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Traveling with Depression

I’ve talked before about dealing with depression. Last week’s trip to Buenos Aires, combined with next week’s trip to France, got me paying attention to the ways depression impacts and is impacted by travel, especially bigger trips like these.

It hit me the most on my first day in Buenos Aires, after I’d been dropped off at the hotel. I was exhausted from the flight. I’d missed my pills the night before during all of the travel chaos. I had nothing scheduled that first day, and I was alone in a new city where I didn’t know the language.

This blend of exhaustion and anxiety is just the type of situation my brain-weasels love, and as I settled into my room, I could feel them digging in. I knew intellectually that once I was out interacting with my publisher and doing the press interviews they’d lined up for me, my brain would snap into Performing Writer mode, and I’d be okay. But for now, all I really felt like doing was locking the door, turning out the lights, and waiting for tomorrow to arrive.

Intellectually, I had a pretty good idea what was going on in my brain. I knew I was tired and jet-lagged and overwhelmed, and I’ve gotten better at recognizing when depression is getting the upper hand. Unfortunately, recognizing the problem doesn’t make it go away. In at least one way, it made things worse, because it fed right into the self-recriminations.

  • “Think about all the people who were so envious of you getting to come to Buenos Aires, and now that you’re here, you’re depressed? What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Here you are in a brand new country, and all you want to do is hide in your hotel room? Sad.”
  • “Maybe you should stop accepting these invitations. Let someone who’d appreciate them go instead of wasting these opportunities on you.”
  • “Coward.”

Knowing it’s the depression talking doesn’t make it stop. Knowing the self-recriminations are a trap doesn’t stop them from pulling you down.

Ackbar: It's a trap!

Eventually, I made myself leave the hotel and go for a walk. Just a few blocks to look around and get my bearings. (And yes, to catch a few Magikarp.)

It helped. The brain weasels didn’t vanish, but they quieted down significantly as we wandered and looked around, absorbing the new sights and sounds. I knew I needed food, so I wandered into a McDonald’s.

  • “What kind of loser goes to another continent and eats at McDonald’s?”
  • “Pathetic.”

I needed that dose of familiarity, and after staring at the menu for a few minutes, I went up and asked, “Habla Inglés?”

She had just enough English to tell me she didn’t speak English. Pretty much the equivalent of my Spanish. But I managed to order anyway. She asked a question. I had no clue. But after a few rounds and some hand gestures, I realized she was asking for a size. I pantomimed small, medium, and large, saying them in English without thinking, then asked for a medium.

She got a big grin on her face and repeated “Medium,” adding, “I spoke English!” She was so excited she forgot to charge me. (Yes, I reminded her.) The whole exchange left me smiling.

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This is such an odd post to try to write. I had a wonderful time in Buenos Aires. I’m so happy and honored that I got to go. I was also depressed about the trip, especially that first day or two. Both of these things are true.

I’m going to France next week for Les Imaginales. I’m feeling anxious. I suspect the depression will hit me in much the same way, especially that first day when I’m exhausted and have nothing scheduled. I’m mentally berating myself about feeling stressed instead of excited. I know, intellectually, that this will be another wonderful experience.

But brain weasels don’t give a shit.

  • “Now you’re depressed about going to France? You are such a disappointment.”

It’s just over five years since I got my diagnosis. Since I started taking antidepressants and talking to a therapist. It’s frustrating to be reminded that, like the diabetes, this isn’t something we’ve been able to “cure.” Instead, it’s something I try to manage. Like the diabetes, some days I do better than others, and some situations make it harder to manage.

To everyone I met and talked to in Buenos Aires: It’s not you; it’s me. You were amazing, and I had a genuinely great time, despite this chemical imbalance in my brain.

And to the brain weasels, I’m sure I’ll see you again next week. Hopefully I’ve learned enough to get you back into your cages. But just in case, maybe I should Google the McDonald’s closest to my hotel in Paris…

Back from Buenos Aires

BA topiaryTuesday afternoon I got back from a week in Buenos Aires, where I got to be a part of the Buenos Aires International Book Fair.

Huge thanks to my publisher, El Ateneo, for the invitation and for arranging things. Especially Marina and Canela, who showed me around and provided translations as needed, along with some delicious food!

Thanks also to the US Embassy, who covered much of the cost, arranged to get me to and from the airport, and generally worked to make sure I had a good experience.

It was great getting to meet so many enthusiastic readers and fans. I am delighted and honored by all of the kindness you showed.

Photo of me taking a selfie at my book fair presentation

I have a lot of photos up over at Flickr. Some of them were taken while I was on a bus tour of the city, so they may not be perfectly and artistically composed, but I don’t care. I loved getting to see so much of Buenos Aires.

One of my favorite places, naturally, was the El Ateneo bookstore:

El Ateneo bookstore

El Ateneo was originally a theater, and has been named one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. I could have stayed there all week, despite not being able to read any of the books. Best of all, they had a nice display of my books in the front as you come in the door.

There’s so much more to talk about, from all the kissing to the fact that my hotel was close to a waterway, which meant I caught about 100 Magikarp. But I need to get back to work, since I’m leaving again in a week and a half, and there’s way too much to do between now and then.

I hope you like the pics!

PS, I almost forgot! My publisher must have been happy with how things went too, because as soon as I got home, they sent my agent an offer to buy the second princess book. So The Mermaid’s Madness will be the next of my books to come out in Spanish! 😀

Invisible 3 Update

Invisible 3 is running a little behind the schedule I’d hoped to meet. It turns out that coordinating between two editors takes more time than one editor doing it all himself. Who’d have guessed?

Mary Anne and I have 13 essays and 3 poems contracted thus far. We’ve got one revision to look over, and two rewrites we’re waiting to receive. We’re also missing a few author bios I need to follow up about.

Cover art is mostly done, but I need to confirm those last few names before we can finalize that.

We’ve sent the contents off to the person who will be writing the introduction for this volume.

My hope is that when I get back from Buenos Aires and have had a day or two to recover, we’ll be able to announce a tentative release date (I’m guessing May or June, but I reserve the right to be wrong in that guess) and move forward with the cover reveal.

I’m very happy with what we have so far, and I can’t wait until we’re able to share it with you.

Buenos Aires Book Fair Schedule

I’m mostly recovered from Minicon…which is good, because on Tuesday, I leave for the Buenos Aires Book Fair!

Wednesday will be a day of recovery and looking around. Thursday afternoon I’ll be doing some press interviews at El Ateneo, one of the most gorgeous bookstores in the world.

Assuming they can pry me out of there, I’ll be doing an interview Saturday afternoon at the Book Fair, followed by a book signing. Later that evening I’ll be participating in the Bloggers Meeting as well.

Sunday, there’s a meet and greet at the bookstore, and then it’s back to the hotel to pack and prepare for the flight home on Monday.

It should be an exciting week. I’m looking forward to meeting my Latin American publisher, and I love that my official schedule has notes like “Embassy driver will pick you up from the airport.” And of course, it will be awesome to meet readers and fans from Argentina!

Blogging and email and such will probably be pretty light, but I should have plenty of pictures to share when I get back. Don’t break the internet while I’m gone, okay?

Minicon Pics

I’m back from Minicon 52 in Minneapolis. It was a fun con, and I’m hoping to write up some thoughts and reactions and talk about various cool stuff, but for now I’m still wiped and low on coherent wordage.

So instead, here’s a link to my Flickr album of Minicon pictures.

A few of my favorites…

Science Guest of Honor Brother Guy Consolmagno

Science Guest of Honor Brother Guy Consolmagno

David Perry prepares to interview me...TO THE DEATH!

David Perry prepares to interview me…TO THE DEATH!

Me and my liaison, Anton Petersen

Receiving tribute from my guest liaison Anton Petersen

Minicon Schedule

This weekend, I’ll be the author guest of honor at Minicon in Minneapolis, along with science GoH “The Pope’s Astronomer,” Brother Guy Consolmagno, and fan GoH Mark Oshiro.

They’ve posted the preliminary schedule. Here’s where I think I’ll be for most of the weekend:

Friday

  • 5:30 p.m. – We Suck: The Importance of Failure
  • 7 p.m. – Opening Ceremonies
  • 8:30 p.m. – Internet Presence

Saturday

  • 10 a.m. – Exploring Creativity
  • 11:30 a.m. – Koffeeklatch
  • 1 p.m. – Interview with Jim C. Hines
  • 5 p.m. – Costume Contest
  • 8:30 p.m. – Reading
  • 9:30 p.m. – Autographing

Sunday

  • 10 a.m. – The Business of Writing
  • 1 p.m. – Progressive Story
  • 2:30 p.m. – Feet of Clay
  • 4 p.m. – Closing Ceremonies

And then at a little after 8 that night, I’ll fly back home to Lansing.

It should be a fun time! Looking forward to seeing folks!

Odyssey Con, Frenkel, and Harassment

Odyssey Con is a Madison, Wisconsin convention scheduled to take place later this month. I want to share two tidbits from their website.

From their harassment policy:

“It is the intention of Odyssey Con to create a safe, friendly, welcoming environment…”

From their Who is Odyssey Con? page:

James Frenkel, Guest Liaison

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I’ve talked about Frenkel on the blog before.

As have others.

As is the nature of these things, there’s a lot more that isn’t written about publicly. I’ve spoken with other people harassed by Frenkel who chose not to post about it online, or to file complaints. Given the way we tend to treat victims of harassment and assault — demanding details and proof, blaming them, excusing the harassment, telling them why they’re wrong or overreacting, and so on — I can’t and won’t blame anyone for making that choice.

Even so, knowledge of Frenkel’s history is widespread in the SF/F field. He lost his job with Tor Books shortly after the 2013 incident. He was banned for life from Wiscon. Hell, some of this stuff is on his freaking Wikipedia page.

In other words, there’s no way Odyssey Con was unaware of this history. But they still chose to allow Frenkel to serve as their Guest Liaison.

That’s their right. It’s their convention, and if they want to put a known repeat harasser on staff, they can do so. But that choice has consequences. Consequences like their Guest of Honor withdrawing from the convention. Or having other guests and companies withdraw because the con prioritized a harasser over the safety of their guests.

ETA: Or then having another guest of honor withdraw…

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I haven’t seen a public response from the convention yet, but I’m bracing myself for the typical refrain:

“But he’s such a nice guy. I never saw him harass anyone!”

He was a nice guy to me, too. He was genuinely kind and supportive when I was a nobody starting out in this business, and I hated learning about this other side of him. But the fact that he was nice to me doesn’t mean he’s nice to everyone. Harassers can be quite charming, and they learn to isolate their victims.

It would be like saying, “But Hannibal Lecter never tried to eat me, so how can you say he’s a cannibal?”

“He has a long history with the convention.”

Yes…he also has a long history of harassing women. What’s your point?

ETA: Called it! From the Odyssey Con program chair:

I have been personally acquainted with both Richard and Jim for many years, and, as program chair, I am 100% certain that they will both conduct themselves in responsible and appropriate fashions. Both Jim and Richard have made valuable contributions to Odyssey Con for years and I expect that they will, given the opportunity, continue to do so for years to come.

“He hasn’t done anything wrong since Wiscon 2013. Doesn’t he deserve another chance?”

Some things aren’t mine to share, but I question the assumption behind that statement. As for deserving another chance…personally, I think it depends. What work has he done to try to earn another chance? I do believe that everyone deserves the chance to learn and grow…but not at the expense of their victims. In other words, why is giving Frenkel yet another chance more important than giving your convention attendees a safe, welcoming event?

“It’s a witch hunt!”

Oh yes, of course. I’m sure it’s a big old conspiracy between Matthesen, Kowal, Priest, Kendall, Wiscon, Tor Books, and everyone else who’s spoken out about their experiences with Frenkel…

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You can try to create a convention that’s safe and welcoming and friendly. Or you can put a man with a long, public history of harassment in a position of authority, with access to your guests.

You can’t do both.

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ETA: Odyssey Con has posted a statement on Facebook (now removed, but screencapped by Natalie Luhrs), which includes this gem: “Odyssey Con is now, always has been, and always will be, open and welcoming to all. We do not allow anyone, not even a guest of honor, to dictate that someone else must be excluded from it.” (Read the full statement for context.)

ETA2: As of 4/12, Odyssey Con has posted a new statement on Facebook. This one notes, “Frenkel is no longer a member of our ConCom in any capacity, he has no position of authority in the convention proper, and he is not a panelist or lecturer. He has the right to purchase a badge and attend the convention, but as of this writing, I do not know if he is planning to do that.”

Borderline, by Mishell Baker

Borderline: Cover ArtJust finished reading Borderline [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], by Mishell Baker. This is a Nebula award finalist, and having raced through the book, can see why. Here’s the official description:

A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.

For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she’ll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble’s disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.

That description sells the book short, in that it ignores a huge part of the book. Those “inner demons” are a reference to the fact that Millie has borderline personality disorder. In fact, everyone who works for the Arcadia Project has some form of mental illness, for reasons that are gradually explained and explored throughout the book.

I don’t know enough about BPD to judge how true Baker’s portrayal is, but it’s clear she’s done her research. Some of Millie’s comments about therapy and the techniques she’s learned to manage it ring very true to techniques my wife (a mental health therapist) has talked about. It feels respectfully written, which shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve read some of Baker’s posts and essays about mental health.

The central idea of fey serving as muses for big Hollywood names, and the effects and consequences of that magic, sets up a good story. But it’s the characters that really elevate the story. (I think Caryl was my favorite by the end.) They’re all portrayed with a sense of honesty and respect. BPD affects a lot of how Millie processes and reacts to things, for example, and sometimes that goes pretty badly. The story doesn’t try to justify or excuse Millie’s actions in those cases, nor does it condemn her as a horrible person. It’s presented as part of who she is, and we see her awareness and her struggles to manage being borderline.

The same holds true with Millie’s physical disability. Baker clearly did a lot of research about Millie’s prosthetics and the other effects of her disastrous attempted suicide. The metal in Millie’s body disrupts fey magic, but it isn’t played as just a clever way of giving her an advantage over the fey. I don’t have first-hand experience here, but it’s handled and written in a way that feels true to me.

The ending felt a little bit rushed, and got a little darker than I’d expected, but it worked well both to wrap up the story and lay some groundwork for the sequel, Phantom Pains, which just came out a few weeks ago. I’ve already added it to my reading list.

You can read an excerpt on Baker’s website.

For those of you who’ve read it, what did you think?

Jim C. Hines