On the lived experience of being a woman

Every year in October my employer does a survey of all staff to do a healthcheck of the team’s experience.  Every year I pause over two questions: in the last year have you personally experienced discrimination/bullying or harrassment?  I pause not because I’m trying to decide whether to click yes, but because I ask myself how many instances of discrimination and harrassment I would report if I had the chance.  And each year my employer clutches its pearls in horror when it sees the survey resuls on these two questions, without ever doing anything to address the underlying causes.

My dilemma is particularly acute this year, as the survey rolls out against the backdrop of the allegations and revelations about Harvey Weinstein.  It’s sadly still all too common that so many of us are experiencing discrimination and harassment.  But what is truly shocking is that it has become so normalised for so many of us that we often just treat it as part of the background noise of life that we have to deal with, while the rest seem genuinely surprised that it’s still an issue.  After all, we have equality now, don’t we?

To give you just one example of something that happened to me within the last year –

I was attending a work event with some key stakeholders.  There was an evening dinner.  I found myself sat next to a senior person in that organisation that I’d not met before that day.  He tried to get me drunk, asked intrusively personal questions, ‘admired my necklace’ (code for staring at my breasts) and then propositioned me.  I made my excuses and left.

Some will no doubt suggest I should be flattered by the attention.  That I’ve ‘still got it’, whatever that means.  Others will laugh if off as just one of those things that happens.  Or, worse, deny it ever happened.  Surely I must be imagining it or making too much of a fuss about it?

But this is a failure of basic, respectful treatment of others.  I have to have a working relationship with this person, but they’ve added an uncomfortable sexual dimension to it.  I’m now left having to manage that dynamic, trying to keep things professional and make sure to avoid circumstances where I could find myself facing the same situation again.  I now have a whole plan to make sure I never have to sit next to him at dinner again.  And instead of focusing all my energy on work, when we are in the same place I will need to expend a good proportion of it managing the interpersonal dynamic, shutting down further overtures from him (yes, there have been some).

It also exposes the shocking sense of entitlement that some people feel.  They see nothing wrong in behaving this way.  In part that is because it is so rarely challenged.  We let it play out as if there’s nothing wrong with it.  Or else it takes place away from the public gaze, so that those in a position to act never see what is really happening.

[I’m not saying it’s never possible to make an intimate connection with someone you meet professionally.  But it’s tricky territory and I’d urge you to get to know the person first and be damn sure there’s mutual attraction before raising the prospect of anything else.  If you make a habit of propositioning people you’ve just met  or who are patently not interested, you’re a creeper, and it’s not my job to educate you about how not to be one.]

In many ways, this kind of obvious and overt harassment is easy to deal with because it’s so obviously beyond the pale.  What is much harder to deal with is the insidious kind of discrimination.  The differential treatment. The mansplaining.  The being talked over, marginalised and ignored.  The unconscious bias that creates a culture of Great Men doing Great Things, while the women do the office housework that will never make their careers.

In all those cases there’s plausible deniability.  You are left wondering whether you are imagining that you’re being treated differently or whether there’s some other cause, like that you’re just not good enough.  And while each incident may be a mix of complex cause and consequence, it’s highly likely that there’s something gendered going on under the surface, whether those responsible realise it or not.  But the net result is that you are left doubting yourself or fighting a system stacked against you.

Of course, I’m relatively lucky.  I’m a woman, but I’m also white, heterosexual and without disabilities.  So I don’t have the multiple, intersecting areas of difference that enable a much more multi-faceted experience of harassment and discrimination.

I hope that if some good is to come out of the current debate it is a greater awareness of the need for respectful and inclusive spaces that are free of this kind of harassment and discrimination, and the need to tackle the power structures and institutions that have enabled permissive environments to thrive.

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The Lions of Al-Rassan – Guy Gavriel Kay

I view things through a narrative lens.  I construct my life as story, with myself as chief protagonist.  I make my way through life looking for narrative threads, foreshadowing, inciting incidents and dramatic denouement that I can edit into a compelling narrative.  Those stories of my life are a mash-up of genres: screwball comedy, action-adventure, kitchen sink drama, or tense political thriller.  They are stories of love, friendship and achievement, often in challenging circumstances.

In times of crisis I reach for story as a way of processing my thoughts and feelings about something.  Story written by others (whether on the page or on screen) is both my chief comfort and my main source of inspiration.  Four years ago I binged on books and drama as a way of finding my way out of a difficult time.

So, last night, in the midst of an emotional storm about the outcome of the UK’s referendum on the EU, I found myself reaching for Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan: a fictionalised retelling of the last days of Moorish Spain.  It’s one of my favourite books, and each time I read it I find new layers of meaning and relevance.

Kay’s Al-Rassan is a place of beauty, art and culture.  It is not a paradise.  It suffers from political instability and is ruled by a powerful elite who are quick to resort to violence and persecution.  But in comparison to its neighbours it is a place of religious tolerance that has permitted a diverse culture and civilisation to blossom.  It is bordered to the north by three states where the prevailing religion is an increasingly fundamentalist strain of the Jaddite faith.  To the south and across the sea are Al-Rassan’s Asharite co-religionists, whose harsh life in the desert breeds an extremist interpretation of faith.

Al-Rassan exists in a fragile bubble between these two cultures.  The temperate climate of the peninsula makes life for the Asharites easier, and a civilisation flourishes.  That civilisation is enriched by the diverse flows of people through the region, through interchange with the Jaddite kingdoms of the former Esperana to the north, and through its (albeit limited) tolerance for those of the often-persecuted Kindath faith.  The tension between the desert to the south and the Jaddites to the north has enabled that place of palaces, poetry and fountains to thrive, but Kay’s Al-Rassan is also a place on the brink of decline and collapse.  After the assassination of the last khalif, Al-Rassan has become a place of warring minor kings, increasingly beholden to desert tribes wanting to advance a more extremist agenda.  There are threats from the north too: the Jaddite kings of Esperana are pressured to put aside their differences and unite in conquest and crusade.  The tragedy of the novel comes from the inevitability of the collapse of the fragile, but beautiful, Al-Rassan as a result of these competing pressures.

The Lions of Al-Rassan examines the geo-politics of the Iberian peninsula at that moment through the lens of a love triangle between Jehane bet Ishak, a Kindath physician and two men: Rodrigo Belmonte, a fictionalised El Cid, and Ammar ibn Khairan, a courtier, soldier, poet, assassin and spy.  Both represent the pinnacle of their respective cultures and civilisations.  Although both are ultimately thrown into conflict against one another as the peninsula descends into war, for a brief, shining moment they find themselves on the same side.  Both are sent into exile by the rulers they serve, and find themselves working as mercenaries for King Badir of Ragosa, where Jehane has also found shelter.  Belmonte and ibn Khairan form a friendship and partnership of great creativity and ingenuity, which makes their ultimate opposition all the more painful.

One of the strengths of the novel is the way it depicts the choices and actions that ultimately lead to war, conflict and the collapse of Al-Rassan.  Good people are forced into making decisions in difficult circumstances.  Those choices are often pragmatic, political ones, where the hands of the powerful are tied or forced.  In many cases those choices are underpinned by some toxic religious and nationalist ideologies that the powerful ironically find themselves unable to challenge.

Kay explores the fate of nations through a single set of relationships, but manages to also represent that story in microcosm during one single night.  Ragosa’s Carnival is a night of wine and revelry, but it is also a night of masks that both conceal and reveal, as people use them to make statements about themselves.  This Carnival is particularly febrile as Al-Rassan moves on its trajectory towards war.  Jehane wanders through the city, considering and discarding options about how to spend her evening.  Finally, she is approached by a man in the mask of a lion (Ammar ibn Khairan).

“It is late now, Jehane,” said this man who seemed to have found her in the night after all.  “It may even be too late, but shall we walk together a while, you and I?”

That single piece of dialogue encapsulates the whole novel for me, freighted as it is with layers of meaning and significance.  It is indeed late in Carnival night when this exchange takes place.  But Ammar’s hesitancy also comes from the depth of personal history between him and Jehane.  His actions have contributed to the personal tragedy of her family, including the maiming of her beloved father.  That may be too much for her to get past, despite their attraction to one another.  But Ammar ibn Khairan is also the man who killed the last khalif of Al-Rassan, and in no small part has contributed to the chain of events that is sending the peninsula towards war.  With conflict on the horizon there may be no space for love at all.

The choices Jehane makes in The Lions of Al-Rassan are ultimately ones of pragmatic self-interest.  As a relatively powerless member of a persecuted minority she chooses the way that offers the potential for greatest safety for herself and her family within some terrifying circumstances.  There are no perfect options.  Jehane’s choices are made in the full knowledge of the flaws and challenges of the options before her.

Right now, we must all be like Jehane.

Goodreads rating: 5*

 

2015 In Review

It’s traditional at this time of year to do a bit of a retrospective, looking back at the year and reflecting on it.  And who am I to ignore that trend, even if the day we change our calendars is a pretty arbitrary choice?  So, as well as this run-through of 2015, with some nerdy statistics and awards, I’ll also do a little look ahead to 2016.

2015 has been on the whole pretty awesome, if marked by sadness at the end.  It’s been a year of cons and cosplay, of time spent with friends, exciting trips to great places, the publication in a real book of my first essay, and the making of many lovely things.  There are things I probably should have blogged about, but haven’t, including our holiday in Prague in September and the prizes I won in a work craft competition.  Sorry about that.  Life kind of got in the way.

One of the biggest things to happen in 2015 is this blog.  As I explained back in February, I started it as a bit of a personal challenge during the 6 Nations.  Since then, it’s become an established part of my routine, with a growing number of followers (*waves*) even without me making strenuous efforts to publicise it.  A large part of the blog has been about recording book reviews, and that has led to me writing slightly longer reviews than the brief notes I’d previously captured for myself.

One of the most rewarding things about doing this has been pointing people towards books they love but might not otherwise have found.  That, if nothing else, makes the whole thing worthwhile.  In particular, one friend bought an overlooked treasure on my recommendation, and keeps telling me just how amazing it is and how much he loves it.  You’re welcome.  I hope I can do the same for many other people too.

Statistics

Goodreads does some pretty awesome statistics.  As well as offering you a curated ‘year in review‘ page, there’s also the scope to delve into things in a little more detail.  As a geek, I love some good statistics!

The headlines are that in 2015 I read 60 books, totaling 22,452 pages.  The average rating I gave was 3.7, which is higher than my overall average of 3.67, and lower than the Goodreads average of 3.89.  (What can I say?  I’m a tough marker ….)

GR stats 1This screen grab shows all of the 60 books I read this year, broken down by the star rating I gave them.  There is even a pie chart of the ‘shelves’ those books fall into (though I’d prefer a Venn diagram, to be honest, given that so many books fall into more than one shelf).

Some interesting points for me from this:

  • Of the 60 books I read this year, 29 were written by women.  That’s not bad, but I know it felt like quite an effort over the course of the year to read that many books by women.  I had to go out of my way to do it.
  • Related to that, of the 12 books I rated 5*, only 4 were written by women.  3 were books I’d read before.
  • 28 of the books I read this year (just under half) were review copies.  14 were book club books.  So that leaves only 18 books that I chose to read for myself.

GR stats 2This chart is also interesting too.  It shows the publication year of the books I’ve read.  You can see a marked change in my reading habits this year: far more of the books have been newly published (the three outliers from the 1960s are Dune, The Master and Margarita and Solaris, all three of which were book club books).  Much of that – but not all – will be down to half of all the books I read being review copies.

Awards

And now for the fun bit: some entirely arbitrary awards in made-up categories.  Which I may or may not repeat next year.

Best novel: Hild by Nicola Griffith.  This really is an astonishing book: multi-layered, rich, profound and a true pleasure to read.  It’s Hilary Mantel does Anglo-Saxon England.  Seriously.  Go buy it and read it.  Tell your friends.

The Michel Houellebecq Award (for an amazing book that will only appeal to a niche audience): A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar.  A novel about the Holocaust that includes BDSM sex scenes involving Hitler that are played for laughs will not be to everyone’s tastes.  But I loved it.

Best genre novel: The Crippled God by Steven Erikson.  This year, I finally made it to the end of Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series .  It’s a truly epic undertaking spanning ten novels, the last of which alone is 1,200 pages.  But despite parts of the series feeling like a slog, I had all the feels at the end, sobbing as I read the ending on my way into work one morning.  It’s a fitting end for an astonishing feat of writing.

Most promising debut: The Vagrant by Peter Newman.  Peter’s writing shows real talent and The Vagrant is fresh, exciting and interesting.  I can’t wait for the sequel.

Best YA novel: Uprooted by Naomi Novik.  I don’t read much YA, but I loved this novel with its fairytale style and setting for its empowered themes of finding ones own way and female friendship.

On violence

Today, less than 24 hours since the tragic events in Paris, I went to see a film.  It is about a person who commits acts of violence and ends up becoming complicit in a highly public suicide committed by a particularly militant member of the cause.  That person has been radicalised by colleagues and charismatic speakers, driven further and further away from family, and losing their job in the process.  A major contributing factor to their radicalisation is the abuse of power by the executive arm of the state, whose members should be protecting the marginalised rather than subjecting them to torture and degrading treatment.

That film is Suffragette.

I’ve seen at first hand the devastating impact that terrorism and violence has on the victims and those around them.  I’ve heard heartbreaking stories of loss at first hand and seen friends who have witnessed violence at first hand struggle to come to terms with it.  Those are effects that last for years, blighting families and leaving lifetimes worth of trauma.  And at its worst, that violence perpetuates a cycle of further violence that it can prove difficult to break.  I understand why people feel they have to resort to violence and terrorism (particularly when there appear to be no other options open to them) but it is not something I could ever support or condone.

I watched Suffragette with mixed emotions.  As a passionate feminist (albeit an imperfect one, striving to be better) I have always been proud to be part of a long tradition that includes the Pankhursts and Emily Wilding Davison.  Their work secured the vote, paving the way for other developments like equal pay and sex discrimination legislation, giving all of us – men and women – greater choice about how to live our lives.

It’s easy to romanticise things like the suffrage movement.  With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight we see the legitimacy of their aims because they coincide with our own social attitudes and values, which have been shaped by their success.  They become some of the founding myths of contemporary society, key parts of our culture.  Tales of struggle and sacrifice are always stirring, particularly when seen through the soft-focus lens that comes with the distance of time.  We like to imagine ourselves in a heroic role, striking blows for freedom.  But those stories, attractive as they are, conceal real suffering affecting real people.

Without standing directly in the shoes of those forced to make difficult choices about the best way to address the issues facing them, shedding the values of our contemporary society, it’s difficult to pass judgement.  But can I in all conscience associate myself with a movement that resorted to criminal damage and violence in support of its aims?  Would I have been a suffragist, peacefully campaigning for the vote, but achieving little?  Or would I have been a suffragette, out smashing windows with my toffee hammer in the name of equality?

 

 

Strictly Season

I love Strictly Come Dancing.  It’s the perfect thing to cheer up dull autumn days, with its mix of glamour, competition and fascinating journeys of personal growth and discovery.  Each year, the start of Strictly – just like the beginning of a new series of Doctor Who – is one of the signs that autumn is here and we’re in the run up to Christmas.

I’ve danced Latin and Ballroom on and off since 2002.  Albeit with more enthusiasm than talent. It’s something I adore doing, and always wanted to do as a child (though my parents couldn’t afford lessons).  My primary school used to do English country dancing (though a suspicious number of ceilidh dances and American square dances seemed to sneak into the mix) and it was one of my favourite things, even if I had to dance with Kevin diMarco (he had horrible scaly hands and his face would go red when he danced, which clashed with his ginger hair).  So I had to come to dance lessons later in life, filled with dreams of being Tara Morice in a ruffled red dress with Paul Mercurio doing a dramatic knee slide across the floor.

I’m not someone who has ever experienced the alleged endorphin rush one is supposed to experience from exercise (I just feel hot, sweaty and uncomfortable), but dance lifts my spirits and gives me a buzz like no other.  I’ve danced my way through break ups, and even after a dance school weekend away, and several classes in a short space of time found myself having a near-religious experience on the dance-floor at an office Christmas party.  One of those moments where self is completely sublimated, time seems to slow and there is just music and movement.  And no, I hadn’t been drinking.  And I hadn’t taken anything.  But it was awesome.

But my dancing has definitely been more off than on recently.  Since moving back to London it’s been difficult to fit it round work and the rest of my social life, and I’ve struggled to find a class with timing that suits my schedule since my last class was cancelled as numbers dwindled.  But I can say I’ve danced with a Strictly professional.  One of the owners of my local dance school, JJ’s, is John Byrnes, who danced with Claire Sweeney back in the heady days of series 1 (they were eliminated in week 5).

All of that makes me a terrible person to watch Strictly with.  I’m that person with just enough knowledge to be a dance bore, but at risk of embarrassing myself in front of anyone with proper knowledge.

So, in honour of Strictly starting again tonight, here’s my fantasy playlist if I were ever to dance on the show.

ChaCha – A very easy one, even though the ChaCha is a very crowded field.  This is my song.  In These Shoes by Kirsty MacColl.

Waltz – A satirical song about BDSM is perhaps not entirely appropriate for prime-time Saturday night telly, but it has to be Bang Goes The Knighthood by the Divine Comedy.  If they won’t let me have that (boring!) then it would be Eddi Reader’s love song to Glasgow dance halls: Wings On My Heels.

Quickstep – Mr Blue Sky by ELO.  Possibly the happiest and most smile-inducing song ever.

Jive – Sweet Home Alabama.  Nothing like a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd to mix things up.

Samba – Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones.  Yes, it really does have a samba rhythm.  If it’s still banned by the BBC I’ll obviously need to think again.  In which case it’s Us Amazonians by Kirsty MacColl.

Tango – I’m a bit old school when it comes to my tangoes.  So it will have to be Por Una Cabeza.  You may recognise it as the tango from Scent of a Woman and True Lies.

Rumba – We haven’t had any cricket pop on Strictly yet, so it’s The Nightwatchman by the Duckworth Lewis Method.

Foxtrot – Moondance by Van Morrison.

Viennese Waltz – The Bed Song by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra.  A Viennese Waltz that will break your heart.

Paso Doble – Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes.  You need a big thrashy noise and a driving beat for paso, and this delivers in spades.

American Smooth – Probably Diana Krall’s Peel Me A Grape.

Argentine Tango – Like I said, I’m old school.  So it’s something like Comme Il Faut or A Media Luz.

Salsa – It’s a party dance, so it needs a party song.  And the ultimate party song is Groove Is In The Heart by Dee-Lite.

 

Nine Worlds Geekfest 2015

Over the last few days I’ve been at Nine Worlds Geekfest.  It’s the third year it’s happened, the third time I’ve attended, but the first time I’ve stayed in the main hotel.  In previous years I’ve commuted in each day (2 hours each way …), aiming to get there for the second panel of the day and staying as long as I could (usually to tea-time) before going home.  Which makes for a very exhausting way of doing a con, without any of the evening fun which would at least give one a reason for feeling tired.

Of all the cons I’ve been to, Nine Worlds feels the freshest, most energetic and most welcoming.  It prides itself on its inclusive atmosphere and has programme tracks dealing with feminism, LGBTQIA issues, race and culture as well as tracks on books, films, comics and tv shows.  Panels contain a mixture of famous names and new voices.  People from various minorities are not just confined to their own programme tracks, and there is a huge amount of cross-over, with programme items crossing over more than one track.  But this approach to diversity and tolerance goes beyond programming.  Panel members are briefed not to refer to audience members by their gender during Q&A sessions, and prounoun badges are available so that the transgendered and gender-fluid can indicate in a more subtle way how they wish to be referred to.

All of that is in marked contrast to other cons I’ve been to.  LonCon3 (WorldCon) last year felt like East London had been colonised by the USA for five days.  Marvellous as it was to see and meet so many big names from the States, it would have been even better if they’d made some concessions to not being in their own country.  (I recall Jeff VanderMeer giving me the side-eye when I spoke about the cognitive dissonance I was feeling from all this US cultural imperialism.  Of all the people there, I thought he would get it.)  EasterCon (the BSFA’s annual event) feels like the redoubt of a certain generation of fans: a cliquey gathering that it’s very difficult to break into, full of in-jokes and making little or no effort to welcome new people, beyond exhorting them to volunteer to help run the con.

So, I was very excited about going this year, and particularly that I’d managed to persuade some of my geeky friends to come along to.  As I’d learned last year, staying over at a con is only fun for me if I know you have a core of people to hang out with.  Evenings are no fun if everyone else is enjoying themselves and you have no-one else to talk to.

Cosplay

IMG_1857Cosplay was a big part of my Nine Worlds experience.  Having had so much fun dressing up at LonCon3 last year, I wanted to repeat the experience, and Nine Worlds has a much higher density of cosplay than any other con I’ve been to.  So, on the Friday I dressed up as Missy.  (Regular readers will have seen the series of posts documenting the process of making my costume).  I was expecting to be only one of several Missys – every set of con photos I’ve seen recently seems to have included a mandatory group of Missys.  But it turned out I was the only one there.

One of the items on the programme that day was a panel on Gender Fluid Time Lords, and I bumped into the moderator and another of the panel members, both of whom insisted I come along.  When I walked in the room for the start of the panel they gave me a big cheer.  (The photos in this post were taken at the end of that panel).  I was quite struck by something Laurie Penny said in that panel about Missy looking a bit like a suffragette.  So I think the next step will be to add a suffragette sash and rosette to my Missy costume.  Instead of “Give Women Votes” I think it will have to read something like “More Women Time Lords”.

IMG_1865
Knitted Wonder Woman, with a mini Power Ranger

On Saturday I reprised my Nyssa costume, from last year.  Which led to the writer Simon Guerrier (the one I’d fangirled at about his Blakes 7 audio dramas at a Doctor Who event at Conway Hall a few days before) confessing that Nyssa had been his first childhood crush, a fact an old friend of his had once accidentally confided to Sarah Sutton (without knowing who she was) at a party.

There were some amazing costumes there, ranging from the clever and witty, to the laboriously screen accurate.  The sheer level of creativity on display was astonishing.  I have very few photos,  I’m afraid (having too much fun …) but some of my favourites were knitted Wonder Woman, a woman who came as the bowl of petunias from Hitchhiker, an amazing Imperator Furiosa, a clutch of Peggy Carters and a woman who came as Sherlock’s wallpaper (dress with a black and white damask print on it, with a yellow smiley face embroidered on it).

IMG_1863
My friend Georgie’s Aeon Flux

Programme items

There were many, many amazing programme items, ranging from the deeply silly to the very serious.  The hotel’s lack of chairs (yes, really) meant that it sometimes proved difficult to get into some of them unless one was very early indeed.  But there were plenty of alternatives on offer.

Some particular highlights:

  • The Gender Fluid Time Lords panel I mentioned above.  It provided a fascinating insight into how Missy had been received by people from the transgender community.  It was interesting to hear their anxieties (boob jokes, a fear that the gender swap would be presented as a consequence of the Master/Missy being crazy and unstable etc).
  • A fantastic gin-tasting from Jensen’s gin.  Their Master Distiller and one of their Brand Ambassadors took us through the history of gin and their distillery.  While plying us with gin.  £5 well spent.
  • A talk by Dr Lewis Dartnell, author of The Knowledge, a book about how to reboot civilisation after an apocalypse.  He’s a very engaging speaker and brought along lots of toys to play with.  And who knew that you could prove the heliocentric model of the solar system using just Miley Cyrus (with her wrecking ball) and a watch.
  • Death in Genre.  A discussion of death and violence in fiction, including its anthropomorphic personifications.  You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Joe Abercrombie suggesting Death could be a squirrel, hoarding acorns, each of which is the soul of the departed.
  • The F-word in Fantasy.  This was a late night panel on sex in fiction, which had me laughing myself silly.  But one of the best parts of it was seeing Laurell K Hamilton (who was playing it as if it were a serious panel) being gently teased and deconstructed with a very British sense of humour.
  • Dancing with Imperator Furiosa while Peggy Carter was singing Bon Jovi.

Coping with the awesome

Cons are exhausting places to be.  There is no denying it.  The sheer quantity of people, and the amount of content in the programme can be overwhelming at times.  I think I’m still struggling to find the right balance so I can have the maximum amount of fun while staying sane and not collapsing with exhaustion.

As one of life’s outgoing, confident introverts, rooms full of people are fun, but incredibly draining.  Add to that a lot of programme content that one needs to pay active attention to, and it’s an exhausting mix.  Much as I love that mix of people and content, I need a lot of downtime to re-energise.  Half an hour of fighting my way through the crowds to get to the next panel is not going to cut it.

Some of the best parts of the weekend were the times I got to spend quietly with just a few friends: a quiet dinner with a friend and her baby, or sitting outside the hotel in the sunshine with a few other friends.  I need to find ways to build those times into my weekend in the future, and not be afraid to skip a panel to grab a nap or get some quiet time so I can enjoy the evening entertainment.

Ironically, while cons are the best places to meet fellow geeks and hang out with them, the sheer overwhelmingness of the con environment means you will never find me at my best or most engaging.  I’ll probably be struggling to some degree or other with the scale of the event, punchdrunk and trying to wrestle my introvert self (with addded Imposter Syndrome) into some semblance of sociability.  Last year I bumped into one friend, and I was so spaced out all I could do was hug her and squee incoherently.  Conversation was entirely beyond me.

Finding a route through all that is definitely still a work in progress.

 

Self-care

I’ve been having a tough few weeks (but I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now, thanks) and it’s got me thinking about self-care.

We all have particular ways of looking after ourselves, and dealing with adversity.  Some of those behaviours are positive ones.  Others, while providing temporary relief, can potentially be self-destructive if we’re not careful.  I’m looking at you, retail therapy, comfort eating and wine.

For me, as one of life’s introverts (albeit one of those confident, outgoing introverts) if things are proving difficult I need even more time to recharge.  I love my wonderful friends.  They can be fantastically supportive and  spending time with them definitely helps.  But if I’m feeling a bit ground down by a situation I’ll probably want to keep my head down and keep myself to myself even more than usual.  I can practically become a hermit, struggling to muster up the energy to even reply to emails.

But there’s another big aspect of self-care for me: doing creative things and being surrounded by creative people.  I’ve written before about all the evidence about the impact of creative pursuits on people’s wellbeing, but for me, they are the thing I will immediately reach for in reaction to a tough period.

Some examples of things that have helped me get through difficult times:

  • Art and colour.  I remember when I was dealing with some family health issues and had just finished a particularly challenging project at work I went to see the Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at the Tate Modern.  There’s something wonderfully peaceful and restorative about an art exhibition, even if it’s rammed with people.  I think I’m wired to respond to colour somehow – even a visit to a yarn shop to bathe in the colour and texture is incredibly soothing.
  • Making things.  I will instinctively reach for the tools to make something.  And not just knitting.  I had a particularly horrible day at work once – I’d been blamed for getting something wrong by someone who didn’t have the courage to admit they’d changed their mind about what they wanted.  So rather than wallow in self-pity, I went home and made a cake.
  • Story.  I have a pretty voracious appetite for story.  And there’s nothing like immersing myself in a narrative of some kind to help me forget my troubles, whether it’s a book (you might have noticed that I read a lot of books), film/tv or audio drama.   Talking about story helps too:  I love the book club that I go to, and going to book-related events.

What helps to keep you resilient?