1991 TAFF Report: Pam Wells


Published 1991 in Saliromania 6 ed Michael Ashley
Rekeyed by Dave Langford's scanner

Introductory • Depression Tango

Back home from TAFF on a roll, only to find that rolling off is the easiest thing in the world. I can feel depression creeping, calling my name from over its shoulder, and I'm scared it will catch me again: scared that I'll be held in its spell for another winter, until I win another fan fund or some other significant achievement speaks to my self-worth synapses and hauls me out of the abyss. I'm not depressed yet, but I'm definitely teetering. And what better vantage point to write about it from: to be in sight of depression but not yet engulfed; to know that surely, inexorably, it will catch me again, but to pull as hard as I can away from its clutches. I feel like the drowning man on the shore, moving away from the waves more slowly than the tide comes in. One day he will go under, but not today.

In America I was happy. I was a welcomed guest, I was cosseted and cared for, I had a job to do and it was the easiest job in the world: be nice to people who are being nice to you. But more than that, the pervasive American culture caught up with me from the word go. The only acceptable attitude over there is Positive. Geri Sullivan, my first host, is a fine exemplar of this style. I caught it from her and used it to get me through the rest of the trip. It worked well, faltering only at the worldcon when negative reinforcement had a chance to show. I.hate big crowds of people I don't know (dealing with crowds of friends is hard enough!), I hate poor organisation when there's no need for it, I hate -- well, Worldcons, I guess. I can't imagine anything persuading me to attend another one (although anyone who wishes to take this as a challenge is perfectly welcome to try). In fact Worldcon was the closest I got to viewing depression-think during my whole trip. And that wasn't very close at all, I can now say, from my new vantage point at the edge of the abyss.

I play music to keep it at bay, but only when I feel at peace enough to do so. Most times I am not at peace. I feel hounded by my neighbours, polluted by their noises seeping up through my floorboards. Music, television, voices, thumping noises more likely to be footfalls than violence, echoing pings and clunks, resounding thuds of bass on tracks I never want to hear again in my life. Chris Tarrant's voice whining more loudly downstairs than on my own clock radio in the morning. I hate them for their intrusions, and I feel feeble for showing so little ability to rise above it all. My peace is sacrosanct; perhaps just half an hour when I return from work will be enough, but when that is stolen the fabric holding the inside of me together frays. Since I've been back in Britain the material has held for just two weeks. Don't let the bastards grind you down? Hah, that's just what they were designed to do! I am nothing if not obedient. Might hypnotism do the trick? (You are getting sleepy -- even though there is mayhem all around you -- you will rise above it and kip kip kip even while the floor is shaking all around you). San Francisco seems so far away from me now.

The stereo is playing the B52s: relentless cheer in the face of oncoming depression, and it's working. I'm getting mental throwbacks to my great train journey: 22 hours on Amtrak with virtually no sleep from Seattle to San Francisco, not one of my better ideas. All the best scenery -- the mountains of northern California -- happened after dark. It wasn't all bad, though: we passed some great coastal areas to the south of Tacoma, and it was wonderful to be staring out of a train window without having to be bright and bubbly for a change.

The first seven hours of the trip were fine, but after that, as the train filled up and I got less and less comfortable, I wanted to be doing something else. Anything else. Anyway, the track playing now on the B52s album sounds similar to a track I was listening to on my Walkman on the train, from a tape compiled for me by Lesley Ward, or perhaps it was Christina Lake. I must check the track titles and see if they are in any way related.

Some time later, I have ascertained that the B52s track is entitled '53 miles west of Venus', and the Amtrak track is called 'White Eagle' by Tangerine Dream, from a tape compiled for me a few years ago by Christina Lake. So much for completeness in my reportage: if only my trip report could be this accurate. But it won't. I took a pocket cassette recorder with me but failed to use it during the entire four weeks -- except to tape a bunch of Madison fans singing 'Salsa y Ketchup' in the corridor outside the Wiscon room party at Worldcon. The recording makes it sound like a supremely tuneless Andy Hooper and his backing singers, many of whom forgot at least some of the words, and not nearly as hilarious as I remember it being at the time. Guess some things don't translate too well after the event. 'You had to be there', right. So my trip report will have to be culled from the notes I made each night in my pocket notebook, and my memories.

Ah, memories! These are fond and loud now, but will fade and distort as time passes, as fresh depression takes over my elated state. It's imperative that I get some of it down on paper now, before it all fades away into a vague pink blob of sunshine floating above the regular cesspit which is Life. So for now I chart the progress of my mental state and try to remember to copy and save any chunks of my letters that mention America, until I feel ready to transcribe the notebook and begin filling in the wealth of detail that has to be provided. Which will arrive first: full-blown depression or the trip report? My money's on the former: I know how to do that already, and it looms larger. The trip merely fades away inside my head. I wish it wouldn't.