The Year Of Cutting Down

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 10.854% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I remember that time, so many years ago, when someone first invited me to a convention.
It felt like a signal honor – and, in fact, it was one, because I was just this LiveJournal-bloggin’ schmuck.  There was no real reason to have me there except that the man running the convention media track liked me, and wanted to meet me.  The idea of going to a place and speaking in front of a room full of people as though I was somehow notable was intimidating.
I didn’t have any fans except, perhaps, for that one man.  Gini couldn’t make it with me that weekend.  But I battled down spasms of social anxiety and went, because when you got an offer like that you didn’t turn it down.
That was my first convention.
That was the first time I got up on stage and pretended to be somebody.
I was cleaning grout the first time someone hit on me as a married man.
I remember being in the tub, and hopping out to chat occasionally as my new friend and I tried out this “Gchat” thing that had just hit it big.  We’d met for coffee – we both worked out of our home and were lonely – and we’d had the excitement of getting a Gmail invite, because back then it was invite-only and very prestigious.
She told me she was considering opening up her marriage.
She told me she was considering opening it up to me.
And I remember being on my knees, slathering in fresh grout after I’d stripped off some old unrepairable stuff, and thinking, This isn’t happening.  Attractive, married women just don’t tell you they want to have sex with you.  
That was my first polyamorous relationship.
That was the first time I got in someone’s bed and became their boyfriend.
In the spring of 2015, I achieved a lifelong dream: My novel FLEX was released.
To my surprise, by then, I did have fans.  Thousands of people followed me on Twitter and FetLife and LiveJournal – not crazy celebrity numbers, it’s a little hard to think of yourself as some kind of star when you’ve stood backstage with Neil Gaiman and seen what actual fame is like – but enough that I could travel up and down the West Coast and find a roomful in each town who wanted to shake my hand.
Lots of them had read my book already, and liked it.  Not liked me; as a blogger, I’d long grown used to purveying my personality.  They liked my fiction, which still is a concept I have problems dealing with: that idea that someone could be a fan of my works without having the slightest idea who I was like.
Lots of them were kinky, too.  I’d written tons of essays on polyamory and kink, and so a lot of the folks were in open relationships.  I had offers for fire dates.  I had offers for cuddles.  I had even deeper offers.
It seemed unreal.  I was that guy in the bathtub scrubbing grout, I was that guy holding onto the tenuous fandom of one man at a Michigan convention – and yet I was someone who clearly had people enthusiastic to meet me, and sometimes to smooch me, and sometimes to read me.
It didn’t make sense.
It didn’t make any sense at all.
In the winter of 2015, my world imploded.
I’d been invited to four conventions in six weeks, and I went to every last one of them.  And in the weekends I wasn’t going to conventions, I was having sweeties over to visit for the weekend, so for two solid months I didn’t get a single weekend to myself.
Or to my wife.
Or to even my long-term girlfriend of seven years, who got locked out thanks to a convention appearance I’d forgotten about.
But I had a book to sell, man.  People wanted me to go places, and if they’d pay my way, sure, why not show up?  So I’d work extra hours during the week so I could leave at 3:00 on a Friday to drive a couple of hours to go visit another convention, or drive off to a hotel to see a new sweetie of mine, or to…
To exhaust myself.  Because I was an introvert.  And I wasn’t giving myself any recovery time.
And at the conventions, I’d meet new people who I wanted to see more of, so I’d try to fit time in for them, and everything was just snowballing.
Then the holidays came, and it was visiting the last of my sweeties and seeing my family and going on vacation and making time to ensure that I did see my girlfriend of seven years, and every weekend was locked down and God when would I get the time to wind down I never would I’d overbooked.
No individual weekend was bad, mind you.  (Well, one was, but that led directly to a breakup.)  I didn’t regret any of that time individually.  But collectively, I started to feel like I was eating nothing but rich meal after rich meal and feeling like I was living life to the fullest and yet somehow feeling nauseated afterwards.
I wanted everything, because everything was so scarce. You didn’t get invited to conventions every day.  You didn’t get to flirt with beautiful girls every day.
It would be an insult to turn any of that down.
I was dying rather than insult anyone.
In November, I had a key insight – my Polyamorous Justice League, wherein I stopped seeing all the women I could date and started seeing the women I should date.  That was a potent lens for me to view things through, because a model of scarcity made me feel like I should pursue every potential just in case I was leaving behind someone wonderful.
In truth, I am leaving behind wonderful people when I choose not to date.  I know this. I know some of the people I’ve flirted with, and they’re absolutely amazing, and would be great to date, but…
I’m not that guy kneeling on the grout any more.
And there are some great conventions I could go present at, and it would be a lot of fun to do each of them, but…
There will be other conventions.
And what I’m learning is that my life is really sufficiently wonderful that I could make it not wonderful – and it’s sort of shameful what dismally low levels of celebrity can destroy a man, but holy God even a small abundance can choke you if you’re not paying attention.
I could go after everything I have access to now, in this new and freer world, and lose track of what I have.
Some of my friendships have suffered.  I’ve lost connections with friends in town because I met this neat person at a convention and thought, “Well, why shouldn’t they come down for the weekend?” and so I inadvertently prioritized an unknown potential connection over an existing one.  There’s been times I’ve ached to see my good buddies, but the weekends are taken and god the weekdays go so fast, don’t they?
And my wife has noticed a sort of plateau in what we do, too – because she’s been grieving, and not social, and letting me go off to other places alone.  We haven’t been ignoring each other, but we haven’t been doing things together – we’ve merely been existing in each other’s company, her clad in the dim isolation of grief, me itching to get out but not quite wanting to push her.  When we’ve hung it’s been the null kill-time of watching Parks and Rec in the living room instead of going out and forging new experiences together.
Some of my sweeties have suffered. Like my long-term girlfriend of seven years who got shorted on visits because whoops, I’d committed to something else interesting, and my other sweeties who I’d try to wedge into a calendar overstuffed with all these once-in-a-lifetime things that had actually become commonplace.  Seeing me once every five months kinda sucks when we’re officially dating, doesn’t it?
And my writing has suffered.  Like my wife, it’s not that my writing’s died on the plate – the third novel in the ‘Mancer trilogy is now out among its first wave of beta readers – but there’s been one too many weekends where I’ve been headed to a convention and too busy to write, two-sevenths of the week gone because I’m driving somewhere.
So when your wife and your friends and your Polyamorous Justice League and your writing suffer because you’re operating from a model of artificial scarcity where you’re grabbing at every opportunity because oh my God how often does this happen, then it is time to soberly assess just how often, in fact, this does actually happen a decade later.
Early 2016 is when my eyes got opened and I whispered, “Enough.
“I’m good.”
Gearing down is going to take some staging.  Because I’ve made good friends online, and I do want to meet them, when I can sanely do so.  I don’t want to shrug and go, “PARK’S CLOSED, GO HOME” to some of the awesome nascent connections I’ve formed.  I don’t want to reject every convention; I’m not planning on shoving folks I’m already talking to out the door.
But I’ve evolved to the point where my life holds more opportunities than I can rightfully seize.  And it feels a bit like slapping other people who don’t get these opportunities to turn these awesome offers down, but…
What I have is wonderful.
Too much can poison a man.
I have to find some way to take what I have, and nurture it, and still allow for new growth.  Shutting down entirely would be almost as bad.  But I’m overbooked right now, and while I can make efforts to compress with better quality time – I’ve spent hours with Gini over the last six months, but the trick is to do something more than watching reruns – there’s a hard limit to all the places I can go and all the people I can see.
So I think 2016 is going to be the Year of Cutting Down.  Not out.  Not slicing people out of my life.  But I need to figure out a way to achieve balance with what I have so I have time for me, and my loves, and my friends, and my travels, and my new connections, in a way that makes me feel energized and not drained.
It’s gonna be awkward.
But it’s a damn good problem to have.

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