Conventional Wisdom

Well, it’s WorldCon weekend, and tonight is the night of the Hugo Awards. I’ve only been to one WorldCon before, at which I was a little bit of a cause celebre (that’s French for meme) because of my role in both explaining and skewering what we might call the, ah, alternatively righteous element in the community of science fiction and fantasy literature: those who believed their tastes were the same as objective truth, that their favorites (or indeed, their own works) were the only ones allowed to win awards, and that any other outcome meant the whole thing was rigged, rigged, rigged, I tell you. (WITCH HUNT!)

This is only my second WorldCon. I missed last year’s in Helsinki because of money and other external factors, but the year before that I made a point to go because that was the year of Sad Puppies Review Books and other satirical or analytical works. I knew I’d received many people’s nods for a Hugo Award, even if I didn’t quite make the shortlist, and I woke up the morning of the award ceremony the year before last feeling an overwhelming (and entirely unaccustomed) sense of humility in the face of how the fandom community had rallied against these gatekeepers, this ballot-stuffing clique of bullies who wanted to tell them what to read and who to like and what to do and who were determined to burn the whole concept of awards to the ground if we did not wholly surrender and give them everything they wanted. I wrote a blog post describing my thoughts and feelings about the whole thing.

It is a little bittersweet to read it now, as it is to read just about anything that touches on politics written in the fall of 2016. Before 2016, I would not have expected to be so close to a major industry award for non-fiction. After 2016, I found my always unconventional career taking a very different turn, one which I think my little skirmishes with the so-called Sad Puppies helped prepare me for. On November 8th, 2016, I found myself on Twitter, helping to explain what was happening. Then it kept happening, and it never stopped happening, and I have kept explaining. That’s not exactly a job, but it is certainly a calling, and it is, for now, how I pay my bills.

My burgeoning success as a political analyst, commentator, and all-around Weird Politics Mom on Twitter consumed so much of my attention that I didn’t have much to say about the Hugos last year. When I look at the two blog posts I linked above, though, I feel like that left things a little incomplete, that I didn’t have a finale for the little trilogy, full of pithy thoughts and wry observations about the final and saddest refutation of the Sad Puppies, when their influence died not with a bark but with a whimper.

But then, maybe silence was the appropriate way to mark that moment.

In any event, I am here at my second WorldCon, again on the morning of the Hugo Awards ceremony, and my thoughts are not on the puppies nor really on the awards but the convention itself. This is my second time at a convention larger than my beloved WisCon, and while this time I feel much more like a part of it and much less adrift in a sea of people… I’m now able to fully appreciate both how big a WorldCon is, and how it is big.

The people who sought first to steal and then downplay the awards insist that WorldCon is a little, piddly, rinky-dink little thing, because compared to one of the big media events like San Diego Comic Con or DragonCon… well, it’s just not at the same scale as those things. But it’s also not either of those things. It is its own things. It’s about all of science fiction and fantasy in every form insofar as it brings together people who love it in every form, but at the beginning and in the end it’s about books, which are intimate conversations between authors and readers.

And this is why WorldCon feels so huge to me: because I’m not here for movie spoilers and big announcements and I’m not here for an award, but I am here for the people. There may be more people at a media convention, but the attendees are just attendees. At a lit con, the attendees are the con. The people are the convention and the convention is the people, and if it were twice as long I could not possibly spend enough time with everyone I want to see.

I know (she said with all due modesty) that what I do right now is important to so many people. I know this because, among other indicators, I have had people come up to all weekend to tell me, “Thank you for what you do, it is so important.” And this is both uplifting and baffling to me, but I understand that even when I don’t know what to do with the information, it means something to the person saying it that they were able to say it. So more so than usual, I’ve been trying to keep myself available, make myself visible, make sure that anyone and everyone who want to find me and see me in person has the chance to do so.

But I know that for my best efforts, I’m going to get at least a few “I looked for you and couldn’t find you” messages, because that always happens, just as there are people I’ve been looking out for whom I haven’t seen.

That’s convention life, though. It is a sign of the health and vibrancy of the WorldCon community that even somebody on the fringes of it, as I am, can’t make all the connections she’d want to in the course of four days.

Back in 2016, I said that awards don’t matter so much as the genuine appreciation they represent matters. They’re a symbol, like a flag, and while a flag may stand for freedom the flag itself is not freedom. The map is not the territory. The symbol is not the thing.

Though I have recently become a bit more of a fiction writer again, I did very little in the speculative world in 2017 and I did not have the bandwidth to think much about stories or trophies. This year I have just started to kindle a bit of a spark of the old creativity and curiosity again, and in doing so I discovered what a wonderful thing a spark can be in the middle of a very long, very cold, and very dark night.

And so here is my insight for this year: the awards matter because they represent genuine appreciation, and the appreciation is genuine because it comes from people, from real people, a real community of people, a community of communities — some old, some newer, each diverse in different ways, each with their own competing and conflicting and even occasionally complementary tastes. This community is here at the convention and it is distributed somewhat haphazardly across the globe, wherever people are reading and writing and appreciating science fiction and fantasy literature published in the English language.

WorldCon is a concentration of that community, and the Hugo Awards are a concentration of WorldCon. The community is people, the convention is people, the awards are people, Soylent Green is people, and it is beautiful and it is glorious, even when the community stumbles.

If you have never peeked behind the curtain of a fandom convention, here is a key insight you must understand above all else: the best-run cons have just about enough time, money, resources, expertise, and personnel to not quite throw a convention, and then they do it anyway. When everything come together perfectly and for even a single shining moment it all just works, it’s like a perfect magic trick from the outside because the labor that goes into it is invisible. When there’s a false note or a missed step and something goes sideways or belly-up, those are the moments that the people in charge get the most recognition.

So while I will never not push a convention to do better — I think the essence of science fiction is being able to look at the world and imagine how it might be better — I think we do need to take a moment to recognize the miracle inherent in the fact that conventions get done at all, and then recognize that it is not a miracle, or if it is one, it is one that comes with great sacrifice on the part of people who, all things considered, probably wish they could just be attending the convention like the rest of us.

I am grateful to be here, I am grateful to be a part of this community. I am grateful for all the old friends I have been able to see and the new friends I am making. There is a song that says the latter is silver and the former gold, and if this is true then I have a positive embarrassment of riches, a hoard of treasure any dragon would envy.

My first WorldCon was a bit like a fairytale. I found myself at the legendary Hugo Losers’ Party hosted by the man himself, George R.R. Martin, not because I had lost a Hugo but because the puppies’ machinations had knocked me off the ballot, denying me the chance to even lose it. I was philosophical about this, because my works that had garnered the attention to get me within striking distance of the shortlist wouldn’t have existed without those same machinations, being a response to them. So I went to the convention with no expectations and yet the wildest ones I might have set would have been blown away.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be any closer to a Hugo Award than I was that year. My first Hugo Loser’s Party was probably my last one, too. My interests are eclectic and my career has been unconventional to say the least, and I just don’t see that kind of mainstream success for myself while I am called to do the work I’ve been doing on Twitter.

But even if it never happens, if I never find myself a Hugo winner or even an actual loser, I still had my moment, and if it happened in a way that seems ridiculous and impossible — nearly as ridiculous and impossible as throwing a convention in the first place — well, maybe that’s the only way it could have happened for me. I am, after all, a ridiculous and impossible woman.

I’m going to close this by noting once again that conventions are people, and that we go to conventions to see people. If I am one of the people you came here to see, you should know we are lighting out first thing tomorrow, slipping out for the airport like a thief in the very early morning. That means today is going to be your last chance say hello, introduce yourself, to talk about my writing or whatever’s on your mind, and if that is something you have a mind to do, I encourage you to do it.

Happy WorldCon, everybody.

UPDATE on Queer Rapid Response Team: No safe implementation possible.

When the word got around about how people on the WorldCon 76 staff were treating some of their queer members and honorees, and queer people were talking about feeling unsafe and unwelcome at the con, I made the decision to form a queer rapid response team to provide on-the-spot backup to queer people who felt alone or threatened, whether in dealing with con staff, other members, or anyone hanging around.

I’ve spent the intervening weeks trying to figure out how best to implement such a program, and now, after long deliberation, I have decided that it would be best not to do so.

It’s not that I don’t see a need for it, though the convention has stepped up its game in response to the backlash. But for me, it comes down to one thing: safety. The whole point of this endeavor would be to increase safety. If it can’t be done safely, if it would actually make things more dangerous, then it shouldn’t be done at all.

And after much thought and soul-searching and consultations with my friends who have done similar types of activism and organizing, I do not think it can be done safely.

It comes down to operational security. For such a team to do any good — for it to be any good — then the ability to contact the team and get a rapid response must be completely open to the public. Knowledge of the team’s existence and the procedure for summoning a team member must be widespread, which means it must be shared publicly. If we rely on back channels and whisper networks to spread this information, then it’s not a rapid response team, it’s a group of friends being friends.

My plan was to use a combination of a Twitter hashtag people could post alerts to and a phone number for texting confidentially to, with an automated process to forward all tagged tweets/messages to members of the team.

The problem is there is no way to vet these messages as they come in; stopping to verify the sender and investigate the situation would defeat the whole purpose of a rapid response. With a known fascist presence organizing itself in the vicinity of the convention and a well-established alt-right cultural movement attached to the Hugo Awards, I think the best case scenario is a system being flooded with phony requests and useless alerts, causing the team to be run ragged and preventing anyone who happens to actually need it from getting aid.

Worst case scenario is that the system is used to lure team members — visibly queer people ourselves — into dangerous situations.

Any public bat signals (like through Twitter) could become a lightning rod for further abuse, bringing hostile attention to the person who requested help. And as an unofficial organization, we’d have no way of preventing unscrupulous individuals from representing themselves as part of the team, either to gain access to vulnerable victims or paint the team or queer con members in general in a negative light. A single false flag event could be used to paint the whole endeavor as a violent threat.

My draft of a document for team members included some steps to minimize the danger we put ourselves in, including an injunction against answering distress calls outside the convention area and a suggestion to use a buddy system, but after “wargaming” several situations out in my head I fear that there’s no combination of precautions that would make the endeavor safe.

So in lieu of a team, I’m going to be doing what I do at every con, which is making myself visible and available. I urge other queer con goers to do the same thing. Look for “family” in a crowded room and if you see someone who looks like they could use support, catch their eye and drift over towards them. Wave to each other. Say hi to each other. Practice bystander intervention out loud and in your head so you don’t freeze up in the moment. It can be as little as saying, “Wait, what?” and “Are you serious?” in a loud, clear voice when someone is doing or saying something harmful in your presence.

My family and I do make a habit of making our movements and presence known when we’re at a convention and we do encourage people who need some backup to look for us. Anyone who doesn’t want to be the only queer person in a crowd is invited to join me at any time that I’m out and about in public spaces at a convention. I tweet selfies of my daily looks at conventions, and I am pretty recognizable to begin with — even if you’re face blind (as I am), most of the time if you think you’re looking at me you’ll be right. Being face blind, I design my looks from the ground up with this in mind.

I’ll still be available to help anyone who needs it, anybody who can. While I’m at a convention I have my notifications on Twitter turned up and my DMs open. Cell reception may be spotty inside the convention center (another reason attempting to provide systemic support might only increase danger) but I will do what I can to give aid and support.

Thank you to the people who expressed interest in joining the team. I really appreciate it and I encourage you to be visible, be strong, and be present, but also to be careful and to be safe.

The things that I felt and said when I first announced my intention to head a team on Twitter are still true. I still believe the best response to danger is to “form up like queer Voltron”, even if it’s happening in a less formal fashion. I’m still going to this convention needing nothing from anyone and owing nothing to anyone, which leaves me free to be an absolute gadfly. I am not going to abide any nonsense in my sight.

Queer Rapid Response Team for WorldCon 76

So, this is one of those posts that’s going to be mystifying to a lot of people but make perfect sense to others. It’s a busy day and I don’t have the time or wherewithal to go into the background. The short version is: WorldCon 76 is fudging up quite badly in how it treats attendees, up to and including finalists for its crown jewel Hugo Award. Multiple genderqueer, non-binary, and non-conforming members have spoken up about feeling unsafe and disrespected, and WorldCon’s safety team is not inspiring a lot of confidence.

Accordingly, I am taking one of my standing offers at WisCon and expanding and formalizing it for the larger WorldCon: I am forming a Queer Rapid Response Team. Before the convention next month, I will set up an automated channel that will text any messages onward to everybody on the team. The idea is that if anybody in the family needs an escort, needs a friendly face, needs emotional support, or whatever, we can form up on them like queer Voltron.

If you’re going to be going to WorldCon and you’re interested in participating, watch this space for info as the plan comes together. I am looking for other trans, genderqueer, and especially visibly queer people, however you define that for yourself; the point of this is *not* cis people using their cis privilege to intervene (which you should be doing that anyway) but creating a visibly queer presence to bolster and reassure. If somebody hits the panic button I want them to know when their support brigade has arrived, you know?

The Queer Rapid Response Team is *not* going to be picking fights, *not* going to be escalating, educating, or even mediating in conflicts.We’re not going to be armed, we’re not going to be getting in individual specific people’s faces and shouting at them. This is not about respectability or pacifism, but about making sure we’re allowed to operate within the convention itself.

Things the Queer Rapid Response Team will do: we’ll walk with people to and from their events. We’ll hang out with people so they’re not alone. We’ll sit with someone who has a difficult encounter and listen to them process. We’ll sit in the front row of people’s panels to cheer them on and glare at That One Guy who is making things uncomfortable for them. We’ll be a floating Safer Space for any queer congoer who is looking for a crowd they feel more comfortable in.

You do not have to commit to answering 100% of alerts during the whole length of the con to be on the Queer Rapid Response Team. If I can actually get more volunteers, I’ll make a spread sheet and you can put your likely availability on it. We’re going to be pretty informal, though. If a text alert comes through, you can answer it if you can and ignore it if you can’t. I (like most people who aren’t straight white cis people, apparently) am not on any programming items at WorldCon, so my schedule is pretty free and clear, which is part of why I’m doing this.

I’ll have more details as we get the ball rolling here.

WisCon 42 Retrospective: Dis Staff



This is not actually the blog post about the party generally, but it’s about something that kept happening during it, and which sort of dovetails with other things I have observed over the course of my many, many WisCons.

We are, or are supposed to be, a progressive convention. We were founded (before I was born, even) as an explicitly feminist convention, and in my view that mission has been appropriately expanded especially in the last decade or so. I hear a lot of talk every year at WisCon about class consciousness, about class issues, about economic justice.

And I hear a lot of it from people who just leave their trash on the nearest horizontal surface, or the floor. From people who will carefully peel an orange or banana and just as carefully dump the peel of it wherever. From people who will say things like, “That’s why we have a cleaning staff.” if you ask them to clean up after themselves.

I hesitate to imagine the tipping habits of these people.

So, the anchor of my party two years running is a sugar-free mocktail bar. Last year Jack ran it himself, and he ran himself ragged doing it. This year El, a friend of ours, offered to help, so he wasn’t running it alone.

This year, Jack decided he really wanted to look the part, so he wore a black vest and a white collared shirt. Over that he wore his WisCon badge/nametag on a lanyard covered with hard enamel pins. El was dressed snazzily but perhaps a bit less formally. I mention this because it seems like they had roughly the same experience, despite being very differently dressed.

Now, we have a mocktail bar because the convention’s contract with the hotel forbids the serving of alcohol by any convention event, unless it’s done by one of the hotel’s licensed bartenders. There are reasons for this and I think the party floor is honestly better for it (the hotel has a bar already, I love it) but I’ve talked about this elsewhere and won’t be going into it again here. The point is: we had no alcohol and were just serving a set of soda-and-syrup concoctions of our own devising, because Jack and El weren’t hotel staff.

A certain number — a small, but noticeable number — of guests proceeded to treat them as though they were hotel staff, which is to say, they were treated in a manner it would not be appropriate to treat anyone. Nothing that I think violates the code of conduct. I’m not talking about anything violent or abusive.

Just… dismissiveness. Inattentiveness. A lack of common courtesy. An unwillingness to listen or believe when it’s explained that 1. Only hotel staff can serve alcohol. 2. They were not hotel staff. 3. They could not serve alcohol.

A few people kept trying to hand their garbage across the serving area for our mocktenders to throw out, and when the trash can on the party side of the bar/buffet was pointed out, would ignore it and keep pressing it forward or just leave it on the table top that served as our bar. We were trying to observe some basic sanitation and food safety rules, so this was kind of upsetting.

I do think part of that latter problem was that the trashcan behind the bar was very visible and the one that was intended to be public-facing was tucked into a corner, so if we can get the same space next year I plan to move them a bit, but at the same time I’ve got no confidence that this will completely solve the problem because I think the problem is that these people saw someone in what they took to be a service position and assumed that meant they were there to handle garbage.

It’s honestly less the fact these few people were confused about the status of our mocktenders or missed the presence of a trash can in the public are and more the way they reacted when corrected, which was basically to ignore the correction, brush past it, and keep acting like “How dare this peon give me lip when I’ve made my wishes clear?” Or actually that’s probably more vehement than it really was. Probably closer would be, “I don’t understand why is this person talking and not [taking my garbage/making me a gimlet].”

And the bad thing here is not that they treated fellow convention-goers like they were hotel staff, it’s that they would treat hotel staff like this. It was after El and Jack had both told me of their experiences and I saw some tweets about what I saw as slightly hypocritical complaints about classism that I tweeted that the Venn diagram of people I’ve heard saying at WisCon that “Oh, this is really more of a class issue.” and the people I’ve heard defend their apparently deliberate messiness with “Oh, that’s what the cleaning staff is for.” would be a single circle.

And this also speaks to a conversation happening on Twitter right now about how the fact that you can pay the hotel for the club floors with their private lounge and nicer amenities is supposedly counter-progressive and listen, I have never heard anyone on the club floor level saying anything rude or dismissive about the hotel staff and when I think about the people I have heard and seen get incensed at mistreatment of our hotel staff, it’s all people I’ve seen on the upper floors. I’m not saying there’s a 1:1 correlation there, but I am saying that I think there may be some hypocrisy in the class-based arguments that are being made.

There’s no call to action here. I don’t think we need some kind of remedy for anything that happened at the party. It’s more just: this thing happened, and it put me in mind of a pattern, and I think the larger pattern is a problem that we need to address, as an ongoing thing.

I watched a grown man, older than I am, take a single cocktail shrimp, pull the tail off, carefully set it down on the buffet table, and walk away. The trash can was at the end of the table, four feet to his right.

That’s the kind of thing I would like to see less of, whether it’s at my party or anywhere else. And as I think about this, I realize that it’s not just hotel staff or people who might be mistaken for hotel staff at drunk o’clock at night, because we’ve heard stories about Con Suite volunteers (Volunteers! Who take time out of the con to make sure everyone gets fed! Voluntarily!) being treated like servants because they’re on the other side of a serving counter.

And I would bet that most of the people who do that, if you asked them at a random, disconnected time, if they know that the Con Suite volunteers are congoers like themselves, that they’re volunteers, doing unpaid work, they would know these things. Intellectually. But it’s like there’s a disconnect, as soon as someone is in a service position, they stop seeing them as anything except at best a tool to get what they want and at worst an obstacle between themselves and what they want.

And we’ve really got to do better, as a society and as a convention.

Because if your mindset is that anyone who is specifically there to help you is now some kind of scum that’s beneath you and must be treated as such, then nothing you do is going to be progressive or feminist or whatever as you think it is. You’re going to be constantly shooting yourself in the foot, ruining things for everyone, and this is to say nothing of the people you hurt through this kind of mistreatment

We really need to do better, while there are still people willing to work in the Con Suite and serve tasty things at parties and host the convention. We need to do better because we’re supposed to be better.

WisCon 42 Retrospective: Good, Clean Fun!

So, last year we threw a party at WisCon. One of our must-have items on party supplies was a dispenser of hand sanitizer, just like the one we put out on the sideboard by the food every week when we do D&D. So many communicable diseases can be prevented by washing hands and disinfecting common surfaces; I think we sort of mythologize how much of “airborne” illness comes from breathing in little invisible particles because this puts less onus on us.

So, anyway. Last year we had a little pump of hand sanitizer at the start of the buffet… and most people walked straight past it. We’d point it out, and be told, “Oh, thanks, but I’m good.”

Which sort of misses the point. Sanitizing your hands after touching items shared in common protects you; doing it before protects others. It’s a bit like herd immunity that way.

Of course it’s hard to point that out in the moment without sounding like you’re accusing the specific person of being dirty, but really: you wash your hands before a meal. Even if you in particular don’t do that every time, that’s not a weird thing. It’s a very normal thing. And if your “meal” consists of several quick bites in several different rooms, if you have the chance to do the next best thing to washing your hands…

Anyway. This year I tried to solve the “people don’t like it when you imply they might have germs” thing with a one-two punch. The first one being the use of gentle humor, the second being that I have leveled up in Mom Friend to the point that people sort of expect a little nagging from me. (I’m also the person who threads about downed power lines, hydration, and why you always lock your doors when you’re in a moving vehicle.)

So when I made the flyers for my party, I split them between mere advertisements and PSAs. The PSAs had an image of a twinkling-gauntlet’d hand snapping its fingers and invited the reader to imagine “What if wiping out 50% of Con Crud was as easy as snapping your fingers?”

I was describing the idea for this to my old friend Kari Patch in Chicago when I hit upon the last thing it needed to take it over the finish line: a killer pun. Thus, HAND THANOTIZER was born.

This year we had a lot more people at the party who used the hand sanitizer! And the people who walked past it were a lot more compliant when it was pointed out. Also outside of the party, people took the PSA to heart. I watched someone read one of the posters, pull a little bottle out of their pocket, and clean their hands on the spot. I also heard anecdotally from people who used the con’s provided bottles of hand sanitizer for the first time.

A lot of people also just flat-out told me they enjoyed the humor of it, which is good.

I will admit I had some trepidation about it. First, I didn’t want it to come across judgy. My first draft (which I shared with Twitter) had the word “hygiene”, which sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I had already decided to change it to “safety” when another Twitter user spoke up about it. We didn’t want it to sound like “Hahaha, take a shower, nerds!”, you know?

Anyway. It came off well and people suggested I should do more for next year on other common con bugbears (like reminding people to hydrate).

This is part of why I enjoy acting as a free agent who is a member of the con rather than part of the con-com running it, though. I didn’t run my flyers by anybody. If they’d run afoul of someone or something, they would have come down with a word of explanation but not reflected on the con itself.

I’ll have more to say about the party itself — which was wildly successful — in a later post, probably my next one.

WisCon 42 Retrospective: A Reading is Fundamental

So, on Saturday of WisCon, I held only my second or third live reading of my work. I say “second or third” because the actual second was very short, having been a teaser for a story at a party I threw last year (more on that in a subsequent post). It took place in a dim, chill environment that I controlled myself, which made it easier, and which convinced me I could totally handle an actual reading, which is why I committed to doing one this year.

I also thought that committing to doing a reading (as in, promising myself and anyone else who asked that I would do one) a year in advance would motivate me to buckle down and really focus on my non-political writing so I’d have some great new stuff to read.

That… didn’t happen. Trying to trick or force myself into writing something basically works no times, but I keep trying.

So when WisCon opened itself up to pitches for readings, I had no idea what I read but a firm commitment to do it anyway. What the heck, I said. I’m going to do it, even if it means I get up there and read tweets.

WisCon has limited programming slots available for readings. The slots are 75 minutes long. The people who handle the scheduling will match up lonely singles if they have to but they much prefer it if you can come to them as a group with a pitch for 75 minutes’ of reading, ideally with a theme that you can fit on a flyer to make sure people come see you.

Well, Jack had previously said he might read some of his poems if I did this thing, so we had two people. I didn’t know what I was reading and Jack’s specialty is short poems so we were not quite at the 75 minute mark, but we had two people. So I put out the call on Twitter a few times: who wants to read with us?

Initial response, I think, was damped by the intimidation factor a lot of people have around me, but eventually I got some more interest.

One person asked if they could read but instead of fiction they would be reading some old diary entries, blog posts, and maybe even a personal letter or some tweets from a phase in their life. “I can’t promise I’ll read anything BUT tweets,” I said. “You’re in.”

S. Qiouyi Lu offered to read a short story they had been working on, but which they feared would be off-brand for our theme-ing. (S. knows well the importance of a strong brand.) “We don’t have a theme yet,” I told them. “I have no idea what I’m reading. We’re going to have to wait and see who shows up and what they do and then we’ll figure out the theme. You’re in.”

At this point we had four people who were all trans and/or genderqueer and/or non-binary, so at least part of a theme was emerging? With that in mind, I put out a more refined call for readers and got a fifth: ace cartoonist (and also he draws well) Dylan Edwards, who wanted to read a comic strip — a very personal diary comic — if we could get him the A/V set-up.

Well, WisCon does have an A/V crew. And they do have projectors available to use. But, I thought. But. They have limited ones of those available, and many of the available reading slots are off-site. It seemed to me like putting an A/V requirement on our pitch would greatly diminish our chances of having a reading.

On the other hand, I did have my own projector. Very small. Much portable. And it would be very in keeping with the eclectic theme to do this guerilla-style, if we got one of the slots in the backroom of a coffee shop and I just set up a projector on a table or something.

“We can make this work,” I said. “You’re in.”

We had five people. One of them let me know they would need more than 15 minutes. A few I knew would take less. We did some timings and figured out how to make it work. I decided, based on the personal nature of several of the other readings, that I would dig out some of my poetry, including unpublished pieces. Our theme, I realized, was mixed media and found objects… which led to the title for the event of “Found Media in Mixed Objects”.

We got on the program, mid-afternoon Saturday at the coffee shop. That seemed like a pretty good slot to me. I practiced. I read one of my pieces — the most personal, the most important, a meditation on grief, mortality, and maladaptive daydreaming called “Out of Balance” — the night before for two people whose opinions I value and received both useful advice (“Slow down at the beginning.”) and reassurance that it worked. I tested and re-tested my equipment, made sure it would work in the ambient conditions of the coffee shop. I was ready.

Then Saturday came and… my projector fizzled. It would turn on, then power itself off shortly after finding the source. Later I would realize I had grabbed the wrong power cord/power source for it… I had two almost identical-looking ones, both of which could fit into it, and apparently one of them delivered not-quite-enough oomph to keep the projector going. It could light the lamp but as soon as it was trying to do that and process any kind input… out like a light.

So Dylan had to read his comic off the screen of my Surface laptop, which was not ideal and for which I am more than a little embarrassed. But he pulled it off well. I think everybody’s readings were well-received.

I admit I’ve never cared much for Jack’s poetry, when I’ve read it on the page or read it aloud to myself. I assumed it was just not my type of thing. There’s something about hearing him deliver it, though, something about the Author’s Preferred rhythm and inflection. I’ve heard that poems are meant to be read out loud, but I think so much of that is impossible to really convey on the page. Anyway, he made a fan out of me.

The only thing that really went badly wrong (and then wonderfully right) is the timing.

See, we’d worked the timing out! We had! And then we got up there, all full of nervous energy, and I think every single one of us except Dylan read most of our pieces muuuuuch faster than we’d anticipated. So much faster that we were left with about 40 minutes left in a 75 minute slot.

Well, I’d prepared and rehearsed more poems than I thought I’d have time to read, so I could read some more to stretch to fill the time slot if that happened. I read more. And then some more. But I didn’t have that many poems.

But! Non-binary author Sunny Moraine was in the audience. They had failed to get in on a reading group this year, and they knew what they would have read and they thought it would be a good fit with our loose and rough-hewn theme, so they asked if they could read it.

I was actually over the moon because Sunny is among my very top tier of favorite authors and I had kiiiiiinda hoped that they would see my call for trans/non-binary authors and join. (We talked about this later and yes, I realize I should have just invited them directly.)

So, Sunny read one of their stories, and then I closed off with a very short piece just to run out the clock, and a good time was had at all. I think most of the people involved in the reading have expressly expressed interest in doing it again next year, hopefully with fewer bumps along the way.

A lot of the positive feedback I received was about the poem I had previewed the night before (for Sunny Moraine, it happened, and Dr. Kit Stubbs), which is called “Out of Balance” and which I don’t believe I had previously published, even for patrons. It is a very personal poem. I had worries about it, that it was too nerdy or esoteric, too flippant to be moving, and when Sunny and Kit laughed at the jokes, it was like… okay, they’re there to be funny, but is this going to stop them from feeling the weight of it?

But they both thought it really worked, and that the humor was a big part of it. After the reading, I don’t remember who said what, exactly, but I think S. and Sunny came to an agreement that my specialty was “funny, funny gut-punches”, which, okay, valid.

Anyway. A number of people in attendance asked me if I would consider putting together a physical chapbook of poetry including the works I read, because they wanted something they could take with them and that I could sign. Which seemed like a good idea to me, honestly. I was having different conversations all weekend about various smaller projects I could do and probably bring to fruition instead of always being super ambitious with my ideas.

So, that’s the upshot. The reading went well. We’re doing something very similar next year, if we have half a chance. I’m working on a poetry chapbook. Oh, and after I finish this blog post, I’m going to be posting “Out of Balance” to my Patreon as a patron-locked post.

A Grade-A Gray Day in Chicago

So, we’re in Chicago and it’s very rainy. I’m a little surprised at how chilly the city can apparently be even in the depths of May. When we made the plan for this trip we’d talked about maybe doing two of the nearby sights/sites — the Field Museum and something like the Shedd Aquarium or the Art Institute. After the physical and emotional demands of the last week’s unexpected trip, I think we’re just going to do a single outing, probably tomorrow. I don’t think I have it in me to walk around a museum today.

That’s okay, though. Apparently basically anything you do in a reasonably fancy hotel with a partner is romantic by default, so what looks like a lazy day is actually, in fact, a romantic one. We’ve been lounging around the room, and in a bit we’re going to go lounge around by the pool, and then we’ll probably be lounging around the lounge at some point.

Later in the evening we have loose plans to hang out and drink with Linda Tirado (@KillerMartinis dans la belle Twitter). We’re both largely crowdfunded, so that could potentially go on for basically for as long as it amuses the internet to buy us drinks (hint, hint).

The day after tomorrow, we depart for Madison and WisCon.

As a personal side note, yesterday I wrote about 6,000 words of (niche fetish dark erotica) fiction on my little Blackberry, which is a pretty good word count and the best I’ve managed to write on a handheld in a loooong time. I feel like this trip/these trips have been useful for me in getting over some of my hangups in a way that’s going to be really helpful for my writing.

Chicago – Travel Update and Request For Help

Well, a big thank you to everyone who helped us get to California and then home again. We’re getting ready now to head back to the airport after spending all of about seven hours at home. It’s about a two hour trip back to BWI to fly out. If we could have planned this, I think we would have just stayed at an airport hotel, with everything we need for the next journeys already packed… but then, if we could have planned this, it wouldn’t have happened.

I’ve talked about this on Twitter, in relation to my post about the funeral trip, but we made the decision much earlier in the year that we’d “pre-game” for WisCon by spending a few days in Chicago, seeing some of the city we pass through so often and connecting with friends who won’t be at the con.  At the time we made the decision, it seemed obvious that we could afford it. I had the money for the airfare and the hotel, and by paying for both of those big ticket items up front we’d save money.

And we could count on my normal work on Twitter for May would pay for food, transit, and everything else.

We’re still going. We can’t afford not to. Not only is the airfare and hotel already paid, but we’d have to buy new tickets to Madison if we changed our plans. But if we can’t afford to not go… we can also barely afford to go. This trip was going to be a “bucket list” type thing, taking the time to do things we’d always talked about doing. Now it’s apt to be a lot more low-key than that. Part of that is the mental and physical exhaustion… it’s going to be nice to spend some time just relaxing in a hotel after the emotional toll of the funeral and all this back and forth… but part of it is we’re stretching a much-more-meager-than-expected budget between WisCon and Chicago. And we have more obligations at WisCon.

I am astonished and gratified at the generosity of the people who helped us make the unexpected trip to California, where we said goodbye to Jack’s mother. I can’t expect more than that, but I have learned not to close any doors. People will do what they want, whatever I expect or don’t. So if anyone wants to help us do it up right, I’m not going to say no. You can also use

If no one does — that’s fine, and more than fine. We made it to California and back on the generosity of friends and strangers, and that was about what we needed. This is just about wants, and if we don’t get everything we want out of this trip, we’ll definitely live. There are worse things than staying in a nice hotel and eating sandwiches or instant noodles, and I have plans for at least one adventure that won’t require leaving the hotel. (More on that later.)

And after the travels are over and I’ve rested and recovered, I’ll be back out there actually earning money.

But like I said: years of crowdfunding my existence have taught me to never close the door, so I’m leaving it open.

Thank you.

So It Goes

There is a last time for everything. I read a thing on the internet once, and it said something like: There was a day your parents set you down, and then never picked you up again.

If you’re reading these words, chances are excellent that you’ve reached that part of your life. You’ve also probably gone past the last time you ever jumped off a swing or slid down a slide on a playground, barring some of those golden moments where parents are able to borrow a fleeting moment of youth from their child who needs “help”.

If that is the case: there will come a day when you set your child down, and never pick them up again. All things end. Memento mori, valar morghulis, et cetera.

Death is a hard thing to contend with, because it is so far outside our frame of reference. Indeed, its existence marks one of the outer boundaries of that frame.

Thinking of a person as dead means nothing. Thinking that they are gone is a bit easier to conceive of, though it does not convey the finality of the matter. To me, the easiest way to wrap my head around death is to think of it in terms of milestones in the progression through life: there was a point in my life before which I had not met this person, and there is or will come a point in my life past which I will not meet them again.

I found myself thinking this when we touched down in Baltimore, the day after the funeral for Jack’s mother. This after several days of being around the grieving family, and a rosary and a funeral mass and all the final farewells, none of which made the sheer, simple fact of death itself feel any less weird or fake to me.

(But as Christians, are we not called to believe that death is weird and fake?)

I found myself thinking this, and I found myself thinking: this. This is that part. The part of my life where I won’t see her again, talk to her again, meet her again. We’ve reached that part.

That was when I grieved, and that was when I understood. I grieved because I understood and I understood because I grieved.

When Sesame Street dealt with the death of Mr. Hooper, this is how the adults on the show explained it to a confused Big Bird, who had never encountered death before: he was never coming back. Never ever. No one could explain to him what death was, or why it was. (“Because,” was the best answer they had. “Just because.”) We can’t contend with death, but we can just about handle never.

Time, like death, is weird and fake. As I understand it, it is in very loose terms a side effect of living in a universe with a finite amount of light that can’t quite manage to exist everywhere at once, for whatever meaning “everywhere” and “at once” can hold in a universe where time is fake. Everything that can happen, has happened and is happening. Our perception of this weird, fake phenomenon is subjective even by the poor standards of our senses (which are also weird and fake), and our ability to remember its passage is even worse.

And yet.

And yet, we can take comfort in knowing that the times that existed between the point where someone entered our life and when they departed it are as real and vital and current as the times we perceive as happening now.

As my father once told me:

“I’m with Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians from Slaughterhouse Five, who see in four dimensions. Time stretches out like a mountain range, with the past present and future all visible all the time. The future is always there, always out there, always coming. When we are surprised, it is not because anything changed: it is because something unexpected that was always there became visible to us. And the past is equally always there.

It will always be that joyous moment, 10 o’clock on the night of the 4th of July, 1971 at the McDonalds
on 40th Street when I reunited with your mother for the last time. I was 15 and she almost was. And it will always be a sunny afternoon at the beach at Okoboji, playing with our babies. And it will always be sunset at Honeymoon Island, always. And we will always be walking down Main Street at the Magic Kingdom, with various combinations of our children.”

Thinking about this makes me feel better. I don’t mean to say that it makes me feel happier or more peaceful or more content (at least not yet), but better. It allows me to grieve more deeply, more acutely, and with greater precision.

Doctor Who — a show that is about mortality about as often as it’s about anything else — had a running theme for a few years: every Christmas is last Christmas. For any family or group of friends who gather together, there will come a time when all of them are together for the last time, and no one will know it when it happens. Another thing my father told me is, “Life is made up of meetings and partings, that is the way of it.” He was quoting Muppet Christmas Carol, of course, but that did not rob the moment of any of its pathos.

Part of growing up, part of growing older, I think is realizing that. Realizing that every time you go to your favorite restaurant might be the last time. Your favorite show will go off the air. Your treasured concert t-shirt will fade and tear and eventually become unwearable.

And every person who comes into your life will pass out of it.

I can make no sense of death. I can at least understand the concept of an ending, even if I don’t approve of it.

So it goes.

A Death in the Family and a Request for Help (Updated)

Internet, I’m sorry to have to do this, but could you help my family out?

A few weeks ago, I tweeted

"A weird side effect of aging while polyamorous is that your family can have extra elders, aging ahead of you. There can be a lot of good things about this arrangement, but the rough spots can be really rough."

There are three of us, so three sets of parents. The math there is pretty simple.

This bittersweet sentiment hit home yesterday. My own parents came to see us this week here in Maryland, for the first and very possibly the last time. It was a lovely visit. They got to see a bit of my life and some of my favorite sights, take in some of the culture and history, and spend quality time with the family I’ve found here. They also got to meet Sarah’s parents, a meeting that we were afraid might not happen due to different health issues on both sides.

The day they left to return home, Jack got a phone call from his sister.

His own mother had died.

We visited her in California for what was the first (for me) and ultimately the last time back in September of 2017, otherwise I would never have met her. We knew her health was not good, but it was still a shock that it happened so quickly.

We don’t have a date for the viewing and funeral yet, but we know they’re going to be in California and probably sometime next week. Getting the three of us across the country and back is going to cost around $2,000, maybe a little more and maybe a little less, and that’s assuming we can get a date and book quickly. The immediate local family has a lot going on, so it will be best if we can get a hotel room and rent a car rather than imposing if possible, and that’s going to add to the cost.

And unfortunately, this is happening at a busy and expensive time of year for us. May is the beginning of our convention and travel season. If it was as easy as skipping a con for something this important, we’d do it, but the biggest expenses (airfare and in one case, a pre-paid hotel room for a discount) are non-refundable. Conventions are also work for me, and we have commitments at WisCon in particular that are going to drop a cost and hardship on someone else if we were to abandon them.

I feel awkward doing this when I already crowdfund my living and I’ve been rattling the cup extra to try to get convention travel funds for August, but I don’t really see a choice but to ask for your help specifically in getting the three of us to California so Jack can be with his family and we can be with him, and we can say goodbye to his mother. We’ve got some aid from our families, and an anonymous benefactor is generously offering to match the first $500 in contributions, and some of my patrons who already knew have kicked in, so we’re not quite starting from zero, but we’re not there yet.

We don’t even know what “there” is yet, because we don’t know what days we need plane tickets for, we can’t buy them to lock in the price, we don’t know if it’s going to require changing our existing travel plans, etc. We’ll have a better idea how much money we’ll need as we get closer and learn more, but we’re kind of a bind in that if we waited to start raising money it’d probably be too late.

So whatever you want to and are able to give, please do so.

We thought about a fundraiser page, but PayPal is the best choice as most payments clear immediately, and we might have to move very quickly here. You can use this link or my PayPal Me (, or if you prefer to do it manually (as it seems some people do), send a PayPal payment to blueauthor (at) the domain of this website. If PayPal doesn’t work for you, I do have a page.

Again, the first $500 will be matched.

I can’t offer any fun incentives or perks here. We’re scrambling to get everything ready for our existing travels in May. We will take anything that anyone can gives and cares to give as a treasured gift, and honor it accordingly. In the event that we get more money than we end up using, I think the responsible thing to do is keep it in our travel funds so we’re better prepared for another unexpected eventuality.

Because the math is, there are certainly going to be more of those in our future.

Thank you.

UPDATE (5/11/2018)

So, today the dates for the rosary and funeral were set. Thanks to the generosity of so many people (seriously, thank you!), we were able to book flights now while there were still some good ones available at prices that were, if not exactly dirt cheap, then at least reasonable. I’ve been pretty hyperfocused on this particular problem, which is bad because there wasn’t actually anything to do. Lot of the cheapest hotel options weren’t available, either. The last big thing left is a rental car, and then just whatever we spend on food while we’re there.

Each part of this has been a bit more expensive than I’d hoped/expected, so I’m leaving the links above and will continue to circulate it on Twitter periodically, but I think we’re at a point where if the support dried up we’d be able to pull this off. We’re definitely going to be there now, at least.

So, thank you again.