Thoughts Before Scio14

“I’m fine” is one of the easiest lies to tell someone. In the past year it’s a lie that I’ve told often. Mostly because it is the path of least resistance to smile, respond politely that everything is status quo, and then change the subject or simply move on. It limits the possibility of being asked questions I don’t have the answers to, or making someone who really did not want to hear my latest tale of woe really uncomfortable.  Yet, 2013 seems to have presented several stretches of time when things were anything but “fine.”

With Scio14 on the horizon, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about who I was and how I felt attending Scio last year, and where things stand now. Last year I was so excited, and incredibly optimistic about what 2013 might have in store. The conference captured all of that and added fuel to my fire; it made me feel like I could do ambitious things. I met people who were inspiring, and I felt like I belonged (which doesn’t come easily.) It was basically the high-point of last year.

I’m currently at a point in life where I feel like I need to decide what is work and what is for fun, and while I’ve reached some conclusions about how I want to spend my time, I hope attending Scio14 gives me some clarity on others. I’m a science writer professionally, but in 2012 and 2013 I also spent a tremendous amount of my free time (and savings) attending scicomm conferences, networking, writing blog posts, reading and talking to people on Twitter. I attend ScienceOnline (and many other things) completely out of pocket, on vacation days. Yes, in 2013, you folks were my vacation.

I hate getting asked what my hobbies are, because until last fall, scicomm WAS my hobby. I invested a lot of myself in these activities outside of my working hours because I enjoyed them and I thought they were valuable. It was all scicomm all the time with a little bit of friends and family thrown in. I wrote in September that I had lost heart in my online scicomm activity, and while at the time I had some renewed enthusiasm, that spark has nearly been extinguished. It isn’t just that my online scicomm feels different – it’s that I’m different. I’ve always thought that you shouldn’t write blog posts just to write blog posts, because you have to want to be a part of this – and there is a big part of me that simply doesn’t want to do this anymore.

When I think about the things that have had the most influence on how I think, and how I approach the world, 9/11 sits at the top of the list. Last year gave it some company. While I didn’t see it at the time, April is really where 2013 went off the rails for me. I didn’t think the Boston Marathon bombing affected me all that much; after all it was no 9/11. My Dad was a first responder to 9/11, he survived, but it hit us at home – it was personal. I was only 13, but I remember remarking to a classmate that day that nothing was ever going to be the same again, and it certainly wasn’t.

What happened at the Marathon shouldn’t be compared to other events, and drawing such comparisons can be problematic anyway. Still, I have come to believe that the severity of an event like this shouldn’t just be measured in lives lost or in people injured, but in fear. Fear is a deeply personal experience that affects everyone differently, yet I feel comfortable saying that an event like the Marathon bombing spreads fear like a plague. I also think that terror is its own brand of fear – a fear that for me is hauntingly familiar. Though it was different at 25 compared to 13, I still know that fear.

After the bombing I saw a lot of friends struggle with their emotions, the shattered sense of safety, the “how could this happen,” the “who would do something like that.” I didn’t have those same struggles. What kept me up at night were not the nightmares, it was the knowledge that you can try to move on, even think that you have, and still the fear – and those who spread it – will be back. It is simply a condition of being alive that we will consistently find ourselves grappling with fear – but admitting that we are scared of something can be so difficult.

When I think about what scares me the most, I come up with being powerless. I hate the idea that when people I love are in danger, there truly may be nothing that I can do to help. Looking at the world this way – with the fear that anyone you love  can meet harm in an instant, and you will be powerless – it is hard for me to understand how anyone ever finds ‘peace of mind.’ I don’t really understand how in a world where shelter-in-place is a common term, everyone isn’t loosing their shit every minute of everyday. But you have to meet the fear somehow, the only other choice is to let it paralyze and consume you. 

I find it hard to admit that 2013 changed me so much because of fear. I hate the idea that fear has any power – but I’ve found that it changes an awful lot. Things that seemed important before aren’t, things I wanted before I don’t , my goals have changed, and I’ve changed. So what does any of this have to do with scicomm or attending ScienceOnline? Mostly it is just to explain that I’m approaching Scio14 with a very different mindset than I did for Scio13. How I am involved in scicomm and what role I let it play in my life is something I’m re-evaluating.

This is something I was struggling with when the scicomm “community” imploded in October.  After everything that happened, (which if you read my site, you know about, so I’m not going to rehash, and if you don’t know…Google) I withdrew from online scicomm even more. It’s fear again. Fear that I’m a poor judge of character. Fear that people you trust aren’t who you think they are. Fear that I don’t deserve to be here, not now, and maybe I never did. Fear that now that people are actually listening, they will notice that I never belonged.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my life, and while I can’t claim to have had any major revelation, I have seen that how I spend my time is one thing that I can control. I want to be more thoughtful about it, and a big part of that is scicomm outside of working hours.  I still think online scicomm has tremendous value, but I need to figure out how much of my life should be devoted to it. I really think it is time to get some new hobbies. I’m not writing off ScienceOnline, I still intend to manage ScioBoston and I have no plans to kill my blog or twitter completely, but  I don’t intend to maintain them with any consistency either.

My main goal for Scio14 is to come away with a better idea of how to run ScioBoston effectively, and figure out how my work in development can fit into the scicomm ecosystem.  I’m looking forward to finding what I hope are answers in the many conversations that will take place. I’m looking forward to seeing friends and making new connections. I also find it scary and intimidating in a way that I never did before. So, here’s to not letting fear win. See you at Scio14.