appear.  The girl power in the room was fantastic.  I also ran into Shayna from the feminist publishing panel the day before, so we sat together and chatted a bit.

When that panel let out, I went back to the expo hall because I wanted to try out the Depict-O-Mat.  Essentially, it’s some people in a box who interview you for a few minutes and then produce an impromptu puppet show starring you.  In mine, I was Queen of the Dragons.  Plus I got to keep the puppet!

After some lunch, it was time for our kaffeeklatsch with Saladin Ahmed.  Twelve attendees got to sit down with a featured guest at kaffeeklatsches (so called because there were coffee and tea available) for an hour and chat about creativity, process, and whatever else we wanted.  Though I didn’t actually talk, it was just nice to hang out and hear others’ thoughts on representation, writing, publishing, and reading recommendations.

From there, I dashed straight to the auditorium to get a good seat for the afternoon variety show.  This is also where I found Shayna again and she joked that I must be stalking her.

2016-10-15-16-55-45The variety show included a Q&A lightning round with a squid, a conversation between Nalo Hopkinson and Daniel Jose Older, a lip sync battle, and a talk by John Green.  All I’ll say about that talk is that 1. he made me cry again and 2. you should go read it.

After the variety show I went down to something called Story Circle, where we all literally sat in a circle and talked about nerdom.  I got to say some things about Arabian Nights and how cool it was to be at NerdCon: Stories in the first place, so that was definitely fun.

My last panel at NerdCon was “Breaking into Publishing,” which is pretty self explanatory.  I got some good notes, some good quotes (my favorite was “How did I break into publishing?  With a black ski mask at night.”), and some good motivation to actually finish my manuscript so I can start querying! (I also saw Shayna.  Again.  Really can’t blame her for thinking I was stalking her.)

And thus, knowing I had a shuttle coming at 5 am the next day, my NerdCon: Stories experience was over.

NerdCon Stories Part 2: Friday

After hanging up with Dad, I walked a few blocks to the light rail and rode it back to the airport to pick up my phone.  Fortunately I had a few hours before the first panel I really wanted to attend, so I wasn’t missing any of the convention as a result of my predicament.

Riding the light rail without my phone was surprisingly serene.  Public transportation in new cities always reminds me of taking the T on my visits to Boston and riding the Tube around London, and without any games to play or people to text, I was left to look out the window at the city around me.

Of course, once I got my phone back, I immediately began documenting the experience via Snapchat, Twitter, and texting.

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The wall of a parking lot right outside my hotel.  I wonder what melody it is.

Back at the hotel, I took one of Minneapolis’s many downtown skyways to the convention center, a convenience that made running back to my hotel room between panels much easier.  Unfortunately, I was too late to attend the Mental Health in YA Literature panel, but I was overjoyed to see that it was filled to capacity because so many people wanted to discuss that topic!  After checking in and getting my preordered t-shirt, I wandered around the expo hall a little and bought some typical convention center fare for lunch.  The tables were huge, so huge that you were almost forced to sit with strangers because it was too ridiculous to have a table for 10 all to yourself.  Thanks to this, I soon discovered one of the perks of NerdCon – social interactions aren’t as awkward because everyone is around the same level of nerdiness.  For instance, a random guy asked to sit at my table, struck up a conversation, and ended up showing me his short story.

2016-10-14-11-18-24After lunch I wound up in a panel on self-promotion, which was entertaining if not particularly enlightening.  All of the panelists claimed not to be good at self-promotion, which seemed like poor planning, but since I wasn’t terribly invested in the topic I just enjoyed the banter between the featured guests.

Then came A Brief Exploration of Feminist Publishing, in which I met several wonderful ladies who are also striving to both find women in writing and create their own content.  We talked about the point at which we first realized the divide between male and female authors, who our favorite women writers are, and the history of feminist publishing.  I loved my little group and our whole discussion was fantastic.

The Writers Panel with Ben Blacker was up next.  I made more new friends as we filled up a ballroom and waited for the interview to begin.  The interviewee?  John Green.2016-10-14-16-24-04

I will admit to quietly flailing in my seat and taking far too many pictures as John came out and introduced himself.  But as their conversation began, I found myself simply needing to listen.  I was so grateful that John was so generous in sharing his writing experiences of the past and present, and that he was willing to delve into mental health and personal balance as well.  One part in particular hit me in a visceral way, because he used a similar word choice to what I tell myself when I talk about my depression.  The interview closed with questions from the audience, which John answered thoughtfully.  (I will update this post with a link to the podcast when it is released.)

My first day at NerdCon: Stories closed with an invitation to dinner with one of my favorite bloggers from SnarkSquad!  Mari and I had connected over Twitter when I realized we would both be at the convention, and she was nice enough to include me in a dinner with a few other internet friends.  After dinner, I went back to my room, watched the end of the second Harry Potter movie on TV, and went to bed (a real bed, having switched rooms earlier in the day!).


Read about my travels to NerdCon: Stories here!  And read about my adventures on the second day of the convention here!

NerdCon Stories Part 1: Getting There is Half the Battle

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis.  I’ll post about the various instances of awesomeness in later posts, but first: the adventure of getting there.

I raced home from work on Thursday to frantically finish packing and dash to the airport, only to receive a notification from my handy dandy airline app informing me that my flight had been delayed. On the plus side, I had time between flights, so I wouldn’t miss my connection. And now I had time to eat some lunch without getting too stressed. Still, I’ve never been good at sitting around and waiting for things to happen or planes to take off. I don’t always like the journeying part of travel.

So I got to the airport in the pouring rain with about an hour to spare, taking the steadily increasing delay into account. And I waited. I made it through our tiny little convenience-store-sized security system. And I waited some more.

When they began boarding, I realized that I had yet to be assigned a seat according to the app (I was flying standby thanks to my dad’s Pilot Privileges). So there was some slight panic as I approached the gate agent and asked, “Is there room for me?” That’s always the danger when you’re non-revving – will someone else, someone who can pay, dash up at the last minute and get you kicked off? Will you find yourself stranded?

I did not. I was quickly assigned a seat in a half-empty plane and made it to Seattle with no issues. My dad and his wife met me there for a brief dinner and hugs before I was the last person let onto my flight to Minneapolis. We landed around midnight local time, but my body clock thought it was only 10:00, so I felt okay. I made my way through the airport to the shuttle kiosk, and I reached for my phone to look up my confirmation code.

It wasn’t there.

I pawed through my bag, upending it in front of the kiosk, sitting cross-legged on the floor and swearing for a good five minutes. It wasn’t there. How could I have been so stupid as to lose my phone in an airport?  Well, if I was lucky, I had left it somewhere outside of security.

I was not lucky.

If I was lucky, someone would find it and turn it in. And someone did, but not until I had called the airport assistance line and left a message describing the phone and telling them to call my dad if anyone found it, and by the time the nice people directed me to the employee who had collected my phone, she had already locked it up nice and safe and inaccessible until regular business hours the next morning. I would have to come back, she said, or they could ship it to me.

Now, I had been without a working phone whilst traveling before, in Nottingham, and I vaguely recalled this initial feeling of immediately wanting to call and text anyone and everyone who might ever want to communicate with me for any reason. The very fact that I couldn’t get through to Mom or Dad or the Engineer made me want nothing more than to hear their voices.

So I fretted all the way to the hotel, resolving to take the light rail to the airport first thing in the morning and retrieve my communicatory abilities.

At the hotel, I met a bow-tied, bespectacled concierge who very nicely informed me that the hotel was sold out, so they were putting me up in the Executive Suite for the night.

“It’s usually used for meetings,” he said, showing me a brochure picture, “but it also has a queen-sized pullout couch!”

I could have cried. It was nearly 1 in the morning by this point, the hour that even my time-zone-differentiated body wanted nothing more than a comfortable place to sleep. Of course, it wasn’t the concierge’s fault, and he gave me Executive Level Privileges and free coffee vouchers for the entirety of my stay, assuring me as he did so that I would of course be allowed to move rooms the next day. Still, upon my arrival at the 23rd floor (really the 22nd since they skip 13, but we’ll ignore that), I was dismayed, not impressed, by the size of the room. There was indeed a faux marble conference table with high-backed chairs around it, a kitchen, a fancy bathroom, a little foyer, and a huge TV. But all I could focus on was the sad little lumpy pillow in the middle of the pullout couch. At least I didn’t have to set it up myself, I supposed. Even so, the room had too many corners, too many things in it to make me feel secure.

Thinking of security, I went to call my parents and the Engineer on the landline to assure them that I had reached the hotel and was not kidnapped or otherwise incapacitated on my way. But none of the long-distance calls would go through. It might have been for the best, since that would have been more expensive than I could afford, but it just made me more upset (we were now approaching 2 in the morning). So I decided to email them all.

Except the WiFi wouldn’t work.

At this point, I’m sure someone of sounder mind than I would have called or marched downstairs and demanded that these things be fixed. All I wanted to do, though, was go to sleep.

And sleep (fitfully) I did, until the phone rang with what I assumed to be my wakeup call.  Instead, it was my loving, long-suffering father, who had gotten a call from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport at 5 am his time, letting him know that my phone had been turned in.


Read about my first day of the convention in NerdCon: Stories Part 2!

Convention

a meeting or formal assembly, as of representatives or delegates, for discussion of and action on particular matters of common concern

a rule, method, or practice established by usage

“So L. told me you do creative writing?” my coworker said/asked.  I looked up from my lunch in the workplace kitchen, slightly startled.  This coworker had always scared me a little.  But I’m always happy to nerd out a little about creative writing.

“Yeah, I want to be an author of long-form fantasy novels.  And maybe some historical fiction.”

She nodded, “That’s awesome,” and suddenly I found myself answering a lot of questions.  What was my writing schedule?  What podcasts did I listen to?  Who were my workshoppers?  What was my plan for getting an agent?  What was my timeline for finishing my novel?  What conferences had I been to?

“Actually, I’m going to a conference next weekend,” I said, and described it.  She waved a hand dismissively.

“Too many academics there.  You want to network at WorldCon or something like that instead,” she said.  “That’s where L. and I met Professor T. and A. B. – you know who that is, right?”  I could only shake my head as she barreled onward, completely overwhelming me with instructions as to how to make writing my career.  By the time she was done, I felt utterly hopeless.  How on earth was I going to educate myself on all these aspects of the publishing world?  And how had I ever thought I could be a writer when I was so ignorant?  I needed to catch up!

Then last weekend I went to that conference I told my coworker about.  My coworker probably wouldn’t have thought much of it.  I didn’t get any business cards, and I didn’t pitch a book idea to any agents or editors.  I had lunch and sat through panels with friends I had made the year before.  I chose seminars based on where I am in the writing process (very, very early stages).  I asked questions about things that interested me.  I nerded out about Anne Boleyn with a historical fiction writer.  Perhaps it didn’t do anything to greatly benefit my fledgling career, but the conference definitely benefited me.

Since announcing my intention to stay in our Small College Town and work on my writing while the Engineer finishes his degree, I’ve received a lot of advice about how to network (a terrifyingly vague term that still makes me cringe) and “start a career” despite my remote location.  But that’s never been what writing is about for me.  Yes, I’d love to write a bestselling novel, because it would mean other people wanted to read the same kinds of stories I’m interested in writing.  Taking time to write every day is more about seeing what I can do than about building any type of career.  I want a network of fellow writers and readers more than I want to memorize a roster of Who’s Who in Writing.

I do understand and appreciate the intentions of the people who ask me about my networking plans.  In many industries, connections are vital, and the earlier you make them, the better.  I realize it must seem like I’m approaching things a bit sideways.  This isn’t how convention says progress is made.  But I’m starting to value progress in my own head over progress on a society-based timeline.  At that conference, for example, one panelist said that his own shift in perspective came when he started calling himself a writer, even though he still had another full time job.  “Writer” was who he was, not just what he did.  That makes sense to me.  That is a step that feels concrete and real to me, even if my coworker might give me a pitying smile and say that until I can put it on my resume, I’m not really a writer.

I know that I am.  And that knowledge will give me the energy to keep working so the world can know it too.

So today I bought my ticket for NerdCon: Stories in October.  I’m going to meet up with the Commodore and talk about stories – written, filmed, recorded, sung, pantomimed, or any other kind of story – for a weekend.  And I’m extremely excited.  Maybe I’ll meet a future employer.  Maybe I’ll just have a really good time.  But I’m okay with either outcome as long as I can come home and write about it.