The Year of Stepping Back

I’m just going to post some things here about SFF communities and my act of stepping back this year. Then I’m moving on.

  1. The SFF community is far from perfect. We’ve known this for years. Year after year we are afflicted with controversy, inequities and other forms of drama. But when voiced out, people get defensive and when they get defensive, they get dangerous. This too becomes part of the drama.
  2. It’s difficult because — and I say this cautiously — it appears that how far you progress in SFF (like academia, tbh) depends on social mileage, who you know, whether your personality is a good fit or not. I say this cautiously because there are the outliers and trailblazers. These people to me I admire. They win, get nominated because simply, their works are amazing. These are the people I want to emulate. But by and far,  SFF depends on skills some of us simply do not possess.
  3. Conversely, being in the SFF pro or rather, neopro circles is rather stressful because so much seems to hinge on being on lists, or being nominated, or getting awards. Before, my only goal was (1) to get THREE pro publications, and (2) join SFWA so that (3) I would be better positioned to get an agent. But the waters get muddied, don’t they. I’m close to getting 20 short fiction sales (1 sale away), but I still feel like I’m a loser because, well. I’ve never been on year’s bests, or nominated for any major award. I did get nominated for the Rhysling’s but I keep feeling that was a fluke. And yes, Morning Cravings was in a BSFA award-winning anthology, but mine was never one of the favourite stories from that anthology so I don’t really feel I deserve that accolade.
  4. This year, my father passed away. I keep mentioning it because it’s like this huge unscale-able mountain in the landscape of who I am. As with most unexpected things, grief re-wired my synapses. Some things became clear. Some things are untenable. This constant pressure and feelings of shame/failure because of SFF is unhealthy. So I stepped back. And now I focus on the small things. The joy of finessing a poem, the joy of writing short stories, small unscale-able victories. Improving my quality of life, making new friends, strengthening pre-existing bonds.
  5. People took my “I’m stepping away from the SFF community”  as a personal insult. I’ve endured many subtweets that were defensive about that community. Most of these subtweets are from people far more privileged than me, who have and will enjoy successes I can only dream about. Except no, I don’t dream of these successes anymore. I just say, “not for the likes of me”, and understand that it’s a glass ceiling just like the glass ceiling I “enjoy” in Malaysian academia. A “jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never ever jam today” situation. I knew this truth in 2014. I know it now, even though I have come such a long way in 2018. I get only what I am allowed to have, what is allocated for me. I know this much. Just like I know in some ways I can never succeed in local academia. It doesn’t mean I’m stepping away from friends and connections made in this profession. It’s simply that I, as an undeniable SFF pro (look, I’ve got enough fiction sales to claim I’m an SFF pro now) now view SFF as a profession. And within any profession there’ll always be dramas, dodgy politics and so you’re going to need time outs. You’re going to need to step away and focus on the quality of your life. But you’ll also make friends you like, that you’ll want to hang out with, outside of work. Small pockets of community that you’re okay with. Or small pockets that you help build. That’s all. I just would rather not be part of that manic circus forever fermenting each other in a frenzy for prizes only a select few will attain. I will never get those prizes. It’s cool, man.
  6. I am a workhorse. In both of my workplaces (academia and professional SFF). I will never be the first to know things. I will never be part of the “in-crowd”. People will always gossip. Rivals who are well-placed will always tell or make up tales to ensure my pathways to better success or positions will be blocked. It’s cool, man. I’m content in my own small way. In my own way, despite this huge mountain of grief within me, I am a happier and more secure person than them. That’s my award. That I can be a person who doesn’t get chosen, who has had a lifetime of being in the cold, not being chosen, who is used to NOT getting the nice things — and still be happy, content, confident in my love for the work I do.
  7. Other good things have been happening to me this year. They help with this process of detaching.
  8. I will not be on any of the other lists I usually am on towards the end of the year. Because there will be no eligibility tweets, no posts from me. I’ve never liked doing it and I won’t do it this year. In January, I’ll likely do a tally of publications and acceptances but that’s for my own records and for the records of my readers.
  9. My readership has more than doubled in the past year. That’s also one of the small triumphs I will claim.
  10. I live for the small things now. But I will still submit works, still support the editors and publishers who publish me by plugging their works, still be professional, still make friends, still try to go for Cons. I’m hoping to be able to do this once a year. We’ll see.

And this is my last post about that for the year.

Listening to: Breaking of the Sword — Loreena McKennit