Tag Archive | conventions

Problematic conventioners, take two

Secret Masters Of Fandom unoffical beanie.

Secret Masters Of Fandom unoffical beanie.

So the Mark Oshiro post has kicked off a lot of discussions all over the place. In other words, I was not the only person who linked to it and commented. One of the more interesting revelations is that one of the ConQuesT concom members was so upset that the rest of the committee refused to do anything that she resigned from the con a few months back. She posted her version of the situation here.

File770 has an extensive post, with links to several other comments and additional information, and a very long comment thread (which has remained mostly civil): Mark Oshiro Says ConQuesT Didn’t Act On His Harassment Complaints.

I’m more than a bit disappointed in how many people are still jumping to the defense of a couple of the harassers with re-treads of the “can’t you take a joke”/“But everyone knows she didn’t mean anything by it.” One version of that which has surfaced a few times in regards to the person who has a history of taking her pants off at panels is, “she does that all the time; I’m not offended by it; Therefore it isn’t offensive and there’s something wrong with you if you think there is.”

This is an old defense that has been used to excuse sexual harassment and sexual assault for decades. A woman complains that she was made uncomfortable by someone who kept commenting on some part of her anatomy, kept crowding in on her, et cetera, and people say, “Oh, so-and-so does that all the time, but he’s harmless!” By which, presumably they mean so far as they know he has never murdered anyone, or raped anyone at knifepoint. This completely ignores the fact that the leering, crowding, groping, or whatever that he does do makes the person feel very uncomfortable, unsafe, and completely obliterates any enjoyment she gets out of the activity/convention/party/panel whatever.

Similarly, the pants situation this time isn’t just about whether it is offensive for a woman to stand around wearing a pair of mens boxers as outerwear, it’s whether after dropping her pants bumping into and continuously rubbing up against another panelist who has previously indicated he isn’t comfortable with that behavior is an acceptable way to behave. Never mind whether it is conducive to a serious discussion about tolerance for a panelist to do that on stage at the panel.

To switch sides for a moment: I’ve been on the other side of the “is it offensive” debate. There are still people (they got quoted in some of the news stories after the last Hugos, for instance), who angrily insist that even including a platonic gay relationship in a story/movie/TV series is deeply offensive to them. Heck, there were calls for boycotts because a black actor was cast as a stormtrooper in the new Star Wars movie, not long after the calls for a boycott of one of the official Star Wars tie-in novels because it included a gay character. I totally understand that someone merely saying that something is offensive is not justification for utterly banning that something. For those people, seeing me simply giving my husband a quick peck on the lips before heading into a panel room completely squicks them out. And I refuse to stop being who I am just because some bigots think they have a right to live in a diversity-free world.

So, I understand that the woman who takes her pants off may be trying to make a statement about body positivity, and about women being in control of their own bodies and having a say in how they dress. I understand that I don’t have a right to veto her choices about herself. But if I happen to be on the panel with her, my lack of a veto over how she dresses doesn’t mean that I have no right to be upset if she rubs up against me, leers at me, and otherwise tries to turn me into a prop for her performative critique of societal norms. My lack of a veto over her sexuality or identity doesn’t mean I have to participate at that level.

Related to all of this, our local furry convention seems to have finally self-destructed: What really killed RF2016 was RF2011 to RF2015. Yes, I said finally. I know it isn’t nice to pile on when someone is already down, but there were very clear warning signs early (as the person, a recently resigned conchair, who wrote that post-mortem alludes to) that the concom had serious problems. The ones mentioned in the post are bad, but they were the tip of the iceberg from my experiences: as an attendee, as a dealer, as a panelist, as someone who offered to help on staff, and as someone who filed multiple reports of times the convention didn’t adhere to their own policies. The thing that actually brought them down was failing to deal with misbehaving attendees, but that was only a symptom of a deeper problem—just the most obviously expensive symptom.

These things don’t have to kill conventions, though.

Last summer, after the incident of the drunken writer contacting the local police to file a false report that one of the WorldCon guests of honor (with whom he had a political disagreement) was a dangerous person who might commit violent acts at the con, Lydy Nickerson posted a lengthy post about her own experiences as a staff member dealing with problems at conventions over the years: Harassment: What do we do? It’s really well done. She lays out a lot of real scenarios and explains the options and how to take some mitigating circumstances into account and so on. It is really worth a read.

Convention problems and problematic conventioners

SMOF = Secret Masters Of Fandom . Shirt by the DannyBirtStore www.zazzle.com/thedannybirtstore

SMOF = Secret Masters Of Fandom . Shirt by the DannyBirtStore http://www.zazzle.com/thedannybirtstore (Click to embiggen)

Recently a lot of stories have appeared on my various social media streams about problems at sf/f conventions. Problems at conventions are nothing new, and are certainly not unique to fandom. I’ve written before about bad behavior that matches or beats any fandom convention horror story at professional trade shows and even an evangelical Bible conference I’ve attended.

At least one specific post over the weekend warrants some commentary: Mark Does Stuff – TRIGGER WARNING: For extended, detailed… | Facebook. Mark Oshiro was invited as a Guest of Honor to ConQuesT, where he and his partner were sexually and racially harassed both on and off panels, treated very strangely by con staff (including the chair) at Opening Ceremonies and the GoH dinner, and so on. It is not a pleasant story to read, and even more infuriating to see how the con staff many times assured him things would be taken care of, then months later told that no action would be taken on any of his complaints.

He concludes the tale with this explanation for why he’s going public:

Harassment is unfortunately a part of my experience at SF/F conventions. Not at all of them, but at most of them, something happens to me. I’m an outspoken queer Latinx, and it’s inevitable. However, since ConQuesT, every con staff that I’ve had to make a report to has dealt with my report quickly and fairly. At ConFusion this year, the concom dealt with my incident report in two hours. Meaning they spoke to the person and that person apologized to my face within two hours. At that point, it almost seemed comical that over half a year had passed, and both ConQuesT and Kristina Hiner did nothing at all.

That’s why I’m talking. I did what I was supposed to. I kept quiet, I trusted the system in place, and it completely failed me. I will not be attending ConQuesT this year or for the foreseeable future. (I’m going to WisCon for the first time instead!) I don’t feel safe there, and ultimately, that’s why this bothers me so much. There are people who are part of that community who were actively hostile to me, and when I reported them, the message was sent loud and clear:

We don’t care about you. At all.

It left me wondering why a convention would invite someone to be a guest of honor, then treat them this way. I can come up with a number of explanations, but even the most benign ones still leave no excuse for not dealing with the harassment incidents.

A certain number of responses (both at Mark’s original post and on various blogs reacting to it) trot out the usual blame the victim/blame no one defenses. 1) Surely if Mark had simply politely asked the harassers to stop everything could have been avoided, and 2) Con staff can’t prevent bad behavior and certainly can’t be expected to anticipate everything that might go wrong.

The first defense, besides ignoring Mark’s account that he did ask and otherwise signal his discomfort multiple times, completely overlooks the fact that speaking up for yourself, no matter how politely, often leads to even worse consequences than the original harassment. When folks are confronted about their offensive behavior, they frequently deny and escalate. One example happened in the comments of Mark’s posting (which was subsequently deleted, but not before someone took a screencap of it).

The second defense contains truth, but is also very misleading. Three of the problem people named in the post have been known to say and do those (or substantially similar) things at previous conventions. The panelist who took her pants off and kept bumping up against Mark and making weird faces even said, at the time, that she had gotten in trouble for doing that sort of thing on panels at that very convention previously! Con staff can’t predict the future, but surely they can remember problems from previous years?

I get it. I’ve worked on convention staff many times. My jobs have ranged from very low level gopher to being in charge of programming and vice-chair. I understand that the con staff is all-volunteer, always overworked, always understaffed, always juggling lots of things, and frequently doing all of this on too little sleep and without enough time. I understand that no one has time to vet every panelist. I get all of that.

And I’ve been on the other side. I’ve said and done things I realized later that I shouldn’t have. I’ve had to go apologize to people. I’ve been in situations where I should have apologized but wasn’t able to for various reasons. And sometimes when I’ve been confronted about something I said and did, instead of taking the complaint to heart, I’ve denied and gotten defensive—aggressively defensive. So, I understand and empathize with those people, too.

Some folks are defending the other panelists by trying to say it was all in good fun, or it wasn’t meant that way (whatever that means). You know, that’s exactly what bullies say when they get called out. “I was just joking around. I didn’t mean anything by it.” You can hurt people without intending to. You can make people uncomfortable without intending to. Your intent doesn’t change how the person felt while you were behaving that way. Just as saying you didn’t mean to break something doesn’t magically repair the broken thing.

If you sincerely didn’t realize what you were doing was making someone feel uncomfortable or unwanted or despised, it is all right to mention that in your apology. But the rest of the apology has to be sincere. “I didn’t realize how my actions affected you at the time. Now that I understand, I deeply regret what I said and did. It was wrong to put you in that position. I will try not to do that to you or anyone else ever again.” Something like that is a real apology and shows that you value the other person.

While the “Can’t you take a joke?” sort of reactions just confirms your utter disregard for anyone other than yourself.

We skipped NorWesCon

Some of my bestest friends hanging out at the convention this year. I didn't take this picture, because I wasn't there.

Some of my bestest friends hanging out at the convention this year. I didn’t take this picture, because I wasn’t there.

So we didn’t go to the Northwest Science Fiction (NorWesCon) again this year. Quick background: I started attending the convention back in 1987, after being envious of friends who attended the previous few years, and I didn’t miss a single one for the next 25 years. Michael and I met at a NorWesCon. For years he has referred to NorWesCon as our anniversary, since neither of us can ever remember the date of our Commitment Ceremony (of course, both have been superseded since we were able to finally legally marry on December 9, 2012). For a couple of decades it was my habit to buy our memberships for the next year before we left the convention.

Since NorWesCon has been on Easter weekend since 1989, I have kept track of Easter by remembering when NorWesCon is going to be. I have habits built around NorWesCon. For many years, now, I spent a lot of time during the rest of the year plotting what new cocktail I will buy Keith on Saturday night at the con, because Keith almost never drinks, and it amuses all of us, including his wife, to watch him react to alcohol (and it’s tricky to find ones he will actually agree to drink more of). During the weeks leading up to the convention I start longing for the evening I’ll sit in the bar or restaurant with Juli-sans-e (not to be confused with Julie-with-an-e, who might join us with the wings, but is more likely to find ways to trick us into saying “nipple” at inappropriate times) eating plate after plate of hot wings and exchanging stories.

I could go on and on.

But, for a variety of reasons, the last few NorWesCons we attended were not much fun for either Michael or myself. And when I realized that four out of the last five we attended, I had found virtually none of the programming interesting (except for Auntie’s costuming panels). I had found it so unappealing, that I had wound up spending all of the time I wasn’t sitting in a bar or restaurant with our friends, sitting at my laptop writing.

To be fair, I got a lot of writing done each of those conventions. More than I usually get done on an ordinary weekend. But it seemed a little silly to both of us the spend all that money on a hotel room, memberships, and all of those meals at hotel restaurants, if all I was going to do was sit in a hotel room tapping away on my computer keyboard.

The one exception out of that span was the year that both Jim Butcher and Patricia McKillip were guests of honor. It’s pretty difficult for me not to enjoy hearing either of them talk about their writing.

So we skipped last year. We gave a few other local conventions we haven’t attended in a long time a try, and we enjoyed those. We would have enjoyed them more if our usual gang had been in attendance. I did miss hot wings with Juli. I really missed hanging out with the gang.

We were leaning toward coming back this year, but when we weren’t able to get certain answers we needed before the hotel room block filled up, we decided to skip again.

As it happens, another friend that I’ve been trying to get to attend finally went for the first time this year. So not only didn’t I hang out with our usual crowd and do our usual things, I didn’t get to hang out with Sheryl at the con.

I also regret missing this year because Michael Moorcock was Guest of Honor. I really like his writing, and given his age and the distance to travel to a west coast con, it’s highly unlikely I’ll get another chance to see him.

NorWesCon is almost always the same weekend as SakuraCon. My dear sweet husband was actually one of the founding SakuraCon committee members many many years ago. It’s been several years since we’ve attended it. So we had talked about the possibility of getting memberships to SakuraCon for this year, though by the time we had decided not to do NorWesCon, neither of us was feeling enthusiastic about anything. We had a couple of conversations this weekend about next year attending either SakuraCon or NorWesCon. I know we could both have fun at either. Most of our friends will be at NorWesCon, but we’ll have a few friends at SakuraCon.

A lot of people seem to be excited because George R.R. Martin is going to be the Guest of Honor at NorWesCon next year. Frankly, that makes me slightly less likely to attend. Not that I have anything against Mr Martin, it’s just that I suspect a lot of people who don’t normally attend fan-run conventions will decide to attend this one because of the television version of Game of Thrones, and the atmosphere may be more like a corporate con than a fan con. Yes, sometimes I am a fan-snob.

We need to decide soon enough that we can get the hotel rooms and everything else in order either way.

In related news, thanks to some suggestions from friends, since we were already planning to attend EverfreeNW again this summer, but we’ll stay at the hotel next door that many of us like a lot better, and since that same weekend a gaming convention, PaizoCon will be happening in that next door hotel, Michael and I now have memberships for both conventions, the same weekend. And several of our friends are doing the same. So, we’re going to be two-fisted congoers (or dual-weilding badge-holders, or something) this July.

So even though we’ve skipped NorWesCon two years in a row, I think we’re holding onto our geek/nerd/fanboy cred.

(Un)conventional solution

Close up of otter appearing to smile while holding his paws together.

Sometimes, only an otter will do!

I only got about 4400 words worth of new scenes written for the novel over the course of my weekend at RainFurrest, but I made more progress than the word count implies.

I’d written recently about a big plot hole problem which has been stalling the book for a while. Late on Friday night, while I was futzing with a new scene that wasn’t quite working, I had an idea. I revised a couple of lines of dialog, and suddenly the rest of the scene just flowed. Because I’d figured out the solution to the plot hole, and once I’d made the choice to go with it, a bunch of other things starting falling into place…

Read More…

Conventionally speaking

A toy dog, fanzines, and toy ponies.

This adorable corgi plushie is my table mascot this year.

I’m having a good time at the convention. I haven’t slept in very much, but I seldom do when running a dealer’s table at a con.

This year, in addition to the usual copies of fanzines full of anthropomorphic science fiction, we are also selling an anthology of fiction produced by another publisher, My Little Pony blind bags, buttons designed by my husband, satirical bumper stickers designed by me, trading cards based on the fanzine project, badge ribbons, and t-shirts.

Though it would be more accurate to say we are offering all of those things for sale. As there hasn’t been a lot of actual purchasing happening at the table this year.

Thursday I sold mostly blind bag ponies and buttons. Friday the big mover was the badge ribbons. Oh! And all the My Little Pony coloring books (I only had three left after Everfree NW) also went on Thursday.

I’ve had good traffic at the table, and a few interesting conversations. I also got a decent amount of writing done Friday.

I’ve been having more fun, as usual, hanging out with friends for meals or up in our hotel room after the dealer’s den closes.

I did have a surprise visit from Julie. She and her mother had returned from a trip to London and Paris, and after Julie dropped her mom off at the airport, she came over to the convention hotel. Someone from con staff sent someone into the dealer’s den to tell me Julie was out at the door. She dropped off Lucky Tuppence coins for several of us, and showed me a tiny fraction of the photos she took on the trip.

I should grab some breakfast…!

Running off to a con

The car is very nearly packed. I still need to pack the computer, make a final run through the house to get everything turned off, et cetera, and I may hop in the shower one more time before I go.

I go to conventions because I enjoy hanging and goofing off with my friends, enjoy seeing people I don’t see except at fannish events, also to people watch, get some writing done, and (it is hoped) sell some books and things. It’s my version of a vacation.

There is a point (or, to be honest, several points) before I get on the road where I’m stressed out about almost everything: Have I packed everything? Is the inventory ready and in an order where I can find everything? Are my display materials ready? Did I remember to back up my computer before I left? Do I have my medications? Did I remember this, that, and the other?

Then during the drive and/or flight at least half of those questions keep coming up again, along with a lot of others: Did I double-check that the stove was turned off? Did we get the windows locked? Did I start the dishwasher before we left? Did I take the trash out? Did I let the responsible neighbors know we would be gone for a few days? Did I make sure no leftovers that won’t last are sitting in the fridge? Am I sure I locked the door?

When I write them out, it sounds like I’m a complete mess. Which is usually a slight exaggeration. Don’t get me wrong, each question wells up from my subconscious delivered in a voice of utter panic (usually sounding like Don Knotts’ character, Luther Heggs, in the movie The Ghost and Mr. Chicken). But the more rational part of my brain will sigh and say, “Yes, yes we took care of that.”

On trips where I’m experiencing a bit more of the worry than usual (such as, say, during times near the anniversary of Ray’s death, or his birthday, when I’m been working a lot of extra hours at work…), Michael has to intervene and remind me that if something is wrong or missing or forgotten, we’ll deal with it, “We always do.”

Which is great when he’s with me.

Unfortunately, he forgot that this was a Thursday through Sunday con, so he didn’t arrange to take today off from work. He helped did most of the loading of the car before he left. He’s going to come home after work, change, grab a few things, then take the train down to the hotel to join me this evening. As he reminded me just before he left, I can call him if I realize I forgot something, and he’ll check the house once before I go.

He’s always so calm, and capable, and endures my worry attacks with the patience of a saint.

I don’t deserve him.

Anyway, time for me to do those last few things and hit the road. If you happen to be attending RainFurrest, come to the dealer’s den, find the Tai-Pan table, and say “howdy!”

You might get a free badge ribbon or something out of it!

The co-opting of the Nerds

The Great Nerd Summit (also known as San Diego Comic-Con International, or SDCC) of 2013 has just happened.

I have only attended once, back in the mid-80s when attendance was a mere 6000 people. Yes, I said “mere.” Last year’s attendance was more than 130,000 people. I don’t believe that official figures are out, yet, for this year. While the convention (called the Golden State Comic Book Convention when it was founded in 1970) originally was about Comics, and the word “comic” is still in its name, it had expanded far beyond that realm to embrace sci fi/fantasy books, movies with any sci fi or superhero connection what-so-ever, and gaming back when I was there.

Of course, comics is a style or medium of storytelling. I grew up reading both Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge comics and X-men and the like, so even I knew that as a child. Yes, I said grew up. My mom was an X-men fan in the mid-sixties. I have mentioned before that I’m a second generation fan, right? My point being that you can conceivably tell any kind of story in comic form. And there have been the extremely interesting and well done examples of memoirs, biographies, and other kinds of story that don’t fit the comic book stereotype.

That said, SDCC has gotten to the point where it is the trade show for just about the entire entertainment industry. I understand why there are events highlighting upcoming movies such as sequels to The Avengers, Captain America, and Thor, as they’re all based on comics. And I understand why there are events rolling out teasers for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s a cartoon, not a graphic story (there are comics, but those are spin-offs, and the official MLP events were all about the cartoon), but animated cartoons are an allied artform of comics. I even understand all the video game stuff that happens at the con.

But, much as I love Benedict Cumberbatch and the current BBC Sherlock series, I think that Sherlock events at SDCC is stretching the definition a bit. Whereas the fact that there were events for How I Met Your Mother, Veronica Mars, and Community is just insane.

The official SDCC award (as opposed to Awards sponsored by other organization which are simply presented at SDCC), the Inkpot, is given out for “outstanding achievement in the Popular Arts industry.” Which makes me think the event should more properly be called the San Diego Popular Arts Con.

I’ve gotten into arguments with fellow nerds about why Sherlock Holmes, as in the original character and stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, has often been included in science fiction events. I have defended the inclusion because Holmes could be argued to be an archetype of a particular kind of nerd: hyper observant, possessed of encyclopedic knowledge of a vast range of topics, an uncanny ability to find relationships between the most minute details, and infamously incapable of relating to people empathically. Serious articles have been published in psychological journals debating (pro and con) whether the fictional Holmes had Aspergers syndrome, for goodness sake! The Holmes stories may not be sci fi, but both the character and the methodology by which he solves his mysteries are highly identifiable to a significant portion of the fan community.

While I have made that argument, and will continue to do so, I’m also the first to admit that all it provides is a reasonable rationale for stretching the envelope to include Holmes as an allied creation. It’s a stretch, and I admit it.

A sort of similar argument can be made for the specific television show, Community, because its ensemble includes some nerds. But it’s a much more tenuous connection to make based on a couple of supporting characters, as opposed to the main character and his primary activity.

I can think of even more tenuous (and ludicrous) arguments that might be made for shows such as How I Met Your Mother, but all of them would be a smoke screen. The truth is that, as I mentioned, SDCC is a trade show, not a fan convention. Its purpose is to advertise, generate buzz, and fan the flames of enthusiasm for any popular art property that can shoehorn itself into the convention. That isn’t a bad thing, per se. Certainly no one is forcing fans to get online at a particular time on the final day of the convention so that the entirety of the next year’s memberships can be sold out in less than two hours. No one is forcing people such as myself to track down stories and videos of the events to get some ideas of what movies and shows I should be looking for in the future.

If you want to fan the flames of enthusiasm, there is no better place than the heart or mind of a nerd or geek. We’re more politely called fans, which is short for fanatic. The one trait that most distinguishes us from the mundanes is how incredibly, obsessively enthusiastic we get about the things we like. So even though some of us are primarily enthusiastic about science and science fiction, if you can get us interested in your show— even one that doesn’t have any discernible science-y aspects—we’ll talk about it. We’ll set our DVRs to catch your premiere. We’ll mention that it’s coming out to our less nerdy friends. We’ll make and post fan art or create and share silly memes based on photos from your show.

We will be your viral marketing campaign. And because tens of thousands of us are willing to buy memberships at SDCC each year, that means some of us are paying for the privilege.

Apart from other branding considerations, I think that’s why for the foreseeable future they won’t be replacing the “Comic” part of the name.

Only the ponies

Ponies, Disney pins, and other merchandise on our table

The table I was sharing with Edd (MU Press) at EverfreeNW 2013.

I had a lot of fun at EverfreeNW. As mentioned earlier, I spent most of the time behind a table in the “Vendor’s Room.” I’m used to the place where people sell stuff at a con being called “Dealer’s Room” or “Dealer’s Den.”

My half of the table was selling buttons, small My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic toys, some MLP:FIM coloring and sticker books, a couple of pony-themed bumper stickers, and a few of the most recent publications from the Tai-Pan Literary & Arts Project.

Edd’s half of the table was selling Disney Pins and one of MU Press’s graphic novel-type books.

A pile of rag doll ponies

Joi was at the next table, selling rag doll ponies.

We drove down and checked into the hotel midday on Thursday the 4th. Our friends Jwyl, Sky, Anthony, RJ, Wendy, and several others (I don’t remember how much of the gang was actually there at that time) were hanging out in the lobby of the hotel so they could see people as they arrived.

The convention was happening at the Seatac Hilton, but several of us like the Marriott next door better. So a bunch of us took rooms there. It was like having our own convention within a convention. We discovered that there was a gaming convention going on at the same time in the Marriott, so both places there were lots of people walking around the hotel wearing badges on lanyards around their necks.

Cute soft plushy

A close up of Bedtime Derpy.

When I had assembled our merchandise into a display the weekend before the convention, I’d put a super cute plushie pony I’d purchased from Equestria Rags on top.

Our friend, Joi, is the genius behind Equestria Rags, and she was sharing a table with Sky in the Dealer’s Den. I made up a little sign that identified the doll as Bedtime Derpy, made by Joi, and encouraging people to go see her table. I thought that 1) Bedtime Derpy is just too cute not to be seen, 2) it would be a way for me to direct people to Joi’s work, and 3) if someone with a kid expressed interest in the doll, I would be willing to part with her, because I really think she needs to be held and cuddled by a child.

Nami, Sky, and the back of Xen's head.

Nami, Sky, and the back of Xen’s head. View from behind the tables.

The only problem with my brilliant plan was that I had completely forgotten that Sky and I had both asked, on our Vendor Applications, to have our tables next to each other. So if anyone was at my table, they were likely already looking at the ponies on Joi’s table. Oh, well, I still had a lot of fun getting people to hug Bedtime Derpy and look more closely at the rag doll ponies.

We brought my large format printer in case Sky or some of our other friends needed to print more prints or buttons. I have an Epson color inkjet that will print sizes up to 13″ by 19″ posters. I didn’t realize until we were unloading the car that I have forgotten to pack the extra ink cartridges. But we’d come down a day early, and since it was a holiday traffic had been clear, so while Michael went off to work in Con Registration, I drove back home and grabbed a few other things we’d forgotten. And Sky did need to make some new buttons, so it was a good thing.

Anthony with buttons over his eyes

Anthony goofing off in our room.

The weather wasn’t really hot, which was a big improvement over last year. But it’s warm, sunny, and high pollen season. When you combine that with sleeping in a hotel room, which always make my sinuses either dry up and ache or clog up and ache (I always assume it’s the mostly closed-system air conditioning that does it), I often feel as if I’m coming down with a cold when I’m at a con. Other people get sick after they come home, but usually not me.

The coming down sick feeling was especially bad on Saturday. I was getting cranky. My head, sinuses, and throat hurt. My eyes were itchy. And I was dozing off at the table. I was convinced I was sick. Anthony was trying to organize a run to a restaurant he liked, but we didn’t have enough transportation for everyone, and I just wanted to go curl up in bed and die by that point. So, Michael got me up to the bar at the Marriott. We’d eaten a few meals at the Marriott restaurant, and I’d been disappointed that the burgers and sandwiches I liked from earlier stays weren’t on the menu. They were on the bar menu, now!

So, I ordered soup, the Oregon Bleu Burger, and a coffee nudge. People keep asking me what a coffee nudge is. I can never remember: it’s coffee, some kind of booze, and whipped cream. And it’s really nice to drink when you’re feeling sick. According to the interwebs, a coffee nudge usually has brandy and dark creme de cacao, and sometimes coffee liqueur. I essentially inhaled the soup and the nudge, and felt a lot better.

Combining a Fluttershy hoody with a matching ninja mask.

Xen as Ninja Fluttershy at AFK Tavern.

Members of the gang that I thought were being ferried to the off-site restaurant started show up at the bar and joining us. I learned that our friend, Nami, had never had a coffee nudge, and since I was about to order my third by that time, talked her into trying one. She seemed to enjoy it.

Jared watches Nami putting on a ninja mask.

One of the only pics I got of Jared, shooting between a bunch of people.

As usual, I’m always forgetting that I have a camera in my pocket all the time, so I didn’t take many pics. I’m especially irritated that I didn’t get pictures of several of our friends.

Jwyl spent most of the weekend down in Oregon visiting Katrina and Terry. Then Katrina and Jwyl drove up and joined us for the last few hours of the convention, and more importantly, the excursion to AFK Tavern. Even more people came up from the con for that this year. Which is cool, but made it difficult to actually enjoy any one’s company at the tavern.

I know several folks left early because it was just too crowded, too loud, and some folks had other problems related to those things. I’m not as much of an introvert as some of our friends, but the whole thing got to be a bit much for me, as well, so Michael and I left early, too.

It was a fun convention. We sold pretty well. Several of our friends sold a lot of stuff. A few of us have begun to more seriously conspire to have a book to sell next year. Yes, I’m planning on coming back. I hope a bunch of our friends are, too.

A bunch of people at the end of a table.

Jwyl at the center of things at AFK Tavern.

“So, why isn’t your husband here?”

I’m sharing a table at the vendor’s room of EverfreeNW, a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic convention.

I love going to conventions. I love going to conventions in order to spend time with friends who I don’t get to see as often as I like, to see and occasionally buy cool and odd things, to get away from mundanity for a few days, and sometimes to learn new things. Because I am a big introvert, I don’t really do well at the kinds of convention activities where one is required to interact in an open-ended way with a lot of strangers.

Oddly enough, I have discovered that the best way to see all the cool costumes, nifty artwork, and so on, while avoiding too much stranger interact is to staff a table at the convention and try to sell stuff. This may sound like a contradiction, but the structure of the dealer’s den means that generally I am only interacting with strangers in a limited number of ways. I am usually simply answering questions about the merchandise at the table. I’m not a hard-sell kind of guy. I will try to make eye contact and smile or greet people who are looking at the merchandise, but then I let them make the next move.

It is easy to spend the time when people aren’t asking questions writing. The last many years I usually have either my Macbook or my iPad with a bluetooth keyboard. Previous years I would have a notebook and a pencil. I wrote the first draft of one of the funniest, horror/epic fantasy/Christmas ghost story cross-over pieces ever entirely by hand in a dealer’s den in Chicago one con, for instance.

I got a lot of writing done on the first day of EverfreeNW.

I also had a lot of cool conversations. One of things I’m selling are a bunch of our duplicate 2-inch vinyl pony toys. We bought several extra boxes of them last year to do our pony-themed Christmas tree. So I had a box full of them which people were picking through looking for their favorite characters. One woman kept holding up some of the obscurer (“background ponies”) characters and asking me their names. I had to confess that I don’t recognize a lot of them, either.

At one point I said, “I’m sorry. My husband knows the names of most of the background ponies, not me.”

“Why isn’t your husband here, then?” she asked.

I pointed to the enormous line of hundreds of people waiting for registration. I had been hearing stories all day that people were waiting in line for hours to buy their memberships. I said, “My husband is on registration staff. I don’t know when I’ll see him again.”

“Oh, yeah, you may not see him again until the con is over.” She went back to looking at the ponies. “I must say, even though they’re being slammed, the people who waited on me were all very nice and helpful.”

She bought about half a dozen ponies.

Several other fun conversations were with younger kids about buttons. My husband has recycled a lot of the packaging material for some of the pony toys by turning them into pin-back buttons. The buttons are popular with lots of folks, but the kids seem especially enamored of the buttons. Most of the conversations centered around which is their favorite character, and what the best picture of said character was that we had on a button.

I noticed that the younger kinds most liked the inch-and-a-quarter size. Though the slightly older ones would pick the small buttons, then realize that the price was the same for a big one, and go looking for a large one with the same character. Because the buttons have been made by cutting out pre-printed packaging, we seldom have the exact same pose in both sizes.

One girl tried to talk her younger sister into switching to a bigger one of the same character. “No! This one’s better!”

Can’t argue with that!

Skipping the convention

This will be the first time in 26 years that I have not attended NorWesCon (the Northwest Science Fiction Convention). Technically, the first one1 I actually attended was not NorWesCon, but was called Alternacon (the notorious NorWesCon IX2 having had so many disasters3 that the hotel canceled the next year’s contract, forcing the con into a smaller hotel, and a limited membership.

I’ve been to every one since. a couple of them I only attended for a day or a part of a day6.

Seventeen years ago at a NorWesCon I met Michael7. We didn’t see each other again until the next NorWesCon. It was a couple months after that that we started hanging out, and nine months after that before we went on our first official date. The next NorWesCon after that was the first we shared a room, and we’ve been to all of them since.

So while I think of the anniversary of our first date as our official anniversary8, he always considered NorWesCon as our anniversary9.

All of which leads to why I’m feeling a bit odd and sentimental about skipping NorWesCon this year. There are a few reasons—most of them just personal timing things, though also we haven’t really enjoyed ourselves as much as we used to the last couple of years. Certainly we both had a lot more fun at EverfreeNW last year.

Maybe we just need to take a year off.

I was shocked to realized today that the convention is this next weekend. Just a few days away10.

This also means that this is the first time in many, many years that we will be home for Easter. I should probably make some plans for that.

Of course, it is the first time that this particular anniversary has not happened while we were at a convention. Maybe we should just celebrate by ourselves…


Notes:

1. I had been wanting to attend the con for a few years before that, having several friends who regularly attended. It sometimes feels as if I vicariously attended a few earlier than my first.

2. When NorWesCon IX rolled around I was attending college nearby, but I couldn’t afford to chip in on a hotel room and so forth. The con happened during Spring Break, so I was back at my Mom’s (after spending a few days with friends caravanning down; it was a strange week). When we arrived at Mom’s place, she barely let us get unloaded before she and my step-dad were loading us in the car and dragged us to a nearby Community College. They wouldn’t say why, just that it was a surprise. The Guest of Honor at NorWesCon that year was Anne McAffrey, and she had flown into Portland to visit friends before going up to Seatac for the convention. And she was doing a reading and book signing that night. So I got to see the Guest of Honor that year, in addition to hearing about all the experiences of my friends who attended the con.

3. In addition to the stories from my friends attending, and people I’ve since met who attended or were staff for that convention, I also got to hear about the con from a classmate who, at the time he was telling me about it, didn’t realize I was one of those “freaks.” He was a fundamentalist, and his wife worked in the management office at the hotel. She was also a fundamentalist, as were many of the employees there, because the Assistant Manager was a member of a very large nearby church, and had heavily recruited among the congregation for his hiring. When the Assistant Manager saw some of the costumes and pagan imagery on t-shirts and such early in the con, he had become convinced that the attendees were all Satanists (not to mention all those godless atheist science types, et cetera), and had instructed the employees who he trusted to go out of their way to document any bad incident that happened, because he was determined that those sinful freaks would never come back to their hotel.

The organizers of the convention were unaware of this. They were too busy dealing with about a thousand more attendees than their wildest dreams had expected, and they were woefully understaffed to deal with them. The physical layout of the hotel (it’s really a complex of several buildings interconnected with enclosed walkways, rather than one building), made patrolling difficult for con security4.

A bunch of bad things happened, such as damage to the rooms, people sleeping in the hallways, drunk people making a lot of noise very late at night, et cetera.

4. There are always some people attending any type of convention5 who do stupid and/or very inappropriate things. Sometimes it’s just being thoughtless. Sometimes it’s because they’re drinking. Sometimes it’s just because they are in their late teens and this is the first time they’ve been that far from parental supervision.

5. I can tell you stories from a high school journalism conference that will make your toes curl. And equally disturbing ones from a Bible conference I once attended.

6. While I was going through my divorce, a friend who had been through a few more serious breakups than I had advised that sometimes it best to let your ex “have custody” of fandom for a while, so that mutual acquaintances don’t feel awkward, if nothing else. So for at least two years I only made those brief appearances, rather than attending for the entire convention.

7. We have different recollections of where we met. I remember meeting him at a room party on the Saturday afternoon. He remembers meeting me at a specific panel on Friday morning. I remember participating in the panel, I just didn’t recall him being one of the other people there.

8. I can never remember the date of our commitment ceremony. For one thing, it was extremely informal. If you insist, I can go dig around in the filing cabinet and find our paperwork.

9. Of course, now that we’re officially married, rather than domestic partnered, I suppose our official anniversary should be December 9. Or maybe we should just celebrate all three.

10. Which means that a whole bunch of our friends will all be gone this weekend.

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