This week at work, and social exhaustion

This week at work was our annual mini-conference for tech writers from all across the company, called Burning Pen.

It’s usually one of the high points of my work year, mostly because it’s really nice to get to hang out with colleagues who I like but don’t see often enough. The talks are often good and interesting and useful too, and the organizers generally do an excellent job, and there’s always a great logo, and all in all I like it a lot.

However, it’s also usually about three days of intense socializing: sitting in presentation audiences, learning new things, interacting with colleagues between and after presentations. And trying to do at least a little bit of work in the interstices. And somehow all of that tends to take more social energy for me than science fiction conventions do. I think partly that’s because it’s a work thing so I’m less relaxed, and partly because much as a I like my colleagues, I mostly know them less well than my friends from the sf world, and partly because I feel more of an obligation to be present. (At an sf con, if I reach social-energy limits, I generally just go hide in my room for an hour or a day. At Burning Pen, it’s the middle of the work day, so I think I feel less OK about skipping hours or days worth of activity.)

This year, BP was of course entirely online. The organizers did an excellent job of making that transition. There was only one track of programming (all of it good), and there were two MCs who the video went back to between talks, and the talks were mostly prerecorded but with live Q&A after most of them, and there were social text-chat rooms and a couple of social video-chat rooms, and I felt like the whole thing went well.

But even though it mostly consisted of watching about seven hours a day of video, which is something that I think normally I wouldn’t have any trouble doing, I found the whole thing socially exhausting.

I didn’t visit the video-chat rooms at all, even though I would’ve liked to, nor did I use this occasion to have a video-call lunch with any of the colleagues who I would’ve tried to hang out with if this had been in person. (I suppose I could do that anytime, but it never occurs to me.) By the end of day 1, I was tired; by the end of day 2, I was drained (especially after an hour or two of an unrelated manager-training session that happened after the BP day was over); on day 3, I could barely focus on most of the sessions.

(One of the talks on day 3, which I hope someday will be made publicly available, included a slide that said something like “All of the reasons for having these feelings are valid.” That got me teary—partly because I loved the empathy of the talk, partly because I was so tired that I was feeling particularly emotionally vulnerable.)

After the last talk on day 3, around 4 pm, I should have switched over to reviewing an important style guide update that a colleague had been waiting all day for me to review, but instead I lay down in a darkened room and fell asleep for an hour and a half, then spent the next few hours reading and otherwise staying away from the outside world. I had intended to watch some of the debate, but realized I was definitely not up for that. (A couple hours later, right near the end, I watched about a minute of it, just to get a sense of what it was like.)

Fairly late last night, feeling more relaxed and on top of things, I did the review of the style guide update. I didn’t do the personal-email stuff that I had been planning to do all day; figured I was so tired that I would go to sleep early and wake up in the morning and do things then.

And then I spent about three hours researching uncollected or unpublished Joanna Russ stories, and contacting various people about same, and reading Le Guin stories. And I finally went to bed at 2 am, but I couldn’t get to sleep until 3, and then I woke up at 7:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep.

I’m wide awake at the moment, but I suspect a nap is in my future.

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