I’ve been in a bit of a daze lately. I’ve been feeling disconnected from the rest of the world for a while now and so often when I try to reach out, to find some common ground, I find the earth’s been salted by screeds of hate or the hands on the other side would rather push me back into the darkness. Or that there’s nothing out there that sees me enough to even push back.
I walk around in life alternately invisible to the point that people run into me with carts, skip past me in lines, stare through me and like piece of meat hung out for dogs. Drivers are either honking and licking their car windows at me or their cutting me off and merging into me because they don’t know I exist.
I’m one of those people who always feels most alone in a crowd. It’s one of the reasons I almost didn’t go to my first Bouchercon. It’s one of the reasons the last one I attended left me feeling less-than-excited for the next.
People talk about the crime fiction community as a tribe, the readers and authors who make up that group gush about one another — especially during Bouchercon each year. And if one of their beloved members struggles, they rally. Which is wonderful. Except, that it’s not so much a tribe as a high school with segregated lunch room tables. Oh, sure, they all come together against threats from SFF High or Literary Prep, but halfway through the pep rally, you find Noir and Cozy in a stand off in the hallway or Romantic Suspense talking crap about Historical’s outdated do.
At Crime Fiction HS, I feel like the kid who’s been flunked enough times that all her classmates, the kids started out including the kids a year or so older who still palled around with the freshmen because they were nice or shy or had a sibling to look out for, are all upperclassmen or graduates. They’re off in college or they’ve transferred out and I’m sitting in freshman English still not recognizing any of the faces but knowing they’ll graduate before I do. (Really about time I get the writing equivalent of a GED, maybe.)
Then, if my nightstand is any indication, I’m not feeling so much loyalty to the school anymore. I’ve been sneaking off to make out with poetry and weird experimental stuff dressed in all black with safety pin piercings, with essays and academic theory and manuals. Maybe that’s why I keep flunking. Maybe that’s why I have no lunch table in the cafeteria.
In metaphor, just like real life high school, I’m eating in the hallway with a book.
And like the endless teen movies about how hard it is to be the popular kid and how awesome it would be to be the geek and “no care what people think” (because only popular kids think that’s how it works), traditionally published authors will tell you how hard it is to keep everyone happy, to meet deadlines, to worry about royalties and readership and whether a series will get continued or a standalone will get accepted or the next book will earn out. Rich people also write about how hard it is to find a nanny on the Upper East side, but from the hallway that sounds like a problem of privilege, too.
Traditionally published authors who aren’t happy can quit or self-publish and build on the readers they already have. They can use their platform to do all sorts of things. Maybe not the things they really want to try, yet, but they certainly have options.
Where one lives is also a choice, at least in part. And while I’m blessed with warm weather and sunny skies most of the year (a former coworker regularly posts beach photos with the caption “I live where you vacation”), I’m also hundreds of miles from the nearest Noir at the Bar. (And I can’t seem to find either a place willing to host one or people willing to read at one here.) The nearest chapter of Sisters in Crime is about seven hours away. Lay those miles out on a map of Europe and it’s countries away. MWA is nearby, but I’ve yet to attend a local event that made me feel remotely welcome. Could be me, probably, but my remembrance of two Sleuthfests is pretty much this:
- Spent a whole day without anyone speaking to me but the barista who muttered “thanks” with my change.
- Spent another day largely mute except for a brief exchange with Jeremiah Healy, who was warm and charming and I’m sorry he’s gone.
- Hit on by a presenter, then assured by his coworker he was harmless. Was asked if I could move in the bar later. Moved to my car and went home (was sipping sparkling water — no DUI worries).
- Brief chat with Michael Palmer, who was far too accomplished as a person to be that nice to me, especially in light of being invisible to nearly everyone else.
- Asked to join some ladies at a table by the pool, but they talked to themselves so I have no recollection of who they were. Spent the whole time wondering if they’d notice if I left.
And I get that I’m often quiet and awkward in public. I get that a lot of writers are. But when I’m out in crowds like that I make an effort to smile at people, to make small talk if I don’t feel I’m intruding. Yet, I can only sustain that for so many hours without reciprocation.
I went to the Miami Book Fair Friday, but I only really did the street fair. The events are so scattered across two weeks and various times that making one is a bit of a challenge since Miami isn’t exactly down the street. And it rained Saturday and Sunday, so I’m glad I got to the street fair while it was nice. In the past, I’ve tried to talk friends into going, but it’s not really their thing. It’s a bunch of book and they aren’t “book people.”
That said, despite feeling recharged by changing up my surroundings, and taking the train down and interacting with random people was interesting, I left feeling somewhat like a ghost capable of touching physical objects. I bought books at three tables, but I never felt like I was “participating.” I didn’t feel connected to the event in any way and my longest exchange of the day was with a woman who needed reassurance she was on the right train platform.
Of course, the Miami Book Fair has a strong Latin and literary flavor and I’m an outsider there. I’m a tourist. I read poetry and translated stories, but I am not their audience. I’m just cheating on my old school. I’m spicing up my reading list with mangoes and cayenne and accent marks. I’m picking up chapbooks and trying to find a voice in them because I feel I’ve lost my own.
And so, when it comes to Crime Fiction High School, I am not only a freshman in the hallway eating a stale sandwich, I’m an exchange student (surely the other school got the better deal) in a hallway at the bottom of America’s Wang, 1000 miles from the first cafeteria in which I had no place to sit.
Anyone else feel disconnected? Invisible? Alone? Or is that just me?