On authors and anxiety
I’ve survived my first term of my new job. More importantly, I survived my first school holidays without actually having a holiday. So how’s it going?
Corporate life is very different to being in a classroom – or indeed, a library, which is where I thought I’d be this year. I’m working longer hours in the office. I’m getting my head around all the additional requirements of being in a role with higher levels of scrutiny. I’m learning the joys of corporate writing – briefings are far less fun than poetry! But I’m loving it, and all the wonderful opportunities that come along with my new role are just blowing my book-loving mind.
Take, for instance, last week. I spent a good chunk of the week at the Sydney Writer’s Festival events at Riverside Theatres Parramatta, where we’d organised some fantastic author interviews backstage with presenters who were part of the Primary and Secondary Schools Days during the week, and AllDayYA on the weekend. I love talking to authors, it’s one of my favourite things. But this experience had me in a maelstrom of anxiety-ridden agony – quite literally, I mean. Sitting on the train on my way in for my first interview, my stomach felt like some Alien-esque creature was trying to escape. I’m familiar with this phenomena – my old friend, come to try and remind me that I’m not good enough, that this is scary and terrifying and I should run away as fast as I can. I talked about it in relation to a conference presentation where it hit me so hard I thought I needed to go to hospital here. What I’m discovering is that my body doesn’t differentiate between good risk and scary risk. My Friendly Anxiety Monster sees risk, and sends my system into red alert. It was NOT a pretty sight. Messy, snotty tears on the train. Sorry, fellow Mountains line commuters on Friday morning.
But thankfully I was expecting it. I spent the train trip talking to my partner, who reminded me that my fear and my anxiety is one of my superpowers. And I reminded myself of the lessons learnt from a wonderful book by an author I was, in fact, heading to interview (see my review of the book here). So I breathed, in and out. I put one foot in front of the other. I spoke my truth – I told the fantastic authors I was chatting to that I was, in fact, dealing with tremendous anxiety, and I did not let it stop me nor define me.
So, that’s the anxiety part of my week. The authors? Well, that was far more pleasant. Throughout our time at SWF, we got to formally interview 10 wonderful authors, and chat to a great many more backstage. Particular highlights for me were Jesse Andrews, who was my first interview, and who helped me settle into the whole process with a minimal amount of stress; Shaun Tan, who was a joy to chat to, so insightful and willing to share; Kirsty Eagar, who I must confess to not having read before, but I’m rectifying that now – what a gem!; and Chris Riddell. Sigh. I’m still floating on a cloud of sheer delight from the experience of getting to chat to Chris on multiple occasions about his work, his views on why children’s books can change the world, what it’s like working with Neil, and a hundred and one other things that just made my soul happy. Oooh, and Nicki Greenberg! So inspiring to hear about her labour of love on some of my favourite graphic novels. I didn’t interview AF Harrold, but he was my favourite new discovery from SWF2018, both as a personality and a creator. Witnessing a wonderful interview with Morris Gleitzman, and getting to see my niece shine as she recorded a Q&A with her favourite authors, was another highlight. Ditto for Katrina Nannestad, whose work I was only passingly familiar with as I’m far more a YA girl than a middle school reader, but such a lovely soul with real insight into the writing process. Oooh, and Patrick Ness, who I mentioned earlier – to get to chat to him about how his book had made a real difference in my life, and who took the time to personalise the giant pile of books I took for him to sign. And, and … well, you get the idea. Lots of authors. Lots of fangirling. Lots of joy.
I love my job. I love the opportunities that it provides me to do what I love, and to help provide opportunities for students and schools to connect with authors and their work. And I love that, as I get more experienced at dealing with my Friendly Anxiety Monster, we get to go through these experiences together. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to a point where it doesn’t impact me, but I’m ok with that, I guess. Because, this is a lifetime journey. My Friendly Anxiety Monster and I will be spending a lot of time together. And like any relationship, you’ve got to learn how to live together. He’s not going anywhere, so we’ll figure this out. Because the alternative is that I don’t get to chat to Chris Riddell and others of his ilk. And that, dear reader, is completely unacceptable.
P.S. If you’re interested in reading a much more eloquently written piece on living with anxiety, check out this article by Will Wheaton. I read it just after the above event. I wish I’d read it before. It’s great. It describes in all its glorious messiness the joys of living with “the tag team champions of the World Wrestling With Mental Illness Federation” Anxiety and Depression.