I kept almost bursting…

I kept almost bursting into tears yesterday.

The first time was over good news -- I learned that good friends Gavin and Kelly of Small Beer Press had a baby! I hadn't known they were expecting -- it turns out that Ursula Annabel was born three and a half months early and has been in the NICU for three months. She's coming home soon, and so they're finally ready to share the good news with the rest of the world. And I totally understand why they chose to wait to announce all this, and mostly, I'm just so happy for them, but the thought of them dealing with all of this, and of that teeny tiny baby, just had me wiping tears away over my orange juice yesterday morning.

Also, I got some great news that I can't talk about yet because it isn't my story to tell, but I'm very happy about it, and that also made me weepy.

But the rest of yesterday's weepiness was not so joyful.

Some of it took me completely by surprise. Like when I attended a panel on Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, and after forty-five minutes or so of listening to a variety of folks (at a feminist conference) characterize a lot of the show as rape, I stood up and talked a bit about why I didn't think it was. And I found my voice shaking as I spoke, which surprised me. It was partly because I was talking about my own experiences, some of which I don't talk about so often. And partly because I was in a feminist space, resisting something being described as rape, which felt very socially dangerous for a moment. It was all just a lot more intense than I expected it to be. As it turned out, various people (not necessarily all, but some) agreed with my assessment, and the rest of the panel was fine. But I was pretty shaky for a bit there. I really appreciated it when a few people came up to me afterwards and said they liked what I had to say.

Then, a little later in the day, I was attending a panel on safe spaces. And I went to the wrong room, so I came in a little late and I think I must have missed the bit where they asked folks to hold their questions 'til the end, because I had my hand up for a good long time, wondering why the panelists seemed to be deliberately ignoring me before I realized that no one else in the huge audience had their hand up and realized that I was looking like an impatient self-important dork. And I put my hand down, finally, totally embarrassed. But still kind of aching to say something, though, because while it was a good panel and they covered a lot of difficult and interesting ground, there were a few things I thought it was important to add. But that didn't mean I wanted to flout the panelists' wishes/guidelines. Frustrating misstep.

In the end, I actually did get to add my comments. (Which caused its own problems, as you'll see in a minute.) Among other things, most of the panel had focused on safe spaces for minority groups -- people of color, women, etc. And one of the things I'd wanted to at least mention was the need for safe spaces for the majority -- the kind of work I tried to do in Scalzi's blog a few months ago, creating a space where it was okay for white folks to ask the ignorant questions about race and ethnicity. (White folks and others, actually, because as I pointed out, I definitely needed to have all this stuff taught to me -- as a upper-middle-class member of the model minority, it took my first WisCon, with Nalo Hopkinson and Ian Hagemann and Victor Raymond and Debbie Notkin all talking to me in private before some of the basic anti-racism stuff really started to penetrate my little brain. I was pretty good on sex activist issues in my twenties, but race stuff -- I knew nothing.)

Again, the comment was well-received, and the panelists took it and ran with it, adding more helpful elements to what I'd said, so it was all good. And afterwards, several folks came up to me and told me they'd really appreciated what I'd done in Scalzi's blog, and that they'd found it helpful (or thought it was helpful to others.) One of them said she knew I didn't know her and didn't know if I'd care that she appreciated it, and I'm not sure I managed to explain to her how much it mattered that she'd taken the time to thank me. It took me a few days after John invited me to post to a) figure out what I'd want to say, b) put it down in language as clear as I could possibly make it, to cut down on misunderstandings and consequent stress, and c) get up the nerve to actually send it to him to post. This stuff is hard for me; it'd be so much easier to sit back and not say anything, not risk getting shot down. I know that there's a good chance when I try to address this kind of topic that I'm going to get some stuff wrong initially, that I'm going to feel like an idiot, that I'll need to backtrack and correct myself and keep working through it -- which is not so much fun, doing all that in public. But it's useful public work, I think. When people take the time to tell me that what I'm trying to do is helpful, that lends me their strength, so that I'm better armored for the next battle.

Sometimes the battles don't go so well. At a panel a little later on magazine reviewing practices, at the tail end of the discussion we got to talking briefly about blind-reading. And I want to make clear that this totally wasn't Susan's fault, since as moderator, it was her job to open up questions to the audience right at the end of the panel, and we were almost out of time. But what ended up happening, from my perspective, was that just as we were about to dig into the difficult subject of [the need for] blind subs, a subject I think is really politically important (although probably not of interest to most of the audience, who just wanted to know if the editors on the panel would buy their stories), and a subject where I have long been in distressing disagreement with the three Strange Horizons fiction editors, all of whom are friends I care about, the conversation needed to be cut short. Have you ever nerved yourself up for a fight and then had it taken away? It's almost worse than actually having the fight.

Then, in the lobby, I ran into some of the young fen of color, and one of them, a young woman I admire very much, pointed out that in an earlier comment on the safe spaces panel, I'd said something in passing about a specific pro writer's 'foibles', and that she, personally, felt that was an unfair and dismissive characterization of the situation -- that she felt unsafe and personally attacked by him in the whole RaceFail discussion. We spent ten minutes or so, with several other folks listening in, going back and forth on the subject, with both of us getting increasingly distressed, I think. Because I desperately wanted to support her; I didn't want to invalidate her experience or assessment of the situation. As a pro writer of color, a decade older than her, I felt a deep desire to support her -- and yet, I couldn't, not whole-heartedly, because I just didn't agree with her assessment of the situation, or the correct response to it, on a multitude of levels. A couple of the others joined in, and it was a crowded noisy lobby, totally the wrong venue for this kind of discussion, and I don't think I expressed myself very well at all, and in the end they went off to dinner, and I knew I'd completely failed to either make my position clear or convince them. I ended up going up to the dealer's room and meeting up with friends, and found myself talking the whole situation over with them, and it was only when, yet again, the tears started welling up, that I realized how much that brief conversation had shaken me.

I want to be clear -- I'm glad that young woman spoke up, that she had the courage to let me know that what I'd said had been distressing. This is not, in any way, meant to imply that she shouldn't have said something. Nor should any of my upset affect, in the end, whether I agree with her assessment or not. I'm still thinking about the questions she raised -- it may take me a while to be certain exactly what my position is there. But regardless, I'm very glad she spoke. It was important.

This is just to say, this stuff is hard. Talking it over with friends helped a lot -- it helped me figure out better what I'd wanted to say, and also helped me release some of my feelings of guilt at apparently 'betraying' this young fen, by not simply standing up in support of her. It's okay, I think, that I see things differently than she does. Maybe I'm right -- maybe she is. But I'm not supposed to just support her position unthinkingly. I don't even think she'd want me to. But I needed people to remind me of that.

There were a few other moments like that yesterday. At one point, I was talking with Haddayr and Jessie and Sarah about mothering and academia and going back to work and the guilt of using a nanny to create writing time -- the guilt of leaving my child to go to a cafe and sit and work on a book that has been lingering for four years and which may never even sell. And Jessie said that she was really surprised to hear me talking this way, that she didn't think of me as someone who felt guilty. And I laughed, because folks, I feel guilty all the time. I feel stressed and guilty and anxious and confused and hesitant to engage with difficult topics -- all of that. I think maybe people don't realize that about me, because in the end, all of that rarely stops me from saying or doing what I think needs to be done. People see the end result, and not all the chaotic flailing around beforehand. So I wanted to take a moment to pause and say that it really helped, having those three women, all further along in the mom track than I am, telling me that they thought I ought to try to let some of that guilt go. I mean, I know that. But it still helps to have them say it.

At the end of the day, a bunch of us ended up back in our room, and Jed rubbed my feet for at least an hour (yes, I know, he's a prince), and there was much cuddling, and I really needed that too. It settled and grounded me. I finally calmed down enough to sleep.

Some of my instability yesterday was hormonal, I know. Pregnancy makes me particularly weepy. But I think even if I weren't pregnant, I would have had a hard time with a lot of those incidents. I'm not sorry for any of them; in the end, I choose to engage with difficult topics, when I can. But you know the spoon theory about sickness/disability? I think we all, as human beings, have a limited number of "emotional fortitude spoons", regardless of our state of health. That's just part of being human. And for me at least, when I'm busy giving away my spoons, I really need friends and colleagues and total strangers to hand some back to me. Through thanks for the work I'm trying to do, through clear, insightful conversations that help me clarify my positions, through gentle chiding when I'm indulging in unhelpful wallowing, through publicly speaking up in support when they agree with something I've said, and through lots of hugs. That's what makes possible to get through the day.

If you happen to be reading this while you're at WisCon, please don't feel like you need to rush up to me and give me massive hugs or thanks or anything. I'm fine about all of yesterday's stuff now, I promise. :-) Processed and integrated and feeling stable again. Thanks. :-)

I guess the point of this whole rant was mostly to say thanks. Thanks, everyone who helped me, yesterday and on one of the very many other difficult days. And if you know someone who's trying to engage with some of these charged social issues, out in the scary world, by explicitly talking about things, or even just living their life in a way society doesn't currently accept -- remember that it's tough for them, even if it doesn't look like it. If you can, you might offer them a spoon or two.

8 thoughts on “I kept almost bursting…”

  1. Neil in Chicago

    I had a very clear feeling of more, and more sensitively-triggered, minefield at Wiscon this year, too. Without meaning to suggest that my level of gracefulness is comparable to yours, twice on Sunday, I made comments at panels and had someone hotly denounce what they had heard rather than what I had said. (Come to think of it, I think you were across the audience form me for one.)

  2. Yea on the new baby!

    I cant say much about the Dollhouse issue. I have little time to watch TV lately and some of the things Id heard about Dollhouse made me not want to see it for fear of dealing with possible personal triggers. Thats not as much of my judgment of the show as my caution with my own emotional well being. I would agree safe spaces come in many shapes and have many purposes, so I think you had a good point there. We all need times in safe spaces of some type to facilitate the deep conversations needing to be had. Sometimes creating those spaces takes time and people with infinite patience I think.

    Missing you, and sending hugs. You got a lot to think about it seems, so remember, be loving to yourself in the process. *wink*

  3. Hey there. Thanks for posting about this. WisCon was hard for me too, and by Satuday night and on through Sunday I was intermittently weepy for reasons that had to do with challenging health and lack of sleep but also some of the same sort of things that you posted about, so it’s good to see I was not the only one. The level of Challenge was set on high for the weekend, I think.

    I don’t know if Sumana mentioned it to you, but as I told her Monday when I left, one of my big regrets of the weekend was that although I briefly met you and had you sign Jump Space after the Saturday morning post-scarcity utopias panel I never really gave you a “this is me; we have these friends in common and I’m interested in you” context or ended up talking with you so I could get to know you better or hear more of what you had going on and what you had to say beyond what you’ve posted and the interesting things I heard you say at panels.

    Part of that was that I was being, well, shy, and also although Sumana and I were roommates I didn’t want her to feel like I was trying to butt in on the social circle she was developing. But anyway, to end for the moment, Scalzi is one of my best friends and I just wanted to say thank you, as I should have in person, for helping him and all of us approach and work on these very dificult topics.

    And I hope I get the chance to talk with you more at a future event, including more about the question of engaging non-minorities (and model minorities) in dificult discussions in safer ways. Oh, and you didn’t miss an announcement in the safe spaces panel about not taking questions in the beginning – I was there from before the panel and they didn’t make any such statement, SFAIK. I thought the breadth of the discussion was interesting, and I learned some from it, but it wasn’t what I was there for/expecting (I was hoping for more talk about safe spaces for Race discussion/meet-ups across the races and more about making cons safer for POC), so I was frustrated too.

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Anne, I would have been happy to talk more with you — although I do understand the fear of imposing. I get that too. 🙂 I don’t know if next WisCon will be especially hectic with GoH stuff, but assuming not, it’d be lovely to talk more then…

    I’m really really glad you liked “Jump Space” so much, btw. I’ve gotten very few comments on it so far, and since it’s actually my first published SF story (I think), I’m particularly anxious about it.

  5. I’m glad I checked out the flower pictures and then read more. I had trouble with Wiscon this year, feeling very distant from many of the younger con members. I started thinking we needed a safe place for older con attendees, where we can complain about aches and pains and tolerate each other’s quirks and not get angry.

  6. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Ben and I talked a lot about that kind of thing in the car driving up. I feel like I’m transitioning from being the kind of young activist who gets angry and impatient at the slow rate of progress, to being the older community member who is willing to let change be slow if it seems like fewer folks might get hurt in the process. It’s a strange transition.

    And I can’t even imagine yet what I’ll be like in another ten or twenty years, how I’ll react to massive angry internet explosions, especially if they involve people I’ve known and loved (or at least liked/respected) for decades. It’s tough.

  7. And thank you for speaking up. Your posts on Scalzi’s blog were terrific, as I may have mentioned before.

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