Viable Paradise: Day 5, The Horror that is Thursday

First up was a collegium with Teresa and Patrick on How Publishing Works.  Quite interesting, and full of information sure to help as we all begin to navigate the publishing world and get our own work out there.  Again, I’m being light on specifics, though much of this was information you can find online.  What I will tell you is that if you’re a writer, you ought to pay attention to Writer Beware.

Next was Steven Brust’s lecture on “Stupid Writer Tricks.”  This was one of the really useful ones, because I get stuck and I’ve always had a hard time getting out of it.  Now I have an arsenal of tricks to employ.

We had a brown-bag lunch collegium with Steven Gould on how to be a writer in public, in which he shared with us many truly awful things new authors have actually done, and how to cultivate a good public persona.  This was a very funny discussion, but didn’t really teach me anything I didn’t already know about how to handle oneself on the public stage just from being a teacher.  Wheaton’s Law is a good rule to follow: Don’t be a dick.

After lunch was the most eventful lecture.  Scott Lynch gave the lesson.  Half of it was from Sherwood Smith, who was supposed to have been an instructor this year but had to drop out due to illness; it was on Mary Sues and how to avoid them.  Then Scott began his own lesson, titled “Kicking the Body Habit.”  This was about how hard it is to actually kill a person, complete with some pretty graphic and horrifying stories.  One of our number actually passed out and was taken away by ambulance; fortunately he returned the next day seemingly completely fine.   And that’s all I’ll say on that, to protect his privacy.

Then came the Horror that is Thursday.  I can say nothing about it except that it is to be experienced.

The “Mandatory fun” that night began at 9.  We were encouraged to come down to the lecture hall in our pajamas.  When we did, we found that we were being read two stories.  First Patrick got the ball rolling by reading to us “The Book of my Enemy has Been Remaindered,” and then Elizabeth Bear read us Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp, the single most honest look at publishing ever written about the “unspeakable horror of the literary life.”  When that was over, we all went upstairs and did more music, more partying, and more discussion into the wee small hours.  Elizabeth Bear, at that point, said something I will not be able to forget: “You’re no longer students.  Now you’re our colleagues.”  Now, I’m the same age as Bear, but I suddenly felt like one of “the adults” had given me the highest compliment possible.  I don’t even take it literally, and won’t until I get something published somewhere.  But it felt good.

Unfortunately, I had a weird flare-up of social anxiety that didn’t exactly ruin my evening, but it made it less than stellar.  Other students were trying to pull me into hugs and the camaraderie of an impromptu chorus line, and I froze up.  I eventually had to leave; I was starting to freak out about people actually seeming to like me.  I looked at myself, and I saw myself as wanting.  And suddenly I could not believe that any of the people around me actually liked me, even though I knew better.  I’ve never in my life experienced an anxious moment that strong or that clear.  I had to leave, but I wanted to stay with people.  So I tried to stay, but things got too much and I left, returning to my room, where I immediately berated myself about the evening, adding to an anxiety I shouldn’t have felt in the first place.

Eventually I forgave myself for being a dolt and went to bed.  I think I crashed at about 1:45am.

It was a wonderful night’s sleep.  And it ought to have been—I had earned it.

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About Michael Johnston

Father of a third grader, high school English teacher, writer. Forty-three years old and feeling almost every bit of it on some days, and not a bit of it on others. Based in Sacramento, California, USA
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4 Responses to Viable Paradise: Day 5, The Horror that is Thursday

  1. blair says:

    Forgiving yourself is a good thing. 🙂

  2. shannonrampe says:

    Sorry you couldn’t join us in the chorus line, Michael. However, I can completely sympathize with the social anxiety thing. That totally happens to me sometimes and I just freeze up and don’t know what to say or do. Glad to hear you worked it out by the end of the night.

  3. Alex Haist says:

    You’re good people. I used to snarl and/or cry when people told me genuine things they liked about me. I get the anxiety, and I’m glad to have you around when you want to be there.

  4. It’s weird, I have NEVER had that strong an anti-social reaction. I mean, I’m a pretty solitary kind of guy, but I love being around my people, and you guys became my people–but I’m not sure I really accepted that until Friday. Or maybe Saturday, when I thought about how long it would be before I saw folks, and it made me sad.

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