On Spoons, Steampunk and Socialising

The alarm went off twice this morning. Well, I think it was twice. Maybe it was three? I cracked open an eye and cringed back into the sheets away from the sunlight streaming through the curtains. The alarm blared once more. My hand slapped the off button. I groaned and dragged myself out of bed.

I'm really not a morning person, especially after draining several days worth of spoons with an all day event. (The spoon theory is an effective way of describing how chronic illness or disability affects life. If you're not familiar with the theory, you can find out all about it here.) Friday's 13-hour celebrations for steampunk's 30th (naming) anniversary left me depleted. It was a long (but fun) day.

Socialising takes a lot of effort for me. It's exhausting. It's not you. It's me. In public, I spend most of the time trying to fight the urge to run away and hide. Anxiety does that. I usually organise my social events carefully, with a few days after to recover those precious spoons.

Fortunately it was an online event and it was celebrating something I love: steampunk. (Otherwise I would've been a gibbering mess if I'd spent all thirteen hours face-to-face with so many people without a break.) Large crowds, particularly in shopping centres with their cacophony of noises, crush me.

This got me thinking. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I do conventions? Why do I do talks...? Why do I walk out the door at all?

There's a stereotype: the starving writer (that's a whole other blog post just there) scribbling away in a lonely garret - alone, with only the artistic muse for company - locked in the struggle to create the perfect prose.  But, despite this romantic (Victorian) vision, writers need company too. I need company too. I need to experience life, not just write about it.

So why do I keep pushing myself to attend events - social or professional?

Because, deep down, I like people. I love conversations where I suddenly realise the sun is rising and we've been chatting all night. I love talking writing, science, art, Doctor Who, steampunk. I'm fine one-on-one or in a small group. Where I feel safe.

On a bad day, I push myself to do online socialising. I can cringe in the corner while I type supposedly confident words - and no one can see my fear. But I'm still engaging with the world.

A couple of years ago I found an online steampunk forum, The Steampunk Empire. Tucked away in a corner was a writers group, The Scribblers Den - a band of steampunk writers spanning the globe. We chatted about writing, steampunk (lots of steampunk), events, shared pictures and stories. I felt comfortable there.

Unfortunately, as online entities often do, it disappeared. Some of us had seen the cracks. Some of us lived in denial. On a, soon-to-be bleak, day in March I logged onto the forum and - horror of horrors - my beloved Scribblers Den had dissolved into the aether!

But, never fear, my dear Reader, we had a plan (albeit a very vague one). Soon the Refugees of Steampunk Empire assembled on Facebook. We lamented, explored a few new enclaves and finally found a new home; the Steampunk Dominion was formed. My dear Scribblers' Den had returned from exile! (Thank you to the intrepid pilgrims - especially Lee and William - who founded our new realm.) I could once again frolic in steampunky goodness and forget about my anxieties.

You can now find fellow steampunks on The Steampunk Dominion's webpage and forum, or on Facebook group - The Steampunk Dominion (our bolt hole in case of future host demises).

A Chink in the Armour (aka anxiety sucks!)

The past few weeks have been exhausting.

Little things can rouse the black dog: library books not returned, car overheats, can't attend a friend's funeral. He pokes and prods, clawing away at my carefully constructed armour. Before long he's found that chink - a way in, allowing the smallest grain of doubt to niggle. And niggle it does. Endlessly.

The legs tick. The hand shakes. The heart thuds. With each quickened breath, the muscles stiffen and clench until the nerves complain. Pain spreads, first through the lower back, then through the chest. Grabbing. Spreading down the arm.

Worry is next. It's inevitable. No matter how much I try to distract myself, try to convince myself it is all in my head, I fail. The pain lingers, spreads, intensifies. A sense of dread.

Deep breaths. Soothing music. An overdue scrummage in the medicine cabinet - to avoid another long, bumpy ambulance ride, the swinging doors and and fluorescent lights. Each time there is a sense of guilt for wasting their time, as the nurses poke and prod me and hook me up to the machine. I feel like Frankenstein's monster waiting for the lightning to strike. Then, finally, the doctor says not to worry. All is okay.

There's a final growl from the black mutt. Self-judgement follows. Why do I feel I failed?

The Power of Words

It's been a fantastic week. A little rain for the garden. Some sunny days for my enjoyment. No significant pain. I finally feel like I have shaken off the effects of the anaesthetic. I've rewritten and edited scenes and almost caught up on the months lost to pre-surgery health hiccups... The final words loomed. I just had to type them. Just two words. A wave of relief swept over me. It's done. My fingers hovered over the keyboard. Twitch. I hesitated. A voice niggled at the back of my brain. Months of research, a year of writing, rewrites, editing, chasing up translations... With two words my story, and my beloved characters, would no longer be my own. They would belong to the world. To my readers. I had bared my soul. What if I could do better? What if they were rejected? What if...? Have you ever had one of those anxiety dreams? You know, like the one where life is fantastic - right up until you find yourself standing stark naked, transported suddenly into a crowded room and suddenly every single person turns and stares at you? And there's nowhere to hide. My fingers trembled. And the penny dropped.  There was one thing more terrifying than baring my soul and risking rejection: facing a blank page. My heart sank. What if I can't come up with another story? What if this was it? The... <gulp> ...end? Another voice whispered in my ear:

Fear is the enemy. I can't let it define me. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

I had to turn the fear into courage or I would never succeed. I had to finish my story. I had to face the next blank page and new possibilities.

I took a deep breath and pressed the keys: T-H-E E-N-D.

THE_END