I had a long chat with a sister writer today. We are both socially awkward writers. Meet me on paper and I’m witty, wild, full-on. Meet me in uncurated person and you’ll realise I’m the group doofus who will suddenly announce, in a silence: “Don’t eat polar bear liver. It contains a lethal dose of Vitamin A. In fact, I think most predator species have that going so, so don’t eat predators.”
I suppose, in some ways, my super power is my autism. I’ve been high masking all my life, so what’s one more mask, right?
I was a bookworm, introvert, smartypants, nerd, geek, and all round low-rung girl in high school. I couldn’t wait to leave. When I walked out of that last exam on a warm, humid November afternoon, in Year 12, I literally muttered: “Goodbye shitty old life” as I left the school grounds. I was done wi,th my teenage self who got bullied, got ignored, got dropped as a friend when football, boys, or more normal girls came along.
My first day of university, I stood in the centre of the lecture hall building, watching people racing around me as they got to their first class of the year. I stood there in my sweet summer dress, and cork-soled heels, a pair of bell-shaped tiny earrings dangling from my ears, and just a drop of Chimere perfume on my wrists. The quintessential Nice Girl. Adult learners, teachers-in-training, and the Arts department students who were easily spotted swarmed around me. I took a breath. I could continue being a Nice Quiet Girl, and mouse my way through university, or I could woman up, and find a different part of myself. So I took another breath, and walked up the most unusually dressed woman I saw and asked where Lecture Hall 230 was. She was a first year Arts student like me, 3 years older, with short crimson hair, wild leggings, and red boots. We walked to the lecture hall together. This was how to get on. Step outside my true self, put on the sociable mask, and be Out There.
I’ve pretty much lived in that persona for the rest of my life. Even when I have to take days to recover from being socially out there. Even when I’m talking too much and being too loud and I know it. Call it a mask, a persona, my Gemini Ascendant, whatever. Call it the advocate loudmouth self I had to become when I had two kids with disabilities. Call it cranky older woman if you like.
But it’s served me well when it comes to gushing over the work of fellow writers, being brave enough to go up to someone famous and introduce myself, to friend sister and fellow writer folx on social media, to interact with them online and sometimes in person. Even if I’m quailing inside, I do it.
Writing is a lonely business.
I figure that even if I’m dorky, geeky, nerdy, sometimes far too much, sometimes not enough, I’m still a human being, or masquerading as one, and I might as well make the best of it, even if Imposter Syndrome sits on me like a fat hen. So I shake hands with Lee Kofman, I ask for Robert Silverberg’s autograph, I verbally admire Lois McMaster Bujold’s jewellery, I admire architecture with a famous agent, and….oh dear, teach dodgy lap dancing at a publisher’s party. I admire artwork and ask to meet the painter. I sit and happily watch people create jewellery or whatever they’re doing.
I dunno. Maybe they’re all thinking ‘who is this schmoozing creeper?’
Mostly, the relationships are what they are, and I hope they get as much out of it as do I.
But every now and then, someone knows someone, and puts me in contact with just the right person to ask a question of, to read a book that I needed to read, to be lead down a new path. Even more occasionally, there’s a book blurb or some such that comes from this, for which I am profoundly grateful.
But mostly, it’s me careening through the galaxy like one of the hippos in Fantasia, tutu rustling, mouth open wide, and spouting information about polar bear liver. Even if inside I’m dying, I still do it, because the friendships are worth it.