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Friday, January 27, 2017

On getting noticed.


Recently, I wrote a piece (which got a lot of positive attention) about having famous friends. A close friend of mine came to me and asked if I could talk about the flip side -- what are things we should take into account if we find ourselves becoming known?

For what it's worth, I'm riding a weird popularity train. I was somewhat known for my comics for about a decade -- maybe one or two people seeking me out in an event of a couple thousand people and an occasional email that was kinder than 'check your typos.' But ever since (Re)Generation Who and my interviews there, I find myself getting noticed. Not to the point of getting stared and and secretly photographed, not even to the point of my name getting around with my face, but to the point that it's about to take more than two hands to count the number of strangers who recognise me at events.

Now, in its way, this is good. It means I can bring more attention to projects I work on. It means it'll be a little easier, at least in some cases, to be listened to and to have my work noticed and accepted. There's really not a way to do what I want to do with my life without achieving some degree of notoriety because... well... achieving notoriety is essentially my resume.

Personally, there are only two reasons I'd ever actively want to be rich and famous: so I can afford to do nice things for friends/family/charities, and so maybe Jonathan Ross will invite me to one of his epic Halloween parties. I'm not rich. At all. And I'm not famous. My name is known in certain circles. And that's a thing to take into account: 'fame' does not necessarily mean 'world fame.' You can be, like my mother and my aunt, famous in your home town. You can be, like some artists I know, famous within your fandom. You can be known and feel the effects of fame on a small scale, even if you're living paycheck to paycheck and will never get invited to the Oscars.

My friend who asked for this piece finds herself there. I find myself having left that station and idling at the next one. So I'll say what I can. What I've observed. And what's worked for me.

Your friends will say you've changed... and you have.

It's the old saw. 'Fame has changed you.' But the fact is, it does change us. Everything changes us. College. Marriage. Parenthood. Going abroad for the first time. Surviving a serious illness. Every major event in our lives reshapes us in a major way. That's what life is, that's what's experiences are. But we tend to equate change with bad change -- and that really falls to us. If you get married or start a family or go to Europe for school, guess what? You will be a changed person. Evolving as a person is not inherently bad. If anything, it's necessary.

That said, one of the first negative things you will encounter when achieving any level of notoriety is people in your friend group say that you've changed... for the worse. Now, I'm not saying this isn't possible. Narcissists and sociopaths who get a taste of popularity will turn worse. And you'll encounter, as I have, people who genuinely do cut loose anyone who's not 'useful' once they get noticed.

But.

One way you will change is you will become more observant of what you say and how it can affect people and how it travels. So you may find yourself tempering your speech. You may also beg off more invitations because you're emotionally tired. Too, you may become less overtly enthusiastic about fannish activities -- not because you dislike them, but because you're becoming aware of how certain behaviours come across to creators and what constitutes 'line-crossing.'

You might get called a snob. You might get told you're not fun, or that you don't pay 'enough' attention to your friends. Generally the way you know it's not true is if these assertions cause some self-examination. As with most things, the people who genuinely have developed bad habits tend to be the ones who insist they haven't without any reflection.

This, however, ties in with another aspect.

You'll think your friends have changed... but they haven't.

You know how milk and cream separate? You're going to see this happening to your friend group, and you're going to believe that they're changing very quickly. The fact of the matter is, they're not.

You're going to see people you trusted for many years start begging you for favours, and becoming hostile if you don't deliver. You'll see some become hostile just on principle. Others still will suddenly become even nicer, to the point of uncomfortable sycophancy. And you're going to try and trace when they changed, and it's going to become painful because the only common denominator you'll see is you.

However. There are the other friends. The ones who don't change at all. Maybe they've been long-standing friends, or maybe you only met them a year ago. But you'll see them separate and settle to the top, treating you the way they always have, supporting you genuinely, being honest with you.

The thing to remember here is that this first group has always been like that. These people have always been sycophants. Or always resented success. Or always insisted on riding coattails. The only reason you never saw it before is because, until now, you two were 'on a level' in their eyes.

Ask famous writers who used to be in writing circles. Many found themselves shunted out simply because they achieved success. It will hurt, and you'll feel responsible, but it's important to keep a firm grip on what is your doing and what is simply a new, unfortunate discovery.

You're going to have your own definition of 'overshare.'

This varies from place to place. But depending on how, why, and where you're known, you will find yourself becoming unpleasantly quotable. A year ago you could go on blast with pretty much anything you wanted: your mood, why a certain restaurant or event pissed you off, why you're totally okay supporting [celebrity] regardless of their politics.

But when you start getting known... those things matter. Way more than they should. An example presented to me was a friend, better known than I, wanting to complain that an unnamed person in a specific profession did something unacceptable to them. A friend of theirs in the same profession as the rude person stopped them. Why? Because it's widely known that the two know each other, and some would jump to conclusions that the vagueness meant the friend was the perpetrator. Is that dumb? Yes. Would intelligent people understand that a friend would not do this to another friend? Yes. But conclusions are jumped to.

Trust me. I've had it happen. If someone wrongs me, I have to either keep my mouth shut or (if necessary for ethical or safety reasons) blast it in such a way that innocent friends don't fall under suspicion. It's gross. But it's true.

Similarly, people will begin to critique your moods. 'No one cares that you're depressed' or 'Why are you happy when things are so bad' or the like. You're going to find yourself tripping through land mines, in an era when social media is a must, just to say something as simple as 'I bought a sandwich' without getting pulled over by a follower who's ready to give you a dissertation on the unethical processing of sandwich bread.

This is one of the many parts I've yet to master, and I'm not sure many people have because, as it's technology-based, it is kinetic.

Your life is gonna get weird.

This week, I sat in bed with my annual Bad Cold smoothing over relations between a multi-national company and a fandom. A friend of mine almost drunk-texted our Doctor Who episode concept to Steven Moffat. Once I finish this blog post, my next job is to finish a PowerPoint presentation on magical girls for a comped gig I'm doing this weekend.

These are all true things with no exaggeration and no missing context. Things. Get. WEIRD. Sometimes it's good weird. Sometimes it's bad weird. Sometimes it's just WEIRD. It's what my uncle refers to as the New Normal, and I see it every day. And all you can do is just go 'Okay, this is my day today. This is my life now.' and square up and ride that wave.

Enjoy the good parts. Do what you can to bring away a lesson from the bad parts. Be willing to laugh at all of it.

You deserve this.

This is the hardest part. There are some mornings when I have such a massive task in front of me that I feel too small for my own shoes. I'm about to interview someone I watched on TV all through college. I find my name in a book edited by an author I've respected for decades. And my first question is 'Why am I here?' Why is this dopey little Lebanese girl who once forgot the word for 'stapler' for an entire day here?

And this is the part that will be the hardest for you to come to terms with. You'll feel like a bouncer's just around the corner waiting to kick you out of your own life, or you'll say the wrong thing and suddenly they'll pull your trench coat off and discover that you're a kid in a grown-up costume. From what I understand, that never entirely goes away.

I haven't fought this off. I feel it on the regular. Even though I've dedicated a shelf of my bookcase to books I'm in so I can look at it and go Look, you nerd, look at how much work you've done, it never fully sinks in.

The only thing I've ever managed to do when it's at its worst is say... okay. Fine. If I am on borrowed time, let's make the most of it.

If you can manage to tell yourself you deserve what you've achieved, you're amazing. And if you're like me and it's hard... then just hang on tight and keep doing what you're doing and enjoy the ride.

Take care, bunnies. Y'all are awesome.