I’m still getting over my sleep deprivation from my awesome trip to the US. I wrote something of my experience over at The Prosers. But for two weeks so much happened that I feel like there’s more I can talk about. And I’m not entirely sure I’m capable of forming words around it all.
New York was a weird mix of the familiar and the strange. I’ve been watching American movies and TV-shows pretty much my whole life and New York is often there either in the background or as a character all unto itself. The City (and it does deserve the capital letter) did not come as a surprise. It was almost like coming home to a place that I’d never known before. I took to New York almost immediately. What surprised me was the people. You keep hearing how new yorkers are rude and loud and often abrasive, and there was some of that to be sure. But most of all the people we met were kind and helpful and at least seeming concerned with our well being. And most of all, not-white, which I’m think may have been at least part of the reason for the disparity, given what’s happening in Ferguson and all. I’ve been to Toronto which has slightly more people of color than Helsinki, which is probably 95% white – although the hotel we stayed in was on the edge of China Town which may have skewed our perspective. I was expecting New York to be the same. After all, in the movies there are hardly any people of color there. And when there is one, she’s the sassy waitress or clerk or whatever with a surly attitude. Intellectually I knew that that could not possibly be the truth but I wasn’t ready for just how far from the actual reality of New York it was.
The other thing that I wasn’t expecting at all came while we were on the train to Washington DC. We passed a lot of sheer countryside and beautiful, gleaming cities but there were a lot of places on the way that were so run down that I didn’t think they would exist in a wealthy, industrialist nation like the US. Bulgaria, sure. India, why not? But a single wall left standing of what used to be a row of houses in the US? Surely not. And it was even weirder realizing that people were probably living in those houses that were still standing. At a high enough latitude that it still snows in winter. I’m still trying to process that. I mean, I realize that it’s very probably better than being homeless, at least it’s something. But I spent all of my teenage years in government housing because we couldn’t afford anything else and there were times there that we couldn’t always afford food. But even in the dead of winter, at least we were warm and didn’t have to worry about the roof caving in on us some night when the snow fell especially heavy. Again, intellectually I knew that US was one of the governments incapable or unwilling to take care of all its citizens but it took seeing those houses to actually understand the reality of it.
Washington DC on the other hand was a revelation. Not so much the city itself, I never saw that much of it. Last year I went to World Fantasy Convention feeling lost and alone. I’m shy and introverted at heart, something most people who have actually met me or spent any time with me have a hard time believing. I have a loud voice and I have learned not to be afraid of using it. Going up to new people and saying “Hi, I’m Nina, how are you doing?” is absolutely terrifying to me. Don’t get me wrong I do it, repeatedly, whenever I’m in a situation that has anything that resembles a call to do just that. I just always have to give myself a firm talking to before doing so. And whenever I find someone I can connect with for any reason I feel this overwhelming need to cling to them for dear life, else the ravening pack of scary strangers tear me apart for being too weird to be allowed to live.
This time couldn’t have been more different from the year before. This time, my amazing partner came along for the ride and trying at least on some level to make him feel comfortable somehow made it easier for me to feel comfortable as well. This time there were friends there to meet me. That first night there was some of the feeling lost from the year before but somehow I got over it. It helped that somehow my partner ended up on the program. He had a reading. For all that he is an amazing human being and incredibly supportive of my writing he himself does not write. He also feels very uncomfortable, much more so than me, getting up to speak publicly. When we realized what had happened, I may have been slightly unsympathetic in the form of being unable to stop laughing. I ended up having my very first public reading as a way of helping him and the person in charge of programming.
And the whole convention somehow felt so much like step forward in this writing thing. I partied with one of the few agents who represent all of the kinds of books I want to create, the one of them who I now know I’d like to work with. I got amazing advice for applying into Clarion. I met so many writers and I met Galen Dara. I talked business with amazing writers and while I’m not published yet for the first time probably ever I didn’t feel like I had to qualify my statement of “I’m a writer”. I did, because I’m a Finn and we don’t brag about ourselves, but for the first time my heart wasn’t in it. I felt like a real writer. And it was amazing.