28 July 2010

"...an emperor without a stitch of clothes on"

He thinks that he's bad, when his shit is so sad
But he's taking the bows for what he's never had
(And he never will)
-Bill Champlin, "Stone Cold Hollywood"

That song lyric kept running through my head as I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded Readercon.

Cross-reference my list of literary idols with Readercon 21's guest list, and you'll see a great many names in common.  The thought of sharing oxygen with those writers just blew my mind.  I did my best to prepare for a war against my shy, introverted nature.

For awhile, it was a war of attrition.

I tried explaining to a friend, who isn't a writer, that this was more than fanboy nerves.  Because I wasn't going as just a fan.  I was going as a writer.  Not that I had a clear idea of what "going as a writer" meant.   Just that my worst fear was striking up a conversation with one of my idols (say, Howard Waldrop), mention I'm a writer, and get told, "Go 'way kid, you bother me."

I told my friend, "It's almost like I don't have the right to be there."  To which she responded, "What--you paid, right?"

Yes, I'd paid the con registration, entitling me to a name badge.  And yes, according to Hoyle, I am a writer, insofar as I do write and have gotten published once in a blue moon.  I've even been paid for some of those acceptances.  But, none of that helped me feel like a writer going in to Readercon.  The idea of walking in, declaring myself "a Writer," and even tacitly imply that I'm remotely in the same ballpark as some the con's guests--well, that just seemed delusional at best, and pretentious at worst.

Howard Waldrop is a writer.  Mary Robinette Kowal is a writer.  Junot Diaz, who came as Samuel "Chip" Delaney's guest--they're both writers.  What was I, compared to them?

It was a conversation with Jaym Gates during a late-night caffeine-run that finally put a name to it.  She said what I'd been feeling:

"I feel like a fraud."

Yup, that was it.  That was what I felt like.  Suuuure, I was a writer... the way someone who got a standing ovation one night singing "Sweet Transvestite" at a karaoke bar can call himself a singer.  And, I'm damn sure not a singer.

Oddly enough, that feeling became easier to deal with once it had a name.  I could unpack it a bit: I realized that I wasn't defrauding anybody.  I certainly wasn't going around telling people that I was in the same league as Waldrop or Kowal or Diaz or Delany or Hopkinson or Rosenbaum or Hand or Valente--obviously, I never even thought that of myself.  And, just what the hell is being a "Writer" supposed to feel like, anyway?

Those realizations allowed me to be at Readercon as what I was, and to do what I went there to do.  Remember that John Waters quote I fixated on awhile back?  Well, I'll be damned if focusing on my Readercon goals, rather than my personal insecurities, didn't help me to "ignore how maladjusted [I] would be if [I] had the time to notice it in the first place."

By the end of the con, I met almost all of my Twitter peeps I'd intended to meet.  I got the one autograph I coveted.  I met 98% of the idols I planned to meet and even one I didn't.  Yes, I let a few slip away (namely, 'zine editors who've rejected me).  And my insecurities didn't just vanish.  But the important thing was that, on at least two occassions, I was able to tell people who asked me what I did:

"I write stories."

So, that's how I processed my feelings of being an emperor with no clothes.  Now, go see Jaym do the same thing.