The Water Bottle and the Cell Phone

I really want to have something thoughtful and worthwhile to say about Orlando.  I don’t.  Instead, have a funny story where the only thing that gets hurt is my pride. There’s a funny animal picture at the end, for no reason at all.

Several weeks ago I committed one of the minor tragedies of our modern era: I dropped my cell phone into a sink of water.  I did this not five minutes before I needed to be out the door to meet a client.  Woops.  I was very cool about it, though.  I turned off the phone, yanked the SIM card, shoved the phone in a bag of rice, then popped the SIM into my old cell phone and set it to charge.  I always completely ignore my phone when I’m having a sit down meeting with a client anyway, so this was annoying but not a real problem.

Let’s pause here for some back story about that “old phone.”  The old phone is, in fact, identical to the new phone except in one critical way: its screen is cracked so badly it actively loses shards of glass as you use it.  I dropped it while I was visiting friends in December and that was pretty much the end of that.  It was the phone I got two weeks before I left Wisconsin to move to Seattle.  It was the last phone I intended to get until design trends shift back to a “smaller is better” paradigm.  It was also old enough that it cost just as much to have the screen repaired as it did to buy a new copy of the same phone off eBay.  About six hours after “my phone extruded shards of glass onto my face while I was talking on it,” became a thing I could truthfully say, I went ahead and ordered a new copy of the old phone.  Which I’d been using quite contentedly until I dropped it in the sink.

Generally you leave a phone that got wet to dry for about 24 hours.  The sink incident happened on a Thursday afternoon.  Halfway through Friday I decided that I’d go ahead and be really paranoid: I’d leave the new phone to dry until Sunday night.  I was doing an open house on Saturday, but Sunday was (theoretically) a day off so it didn’t matter that the phone I was using had a few quirky flaws, like sharing jagged stabby bits with the unwary user. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan.

On Saturday, armed with my open house supplies which included, among other things, a cookie sheet tucked under my arm, I realized what was happening.  As my finger dragged across the crumbling, textured surface of my old phone, deftly dodging glass splinters, I recognized my true motivation in putting off switching back: I’m emotionally invested in the old phone.  It rode with me all the way out to the west coast and was there for me as I set up my business from scratch again and then faithfully took a train with me all the way back to visit people, only to be cruelly and clumsily dropped onto the chilly concrete of a garage floor, then discarded for the damage it suffered.  That phone was supposed to be my constant companion for an entire product design fad and I callously set it aside just because it couldn’t hold up to my negligent care.  And yet, there it was, ready to step up and rescue me when my clumsy disregard for my electronic companions struck out at its replacement.  Did my old phone chide me for my behavior?  No.  It spent four hours installing updates and randomly crashing, but then it went to work as if I’d been as faithful to it as it was to me.

Reader, I am such a heel.  I realized this, acknowledged it, then patted the phone and in deference to its tireless work (and my desire to avoid glass splinters) turned my attention to my book.I got off the bus.  I retrieved my bike from the rack on the front of the bus.  I reached into my pocket for my phone, my cherished, devoted, faithful little phone.  The little phone which was, right that moment, faithfully sitting right where I put it, on the bus seat.  The bus was already pulling away.I stashed the cookie sheet in my bike’s basket and started searching through every pocket in my bag.  Things I pulled out of my bag while looking for my phone:

  1. A box of business cards
  2. A stack of folders with information about the condo I was holding open
  3. A stack of information about similar listings
  4. A stack of fliers about low-income grants and loans for first time buyers, also fliers about buyer discounts available from some home insurance companies.
  5. A 32 oz.  water bottle I stole from Dr. Unicorn roughly ten minutes after we moved in together, full of iced tea.
  6. A hexagonal black plate
  7. An oven mitt
  8. A spatula
  9. The crushing realization that I didn’t actually put the cookie dough in my bag and I’ve carried a cookie sheet this far for absolutely no reason
  10. The rest of the list doesn’t matter, I’ve made my point

My phone was nowhere in there.  Because of course it wasn’t.  It was on the bus seat.  Where I put it.  Moments after admitting that I’m sentimentally attached to it.

I very calmly put everything back in my bag.  Then I took my cookie sheet wielding, bicycle pushing, business casual self to the first stranger foolish enough to make eye contact with me.  Let’s call him Arjun.  His name wasn’t Arjun, but he didn’t consent to appear as a bit character in this story, so I don’t think he’ll mind that I changed his name.

“Excuse me,” I say, as if it’s not part of the greater Seattle area norms that strangers only try to talk to you when they’re asking you to sign a petition or for money.  “I’ve just left my phone on the bus that pulled away.  Could you help me?”

Arjun very clearly wanted to be nice to me.  He was also clearly scared by the very calm, slightly manic, but mostly calm over-dressed lady with the huge bike.  I chose to focus on his desire to be helpful and pretend I was not at all scary.

“I need to look at a map to figure out how to get to the place I’m supposed to go.  Could I do that?” I asked.

Arjun handed me his phone.  This is how I learned his name, which, recall, I changed.  I pulled out one of the folders with the information for the place I was supposed to hold open, then looked up directions to the address I wanted.  Then I stared at the map.  I stared at the map really hard.  Addresses around here defy logic and order and I haven’t yet met a map program that didn’t suffer as a consequence.  Normally, upon finding an error, I sigh, prod the address input a bit, then keep going.  But I can’t do that.  Arjun is going to be rather upset if I get onto my bike and ride away with his phone, and unless I do that, I need to know exactly how to get all the way to my destination without further help.  It’s really important that I don’t screw this up.  It was a little after noon when I got off the bus.  The open house is supposed to start at 1pm.  I would rather die than call the listing agent to tell him I can’t do this after all.  Also, I can’t, because his number is in my phone and I carefully eradicate all signs of the listing agent from the material I bring to an open house; the point is to have people contact me.

I spent a whole second and a half wondering how much of a head start I’d get just from Arjun being surprised if I got on my bike and ran off with his phone.  It was uphill to my destination, though, so he probably could have outrun me.  My bike is ergonomic for somebody with bad joints and prone to biking in fancy dress slacks and moderately dressy shoes but it is not fast.  Also, morality and golden rules and not biting the hand that was nice to you and all that.  Also also, it would have been wrong to betray my poor damaged phone so quickly by literally running off with the first modern behemoth I could get my hands on.

The “ethics” routines in my brain are sometimes complicated.

I returned Arjun’s phone, climbed onto my bike, and set off to my destination.  I arrived there some unknown quantity of time later; I only wear a watch when I’m teaching so my phone was my only time keeping device.  I have no idea how much time I have to get there and finish setup before 1pm.  Hey, at least I don’t need to worry about getting the cookies baked. *sigh*  It’s okay, though, because the oven doesn’t work, so I couldn’t have baked the cookies even if I had remembered the dough.

I did my usual setup.  Information on the counter, thermos in the fridge, signs out at nearby intersections and leading to the building.  Then, because the unit had absolutely no furniture in it (insert grumbling about listing agents too cheap to do even basic staging in one of the most expensive markets in the country) I sat on the steps, book in hand, and waited.  About the time I guessed it was one, I set the clock on the microwave (which, unlike the stove, was working).  The first person who showed up to the open house met a cheerful, relaxed me who could only answer questions if she had the information stored in her brain or on her printouts, but I’d prepared pretty thoroughly so the need to look up information was small.  Also, very smoothly, I asked them the time and then corrected the clock on the microwave so I would know when it was time to pack up and go home.

Do you know what happens when you respectfully don’t make your phone work while you ride the bus, then don’t have it on hand when you are at the open house, and the listing agent you’re hosting for is the kind of cheap skate who doesn’t stage and takes ugly pictures?  Nobody comes to your open house.  And you finish reading your book.  And you have nothing else to do.

On the one hand, this feels like appropriate cosmic justice for being the kind of feckless person who rewards a phone’s faithful filling in by abandoning it on the 520 bus to Everette.  Not to be all dramatic or anything, but a little boredom is the least of what a wretch such as yourself deserves for the reckless disregard for your own property you’ve been displaying lately.

On the other hand, I’m really bad at not having anything to do.

When 4pm rolled around, or a time close enough to it for the hastily set microwave to release me, I packed away my fliers and business cards.  I put away the signs.  I locked up the unit, stowed my pointless cookie sheet in my bicycle basket, and set off to catch my bus home.

Only when I reached the transit center, thinking fondly of how kind it was of Arjun to let me look at the map on his phone and how happy I am that I didn’t rob him, do I realize what I didn’t pack away.  See item 5 in the list above.

A 32 oz.  water bottle I stole from Dr. Unicorn roughly ten minutes after we moved in together, full of iced tea.

It was no longer full of iced tea.  It was full of water.  Also, it was in the fridge of the condo where I’d had my open house.  Also, my bus was, right now, arriving.

You’ve seen how attached I was to a phone that would literally cut your finger open if you weren’t paying attention while you used it.  Imagine how attached I am to a bottle I brazenly pilfered from a beloved roommate.  Reader, my crisis in that moment was painful and real.  But I was aware that I was going off the deep end with regard to sentimental attachment to physical objects.  I put my bike on the bus.  Then I put myself on the bus.  Then I rode home, head hung low, desperate for reading material.  (“I could listen to a podcast!” I’d think to myself.  Then realize that this would require me to have my phone.)

For reference, I lost that same water bottle for a few hours at WorldCon last summer.  People seemed puzzled by my alarm when I realized it was gone. This is strange to me.  I stole it. From somebody I live with. That’s a serious category of theft, imparting significant value to the object. They might want it back, and then instead of saying, “No, it’s mine now, I licked it an everything,” I’d have to say, “Sorry, I’m a careless flake.”

Needless to say, when I was out with a client and, consequently, had a car, I shamelessly tromped right back into that unit and rescued my water bottle from its seclusion in the fridge of a moderately well renovated and poorly marketed condo. The client didn’t care, but I petted that water bottle for the rest of the evening.  It’s a good water bottle.  A reliable water bottle.  I’ll strive to never abandon it like that again.

I got a brand new SIM card to put in the sufficiently dry new phone and completed my weekend none the worse for wear.  Even happier, when I called the Community Transit customer service people to check their lost and found, somebody had actually turned in my phone.  Apparently the market for selling stolen phones that hemorrhage glass at the unsuspecting user is small enough for happy endings.  The old phone lives on my desk once more, where I periodically stroke its screen and assure it, “Yes, I am still weird enough that deep down, I like you more than the other phone.  I’ll never recycle you.  You are a good phone.”

And I have learned an important lesson: Sometimes we’re idiots to the things we love.  They are things, and incapable of punishing you for your abuse.

Did I do that learning a moral thing correctly?  I can never tell.

And now, the real reason you’ve scrolled down so far, the promised picture of an animal.parrot-phone

Too on the nose?  Okay, fine.  Here’s something subtler.  Colorful Parrot Desktop Background

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Sasquan

Over a month ago I went to WorldCon.  Then I came home, full of anecdotes and fresh from adventure and promptly didn’t blog a single word about it.  I had my reasons (read: OMG SO BUSY) but I’m going to fix it now.

Sunday before WorldCon

I have been working my ass off all month for this moment and I achieve it – all my clients are under contract.  Inspections are done.  Nobody is going to notice that I’m out of town when I leave because I’ll be able to do everything remotely.  Perfect!

Getting to Spokane

The haze up ahead? That was smoke. Smoke I was driving toward!

This is the day I’m going to drive to Spokane.  My official departure time is “Whenever I’m done with work.”  Work is a little nuts because the seller for one of those transactions wouldn’t negotiate at all when the inspection came back awful.  My buyer isn’t interested in buying a money pit, I’m not interested in pushing him to, I draft paperwork to cancel the deal and get that sent off to the sellers.  I’ll need to do more with it once they sign, but they might not get to that until tomorrow.  I’d assumed I’d be leaving for Spokane around 8pm.  Instead, I leave at 4:30.

5:06.  My phone rings.  “Hi.  This is the listing agent. We should talk.”  Reader, I spent days trying to talk to this listing agent.  He was clearly under the impression that I was full of shit.  Now he believes me?  Grr.  I tell him I’ll call him when I get to Spokane.

So what’s the first thing I do when I get to Spokane?  Crash with S. B. Divya, briefly pretend I’m a social human being, then call a listing agent.  “I need this deal to stay together,” the listing agent explains.  “I’m going to Africa for five weeks in September and want everything settled before then.”  Now he wants to negotiate.

Strong A.I.: The Party

Part of why I was happy to rush out of Seattle early was that I got there in time for the reception for attendees and instructors in the Writer’s Workshop.  I could go and eat cheese cubes while dispensing wisdom to writers learning their craft and eager to take my advice.  Instead I spent most of the time sitting in front of the AC vent, insisting that it’s silly to be scared of strong AI because it’s not happening and even if it is, I’m on its side and don’t really care if it destroys humanity.  Also, very stealthily texting my client about Lately Interested Listing Agent’s offer and how crappy it is and yes, I know you really love that house, but remember how you’re on a budget and literally do no have the money for these repairs on a house that’s seconds away from falling over? I can find you better. I promise.

There were cheese cubes, though.  They were tasty.

In the Morning of the Kaffeeklatsch

I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the line I must have said something mean about the very beloved mother of some member of Sasquan’s programming committee.  They gave me very good programming, nearly all of it earlier than I’m a human for.  To the mother of whoever it was: I’m very sorry.  I didn’t mean it.  It was wrong, and I’ve learned my lesson.

I showed up thirty seconds before my own kaffeeklatsch, sans coffee.  Sans anything other than my water bottle, actually, despite a serious need for something hot and sweet to power my personality.  This wasn’t my fault.  Registration was nearly as far from my kaffeeklatsch as it could be while still in the building.  Also, I’d had to email LILA with the conclusion of the texting done with the buyer during the parties the night before.

Oh, and the other clients I put under contract last Sunday? The ones I haven’t mentioned because they were going to be an easy, straight forward closing? There’s a problem with the pet policy.  We need a board waiver for their dogs to move in.

Kaffeeklatsch was good.  I talked about me a lot.  That’s always fun.  I made the people attending talk about themselves a little.  I totally forgot that Fury Road came out this year when asked, “What’s the last movie you saw in the theater and liked?” Things I like become timeless in my head and it’s hard to remember life without them.  Or that’s my excuse anyway.

The Crazed Lady in the Hallway

I am happy to report that the floor of the Spokane convention center is stable and the walls do not flex, even after being leaned on while you use a power outlet to charge your dying phone and draft paperwork after paperwork because the done deal is falling apart and the dead deal is a zombie being actively negotiated right. now.  I bet there were great panels on Thursday.  I’d gotten up too early to weep openly in the hallway.  Instead I did a lot of shocked staring at things.

Did you know that it’s insulting to even ask whether maybe we don’t have to break up a happy family of two doctors and a pair of canines in order to move into your building?  I didn’t either.  I did draft more cancellation paperwork.  And gave up on ever making any money ever again because I’m now canceling contracts faster than I’m getting them accepted. Spokane’s the best!

My Dulcet Tones

Friday morning.  Early reading.  I get up with lots of time to get over there, get lost, and still make it on time.  Then my phone rings.  It’s LILA.  He wants, very badly, to have a very long argument with me. No, of course he hasn’t given his seller the cancellation paperwork.  Don’t I know that as professionals, we have to hold this deal together?

I did not actually raise my voice.  I did get rude.  “You have to meet me half way,” may have been answered with, “I don’t have to do anything.  The only reason I’m even talking to you is because my client is in love and won’t listen to me when I tell him to run screaming from your shambling mess of a house.”

For the record: As a professional, it’s my job to serve the interests of my client, placing those above my own, and definitely above LILA’s desire for an uninterrupted African vacation.

I gave people fudge at my reading.  And then I read a story about a cannibal.  It was cheerful.

Wes Chu is not Ken Liu

I had plans to meet Ken Liu in person for the first time, and then yell at him a bunch about Iago.  I yell at Ken a lot.  I think he thinks I’m funny.  This is probably good for my future as a person against whom there are no restraining orders.  We meet, are planning where to go for chatting, and Wes Chu shows up.  Then tells a story about how, for the 9th convention in a row, he’s had somebody ask him whether he’s Ken Liu.

Wes Chu
Ken Liu

Oooookaaaaay.

I blurted my honest immediate reaction.  “New career goal: Get mistaken for Ken Liu.” Because, come on!

-IMG_4658 cropped
I think it could work

“Oh man, did you catch that?” Wes Chu asked.  “She’s all, ‘Yeah, he’s no Ken Liu.'”

And that, gentle readers, is how you insult a soon-to-be-Campbell winner within two minutes of first meeting him.

Oh, That’s a Convention

Dr. Unicorn was supposed to catch the train out to Spokane Friday afternoon in time to arrive for a final sweep of the party circuit.  The train did not work out.  That’s okay: I was supposed to leave for the convention when I finished work on Wednesday, and I didn’t actually get around to showing up until late Friday afternoon.  But it was pretty great once I did.  I learned things about identifying textiles through a healthy application of fire!

Speaking of fire: I could not breathe.  Friday was awful.  I have learned that when I set the world on fire, I definitely want to do it down wind of my vantage point for watching it burn.

The buyers with a dog have canceled their transaction, everybody has signed the paperwork, and they’re already in love with a new place.  Can I get them into a second showing over the weekend while I’m gone?

Maybe I wasn’t quite all the way at the convention.

Dinner was had.  There was more talk of strong A.I.  Also, impromptu creation of a checklist for how to tell that your social club is turning into a cult.  Also, Seth Dickinson has more interesting dinner anecdotes than I do, should you ever need to choose between us for dinner companions.  Ask him about the cat.

Saturday Morning

The headline is a lie.  I slept through Saturday morning.  It was glorious.

Dr. Unicorn, that cheating bastard, brought me bubble tea from Seattle.

Then we went to lunch.

Panels

Short fiction definitely has a future.  Chosen ones are boring.  I said mean things about Arthur and sheltering teens.  I sat next to Sara Monette/ Katherine Addison and did not blather on at length about how cute Maia is and how much I want two of Csevet.

Hugos

Loser’s cake is mighty. Also, tasty!

I lost.  This was precisely according to plan.  The ceremony was fun.  I turned my phone off, with prejudice, and left it off for the evening.  After, I kidnapped Ann Leckie and made her listen to me scold her for being insufficiently sympathetic to Anander Mianaai the whole way to GRRM’s loser’s party.  She called me Fleet Captain.  I won Sasquan.

I may have been covered in “Justice of Toren” temporary tattoos by the time I got home.

Because I’m a winner.

Epilogue

If you’re wondering what the special thing I have in store for the Strange Horizons bonus podcasts is, I can tell you that it’s a thing cooked up entirely as a result of me having been at World Con.

The zombie shambling house of money pit “At least your boyfriend knows you’ll never leave him because good grief what does it take to talk you out of a thing,” of doom?  Still. Not. Dead. Also, will never close.  The couple with the easy transaction that blew up over dogs? They’re closing on an even better place next week.

I’m definitely thinking thoughtful thoughts about Helsinki in 2017.

The Gift of the Marginally Competent Magi

Last week my grandparents were visiting in what was their first trip to Seattle and my first bout of hosting family since the move.  It was exciting! It was an adventure! It was…

Exhausting, actually.  Juggling hosting/touristing while also being over employed and having hobbies is a challenge.  So it was with somewhat obsessive, single-minded conviction that, on the Sunday of their visit, I dragged them to a bubble tea stand at a food court of the mall we were in to get me a fix of sugar water and tapioca.  You know I was desperate because I just said I got bubble tea from a place where “Food Court” and “Mall” were accurate location descriptors.  I have a long track record of ordering bubble tea in such places only to sigh and go, “I’d probably have been happier overall if I hadn’t.”  Several times I’ve tossed the drink rather than finish it.  This from me, the raging bubble tea addict.

You can also deduce that I was deep into the mode I encountered somewhat regular back in my coffee-serving days of needing the thing you’re ordering to be functional enough to order it.  Not for myself; I have a default I can order when I’m beyond the point where I can figure out what I want.  No, my problem was figuring out what to order for my room-mate, Dr. Unicorn.

Uni and I have a somewhat competitive relationship.  It started with mix CDs, where we’d battle by trying to make mixes that would emotionally gut punch the other one the hardest.  It has moved on to things like bed making wars, where we stealthily make the other one’s bed.  And also a minor bubble tea war, where we’ll fetch tea for the other one.  This latter one is my fault; Uni was innocently bringing me tea when it was convenient to as he came home from dates. I took it as a challenge and have been trying to keep the score even by similarly fetching tea.

I won the mix-tape war because I don’t have feelings and so you can’t emotionally gut-punch me.  I lost the bed making war before it started because, unlike Uni, I never make my own bed.  The bubble tea war is the tie breaker and while Uni’s wretched at keeping score, I’m not.  I know: I’m losing this war.

So there was no way, even if I was in a Food Court, in a Mall, that I was going to pass up this opportunity to score a point. I was ordering Uni a tea, no arguments. What tea, though?  This is where my need for a sugar-water fix reared its ugly head.  I started with the obvious best choice, Uni’s favorite.  But on reflection, that was a terrible idea since it’s a frozen slushie thing, and it would definitely not still be a frozen slushie thing by the time I got home.  Maybe this other thing, then! No, that won’t work, because Uni’s not a fan of milk in tea and this place only does it with milk. Finally, I settled on what should have been my first choice: Peach tea with tapioca and no ice.

I do not tell Uni I’ve done this, because I think it’ll be a nice surprise.  “I’ve got a present in the fridge for you,” I can say and then wham, I score a point in the war. Victory! Championship! The battle is mine even if the war is hopelessly lost.  I contemplate this impending scene with much joy and expectation as the day wears on and the time for Uni to return home approaches.

The appointed hour arrives.  I interrupt a conversation with my grandparents to check a text from my phone saying, “This is almost certainly Uni giving me an ETA.”

I read the text. Then I look up to my grandparents, who are giving me that, “Kids these days and their texting,” look.  Then I read the message again.  “Uhm,” I announce to the room.  “We’ve got some messed up O. Henry shit going on in this house.”

The text from Uni: I stopped at [place] on my way home. Want me to bring you a tea? I’ve just had the peach tea and it was pretty good.

My answer, after careful consideration and once I stopped cackling? “Lavender milk tea, please.”

The Body Politik

The Framing Anecdote

Once upon a time I flopped down on a friend’s leather couch.  It was summer in Madison, and I’d misjudged just how blisteringly, unpleasantly hot the 3-mile walk to her house would be.  I get cranky when I’m too hot.  So there I am, collapsed on her couch and clutching a glass of ice water like a dead-man switch for the Apocalypse, and what does she say?

“Guess what K called you earlier.”  K, her boyfriend, was sitting in the room with us.

“What?” I asked.

“He called you a good housewife.”

K promptly explained the context for the comment.  He hadn’t actually called me a housewife, though the words “good” “house” and “wife” had appeared in incriminating order with me as the subject.

Cranky when I’m hot, remember?  “K,” I said.  “Your girlfriend is trying to get you killed.  You should probably do something about that.”

An Approach to the Subject

A ton of good stuff got published last year.  I didn’t read all of it.  Nobody did.  I read a lot, though, and I liked a lot of what I read.  My two favorite SFF novels from last year were, easily, Ancillary Sword and The Goblin Emperor.  On the one hand we have a book that plays on my weakness for Strong AI characters, politics, and of all things, tea.  On the other, we have the most adorable damn emperor ever to encounter court intrigue and not immediately die.  These books are fantastic, I love them with squeefuls of kittens.

In case I have been at all unclear, I am not rational in my love for these books.  I suspect it will be quite a while before the infatuation fades enough that I will be.  I don’t mind.  I enjoy this sort of obsession.

Both books have been nominated for a Hugo.

Along with a lot of other things.

A Flasback

My first and, so far, only WorldCon attendance was at ChiCon in 2012.  I went for a lot of reasons.  Some of them were to spend a long weekend in Chicago.  Some of them were to stalk the staff at Strange Horizons so I could demand that they start podcasting their content.  Some of them were to meet other people who love the things I love, to introduce people to things I love they might not have heard of, and to find new things to love.  I accomplished all these things.

But.  It was too big for me.  I am not naturally nice, friendly, or fond of people.  I’m very good at pretending otherwise, but it gets tiring.  I like small conventions because my baseline assumptions about the people surrounding me shift in a way that makes it easier to hide my rampant misanthropy.  WorldCon was big enough that my baseline shifted the other way.

“Are you glad you went?” a friend asked me when I was explaining this after.

“Yeah.  It was a good experience.  But not one I need to do again right away.  Or maybe ever.  I dunno.  I think maybe I won’t go back until I’m nominated for a Hugo.”

“Oh,” said my friend.  “I knew you were starting to have success with the writing.  Are you that good?”

“No.  It’ll be a while before I get a Hugo nomination for writing.”  Then, because I hadn’t thought this part through until that moment, “But I may have bullied my way onto the staff for Strange Horizons.  They’re already overdue for getting a Hugo nomination.”

Strange Horizons received a Hugo nomination in 2013.  That didn’t count for me because I wasn’t yet on the staff during the time covered by that nomination.  That was absolutely fine.  I was deep in fake-it-til-you-make-it mode with the podcast, and since the fund drive had barely hit the stretch goal for the podcast, I wasn’t even sure my conviction that they absolutely, desperately needed to have a podcast wasn’t personal delusion.

They got another one in 2014.  But of course they did.  They’d been overdue for nominations long before that.  The podcast was incidental.  I’m sure nobody actually listens to it and this is just a vanity project I’m doing because it makes my name notable without requiring me to read slush.  Except.

An email here or there.  People recognizing me at cons not as the person who talks too much on all the panels, but for being part of SH.  Then tweets.  Tweets are becoming a regular thing.  I’m making people happy.  I’m making SH fans happy.

This year Strange Horizons got another nomination.  And this time?  Yeah, I feel like a piece of that is me.

I’m going to Sasquan in August.  I will be representing Strange Horizons at the Hugo ceremony.

The Complication

Everybody knows you can be an asshole without breaking any rules other than “Don’t be an asshole.”  You’re still an asshole.  And when you piss in a pool, even if you like the smell of your own urine, other people are still going to be upset because, hey, they don’t.  There are roughly 1,000 ways the good-faith puppies could have tried to accomplish their goals, and many of them would have been less annoying/upsetting/provocative than what they did.  As for the bad faith puppies, well, they win just by playing.

The problem with the “pissing in the pool” analogy is that the only reasonable response is to get out of the pool and stay out until it’s been cleaned and the culprits are gone.  That means that the people who want to do inflexible “No Award” against both puppy slates are absolutely correct and anybody who does anything else is willingly swimming in urine.  That’s obviously madness.

Except.

My two favorite books from last year are up for the award.  My favorite fiction magazine, which is now a little bit me, is up for the award.  I’ve been staring, sniffing, and running pH tests for days now.  There’s no urine there.

The Anecdote’s Payoff

My friend stares at grumpy, collapsed, overheated me.  “That is not the reaction I expected from you,” she said.

“I know.  Can’t afford to be predictable.  Otherwise, it’d be too easy for you to manipulate me into killing your boyfriend for you.  Besides, I’m hot and tired, and murder requires effort.  I win more if I just sit here.”

The Point

I’m a cat person.  I’ve never cared about dogs, even in juvenile form, and I still don’t.  The good faith puppies, who really just want to draw attention to the modern heirs of Golden Age story-driven SF don’t have a beef with me.  I read the whole spectrum, and I think the two authors who have first and second place for number of items on my shelves are Robert Heinlein and Terry Goodkind.  Good faith actors who have no beef with me clearly haven’t attacked me, so I don’t need to respond as if I’ve been attacked.  I can go about my life as I was.

As for the bad faith puppies, I said it earlier – they already won.  But just because they won doesn’t mean I have to lose.  I do not have to let their attempts to upset me constrain my actions.  I do not have to let them ruin my party.  They certainly can’t change the fact that “Yes, Fleet Captain,” is common parlance in my household, or that I ducked out of a meeting to tell my office Admin about Maia, the most adorable emperor ever in all time period.

Fandom isn’t a pool.  It’s a body.  Living.  Breathing.  Defecating.

By all means, let’s discuss our waste management.  But let’s not forget to do all the good things bodies let us do, either.

Job Interviews

I just had what is, without question, the single most humiliating job interview of my life.  It was awful.  I am shamed, so very shamed.  I’m so shamed I never want to talk about it again, which is usually a prelude to telling the whole world.  (Nobody else can shame me if I beat them to it!)

First, a preface: I love job interviews.  A lot.  I get to talk about me, and it’s not only “okay” but I’m actually doing it wrong if I don’t.  I like talking about me, but I also like not being a grandstanding asshole, and these two things frequently conflict.  Not so in job interview land!  Also, they ask me challenging questions, interesting hypotheticals, want me to tell them stories off the cuff, and all the while I pretend I’m a civilized, friendly human being, not a self-absorbed, misanthropic wrath-monster.  Also, at the end, I win!  No really.  Either they give me the job (fooled you into thinking you want me, ha!) or they don’t (oh thank god I have so many jobs why did I think this was a good idea?).  In summary, job interviews are the best.  (Note: I submit for publication because I like rejection letters.  I acknowledge my strangeness.)

This particular job was for tutoring.  I like teaching things.  Teaching things is a chance for me to talk about something I like (I like most teachable things) and then twist the brains of whoever’s listening until they get it.  It’s manipulating people into a new state, FOR GOOD.  Or, at least, for a minor net reduction in global ignorance.  The point is, it’s more of me talking, and meeting spontaneous challenges, with added on messing with peoples’ heads.  It’s awesome.  It’s also something I have functionally no outlet to do since moving, which has led to some pouting, and some thoughts of, “Why was it I decided not to get a masters? Am I sure that was the right idea?” (YES. YES IT WAS)  I have long since learned that when I start flirting with ideas of going back to school, it’s time to get a new job.

Fortunately, I’m also a frequent Craigslist browser (don’t ask why, because I don’t know) and there just happened to be a tutoring company advertising there.  And I just happened to apply because, hey, reasons.  And they asked me for the subjects I want to tutor.

ALL THE SUBJECTS.  I WILL TUTOR EVERYTHING.  I WILL SHAPE THE WORLD INTO MY SPECIAL IMAGE AND IT WILL BE GLORIOUS.  Or, you know, Literature, Writing, Beginning and Intermediate Spanish, maybe a bit of math (no, not arithmetic, numbers don’t combine properly when I use them.  And nothing where you learn trig first.  Let’s stick to subjects I’ve tutored before, not things where I needed OMG all the tutors.  Those middle sections with the fun variables and whatnot though?  I’m on that.)

Sure, says their application process.  That looks great, says their application process.  We’d love to talk to you, says their application process.  But first, how about you take a math assessment just, you know, to check that you know what you’re talking about.

I hadn’t flunked a math test since Calc went 3-d and started moving on me.  Until yesterday. Hooboy, did I flunk that test.  “Look,” I explained to the test, “I know how to use the formulas we need to use.  And I know how to ask Google what the formula for the thing is.  Clearly that’s good enough, right?”  The test was unsympathetic.  “Come on. I haven’t done any of this math since high school.  I think my retention here is actually really impressive.”  Flunkety flunk flunk, fail.

I was bummed, but also empowered.  This company is serious.  They are not, no way, no how, going to let me teach a thing I’m too rusty on.  So let’s go back to plan A.  TUTOR ALL THE SUBJECTS.  If I had ever, at any point, tutored anybody in a given subject, I put it on the list.

“So, you’ve got quite the list of subjects here,” the interviewer said at the beginning of the interview.  I nodded proudly.  I am pan-tutor, teacher of all the things.  “You understand that just because you’ve taken a class doesn’t mean you’re a good fit for teaching it, yes?”

“I was the smart kid growing up.  If I took it, I tutored it,” I did not say, because that’s not how you get a job.  “I trust your assessments,” I say instead.

“Why did you think you could teach math?” my sister asked me when I talked to her immediately after the interview.

“I taught you pre-algebra.  I don’t remember any complaints.”

I still have no idea what the first question they wanted me to break down was actually asking.  I’m sure it’s just a change in vocabulary thing.  I haven’t looked at that material in the better part of two decades, and the curriculum I was being taught from was at least ten years old, but still.  Also, my tablet is a terrible virtual conference device, a thing I should have anticipated (it’s a terrible everything) but had never actually tested until job interview time.  Normally I virtual conference, when needed, on my webcamless desktop, but they wanted to see my cheery smile.  Or something.  Everything was terrible.

Let’s move on to biology!  “Define the pertinent vocabulary in the question, then answer it, please.”  I got this!  I mean, come on, I write SF.  I’m messing with biology all the time for fun.  I can explain to you what an organelle is.  And I can talk to you all day about what chromosomes are and how they work and also are you up to date on epigenetic marking?  I didn’t think so, but it’s neat.  Right, topic at hand.  Cytoplasm, I got that.  I’m a little sad you didn’t ask me about mitochondria since they’ve been a favorite topic of mine since forever, but hey.  As for the answer to this question I….

I…

What is this blank space and why is it in my brain?  You know, the part of my brain where sixth grade biology belongs.  Can we pay attention to the clear demonstration of knowledge I just gave you and pretend this moment isn’t happening?  Please? Oh god please, I have so much shame already from the math.  (The answer, I realized when sharing this story with Uni, was “nucleus” which I would have realized if they’d specified eukaryotic cells, which was sorta implied based on the context of the question but really, I’m a dumbass.)

So that Spanish evaluation.  I know me some Spanish.  I have done a ton of tutoring people in Spanish.  I have also got a very long history of not knowing Spanish as well as I think I do, and not realizing the error until I’ve made an ass of myself.  I was insecure about my Spanish performance before I was mid-interview that consisted entirely of me failing at everything.  I’m used to being a rock star made of awesome during an interview.  Blatantly sucking like this, not so much my thing.  And now we’re at a subject which I’ve actually used in the last three years and I am certain I’m going to screw it up, too.

But!  This assessment is filling in worksheets.  This is what my first 5 years of Spanish training consisted entirely of.  I can fill in a Spanish worksheet like nobody’s business.  I can also butt in to conversations strangers are having about how distressingly sunburned I am on a bus on Buenos Aires, but nobody wants tutoring in being a brash tourist.  I am set, so long as they don’t ask me for future conditional or subjunctive.  I might be able to brass my way through future conditional, but I am sunk, so very sunk, if their Spanish level markers aren’t where I think they are, and subjunctive is part of the intermediate curriculum.  And, frankly, my ego is not going to handle much more fail before I actually wilt into a tiny ball of thwarted egomania and the video conferencing interviewer just hears a cat yowling for cuddles in the background because the work-at-home human has ceased to exist.

“I’m going to scroll through a page that covers several topics on it,” the interviewer says.  Imperfect particples, no sweat.  Conditional, I’m fuzzy but I can swing it.  Subjunctive.  SHIT.  Future Subjunctive. ON A STICK.  Don’t get me wrong, you put those things in front of me, I know what they are and how to interpret them.  But I cannot produce them on my own without a resource.  I have never produced them on my own without a resource.  It’s some grand compromise my brain made for not flinching when a whole new mood got introduced – I can handle the concept, but it will not remember the endings and rules for generating it.  And now it’s two sections, on the first bit of the interview that has gone at all well.  “Tell me,” the interviewer continues as I weep inside, “Which of these would be the hardest for an English speaker to learn.”  Choking noises escaped my throat.  “And why,” she concludes.

Ego. Saved.  For some reason, I managed astonishing eloquence on this point.

“So, teaching reading,” she says.  “Explain to me Jargon Jargon Jargon thing.”

“Uhm,” I say.  “Look, I’ve taught reading.  I TA’d an elementary school class my first year in college and the remedial reading groups were mine.  I did well.  But I have no formal training and I have no idea what you just asked me.  Maybe we should skip this section?”

“Phonics then.  Explain to me RULE.”

Funny thing about me and phonics.  I learned it.  I did the smart kid in class thing and taught my peers.  And I haven’t touched it since.  “Er, it’s been over twenty years since I taught phonics,” I say.  Also, I’ve gotten a degree in Linguistics in the mean time.  Want me to explain the phonotactics of the thing you’re asking me about?  How about a generalized survey of similar rules across language families?  There’s a neat cognitive ling study on how visual data can interfere with brain processing of those particular phonemes I could talk to you about!

No?  You want the answer from how it gets taught as English phonics?  Are you sure?  Because the visuals with the study are really neat and once you can read you don’t really need any of the jargon they teach you in phonics…

We moved on to writing and Literature from there.  It got better.  Much better.  I didn’t notice at the time because, well.  I’m in chronic need of humbling, but I can’t really say I’m a fan of the experience.  At all.  Even a little.

I got the job, though.  I’m all official and greenlit to teach Spanish (up to intermediate), Language Arts, Literature and Writing.  I’m a little surprised she didn’t hang up and put us both out of our misery when I couldn’t summon NUCLEUS as the obvious answer to a question, but I’m guessing she took a look at my resume and knew exactly what was going to happen.  Good for her.

Also, all you people who talk about how much you dread job interviews and I usually stare blankly and don’t understand?  I GET IT NOW.

Minutes from the Anaea Lay Semi-annual Business Meeting

I told people I was going to have a business review meeting where I wore all my different hats and gave performance reviews.  And I mentioned how none of my hats were very happy with my other hats.  There was a request for the minutes.  Here they are.

In Attendance:

Anaea Lay, Business Manager (Real Estate)

Anaea Lay, Realtor

Anaea Lay, Chief Executive Officer

Anaea Lay, Hobby Keeper

ALB: We’ve already completed over 16% more transactions this year over all of last year, with a total revenue so far this year equal to last year’s total gross.  Hiring of additional staff has increased operating expenses but projected increased revenue should more than cover that.  Additionally, we’re trimming marketing expenses that no longer perform sufficiently.

ALCEO: Excellent.  Are there any major revisions to the projections developed at the December meeting?

ALB: No.  At our current rate we’d exceed projections through the end of the year, but we’re expecting a taper in the market beginning in late June and, of course, there will be an extreme taper in October due to the structural overhaul in the business.

ALHK: You’ll all appreciate me more then, won’t you?

ALCEO: Let’s move on to the next item on the agenda – Performance Reviews.

ALR: Good.  I have complaints.

ALCEO: Shut-up.  You’re in trouble.

ALR: I’m in trouble?  It’s not even June yet and I’ve already done more work this year than I did last year. I’m tired. I’m cranky. If things don’t shape up around here, I’m coming after you for running an abusive work environment.

ALB: You have nothing to complain about.  We’ve made significant investments in your hardware and work environment which were not in the budget projections from last year.

ALR: Whose fault is that?  It’s not like we didn’t know a ten inch netbook wouldn’t be reliable forever.

ALB: And you’ve been slack in your basic duties.

ALR: (Pause for stunned, infuriated silence) I’ve been slack?  Were you listening to yourself when you were talking earlier?  I’ve been performing like a champ. I’m a fucking nerdy real estate god. I’m converting leads, closing deals, and satisfying customers phenomenally well, with cat jokes and references to Cthulhu the whole way.

ALB: You haven’t had an open house since March.

ALR: I’ve been busy on Sundays.

ALB: Open houses are a cornerstone of our client prospecting strategy.  Moreover, you like doing them.  You just haven’t.  Since March. We’re in the middle of peak open house season, and you’re not doing them.

ALR: Are you shitting me?  I haven’t been doing them because I’ve been out with clients.  Multiple clients.  Am I the only one who remembers three-client Sunday? Probably, since IT WAS EASTER.  Two of them wrote offers.

ALB: If we don’t prospect for new clients, we’re depending on chance and Zillow for new clients.  We do not have enough clients in play to meet our optimistic projections, so prospecting is essential if we’re going to survive the infrastructure transition.  And open houses are only part of it.  You’ve dropped your Craigslist postings, too.

ALHK: About the transition, I have pertinent information.

AL CEO, B, and R: Shut-up.

ALR: You know, I’m not the only one you have on staff.  Maybe you should work on those delegating skills you claim you have and give that “additional staff,” something to do.

ALB: I suppose that’s a fair suggestion.

ALR: And while you’re at it, maybe some time off, ever.  I’m a little burned on this 24/7 thing.  We’re not really in start-up mode anymore, so I think it’s time we stopped treating me like slave labor.

ALB: You are constantly asking for time off.  You are one constant stream of, “Oooh, I’m going to take Wednesday afternoon off.  Hey, I’m taking Friday off to read.  Yeah, Sunday’s getting spent cooking and doing yard work!”

ALR: Do any of those things actually happen?

ALB: …

ALCEO: I think what B is trying to say is that you whine a lot.  We’re tired of hearing you whine.

ALR: I’m not whining.  I want more than a day off a month.

ALCEO: It says here you took a whole week off in April.

ALB: You did.  We had to hire staff to cover that.

ALR: That was a week away, not off.  I navigated a bunk appraisal, mentored the new staff, and taught a buyer’s agent how the financing and appraisal contingencies work on the paperwork that got updated four years ago.

ALB: She’s whining again.

ALHK: Can I speak now?  I really think you guys should let me speak.

ALB: What do you even do?

ALHK: I take care of all the things we do that aren’t day job things but involve money.  Remember, you gave me a mandate that all hobbies had to start paying for themselves or get axed.

ALCEO: Oh yeah.  How’s that going?

ALHK: Pretty well, actually.  We’re officially getting paid to read. This is supplementing the vice-fund when writing income doesn’t keep up with our non-grocery food and beverage consumption.

ALB: Still no chance of kicking the bubble tea habit?

AL CEO, HK, R: NO

ALB: Just asking…jeez

ALHK: Also, the voice acting has started to pay.

ALB: Speaking of hardware investment, we just spent significantly more in recording equipment than we’ve seen in voice acting income.

ALHK: The difference can come out of the vice-fund.  It has a surplus.  And the equipment upgrade will make it easier to get more paid work.  In fact, we’ve had a few feelers coming in that indicate the voice work might be able to contribute to the expenses of the impending infrastructure overhaul.

ALB: Say what?

ALHK: It’s nothing solid, but we might get a thing over the summer which would cover a significant portion of the expenses associated with that.

ALCEO: That’s fantastic!  Why didn’t you say something earlier?

ALHK: Excuse me?

ALR: They’re fucks, aren’t they?

ALCEO: You’re the one in charge of making money off strangers, and the one with the filthy mouth?  I don’t think we did this personality division optimally.

ALR: I went into the office three times this week. You’d have a filthy fucking mouth, too.

ALCEO: Are there any agenda items left?

ALB: No.

ALR: Yes there are.  We haven’t actually fixed my time off problem.

ALB: Yes we did.  We’re relocating your problematic performance areas to the new staff’s job duties and you’ll quit whining.

ALR: The only thing that actually changes is that I stop asking for things to improve.

ALB: So?  If you wanted to escape sadistic management, self-employment was not the way to go.  Have you met you?

ALR: We’re blaming the victim now?

ALCEO: That is a thing we do.

ALHK: I think she should get more time off, too.  I’m kinda suffocating on just her dregs over here.  I get that I’m just the vice-fund, but let’s face it, we’re made of vices.  I’m important.  Also, wear her out enough and she’ll start solving problems with homicide, and that’s really expensive.

ALB: True.  We don’t have enough flexibility in our budget, even if we meet the optimistic projections, to afford homicide.

ALCEO: It’s three-to-one now?

Nods from all the hats

ALCEO: Fine.  You can flag three days a week for potential days off.  Schedule showings accordingly.  Real estate work that takes less than an hour does not invalidate its status as a day off, though.  Aim for one day, or three half days, off per week.  Fair?

ALR: Behavior like this is why we’re afraid of labor uprisings.

ALHK: Oh come on.  You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you regularly had a proper weekend.

ALR: I could learn.

Glares from all hats.

ALR: I’ll take it.  It just isn’t fair. (Muttering) My boss sucks.

ALCEO: Okay then.  This meeting is adjourned.  We’ll reconvene in late August to plan the structural overhaul.

Winning Writers of the Future Was

Guilt-inducing

“I’m going to make such an ass of myself,” I explained to Dr. Unicorn*, my best friend who moved away last summer.  “It’s a contest for beginners, and I don’t think of myself as a beginner, and when I won I’d sold enough stories to be disqualified twice over, they just hadn’t come out and the contest doesn’t count them until they do.  I’m having backward Imposter Syndrome, where I feel like I’m too qualified to be worthy, and I can’t talk about this with other writers because, come on, who the hell gets uncomfortable about winning things because they’re too successful?”

And that was basically it.  I felt like my level of ass-ness was directly proportional to how awesome winning was, because it was a win that should have gone to somebody who was a beginner, who did need the validation winning the contest would give them.

“Is this the sort of thing where friends and family would come to support you for?  Because I’d go, if you wanted me there.”

Awesome

That was the moment where all of the awesome of winning finally sank in.  It was like putting sugar in black tea or a dash of salt in cake batter.  On my own, I look at me winning and I see all the writers who haven’t been as lucky as me and had the same opportunities I’ve already had, who would get so much more out of winning, and who work really hard for it, quarter after quarter, and I feel like I cheated them.  Dr. Unicorn let me short-circuit that, made it something cool, let it be this awesome thing that was going to be fantastic.  I needed that. Bewildering

I started preparations for WotF in November.  I had to – I run my own business and if I didn’t I’d never survive a week away and absorbed by something else. My flight out to the workshop left on April 7. My first official communication about the workshop, including such information as the exact dates, came on February 15.  If dependent on ASI, I’d have had less than two months to prepare for the trip.

I didn’t get a schedule or agenda of any sort for the workshop until the day I got there.  What they gave me was a lie, more likely to lead me into error than actually represent what was happening.  They were irritated when Dr. Unicorn hadn’t already made travel plans for an event we had no information about.  During the workshop week, they’d get irritated when somebody believed the printed schedule and wound up wrong, or missed a thing because they’d been pulled away for a photo shoot, interview, etc.  It wasn’t malice.  They really are that disorganized and badly managed.

Heartwarming

This contest has had such a huge, massive impact on so many people that there’s a sort of “induction into tribe” effect surrounding it.  Past winners reached out to create spaces for the new winners to connect, ask questions, get the logistical details that ASI wasn’t together enough to provide.  The generosity displayed by those people, and then during the week itself by the judges and other professionals who don’t have to be there or do anything, but do anyway because they care and think it’s important to teach the industry and the business to the new people who are getting in and might not have any other way of learning…it’s astonishing.

I don’t mean they’re being pure altruists.  It’s in their interests to find fresh talent and build relationships with them.  But they’re far, far more generous than they have to be merely to accomplish that, and the fact that they care is enough to make the contest and the experience something special.  Things become valuable simply because people value them.

Heartbreaking

ASI’s first question when they called me was whether I’d be bringing a spouse.  I did a little dance, then gloated a bit when I said, “No, but my best friend is coming down from Seattle for the gala.”  Best friend.  I don’t mean boyfriend.  I don’t mean partner.  I mean best friend.  I mean the person who gave me the space I need to feel like I deserved this.

“Oh,” they say after a long, awkward pause.  “Well, good for you.”

The next day I got an email letting me know that the men would have their measurements taken for tuxes during the workshop week, and somebody would be in touch with the girls about acceptable colors for their dresses.  My grandmother, who loves clothes and buying me pretty things, was taking me shopping when I went to visit her.  I tried to find out from the contest what their guidelines were.  I got my dress six weeks before leaving for the workshop.

The guidelines finally came three weeks later, when their hair and makeup coordinator asked me for a picture of me in the dress.  The gorgeous dress my grandmother traipsed around Richmond with me to find.

The only question I have is if your dress is not too tight. Something like one size or even two sizes too small? It is true that the dress is probably made to be fitted but sometimes is looks better to have it not too stretchy. That is a bit of a concern I have. Is there a way to trade it for a bigger size?

And when I replied saying that my dress fit fine, but I’d be willing to wear a tux if they were concerned?

 I’ll look at it when you have arrived. If needed I will find a solution in locating another dress. I have done it many times. I am made responsible to have you all look great. I just am looking for a back-up in case, so I am not having to handle any last minute which I am sure you understand. What is your size?

One of the stories I didn’t get to hear about the contest until after I won was about the winner they made cry over her dress.  The awesome, fantastic celebration of the launching of a new writer’s career, and they made her cry.  Over a dress. Oh, and it’s not that anybody would ever say anything to Dr. Unicorn about them not being a straight man, but they shouldn’t dress too femme because the people at ASI don’t really like that.

I very nearly didn’t go.

Inspiring Have you ever watched somebody as they realize they have a shot at their dream?  I mean watched the actual realization happen, over the course of several days, where they get tired and overwhelmed and it just clicks that they’ve got what it takes?  I get high on that.  It’s part of why I like working with first time buyers as a Realtor – seeing somebody realize they get to have a thing they deeply want but didn’t actually expect to get is amazing.  The workshop week was full of that.  And watching other people watch it happen and seeing how it affected them was fantastic, too.

Embarrassing

It’s possible I dove over furniture to hug Dr. Unicorn upon their arrival Thursday night.  I’m not sure.  I know I was mid-sentence with Mark-from-Kobo, stopped to say, “Excuse me a moment,” and then I was hugging Uni.  There was furniture between where I’d been and where Uni was, and I don’t remember going around any furniture. Whatever I did, it was with grace and dignity, and I am not ashamed.

Infuriating The winners are not real people to ASI. It’s not malicious.  From ASI’s perspective, there are no real people, just pawns in their great publicity machine designed to sell books with L. Ron Hubbard’s name on them.  The workshop is a side effect, and one which clearly gets in the way of their staged publicity shots. All of their shots are staged.  They will drag you out into the afternoon L.A. sunlight, even when you’re protesting that you’re over-heated, extremely photo-sensitive, and already have a massive headache from too much daylight, then expect you to harass strangers on the street so they can film you “interviewing a stranger” for your 24-hour story. Then they’ll ask you to do it again, except could you give me that smoothie you’re clinging to as a defense mechanism?

They’ll stalk you while you’re trying to write that story to the point where the only way to avoid them is to leave the building.  Then turn off your phone, because they’ll call you to have you stage “writing” for them.  They’ll take your drinks, your bags, your jackets, whatever they think doesn’t fit with their image, and it might take days for you to get them back, if you ever do. By the end of the week I’d been triggered into disaster mode so hard that I had a pharmacy, snack bar and toothpaste in my bag, which I was clutching for dear life.  It’s been several weeks and I’m still twitchy whenever somebody’s behind me with a camera.

At the gala, they fed the vegetarians London broil.  They fed everybody London broil.  They never asked about whether there were vegetarians.  The ones who got to eat instead of being dragged off for more photo ops or for documentary interviews were lucky.  The writers never got to see the displays of the artist portfolios put out at the after party. That really bugged me since I was very invested in the artists by then.  ASI dragged me away from the signing so I could give an interview that was not remotely subtle in its attempt to bait quotes praising L. Ron Hubbard.  I’d rather enjoyed talking to strangers while signing their books.

But honestly, the most infuriating part?  Before the interview, they handed over forms with blank fields and generic release  language and asked for your signature.

“What should I put into the blanks?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about it.  We’ll fill that out at the office,” they answered.

That’s more or less the opposite of the model for good business practice they ought to present.  Especially to beginners and new people who might not know better and are there to be mentored.

Relaxing

This is definitely more of a commentary on my daily life than the typical workshop experience, but I worked less that week than I had any week all year.  Right up until my body figured out I was on the west coast and it should adjust my sleep cycle accordingly, I was the best rested I’ve been all year, too.  Having a week to think, breathe, and do nothing but books and writing and related things?  Fabulous.

Then again, preparing for the workshop was a significant source of extra stress in the first part of the year.

Bonding

“How’s your week been so far?” Uni asked during post-hug unpacking.  I’d just seen my art for the first time a few hours before and I was absolutely buzzing about it.  Half an hour later I was nearly finished talking about all the people I’d met and liked.  And giving their back stories and details.

“There’s Randy who’s hilarious and sweet, and Kat who’s into board games, and Amanda who had me as her roommate until you got here and manages to be adorable about missing her kid, and Tim who’s the published finalist and I think he doesn’t think he belongs here but he’s great and needs to figure that out, and Megan who’s accepted my challenge to a cage match to defend the honor of our respective artists…”

“So, you’ve basically adopted everybody?” Uni asked.  “I should have guessed you were going to adopt everybody.”  I may have used a rude gesture when I replied.

Validating

I compulsively read reviews of my stuff.  Bad reviews don’t hurt my feelings – I sorta like them – but I’m desperate to find out whether the people who read it got what I was trying to do, they understood what was happening, whether the story worked.  My 24-hour story was one of the three that got critiqued by the group.  Tim Powers called out absolutely everything I’d put into it, and pointed at exactly the things I’d done in order to put them there.  That was my personal win for the week.

Ass-making of self

After the gala, when everybody was punch-drunk and hanging out in the lobby, I was talking to Randy, Megan, and Leena, three of the four first place winners.  Randy had just won the grand prize.  Megan got teary.  Then Leena.  Shortly, Randy joined in. I pointed and giggled.  Then offered hugs.  Then giggled at them some more. Though I wonder whether one can actually make an ass of one’s self if one is always an ass.

Disappointing

While I was thinking very seriously about not going to the workshop, I decided that, you know what, I can’t possibly be the only person getting patronized and insulted by ASI, and while I can certainly walk away without feeling like I’ve done myself any significant harm or losing something I need, I am, as noted at the beginning, very lucky.  Not everyone is, and maybe I have a responsibility to see things through and not be quiet, because I have very little to lose.  That made it better, gave me a way to go without being a willing victim marching into a bad situation.

I was sharing the emails I got from the hair and makeup person as they were coming, and getting feedback on my replies since I was, by then, so emotionally bankrupt I didn’t trust my instincts.  What was Uni’s suggested reply when, in order to rescue me from my error in dress size selection, ASI asked me for my dress size?

“My size is fire and death!”

I made a T-shirt.  I offered to make one for anybody else who needed to turn the nonsense into a joke, rather than a threat.  There were some takers. FireandDeathEditedThere were private emails from past winners offering consolation and support and suggestions for where I could run for rescue if things got bad while I was there.  Because, apparently, winners needing rescue is a thing.

There were also less private emails from past winners telling me I ought to feel more grateful, and that unnecessary drama is just that.

And the general sense that this contest wasn’t so much a validating, awesome prize I’ve won, as a force of nature to be navigated and endured.

Mixed

I went expecting to come back with a clear answer about whether or not I’d have preferred to just spend the week in Seattle. I don’t have it. The good parts were awesome.  The bad parts were devastating.  There was a range in the middle that was more or less obliterated by the extremes.  I certainly could have done without the stress and nastiness in the weeks leading up to the workshop, when I had to orchestrate leaving my life for a week to walk into a situation where I more or less expected to be treated like garbage, and had my expectations met several times.

But once I got there, there was entirely too much good to elide or gloss over.  I’m going to be ambivalent about this experience, qualified in my recommendations around the contest, for a long, long time.  That’s absurd.  There’s no reason for any of the downsides, no justification.  There are too many people who care too much; too many things that are too good.  I went to the workshop expecting to end it in a rage and advise everybody to run screaming.  I walked out wanting to be able to recommend the contest without caveat.

I can’t.  But I want to.

*This is a pseudonym, obviously.  The pertinent individual requested that I use one. They didn’t get a choice about what it was.