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Monday, May 2, 2005

Frauenpower at the Nebulas!

Huge congratulations to Eileen, Ellen, Walter Jon Williams and Lois McMaster Bujold on winning well-deserved Nebula Awards!

So here's what it's like to lose a Nebula...


It was a surreal weekend. Chicago is impressive -- sharply vertical, with an aesthetic running to huge riveted slabs of iron -- like a movie set for a city, an unapologetically made environment. I loved it.

State of Mind, pt. 1

I was nervous. It's not that I felt there was any particular reason I deserved a Nebula or had to win a Nebula or anything; being nominated was quite giddy enough. And there were lots of people there who I love to see and talk to. So purely rationally, I should have just enjoyed myself and felt honored, right? And winning would have been a bonus.

Or, alternatively, I could have hoped fervently to win, and then been sad afterwards when I didn't win. That would have been less impressively unselfcentered, but would at least have made sense.

Instead, I was crazy-nervous the whole time before I lost. While I bantered about with folks and squeezed some fun out of the enveloping sponge of pressure and enervation, I couldn't really deal. After I lost, I was relieved and really enjoyed the rest of the weekend. Go figure.

Like a con, only with no fans or panels and nothing to do but babble

Some of the funnest fun thus squeezed out: the debate about Jane Austen -- was it all about the bling-bling? -- and Chris Rowe's hilarious mime interpretation of the epistemology debate.

Mary Anne: Author, Editor, Impresario, Brunchgiver, Host

Stayed at the home of the indomitable Mary Anne Mohanraj and her man Kevin. David Schwartz gives an excellent account of the wonderful brunch she threw [he also covers other highlights, such as the post-award rugby demo in the hospitality suite, and my eerie, eldritch hyperactivity]; also had a lot of fun at the brunch talking to Ellen Klages and Laurel Winter and Eileen Gunn about the Singularity and feminism (to which I think it was Mary Anne who said, "oh, are you going on about that again?").

It was great to stay at Mary Anne's actual house; we talked about how there's an odd unreality to having all these people in SF we care about and spend, actually, a nontrivial number of hours-per-year with, but see only in hotels, in this oddly contrived and artificial context. Very grounding and nice to see the real-world trappings of Mary Anne's life, and talk late into the night at someone's actual home, for once. (She gave me an ARC of her book, which is fantastic so far).

State of Mind, pt. 2

Saturday after brunch: Nervouser and nervouser. Paul Melko's wife, Stacey, was able to calm me down slightly by telling me to just focus on the problem of dinner, rather than any awards silliness (What table am I sitting at? How to distinguish the salad fork from the dessert fork?). But it was Connie Willis who was really helpful. We're in the line to get into the banquet, where we're to sit at the Asimov's table:

Connie: How are you doing?
Ben: Nervous.
Connie: Remember, we'll all be dead soon.

That did the trick! Really: I'm not being facetious. The way she said it conveyed precisely the actual importance of winning or losing the Nebula in the universal scale of things. I relaxed instantly.

I mean hell, even if the nerdcore boys are right about the Singularity, we'll surely all be dead soon in geological time, at least. So there you go! No more awards jitters!

They did come back though.

Seating Arrangements

I expected to miss being over with my posse at the Strange Horizons table; but while I'm sure I missed some very fine craic, I found it very soothing to be seated with Sheila Williams, Gardner Dozois, Connie and Cordelia Willis, Lois Tilton, Mike Resnick, Brian Bieniowski, etc. Why?

First, Connie is the funniest and wisest and kindest person you could ever want to lose a Nebula with, and entertained me with a long lesson in Nebula etiquette.

Connie: Try not to yell "OH, SHIT!' when you lose. That's frowned upon. Clap nicely. If you can pretend to be enthusiastic, that's a bonus.... If you win, be sincere. Don't act like you are too cool to take it seriously. And don't say, "So-and-so told me it couldn't be done, and now I did it, so HA! TAKE THAT!"

Secondly, I didn't have to talk that much. I talk when I'm nervous; it's an internal compulsion. If I was at the Strange Horizons table, I would have been talking my head off. And wondering if I was getting on everyone's nerves. And boring myself. And getting more nervous. So that was an advantage of being the youngest, newbiest person at the table -- I was not in the least tempted to interrupt Connie or Mike Resnick or Garndner or Sheila and launch into a fifteen-minute geeky rant on anything.

I could listen to them reminiscing about a frenzied Isaac Asimov going nuts having to sit next to Shirley MacLaine at a formal dinner, or enumerating the most boring Nebula keynote speakers in history, and bask, not only in the hilarity and wit and playfulness, in their gentle mock cynicism, but in the sense of continuity and tradition, the sense that all this has come before.

And third... get this: they were nervous too.

I doodled Connie's soothing motto: "we'll all be dead soon" -- as the speech bubble of a little dancing star on a scrap of paper, and Connie said: "Show that to me when it's my category, because that's what calms me down."

Connie Willis is the only person ever to have won a Nebula award in every fiction category. She has six. She didn't seem to be much less nervous than I was. Neither did the other nominees at the table.

Which is kind of good news and bad news, I guess:
a) you are not alone
b) psychologically, you never do Arrive.

State of Mind, pt. 3

As they got to my category, I was honestly thinking to myself, "why do they do this? This is cruel and inhumane. Can't they just count the votes and post the results on the web? You'd be like, cool, I won! Or, cool, I was a runner up. Why do it this way, with long funny speeches beforehand? It's like punishment for being nominated. It's like, like, ritual human sacrifice of the winners of Aztec ball tournaments! Yeah! Or like in the Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas! I never realized all this collegiality is founded on torture! Aghh!"

I was a little nervous.

Zen and Not Zen

Richard Chewdyk, about to read the winner for the short story, explained that when they say "the winner is..." and they pause, and you're a nominee, it hits you that they really could say your name in the next minute, and that moment of possibility is precious. It's real -- that moment of present actual possibility. And you always get to keep it. Mysteriously, even after they say someone else's name and you come crashing back to reality, it's still there. It was, he said, kind of Zen.

And I was like:

"Oh yadda yadda yadda, whatever! Stop all this crap, get to the name already! Zen? It's so not Zen! Zen my ass! Zen! ha! I hate when people say all this crap about Zen, it's like when they call everything quantum physics! It's just ridiculous! And this whole stalling before telling the name is crap, it's not funny at all, it's --"

Then he said, "And the Nebula for short story goes to..."

And he paused.

And I could physically feel my heartrate accelerating to some unreal velocity, and he looked at me, at each of us, and it really could be me in that now, which is still here.

It's kind of Zen.

Mind-Body Dualism

And then he said, "Eileen Gunn," and I cheered.

Eileen Gunn! I was thinking. Wow! That is so neat! Because I totally had not been thinking about Eileen. Mike Resnick because he always wins, Ken because his story was so high-tech idea-rich and so clever in execution, Greg for the wild gonzo slipstream vote -- or mine because it was old school SF. Eileen's story was beautifully written, Borgesian, melancholy, full of heart... and all but plotless. And this being a congregation of SF writers, I figured lovely, almost plotless Borgesian rumination for a long shot.

You could tell, as she went bewildered up to the podium, that it was a total, glorious surprise. So my mind was thinking, consciously and out loud: Eileen! Eileen is TOTALLY the right person to win this Nebula.

And a level under that, at the border of consciousness, what was I feeling?

A little sense of hollowness, to be sure; the disengagement of preparations, worries, ego-enlarging grandiosities, expected delights -- like a shuttle, goodbyes swiftly said to its crew, decoupling from a space station and falling away towards the clouds....

And also, more potently: felt a swift and total sense of relief, sort of like I'd dodged a bullet.

I was like: I did it! I made it through this!

Then I blew my nose and my handkerchief was full of blood: I had a nosebleed. Presumably from that surge of heart-acceleration.

The body is ineluctable and has its own story.

Eileen came over and hugged me and said, "I was SURE you were going to win!" and I was delighted with how happy she was.

It felt right. It felt like: I am at the beginning of this. This practice run, this was enough; this was just what I could handle. Just perfect, for this time out. And something betwen a vow and an eager expectation, that there would be another.

The only time I really felt bad about not winning was when Eileen let me hold the award -- this cool Lucite block with planets and stars in it. Not having the abstraction of the Nebula award didn't bother me much; only when my body felt the physical object, did I feel deprived of it. (It weighed just the right amount -- not light enough to feel like a tacky trinket, nor heavy enough to feel like a burden to schlepp around).

Me: Well, that's pretty.

My body: Pretty! Mine!

Me: No, no, not yours.

My body: Pretty thing mine! Take pretty magic thing home!

Me: No, come on now. Not this time. Let go. Hey! Let go, or no ice cream for you!

My body: (sulkily) Wanted pretty thing. Pretty pretty pretty... (yawn) mm, tired now.

And so on.


Ellen Klages then won for her sweet and beautiful novelette, and gulped from the podium, startled, "I was sure Chris was gonna win!"

Walter Jon William's story was great; but I wish Connie had won, because then it would have been an all-woman sweep of the four fiction Nebulas, which has never happened. Instead, women took three spots, which has happened seven times. For comparison, men have swept the Nebulas eight times and taken three spots another sixteen times.

Note that I'm not suggesting the electorate voted for Eileen and Ellen due to their gender (rather in spite of it, as the statistics above suggest) -- but something in me was pleased that they were not passed up in favor of all the thritysomething Young Turk Boys crowding the ballot.

And, parallel to this -- (though I am certainly not making the onerous and false essentialist equation, boys=ideas, girls=heart ; both terms are demonstrably false in the world of SF writers!) -- my own attention was on all the stories set At The End Of Time, or After The Singularity Changes Everything, or On Truly Alien Worlds; so I'm chagrined but kind of pleased to see two stories win which were set in the present or the past, and which distinguished themselves not by big ideas, but by damned fine writing and heart.

(I'm leaving aside the novel category in this analysis, as the only novel I'd read was Cory's delightful, boyish big-idea novel).

Aftermath, pt. 1

After the banquet, I saw Cory -- who'd also just lost -- and he said, "Next Year in Jerusalem!"

Amen, brother.

Post-award party, met various local Chicagoan writers and aspiring writers and fans (and combinations thereof) and demo'd rugby; talked all night with Mary Anne; Locus photo shoot Sunday morning, followed by book signing at Borders (if you want to be humbled, sign your chapbook downtable from Anne McCaffrey), followed by brunch with Toby Buckell, Cory Dotorow and his supercool girlfriend Alice, Geoff Landis and Mary Turzillo, and Martin Girton (who it turns out I went to camp with twenty years ago, and with whom I had a long, invigorating, enjoyable, loud argument about the Middle East at the signing); hypergeeking with Cory was soul-nourishing as always, as was talking about Toby's novels on the way back to his car.


I'm passing over the interview I did for Locus; it was delightful, though also stressful, talking with Charles Brown; stressful because he was at first delighted that I wanted to talk about philosophy instead of just pimping my stories, then concerned and ultimately maybe a little irritated that I never did manage to bring it back around to my stories. Oh well. I was nervous. Mean time to a second Locus interview is seven years, so I have time to prepare.

The photo shoot (by Beth Gwinn of Locus) was even weirder: big lights with white umbrellas over them to soften the light, "ok, now lean against the fireplace like this"... I started humming "i'm too sexy for my cat, too sexy for my cat..."

More Hangin'

Somewhere in there I also hung with the gang -- met Sean Stewart (talked about writing for the amazingly cool "This Is Not A Game" school of internet gaming, which he helped create; it sounds like great fun, and I hinted that he should try and seduce me to the Dark Side) , James Cambias and his wife whose name I really should recall (they make paper games, which also sound cool), Andy Duncan, Joe and Gay Haldeman, Jack Skillingstead, Laurel Winter; discovered that Martin Girton and I went to camp together twenty years ago and argued vociferously and enjoyably with him about the Middle East; and the usual suspects: Paul and Stacey Melko, David Moles, Susan and Matt, Karen Meisner, Greg van Eekhout (and met his delightful wife Lisa), Hannah Wolf Bowen, Chris Rowe and Gwenda Bond, Ellen Datlow, and the various other people I've forgotten, including ones I know very well, and ones I met and can't recall their names (like the rugby prop from the party, and the two aspiring Chicago writers I talked with Mary Anne about SLF mentorships... )

Aftermath, pt. 2

And now I shall reveal the nature of the inexhaustible, eldritch source of my con energy:

So Monday evening, Esther picked me up at work and left me at home with the kids while she went out for a couple hours. When she came back we had a conversation something like this:

Esther: So what did you guys do?

Ben: I'm not sure, I was asleep.

Esther: You were asleep?

Aviva: Daddy told me a long story.

Esther: While he was asleep?

Ben: Sure. I had them both on the couch, and I was holding Noah like this...

Aviva: I had to keep kissing Daddy's ear to wake him up!

Ben: For about half a sentence...

Aviva: Daddy, in the story, who was it that was allergic to peanut butter and submarines?

Ben: I don't know, honey, I was asleep.

Noah: (beaming) Dadd-dy!!!

Posted by benrosen at May 2, 2005 01:11 PM | Up to blog

Ah. That explains it, then!

Posted by: David J. Schwartz at May 3, 2005 01:10 PM

it's hannah wolf bowen. You must correct for one day she will be at BH with us

and i doubt being nominated for such award would be half as much fun as reading your account. hee.

omnip, loves ya baby.

Posted by: amber at May 3, 2005 10:59 PM

Oops, thanks Amber!

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at May 4, 2005 09:23 AM
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