A Thing That Happened.

I’m really not sure if I should post this. Part of me thinks I should, but another part of me thinks I really should just keep all this to myself. I… don’t know. I might post this then delete it. We’ll see. I mean, I really still am thinking that a large chunk of my problems was the fact that I suck at being a person who exists in the world, mixed with “Utah culture” which ended up being a toxic duo over the weekend. But on the other hand, even if it is just me sucking at life and “Utah culture” mixed together, maybe people should be aware of how this sort of thing can make others feel so they can tone down the “us vs. them” rhetoric next time?

I don’t know.

To say I’m uncomfortable right now is an understatement of the year. I don’t like showing off my weaknesses, and ultimately, I feel like this entire post makes me look very, very pathetic and weak.

Big sigh.

Here’s my underbelly.

So on Saturday, I went to a local writer’s convention. I was asked to do some stuff there, as well as teach a class on editing (which I will upload the slides as a blog post in a few days).

My experience was… not good. There were a lot of reasons for that. I went on a typo-laden bender on twitter complaining about it on Sunday. The organization was kind of abysmal. There were a lot of things there that just… didn’t work out well? Like one of the reasons authors go to events like this is to promote their work, but the author book signings weren’t promoted at all. No one knew they were happening, and so it basically amounted to authors standing there for a little bit wondering why we were there and then leaving. (The person running the bookstore told me that most signings didn’t have anyone show up at all, and most authors left halfway through their time slot because, basically, what’s the point. She also complained about the lack of signage about the events because no one knew they were happening.)

I hosted a table, and I never really understood the point of that. My food was just-out-of-the-refrigerator cold, which did not help my overall “what the hell am I doing” feel (though cold food is the hotel’s fault, NOT the convention’s). I left halfway through the lunch and nobody really noticed, which says a whole lot about the value of “hosting a table.”

I went to a lecture early on. It was on marketing. I went to it because I thought, “Well, I’m at a book convention and I write books so I should probably learn how to market the damn things.”

It ended up being the weirdest class ever. It was more geared toward writing content for companies and websites, as well as informative/commercial-ish 30 second videos. It kind of devolved into discussions of McDonald’s and Pepsi commercials. I’m not sure how that relates to books, but whatever. She asked the class at one point, “Who is here to learn how to market your book?” and literally everyone raised their hands and there was basically no information other than “keep your audience in mind and stay true to your brand” in there about marketing. Like, I didn’t show up to a writing convention to learn about the faux pas McDonald’s in the UK.

I was apparently supposed to be on some events that weren’t on my schedule and I felt really bad about that. There was one thing I was supposed to be at, but it wasn’t posted, so someone had to track me down for it. It was annoying, but no big deal, ultimately. I more felt bad that I’d missed something than anything else. At one point a woman cornered me to ask me where I was and why I didn’t show up to the thing I was apparently supposed to be at on Friday night (it wasn’t on my schedule) and I felt really bad that I missed something and someone had wanted me to be there.

So that was weird. And I went on Twitter, and I ranted about all of that and how I generally felt like I was basically just there to fill space and my presence didn’t actually matter at all. I’m up against an editing deadline right now and the entire day I was basically thinking, “I’d be doing so much more if I was at home right now.”

And I’m going to be a bit honest here.

I’ve had a whole bunch of health issues recently, between chronic illness and cancer, I’ve been pretty homebound over the past few years. It’s sucked, but it’s meant that while I have a vibrant online community, my local community is basically null and void. I go to these things because I want to network. I love talking to authors, to other people who get it. I love the interaction. I love podcasting, talking to people in person, actual HUMAN conversations with people who know what it’s like to word. So I go to these things with high hopes that hey, I’m finally a functioning person (sometimes) and I have the energy and ability to do this (sometimes) and they WANT me there. I have things I can OFFER and maybe I can come out of this with a REAL COMMUNITY.

Basically, I get my hopes up.

Now, on the other side, I’m really, really horrible at socializing. I’ve been too… cloistered… for too long, I think, so I’m just awkward, and I’m an introvert, and I just don’t know how to do it. So at this convention, I told them I’d do everything – ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING – I could. I FORCED myself to not be allowed to hide (which I would do, because that’s my nature). I forced myself out of my comfort zone, and I just… left feeling like something was personally wrong with me that kept people from wanting to interact with me.

And the reason for this is probably due to the people I was around due to my schedule and the things I decided to do. You know how these things go. You have a schedule of stuff you’re expected to do, and you also have stuff you want to do, and sometimes both of those forces collide to keep you circulating around the same people for vast swaths of time. Well, that was Saturday.

The long and short of it is, I was inundated with really weird religious conversations all day, which left me incredibly uncomfortable, to the point where I literally hid in the bathroom to get away from it.

For example, at this one point, I was at a thing, and I couldn’t really get away for reasons. Anyway, this group of probably about six people who all knew each other surrounded me to discuss missions for about 20 minutes. And that’s fine, you know. If that’s your bag, it’s your bag and it’s Utah so I expect it. I’m really good at just rolling my eyes and ignoring people, my usual modus operandi.

But these people start talking about missions, which evolved into a conversation where they started discussing how true the church is and all these poor diluted fools who don’t believe in it, and how they don’t understand how people can write books that aren’t “in line” with the “church values” and evidently “some people just enjoy the adversary” and “their books really pay for it” by being “trashy.” And they are saying all of this while throwing me these really, uncomfortably obvious side-eyes. And while this was happening, they were all selling each other books, also while pointedly looking-not-looking at me, and also not including me or my book in this impromptu book exchange they’d struck up.

The line was drawn, and I was on the wrong side of it.

I felt like I was in high school and the popular group was obviously talking about me in front of my face while not saying my name. People can say soooooo much to and about someone without ever talking about them directly.

My favorite part of this specific incident was when someone in this group asked what my book was about, so I told them, and they all sort of laughed in that one way that is both really condescending, and says so much and then one person says, “Oh, that’s just so ambitious for someone like you.”

I felt like I’d been slapped. I didn’t even know these people.

(Full disclosure, I left that event even though it was really awkward to do and I kind of made a little scene by accidentally bumping someone with my backpack while I did it.)

They discussed something they’d read for a while, and it amounted to, essentially, all the characters in this story need to repent and the author probably does too for writing characters who are this “morally adversarial.” (insert titters and polite guffaws here)

I really feel like I should say that there is a writing convention ran by this specific religion in Utah, and people seem to really love it (literally, I’ve only heard great things about it), but THAT IS NOT THIS CONVENTION. This was NOT a religious thing, it was secular.

These situations and conversations would just go on and on and on and on. It got to the point where I left one event 30 minutes early to get away from them. I hid in the bathroom once to stop hearing their testimonies for ten damn minutes already. And these people would get offers to do things from various other people (I swear to god they knew everyone, and everyone knew them), like right in front of my face, and I was blatantly not included in any of it. It left me feeling like I didn’t matter because I didn’t fit in the correct box. Like, if I’d just stood up and said, “yeah, I went to the temple yesterday” and spoke like someone from Utah County, everyone would have suddenly realized that I was a person who existed and I mattered and had things to contribute. Hell, I might have sold some books. And that might sound dramatic, but after a few hours of this crap, that’s literally how I felt.

Ultimately, these conversations that buzzed around me for half the day, involved a rather large group of people who seemed to know just about everyone, so it just kept getting bigger and bigger and louder and louder.

The day basically amounted to me understanding that I was “wrong” fundamentally, and “too ambitious” and my book is “trashy” because I “follow the adversary” and I don’t understand that saying actual swear words, really says a lot about a person’s character, and none of it good, and if I’d just join the church, I’d realize how fantastic life is once I’m “on the straight and narrow.” There’s just a different feel to people in this religion, dontchaknow, and it really doesn’t feel good to be around people who are not of this religion. It’s like wearing the wrong size clothes. Also, the president of this writing organization uses the word “fuck” and they aren’t sure if they can be part of it anymore because “fuck” is just… too much (insert collective dramatic gasp here). I mean, they aren’t even comfortable saying the word “heck” and here’s the president saying things like “I don’t give a fuck” and ohmagollygoshdarn. And books with swears… wow, let’s not even go there (my book has swears).

And while none of this was said directly to me, it was all said very loudly around me, for half the freaking day, so the points were made.

It was so prevalent, I literally hid in a bathroom stall to get away from it.

And the killer is, they’d have these big conversations, and I’d sit there thinking, “Someone has to be hearing this crap. It can’t just be me who is this uncomfortable. Someone else has to be thinking that these people are just making this entire event really, really awkward. Someone else has to feel this ostracized.” I’d look around, and no one would even seem to notice, or if they did, it was to say, “Oh hey, (name here), I’ve been looking for you!” and then the group would just get bigger.

So basically I went to this thing really looking for networking and kinship and all that and I ended up in were weird classes, an unattended book signing no one knew about, a weird table host at a cold lunch, and cornered by a bunch of people who were very devoted to making those who were not of their particular religious persuasion keenly, sharply, uncomfortably – hide in the bathroom to get away from them – aware of how not like them they are.

Now, not all of this is the convention organizer’s fault. In fact, most of this stuff is easy to fix. Post signs about signings. Help people who attend be aware of the fact that authors are there and they WANT you to know about their books. Make sure people teaching classes target their classes toward what the convention is actually about. If you’re going to have people host tables, make a point to the activity, or just bag it because I really didn’t understand that at all and I don’t think it would be something anyone would miss if it was gone. I didn’t even know I was supposed to be at this thing until I got a surprise email, and I think that’s a miscommunication, so that’s probably something on both ends but it worked out so who cares.

The hotel could warm up their food.

And it’s not the organizer’s fault this clique was weird, and it’s not their fault that our schedules crossed paths enough for this to become a problem. You can’t control everyone who is in one place at one time. I totally get that, but I haven’t felt like that much of a blatant OUTSIDER, and not “good enough” based on the fact that I’m not part of a certain group, or that completely, awkwardly uncomfortable in my life. Ever. I cannot underscore that enough. This stuff might seem like small potatoes to you, but it was HOURS of the “us vs. them” line being drawn in the sand, and me being shown/told for HOURS which side of that line I was on and it SUCKED.

I texted my husband at 2pm and said, “I want to go home. I am soooooooo uncomfortable.” I was, at this point, hiding in a corner of the lobby I’d found, for some peace and quiet. And that’s, honestly, something no one should ever feel, and I don’t know how to fix that because how can you tell someone to not be an asshole? Well, “Don’t be a dick” is pretty easy, but for some reason, that feels too simple.

And honestly, I keep thinking this is all my fault, and my problem, because I fail at being a person in society. That’s what I keep circling. Do I suck so much at being a person that I literally just repel people? Is something wrong with me? Did I not pass some secret test? I’ve been wondering that since Saturday. Is something wrong with me? And I just don’t think I (or anyone) should ever leave an event wiping away tears because they can’t figure out if something is fundamentally flawed with them as a person. Is my lack of a religious persuasion really that big of a deal? Apparently it is, and that is just a horrible way to feel. I can’t change who I am, and I left that convention feeling like maybe that’s the piece that was missing. I should be someone else. I am not, and therein lies the problem.

And writing this, yeah, I’m wiping away tears. Again. It really hit me that hard.

So, all of this is a thing that happened, and it sucked, and I went on Twitter to rant about it. Then after I decided I don’t want to be “that person” who just goes around ranting, so I deleted the thread and I tried to sort of erase my tracks because I really am not into “naming and shaming.” I read the book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. I just really don’t want to be that person who makes someone else the way I’ve felt since Saturday. And I figured it’s probably my fault because I suck at existing or something. I decided I’d focus more on my online community and just stop trying to be involved on a local level. No need to keep trying to cram a round peg in a square hole. I’ll do everyone local a favor and just sort of fade away.

This sucks, because I LOVE TEACHING WRITING-RELATED STUFF and I LOVE INTERACTING, and I’ve been to cons and I LOVE THEM… but maybe I’m just too… weird… to be social on a person-to-person level. Maybe something really is wrong with me. I don’t know.

Anyway, the con did some things right, and I really want to highlight that. First, I was a pain in the ass to schedule. I could only be there one day. I wanted to do everything I could but I had ONE DAY to do it and they worked with me. There were one or two mistakes, but it’s a big thing and that’s expected. Every time I had a question or comment, someone answered me right away, and then made sure I was answered well. They planned things down to the letter, and had things set up really nicely. It was easy to access, and very accessible to someone (like me) who has physical limitations. It was easy (in most cases) to figure out what was happening where. There were always classes, always things going on. I had some weird timing issues with getting my books into the bookstore, and they literally bent over backwards to accommodate me. I highly admire the event, DESPITE my experiences there, and if I had a different experience, I probably would be all gung-ho about going again and again and again.

My class was on “things to consider before you hire an editor” and it went really, really well. People seemed to really enjoy it. There was a lot of conversations, a lot of discussions back and forth, and I’ve already had a bunch of people contact me for the powerpoint slides (which I will load up on my website sometime this week). I LOVED IT. I was THRILLED by how that class went.

I’m really glad that there is somewhere people can go to get the insight and information that they got at this convention. I’m glad so many people had such a great time. I really am.

I also want to give the organization a shout-out, because I put this long rant on Twitter about how horrible my experience was, and I just got a personal email tonight, one day after my rant, from the president of the organization (the person who apparently says the most evil word “fuck”) apologizing for my experience and telling me she is already taking steps to correct a lot of these issues.

That is how these things should be handled, and I want to stand up and applaud her for that, because it was a big move, and it went a really long way toward soothing my ruffled feathers.

Will I attend again? I don’t know. I’d love to. I really would, but I’m still just really feeling like maybe I’m too… fundamentally flawed… in some way to interact with humanity face-to-face.

6 Responses

  • Ria

    I freaking hate that exclusionary asswipes made you feel that way, Sarah. I’ve been on the wrong side of the fence before when it comes to the us vs them mentality, with people making a very specific point of excluding me and making sure I know it, and yeah, that sucks hardcore and there’s no two ways about it. I’ve never been able to understand why so many people use their religion as a way of pushing other people down instead of letting themselves rise up. I mean, isn’t that part of what religion is supposed to be? To help make you a better person in accordance with a set of spiritual beliefs? I know the bible says stuff about how the only way to heaven is through Jesus and all that, but I’m pretty sure that nowhere in there does it say, “Thou shalt be dicks to those thou meet who are not of the same faith, hoping to shame them to come crawling to Me.”

    I can say, though, that not having a religious faith does not make a person fundamentally wrong. Nor does it make someone wrong to have a faith that isn’t mainstream. And if anyone makes somebody feel that way… I want to say, “Fuck ’em! Don’t let them get to you!” but I also know it isn’t that easy. I will say they’re not worth your time, though. Or your worry. People like that pull an “us vs them” because they often can’t cope with the idea that other ways than theirs are even feasible, or rational, or appealing, so they make everyone else out t be deluded or actively out to get them because they simply can’t process the notion that others might not agree with them. Narcissists usually aren’t worth the stress they cause.

    But overall, I’m just sorry you had such a bad experience with something I know you were really looking forward to.

  • You are you. And that is awesome. If people have a problem with that, then they are assholes. That is not how you treat people in person, or anywhere for that matter. And I say that as a Born-Again Christian. Religion doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. We are all equals, we are all flawed in our own unique ways, and there is nothing wrong with that. I’m sorry you had a bad experience, and I’m super happy the con responded to you so quickly. I hope that next time you venture out, you have a better experience, because no one deserves to be bullied like that. ~hugs~

  • Traci

    Wow. I’m so sorry that was such a terrible experience. I hate that you’re taking on so much of the “blame” and still feeling so horrible. It sounds like that group was there to proselytize and build themselves up by tearing others down. Without knowing their published works, my guess, nonetheless, is professional jealousy and a VERY narrow world view. The amount of research you do to build your world and your characters is phenomenal, and what you put on a page is so sublime, so far above what us mere mortals are capable of, that it galls me no end that they took a shot at your capabilities. It infuriates me that they left you feeling so small. I don’t know you, but I really don’t think it was you not people-ing well. I do put part of this on the organizer — it’s their job to make you feel welcome and valued. Scheduling you for things without telling you, not supporting the book signings, not making it clear what’s expected — that’s all on the organizer. I hope writing this all out provided some catharsis and you can start feeling better. This is stuff and nonsense you don’t need dragging you down. Be well. Fuck the mutherfuckers!

  • Lessa

    You are definitely not the problem in this situation. Typical Utah gathering, all the Mos will find each other and make a loud and blatant point about their righteousness. Sounds like the president of the org has heard you and is willing to look at how to make it better. If something like that happens again, just whip out that passive aggressive energy and inform the group that they are blocking your table, and if they have no intention of getting a signing then they should move on

  • You, Sarah, definitely are not in the wrong here. It’s this convention’s very crappy policies and social atmosphere.

  • I’m so sorry those people made you feel that way. That’s on them, not on you, and you have no apologies to make to anyone. I don’t know about Utah, but conventions come in all kinds, and I find a lot of these things uncomfortable, too. I just did WorldCon, and although I did fine for a couple of days, I skipped the Hugo Awards and the party afterwards because I just couldn’t face being around so many people. It wasn’t even as if anything unpleasant had happened, although I was feeling sensitive about a number of things (agents, schedules, anxiety, plus the fact that neither the con or my publishers seemed to be aware of the fact that I had a new paperback out, which could have used the promotion if either had shown any interest). The point being, we’re expected as writers to shuttle between working in virtual isolation, then networking with big groups of people without any kind of transition period. It isn’t always easy, or natural. It’s sometimes a bit of an ordeal. And yes, it’s fine to leave if an event makes you feel uncomfortable, or upset. You have every right to proritize your own self-care. You have every right to refuse to discuss something that makes you uncomfortable, or to socialize with people who aren’t on your side. Good for you for writing about this – it was a brave and necessary thing to do, and you are not alone.


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