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.