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Ben Payne
29 March 2013 @ 07:01 pm

Every year it gets worse. I first started to feel it at Uni. There were more books to read than there was time to read them.


But it's gotten worse every year since. More books get added to the pile, and fewer get completed. At times it feels like an uphill battle.


Since I started working it's become a much bigger problem. Whereas before, my budget limited what I could add to my to-read pile, suddenly I had a lot more money and a lot less free time. And suddenly it was not just books. It was music. Where once I might have bought a new CD once a month or so, suddenly I was drowning in them.


Then I started reading short stories. And there were thousands of them! And it was part of my duty as an editor and wannabe-writer to read them all, to find out for myself where the good ones were. And I joined a group of people dedicated to reading every SF/F story published in the world during the year.


Sometime in there came the internet. With heaps and heaps of free music and free stories, not to mention all the blog posts, news sites, and social media sites to keep up with.


At some point I realised that I had fallen behind with all my favourite TV shows. I started a stockpile of DVDs to catch up on. Right after I finished rewatching all the Buffy episodes.


And then there were comics, with fifty years of back issues to catch up on. And more and more and more of all of the above.


And I just couldn't keep up. And every year the pressure of all that *stuff* that I wanted to read/watch/listen to but couldn't find the time to… all that pressure just built up like a weight on me. I started making spreadsheets to keep track of what I was consuming and all the things I had to get through. And although I wouldn't say I stopped enjoying things… I still love a good novel or a good story or a good album as much as ever…. when I'm reading one thing I have to work triply hard to block out the clamour, the din, of all those un-consumed works of art outside my mental door, banging to be let in, saying "Me next! Don't forget me! You don't want to miss out on me… do you?"


And progress? My to-read pile is bigger than it was ten years ago. My iPod has more music on than ever before, but I struggle to listen to all of it more than once every month or two. I have read thousands and thousands of stories but I have forgotten most of them and every month there are hundreds more to read.


And at a certain point, I guess, you have to just… stop.


Books and music are my chief vices, but all around us, in whatever field you like to spend your money, it's the same. We are surrounded by more and more choices, more and more things clamouring to be let into our lives. And there's just not room for them all.


At some point you have to admit defeat. I am just not going to read all the books I would like to read. I am not going to have the time to listen to every interesting album that comes out. I don't *want* to have to keep up with every short story ever written. I don't want to have to keep a tight grip on my daily schedule, to manage my time strictly and with no room for spontaneity, just to try to keep up with it all. What does it even mean, to have kept up?


But it's not easy to let go. I have made an effort over the last six months, to relax my grip, to allow myself to just be, to stop thinking about what is still waiting to be consumed, and to just enjoy what I'm reading/watching/listening to *now*.


But it's hard. Oh how hard. A dozen times at least I have backslid, have pulled out my spreadsheets, have had a flurry of reading, have updated all my iPod playlists to see what music I need to listen to to have kept up this month.


And each time I have to say to myself, take your hand slowly off the spreadsheet and step away from the book stack. Take a breath. Accept that you can't do everything. Accept that you can't be everywhere, in every moment. You can't experience it all. All any of us can hope for is to experience the one life that we have.


You can try to cram it all in. But all that really achieves is to take away from the experience you're having right now. To distract you from enjoying the here and now by reminding you of all that is left to do. It doesn't make you happy. And when will you have ever achieved it all? It's not possible.


The most we can ever hope to achieve is to be here, now, present, as fully as we can. To give our attention as completely as we can to what we are doing at this moment. And to let go of the guilt, the pressure, of all that we must leave unconsumed.


The same could be said for our achievements.


It doesn't come naturally, to me. But I'm working on it.


 


Music: Tuesday - The Hummingbirds

 
 
 
Ben Payne
30 December 2012 @ 09:40 pm

So now that the obligatory best-ofs are out of the way, what did 2012 mean to me?


Overall, I'd say it was a great year. Probably the best I can remember.


A large part of that was due to having the chance to travel and see some of the world. People who've known me for years may laugh at that, because I have always been somewhat cynical about travel. But I can honestly say that it was the best experience of my life. Just being some place totally unfamiliar and having the chance to absorb and learn and experience it. And to do it alongside Jen and others we love. It was awesome.


I haven't written much here about our trip, largely because I'm not sure how to put it into words. It was challenging at times. I read somewhere before I left about being an introvert and travel, and how it brings with it its own set of challenges. But I think I prepared myself well and was careful to take time out at times, I meditated every morning and I think that those things really helped to centre me. And as it turned out, I think I was probably happier and more "present" during our trip than I have felt for years. It really helped me to avoid over-thinking (one of my greatest flaws) and just go with the flow of the day, to be open to what was happening and just enjoy it. And I think for somebody like me that was an achievement. I set the goal for myself before I left to be a positive, calm and kind person on the trip, and I did my best to achieve that.


The next challenge has been to try to continue that after coming home. I have had some success and some setbacks, which is to be expected, I guess. But overall, I think that the trip helped to make me a happier, more confident person.


I've also been a lot happier at work this year. I have been acting in a different section at work, and have discovered that it *is* possible to have a workplace where people support each other, and are positive and kind, rather than stabbing one another in the back. Who knew?!!! Anyway for the first few months I was still tense and worried but gradually I have adjusted and I have discovered that it is possible to have a job without it making you feel miserable and constantly watching your back. So that's a plus!


As mentioned, I have started meditating this year, properly, after flirting with it for years but never doing it properly. I wouldn't say I'm in any way an expert at it, but I've at least made it into a habit, and I can honestly say it has made a huge difference in my life. I have really noticed a difference in how I approach my day and the way I deal with stresses. And the times when I don't do it, I always regret it, because I can feel that equilibrium is lacking. Of course, you still have good days and bad days, whether you meditate or don't. But it just sets me on a better platform to deal with the things that come along.


Some of my major goals this year were working on being more "present" and less in my own thoughts. I think I've definitely succeeded to some small extent, but I still have a long way to go. That's just who I am; I've always been an over-thinker. There are benefits to that, and drawbacks. But I'm working on finding a greater balance and living more in the "now". Part of that is having fewer expectations; about accepting the world as it is without wanting to bend it to the way I think it should be. Well, sometimes I still try to bend it (because I'm right, dammit!). But I'm working on it.


I have deliberately stripped away a lot of the goal-setting in my life over the last few years. Part of that was trying to be more available to the present moment, rather than always working toward some imaginary future. And part of it was trying to find more stillness and silence, to enable deeper thought and creativity. That's something I'm still working on; it's hard not to fill your time with busy-ness. And it's natural, isn't it, to want to read more, watch more, learn more! But I've learned that constant consumption tends toward shallowness of response, and I'm working hard toward allowing myself room for deeper reflection.


That can be challenging at times; like a lot of people, I have used busy-ness, in the past, to avoid being alone too long with my own thoughts. But as I've become happier and more centred, that's something I have gradually become better at. Again, it's a work in progress.


I've learned a lot about myself, too, and have read a lot of books this year about self-growth, or whatever you want to call it. Which sounds naff, but some of them have been really helpful. I have faced the fact that I am probably always going to be somewhat introverted and over-sensitive, and I need to find the best ways I can to manage living in that way, rather than comparing myself to other people who are more outgoing and confident. Again, easier said than done, and some days I still beat myself up about my lack of social skills, my inability to develop friendships and my apparently inexhaustible supply of ways to sabotage myself in social groups. But I try not to be too hard on myself; that's just who I am, and nobody has all the answers. We all just manage as best we can.


One thing that I have learned is that if your intent is good, a lot of the other complexities in life just melt away. If you turn up, and do your best, then that's all you can do. Yes, self-reflection is part of that. But you will never have all the answers. You can try to learn from any experience, but in the end all you can do tomorrow is turn up again, do your best again, and hope for the best.


Anyway, that's probably enough self-analysis for me this year. Did I mention over-analysing?


I hope whatever physical and emotional events have shaped your year, that you have come through them stronger, wiser and kinder. May your 2013 be full of laughter, learning and love.


Peace out!

 
 
 
Ben Payne
30 December 2012 @ 08:58 pm

A lot of my reading this year was comic books. This was the first full year I've spent following comics for some time, and it was great to discover how many good writers there are out there.


Anyway, the books I particularly enjoyed and found well written this year were:


 


DC


Batwoman


Animal Man


Batman


Aquaman


JLA


Swamp Thing


Red Hood & the Outlaws


Wonder Woman


 


Marvel


All New X Men


Uncanny X-Men


Astonishing X Men


X Men: Legacy


Avengers vs X-Men


Wolverine & the X-Men


 


As you can tell, I have become a bit of an X-Men fan. I also really enjoyed reading some of the collections of seventies Chris Claremont written X Men. I intend to read more of those this coming year.


 

 
 
 
Ben Payne
30 December 2012 @ 07:57 pm

(including a couple from late 2011)


The albums I really enjoyed this year were:


 


Wild Flag… Wild Flag (2011)


Yuck… Yuck (2011)


Hushabye Mountain… Stacey Kent (2011)


Let's Go Eat the Factory… Guided by Voices


The Lion's Roar… First Aid Kit


Old Ideas… Leonard Cohen


Tramp… Sharon Van Etten


The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy… Nada Surf


Renditions… Slow Moving Millie


Sees the Light… La Sera


Wasteland Companion… M. Ward


Kisses on the Bottom… Paul McCartney


Nightlife… Kate Miller-Heidke


Aufheben… Brian Jonestown Massacre


Electra Heart… Marina & the Diamonds


Chesapeake… Rachael Yamagata


Bloom… Beach House


Secret Symphony… Katie Melua


There's No Leaving Now… Tallest Man on Earth


Class Clown Spots a UFO… Guided by Voices


Like a King… Danielle Ate the Sandwich


I Know What Love Isn't… Jens Lekman


Emerald City… Knievel


Long Wave… Jeff Lynne


Transcendental Youth… Mountain Goats


 


What albums did you enjoy this year?


 

 
 
 
Ben Payne
30 December 2012 @ 07:45 pm

I felt like I got nothing read in 2012, but looking back I read quite a bit, at least by my standards (slow reader). And I got three quarters of the way through War and Peace, which took a substantial chunk out of my reading time.


I found my reading drifted more toward non-fiction this year. I don't know if this is a sign of getting old :-)


Anyway, those in bold are the ones I would highly recommend:




Fiction


Sue Townsend, Adrian Mole and the Small Amphibians


Charlotte Bronte Jane Eyre


Sue Townsend Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years


Penni Russon Only Ever Always


Ann Patchett State of Wonder


Julianna Baggott Pure


Hilary Mantel Bring Up the Bodies


Dave Eggers A Hologram for the King


Julie Zeh The Method


Sally Gardner The Double Shadow


Katy Stauber Revolution World


Hal Duncan Ink


Miyuki Miyabe Brave Story


Julie Czerneda Beholder's Eye


Lee Child Killing Floor


Carlton Mellick III Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland


Katharine Kerr Daggerspell


JV Jones The Baker's Boy


 


Non Fiction


Eckhart Tolle The Power of Now


B Allan Wallace The Attention Revolution


Rodd, James Wagner, Carter 12: The Elements of Great Managing


Leo Babauta The Effortless Life


Melvin McLeod (ed) The Best Buddhist Writing 2010


Daniel Goleman Working With Emotional Intelligence


Robin Sharma Leadership Wisdom from the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari


Lama Suraya Das Awakening the Buddha Within


Jonathan Safran Foer Eating Animals


Lodro Rinzler The Buddha Walks Into a Bar


John Pomfret Chinese Lessons


Bob Ellis Suddenly, Last Winter


Elaine Aron The Highly Sensitive Person


Dalai Lama A Simple Path


Joshua Fields, Ryan Millburn, Nicodemus Simplicity: Essays


Chloe Hooper The Tall Man


Sarah Gamble The Routledge Companion to Feminism


David Miche Buddhism for Busy People


Lieve Joris The Rebels' Hour


Julian Baginni The Ego Trick


Juliet Barker The Brontes


Zadie Smith Changing My Mind


Richard Watson Future Minds


Philip Zaleski, Editor The Best Spiritual Writing 2012



Katharine Kerr Daggerspell

JV Jones The Baker's Boy

Trent Jamieson The Business of Death

 
 
 
Ben Payne
29 December 2012 @ 09:43 pm

This is becoming one of those blogs where every new blog post starts with "It's been a long time since I posted here".


I must admit that some days I miss the old Livejournal days. It seemed like there was a lot more conversation and back-and-forth on lj, in part because the blogging platform made it easier to do that. Most other platforms are not conversation friendly, I find. The very act of commenting on your average blog takes so many steps that I often lose interest mid-way through typing some impossible-to-decipher code to prove I'm human. And then there's the whole tracking of replies thing, which some blogs do ok and some don't do at all, but none seem to manage as well as LJ did.


Other times I wonder if this is why conversation about the local reading/writing scene seems to have declined. Or perhaps it was already declining, or moving elsewhere, and that was just a symptom.


At any rate, I don't find the whole blogging experience as interesting these days; it feels more like a lot of people just talking at you, rather than conversations.


I know twitter and Facebook have taken up some of that role, but they're not the same. You can't have an in-depth conversation on either, I find.


Perhaps I am just behind the times. Is there really interesting discussion about the local scene happening some place I am not aware of? Or has it really gone quiet?


I know we are part of a broader scene, now. The Australian focus of the early 2000s seems to have dissipated, to a large degree. And there are many benefits to that, to being part of an international community of writers. But I wonder whether we have lost something too.


For the last decade and a bit, the Australian small press SF scene has been a large part of my life. But lately it has felt like there is an increasing absence where it used to be. I don't know if that is just my own perception. But I don't really feel like I'm part of it any more. And I'm not sure where I'm drifting *to*.


Anyway, perhaps that helps to explain in some small way my silence here. I guess I need to work out what this blog is for.

 
 
 
Ben Payne
23 November 2012 @ 07:55 pm

I just discovered the last time I blogged here was in August.


Part of the reason for that was that I have been, as many of you know, a-travelling. More about that in another post, some time.


While we were still connected overseas, I spent a lot less time online, and it was just what I needed in terms of getting some headspace. While I love the online world, and some of my best friends are internets, I have to admit that sometimes it gets me down, and I feel that its critics have a point when they argue that the internet creates the illusion of closeness to a lot of people, while actually often making us more distant and alone.


It's certainly true that we tend to be much more judgemental of one another online, and the self-righteousness with which we criticise others is amplified. I don't think the internet creates that tendency; it's too common in everyday life. But it certainly seems to encourage herd mentality and sharp divisions.


I've been reading a few books lately about slowing down our thinking, giving ourselves the space to think deeply, and to allow ourselves to do nothing, and how valuable that is. Sometimes it's easy to drown in a sea of input, and the internet certainly contributes to that possibility. We can become mired in shallow thoughts and feelings, not giving ourselves the time and space to think against the grain.


I've certainly been guilty of seeping myself in input, of taking on too many things, until every moment of my day is allocated. I've tried to reduce that by dropping projects, but often I've simply replaced them with other, less obvious ones. Or filled my time with reading, with watching good tv shows, with all the myriad forms of culture that I want to imbibe, but which I can never, no matter how I struggle, keep up with or get through. The result is just more of the same, drowning in input, filling up with immediate reactions, and not having any time to step back, to allow the thoughts and feelings to percolate and bubble around the bowl.


I don't want to create a false dichotomy between online and offline life. It's just as possible to live offline the same way, full of busyness and surface level experiences and lacking in space.


And online life still offers a lot of potential. I think we just need to work out the best ways to make it work for us.


So being away helped put some distance between me and all the stupid internet wars and hate-ons. It made me realise how stupid all of that side of things is, how little it matters in the wider world.


But more than that, it gave me some space to sit and just be. And I found myself thinking deeper… not necessarily intelligent or interesting thoughts… but deeper in some way all the same.


I found myself wondering if the reason I've struggled to put metaphorical pen to paper in recent times, to create anything either fictional or non-fictional that I was happy with, was due to the fact that I was too busy trying to fill my time with worthwhile endeavours, with reading great books and watching great films and chatting to interesting people, that I hadn't left myself any room, any place for thoughts to gestate or emerge.


I don't know what the answer is, exactly. It's a thought progression in progress. But I know that I am looking to put more space, more nothing time, into my life to just be. To allow myself to think again, to step back from it all and look with fresh eyes.


Because sometimes in trying to live, to consume, to cram it all in, we miss something important about what living really means.

 
 
 
Ben Payne
30 August 2012 @ 09:39 pm

So today the newspapers report that Charlotte Dawson is in hospital following some very aggressive attacks on twitter toward her. I assume this means that she made some kind of suicide attempt or self-harm. I don't have any particular knowledge of Dawson or feelings toward her one way or the other, beyond sympathy that she reached such a bad place. Nor have I read the tweets in question, beyond a few quoted in newspapers.


I am not surprised, though, to hear of something like this happening, and I have felt for some time that it is only a matter of time before we see more and more people driven to despair by the treatment they are dealt online. I don't think that the online social sphere is any worse than real life, necessarily, except insofar as the fact that such large numbers make it easy for a flashmob to appear, drawn by the debate, and for things to spiral beyond anyone's control within a short period of time.


I have never been at the mercy of an internet flashmob, and I'm grateful. It's hard enough when you upset somebody in real life. Maybe at some time in your life you have been ostracised or verbally attacked by a former friend. Maybe even a group. No matter how much we might believe ourselves strong or independent, most of us are at heart social animals, still. It *hurts* to be disliked by people. Most of our worst reactions, our anger, our aggression, come from fearing that other people are judging us, that they dislike us. I don't think anybody doesn't know what it feels like to be an outsider, on occasions.


I can only imagine the visceral, physical hurt that can come from having hundreds of people you've never met suddenly turn on you, judging you, insulting you, hating you because of something you've said. It's awful to think about that kind of hurt, and it's easy to see how somebody could be overwhelmed by it, could feel like everything is ruined, like there is no way back.


The more smug internet commentators use this point in the conversation to suggest that this is why you must be careful with what you say online, to not upset people that way. I say that's a fucking compassionless attitude, and what's more, not a realistic one. It ignores the fact that nobody says something they believe is fucked. People say things because they believe them to be right.


Having said all that, I sympathise with Dawson, I feel truly sorry for her. But I don't like the way it's being portrayed as something a select group of people have done; a certain group of trolls who we must catch and punish and whose identities we must make public as an example, because bullying is something the other, the "they", people who are not like us, do to us. It's not something that the "we", the "us", those we empathise with as fellow protagonists, could ever be guilty of.


No, we don't bully. We "call out" people on their mistakes. Because sometimes people deserve that. People act badly, and that needs to be pointed out to them. And if we are aggressive in doing that, it is because their behaviour caused that reaction in us, because our anger and judginess is justified by their faults, right? And if a lot of our friends also agree with what we are saying, and also point out to the other person the error of their ways, that is just because their belief or statement was so out of step with common decency that "we" could hardly be expected to act otherwise.


And we don't need to feel compassion or sympathy toward the person that all of us are educating. Because they are the "they", and we are the "we", they are the antagonist and we are the protagonist, our actions are entirely relatable and even our mistakes are understandable and forgivable, and their actions are always ill-motivated and must be judged and punished. And why should we have to think about how they feel? They are the ones that offended us. Their intent doesn't matter. They should apologise, they should admit their mistakes and learn from them. We are the wronged, we are the ones who are badly done by. Why should we have to think at all about their feelings?


And if that person, that other who we called out and shunned and attacked; if that person kills themself or self-harms, well you know, that's sad, but hey, they did bring it on themselves. That's a totally different thing to this situation, where one of us was hurt and shunned and made to feel like crap by a bunch of them. If you can't see how that's different, well, then...


The thing that really gets me is this: There are so many people who believe it could never happen to them. Because I am so goddamn righteous that there is no way that public opinion could ever turn against me, that I could ever be judged and found wanting, turned upon, shut out.


I see right wing trolls being arseholes and I shake my head and I think "idiots" and it doesn't really get to me. But what really gets me, what really upsets me and breaks my heart is watching left wing people who share my beliefs, my ideals, treating other people like crap. I know it's naive to be shocked by that but it still gets me every time. Because we were supposed to be the good guys.


But I guess the moral of this is that there are no good guys, or rather, we are all good guys, who have learned to treat one another like crap.


I was watching Go Back Where You Came From on SBS tonight, and thinking wow, the beauty of the show is not only that it manages to humanise refugees to us (and presumably most of the show's core audience is open to that already), but that at the same time it manages to humanise right wing bigots, which is perhaps an even greater feat. I was watching people like Peter Reith or Michael Smith and seeing the human side to them, the doubts, the confusions, the undertones to their surface. I still don't agree with them, but I can understand them a little better.


And I thought, fuck, that is what it should be about. And then I went online and read some of the comments from people who share my political beliefs, who were attacking them, not just their beliefs, but as human beings, and I felt ashamed. And I know that's just a small percentage of people, not everybody.


But the point is this; maybe there is no good guys or bad guys. Maybe there is just here and now; this action, this moment. And in this moment you can choose to work toward understanding and kindness, or you can choose to work against them. And I don't care if your cause is righteous, I don't care if somebody deserves your anger, I don't care if they are the most unequivocally wrong person in the history of Wrongtown. Either you are working toward kindness and understanding, or you are working against them.


I don't know, I feel like I need to think more about these things. But I'm tired of it all… I don't believe that the internet is some kind of dark beast that needs to be muzzled or it will destroy us all. The internet is just the venue. It is as capable of good, of communication, of love, of understanding, as it is of cruelty. But we need to use it well, we need to treat it with respect and thought. Because we are fucking it up.


And so much of it at the moment just looks like some place I don't want to go….

 
 
 
Ben Payne

(Beware, ranting follows)


Lookit, I don't care how much I agree with your essential argument, or otherwise. You can be saying my exact mindscape in eloquent phraseology to the tune of my favourite album. I don't give a shit whether I agree with you or not. I am happy to listen all day and all night to people who I disagree with. Just be interesting.


If all you are doing is saying what every other mother-freakin' person in the blogosphere is vomiting out of their own word-holes, just a little less well-phrased and a little lazier in the logic and a little louder and more angry, then what, just what, is the fucking point?


(I'm not talking to you, gentle regular reader, for you are always erudite, immaculately dressed and pretty)


If I wanted to listen to people back-slapping themselves while spouting opinions that have been through more blogs than I've been through candy bars, lazy half-arsed agreeable non-controversial this-is-what-everyone-else-is-already-saying kinda posts that I could have pulled from under my left nostril without having to blow, if I wanted to slowly lower myself into the morass of nothing that is intellectual debate in this country with a fat grin and glazed pupils, losing form as my body becomes indistinguishable from the tepid waste that has flowed from innumerable inseparable public mental orifices, I would just cut myself a slab of greased pig-luncheon and sit down to share my evening with The Shire.


If, in short, your argument contributes nothing to the debate beyond self-satisfied certainty about how fucking right you are, and how clear, countable, calculable, inarguable, undisputed king of the hill kind of blatantly obvious are the flaws of your foes, how their ideology is so unmistakably unshakeably wrong that you don't even need logic (luckily) to demolish it, just smugness, how all you need to do is slap the wet kipper of your fawning platitudinous verbal self-gratification against the jellied eel hull of their sinking inflatable steamboat and shout "Ha! Brought you down, enemies!" because the unstoppable *rightness* of you is just so overwhelming in its goodness, bigness and moral indignation that their sinking happened ten years ago before their boat was even a glint of moral depravity in a big boat's yardarm….


If, in shorter, you are just here for a haircut…. then your contribution to our world's debate and cultural knowledge and understanding counts for naught.


Whatever happened to depth of discussion, debate, what happened to listening, that ancient druid-craft that lies buried in legend from the smoky time before talking went from something you did with people to something you did *at* people. What happened to Benjamin Bunny's famous exhortation to "brush against the grain", the notion that we might actually question and find it desirable, even admirable, to stand out from the tide and ask "but what about", even if, especially if, we are brushing against what we ourselves believe? What the fuck happened to genuine, multi-faceted complexities, to admitting "I don't know", to recognising that, just as I have been wrong about seven thousand, eleventy hundred and one seventh of the things I have argued for in my life up to this point, it is *just possible*, just an outside chance, that one day, not today, noooo, but some day, I may even once be wrong again.


Even I'm doing it, right now, with this infernal diatribe from "me", the enlightened positioned protagonist, made from a puffed up sack of wind with a couple of jelly beans for eyeballs, shouting at the imagined "you", the incorrect, scandalously transgressive imagined octagonist who if he ever existed as anything other than a crumpled receipt at the bottom of my bag of ideas, would surely have given up reading and lost interest hectares ago. So stop listening to me, in the name of all that is righteous and holy!!


I can only assume that somewhere, sometime when we weren't looking, weren't concentrating, the INTERNET GOT IN US. And now it is all through us, poisoning us, forgetting for us, losing those parts of us that used to believe in sharing, in society, in communality, in kindness, in sympathy, in empathy, in attempting, however hamfisted in our gauche paraphrasery, to understand the other. The Internet is in us, and it is all that we are, all that we have left to prop up these empty husks, to keep them running with the wind long enough to stay together.


Don't listen to me, friends, don't listen to me. I am ranting, just like any one of you. But if you have the courage, if you have the heart, if you have a small voice deep in your stomach trying to shout up your neck at your brain, then run, run…. there may still be time for you.


Until next time. Have a nice day.

 
 
 
Ben Payne
12 June 2012 @ 06:44 pm

I was very grateful to be able to make Natcon this year, after not being sure I would be able to. I hate missing Natcon, for the simple reason that two years between catching up with a lot of good friends is far too long. But luckily I was able to go along.


I'm not going to go into detail about what I attended or who I dined with. I'm not going to list all of the wonderful people I had conversations with, because I would forget somebody, and in any case those kinds of lists just tend to make people feel bad if they couldn't come along. But I will say that I had a lot of really fascinating conversations about writing, about the scene, and about life. I met some new people who were fabulous and thoughtful, I saw some old friends who I hadn't seen for five years or so, and I caught up with a lot of my regular con-buddies and got to spend the sort of quality time that it's hard to achieve online.


I used to get quite bad comedown after cons; largely because in my early congoing days I was quite insecure and spent a lot of time overanalysing all the conversations I'd had, wondering whether people liked me or not. These days I am a bit more mellow about it all; I try to be as nice to people as I can, I try to be as genuine as I can. I know there will be times I say idiotic things, but that's life, isn't it? All I do is wake up each day and try to meet the new one the best way I can.


For me this con was a great reminder of just how many lovely people we have in our community. It's easy sometimes in the online world to focus on the disagreements, the controversies. That's a lot harder when you are talking to people face to face, and you realise that at heart, most people are good and kind. And that we are all working toward, all care about, the same things, really.


It was also, I think, the first time I've gone to a con as neither an editor nor a writer. (Well, I still consider myself a writer but haven't had anything published in living memory). Even at my first ever con, I was already a publisher of Potato Monkey and co-editor or ASIM, and that definitely helped me to fit in and get past some of the "I don't belong here" factor. In the last five years, a lot of my friends have gone on to greater and greater successes; they've graduated from fellow newbies to being the big guns of the scene. And I feel as though I've almost gone the opposite way; partly through circumstance, partly through choice, I feel like I'm in many ways back at ground zero in my career, starting it all from scratch.


So I was worried a little that I'd feel a little bit like a pretender at this con, and I admit I arrived on Friday dreading the first time someone asked me "so what are you writing?" I wondered if I had anything useful to engage with, or whether I would feel like somebody with nothing to offer.


But the truth is that I arrived, and almost immediately was caught up in so many interesting conversations that I didn't even have time to think about it; I was too fascinated and having too much fun talking about art, about reading it, about creating it, about what matters and what obstacles get in the way. I started to feel like a writer again, even though I hadn't written anything for an age. And talking to other writers about their own difficulties, their own stumbling blocks, made me feel like I did still belong, because this road is not a cosy A-B-C road to success. We all have our setbacks and our moments in the sun, to differing degrees. We all take a few steps forward and a few steps back. And being around other people who share and understand that is just so valuable.


And I was fortunate enough to be around good friends who like hanging out with me, just because of who I am, regardless of whether I have any talent or opportunities to offer. Go figure. Those people are nuts!


A few people were lovely and kind enough to share with me nice thoughts about my own writing, enough to regain some of the enthusiasm I've been missing. From kind words about stories I've had published, to my writing on my blog, to works in progress people have read, to Kirstyn yelling "write your fucking novel, Payne" numerous times at the bar. All of that stuff combined to give me a shot in the arm and make me feel like maybe I can do it after all.


There are a lot of other things I could blog about; good food, good wine, lots of laughs. But those are a couple of things that made me realise how grateful I am to be part of this community, to attend a con like this. I hope we keep inspiring and nurturing one another's talents for many many years more.