It’s been a while since I posted anything about BristolCon. Partly because I had to miss out on 2020 and 2021 due to Covid, and partly because I have no idea. I guess I was just too busy last year? Or was just too lazy, more likely. Plus, last year wasn’t my best, due to lack of sleep and getting out of a bad cold. So, yeah. For BristolCon 2023, however, I decided to write up a post. This was my only holiday this year, and also pretty much the only event where I got to socialize. It did not go so well for me, but I’ll get to that later. So, expect lots of pictures, self-reflection, and a traveling journal – kind of.
Getting to Bristol
Summer 2023 didn’t exactly go how I planned. Getting stuck at home for six weeks wasn’t fun – though, I really didn’t mind it much. The pain I could do without, though. So I decided to give myself a mini holiday including BristolCon. This was my first attendance at this specific con, and I only had time to see the city one time. I had to rectify that. Turns out, it was a super smart move to arrive on Wednesday instead of Friday as floodings made it nearly possible for many people to make it to Bristol for the weekend. My journey certainly would have been less smooth than it was. Though, I had my own worries as my flight arrived about 40 mins later than expected, and I only had a 20-minute gap to catch my train at Paddington. Which is still twice as much as I had to catch the bus on the way back. Yikes. THAT was a super close call.
Of course it was raining both in London and Bristol on Wednesday evening, so I got drenched, but hey, I’ll take that over a super stressful journey. Also, I have a long and complicated relationship with rain. As far as traveling goes, I had pretty much uneventful ones, apart from minor inconveniences.
Unless some of the others who journeyed to the Clifton Suspension Bridge on Friday, I only went to the city center on Thursday, doing some shopping, inhaling the vibe of the city. I just love how the old city meets the modern, and that you can just never know when you run into something unexpected. If I ever moved to the UK, I wouldn’t mind living in Bristol. Given that the weather makes up its mind. One second it was raining, the next it was sunny, and then both all at once. I even got drenched on the way back to the hotel. AGAIN.
My main goal, though, was to see one of Banksy’s work in real life. And I did! I got to see Mild Mild West up close! Well, okay, not that close because it was up on a wall high above my head, BUT STILL! I even did a little stupid dance right there on the street and got at least one weird look from a passerby, but that’s nothing new in my world. There are also some other cool street art all over the city which I LOVE.
I also dropped into one of the Bristolian Waterstone’s and got myself a copy of The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix. Which turned out to be my only book haul of the weekend. I have valid reasons for that! My lovely teammate and friend, Paul, sent me a big box of panda goodies, which pretty much filled up my bag. I literally couldn’t put anything else in there. I also got a super cute panda bag from Tammy, a friend I made last year at BristolCon (hey, it wasn’t all bad, okay?). Look at the matching bookmarks too! I might have to get into more accidents if it means getting lovely care packages such as Tammy’s or Alex’s over the summer. Okay, just kidding, I certainly don’t want more accidents, but as someone who doesn’t have local friends, and rarely meets people outside of work, it means a LOT to know that there are a handful of people out there who care, and even think of me, you know? I’m not getting much validation in my life, but when I do, it’s just even more special to me. I guess that’s why I keep going back to Bristol every year – to recharge my social batteries once a year. Even if it’s not necessarily a fun process for me. I’ll elaborate on that in a bit. Pictures first! The Kindle case I got for myself, because, well, I needed it, shut up.
BristolCon, as of now, is a one-day event at the end of each October. This might change in the very near future, though. For some, it starts as early as Friday as a lot of people are arriving, a group dinner is organized, and the bar is open. This year, people started coming in later than usual due to the weather conditions, and many had to drop out at the last minute. I even had time to walk over to St. Mary Redcliffe that’s right next door to the hotel. In all my years visiting Bristol, I never got the chance to see it from the inside, even though the building itself is very impressive. I might not be religious, and on my first ever UK trip I saw more churches than I could care for, but it was nice to go inside and wander around.
And so Friday night was a bit quieter than usual because of that. Regardless, it was nice to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a year. And even though I was hoping to get to bed early(ish), we still ended up chatting until 2 am. Go figure.
Saturday turned up to be more lively with a lot of people coming. Many hugs were exchanged. I love getting all the hugs. Anyway. There were a lot of panels and workshops, though I didn’t as much as I originally planned, and some of it was changed due to last-minute dropouts. One of the ones I did attend, was the SPFBO panel – I mean, come on, I basically can thank all my blogging career to SPFBO. Of course, I attended a panel where people were talking about it, duh. Finalist coins were also handed out! It was interesting to hear about the experiences and opinions of judges and past and present SPFBO entrants. I believe you can watch the panel online HERE (the SPFBO panel starts at 3:14:00).
I also went to a panel about water and its role in fantasy, including all the mythical creatures living under the water. Also pirates! And why is that water draws the imagination. That was a fun panel. My last panel was about subversion where people talked about which tropes should die and which should come back with a twist. There was also a karaoke at the end of the evening, but for some reason, I decided to miss out on that. Stupid decision, I heard that was great fun. I also saw some videos and I really did miss out. Oh well. There is always next time.
Since last year was a bit off for me for various reasons, this year I decided to try to be a bit more social. I wanted to have a positive attitude, and be open, and not to stress over things. I can’t say I was entirely successful. I have social anxiety, and I know that. I hate being in a crowd alone. I can usually cope with headphones and music. But sometimes you don’t have that option. It used to be so bad, that when I went to a concert with someone and was left alone even for a minute I nearly panicked. I felt awful. I couldn’t possibly go to a show by myself. When I traveled to the US all by myself (which was my very first flight), I somewhat overcame that hurdle, and concerts didn’t bother me much anymore. Can’t say I feel good being alone, but I don’t want to tear my hair out, so there is that.
Going to cons feels a bit similar. I can’t find my place when I’m there. I have people I know, so I usually try to tag along with them around the bar. And even then, I feel like a fish who got thrown out of the water. I feel… not exactly uncomfortable, but definitely awkward. What I noticed on myself this year is that I kept looking around, searching for people while I was sitting at a table or standing around talking to others. Like I was looking for a way out. I had this kind of flight or fight mode switched on, and constantly fought against flight. And I don’t know why. I was with people I like. People I’ve known for years. If we just met and I came off cold or distancing or whatever, I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. No matter how excited I was to go and meet people, once I was in Bristol, I shut down and I didn’t want to be with people. And yes, I know, it makes no fucking sense. To me either. It’s like my own brain is sabotaging me. I’m not saying I felt like this 100% of the time, because there were times when I could let myself relax. But boy am I my worst enemy.
I think it probably doesn’t help either that I constantly feel like I don’t belong. I almost never read the books everyone else is talking about, or I’m not an author so I can’t talk about the craft, and I’m also not British, so I didn’t even have that going for me. I find that I just have absolutely nothing to add to 99% of the conversations I find myself in. And that comes down to two things – 1) I’ve become such a hermit, that I literally have no life outside of work. I live alone, I only talk to people at work. I have no friends. I don’t hang out with anyone just online. I’m boring as hell. I’ve no social skills whatsoever and never can think of any topic. It’s fucking frustrating when I stand around in awkward silence trying to think of something, ANYTHING to fill in the silence. I usually come up blank. 2) I live in a different country, have different problems that come with it, and I’m not familiar with a lot of pop culture things. I’ve nothing in common with people other than I like reading books. And even that doesn’t seem much. And yes, you can tell me otherwise, but as long as I don’t believe it, well… I’m fucked.
I also used to have a problem with speaking in English as it’s not my favorite thing to do – speaking, that is – which is not much of a surprise if you know the above. And the fact that the only thing I’m talking to at home is my favorite panda, Billy. Let’s just say he is not much of a conversationalist. I’m never been good at chit chat, I can’t keep up conversations even online and that’s also probably why I barely talk to anyone anymore outside of my Discord server. I just… don’t know HOW. Don’t let me tell you how much I hate this about myself. So back to English. It used to bother me, but at least my annual visits to Bristol cured me of that. I’m not exactly confident, but I’m much better off than I used to be. At least I don’t feel like people are just nodding along politely having absolutely no idea what I just said, lol.
It probably doesn’t seem so from the outside, but I really struggled a lot. And it made me realize that I really do need therapy, because there is no way in hell this is normal. I know I keep saying this (since early 2019, at least), but it feels like I’m getting pushed closer and closer to that last step where I actually make a booking. Costs be damned. I really don’t want to spend another BristolCon fighting off my inner voice which keeps asking me “what the fuck are you even doing here?” I’m fairly sure people (at least some of them) do want me there, I just probably make it very hard for others to approach/reach me. I’m way too used to having walls around me and they are not easy to tear down. Not alone either way.
On a happier note, I did make new friends, somehow, miraculously. Not sure how that happened, sure as hell wasn’t my utterly charming self, lol. One of my takeaways from BristolCon 2023 is that if you get yourself surrounded by a bunch of authors, and you mention them when asked, that you used to write, you can bet they would try to (very gently, and kindly) persuade you to go back to it. I don’t think that’s my calling, though. I’ve lost that passion somewhere along the line. That said, I’ve been working on a little small project with a friend of mine, even if it got sidelined over the summer. But that’s something we do for our own amusement. Still, it’s nice to be encouraged and be offered to join a support group if you ever wish to.
One conversation I never saw coming was my very last one as I was heading up to my room. A similar one to the one we had years ago at my first BristolCon. Back then, I was a total newbie to the community. I met Dom (among other people), whose book I read a couple of months earlier, and pointed out some errors (I asked if he wanted them). He asked me then if I ever considered editing because I might be good at it. I always wanted to be an editor, so that was nice to hear. Less than a year later, I tried to give it a go – kind of. It didn’t turn out how I wanted, but I talked about this in more detail in my post about burnout. A few years passed, Dom and I met a couple of times at cons, but the subject never came up. Until BristolCon 2023. Once again, he asked if I was giving a go at editing. I said no. I’m only blogging these days. He asked why. I gave him a very shortened answer. He said I should consider it, and told me how much my notes (and Julia’s) helped him, and made his book much cleaner. That was great to hear and get that feedback. But I wasn’t entertaining the idea, was I? Well, turns out I am.
When I wrote that burnout post, and especially the part about my attempt at a side career, I was thinking a lot. What I did wrong, how I should have done things, etc. I probably jumped in too early, without much consideration. And I’m not entirely ready to give it up just yet. I still have the same doubts and concerns (no qualifications, English being only my second language, just crippling self-doubt), but maybe, just maybe I should give it another go. I don’t know yet for certain. I’m definitely not going to jump into it, and I don’t want to make a career out of it – I’m okay with my current job, and I definitely don’t want to give up on SPFBO or blogging – but if I could take up a gig here or there, I could raise a bit of extra money I could spend on going to WorldCon 2024 and BristolCon 2024, or even on well-needed therapy. And I could build my skills and self-confidence up one book at a time. I know I have a knack for picking up typos and errors, so it’s not like it came out of the blue. I guess we’ll see what the future brings.
Thus BristolCon 2023 ended on an interesting note. And even though my brain tries to convince me otherwise, I did have fun and was happy to see all the lovely people I got to know over the years. The organizers, as always, did a stellar job hosting us all, and I’m excited to see what the future brings for them! Here is to BristolCon 2024!
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