Another year, another Anthrocon.
As always, I come away from them on Sunday night thinking I'm going to be alright, and the day after I'm exhausted and nearly unable to function. Last year, I was unemployed when the con hit, and I had all day Monday to recover without really thinking too much about it, and prior to that my memory is kind of vague. I know I was working at HMS in 2003 and ISI in 2002, but the memories of work afterwards are something of a blur at this point. All I really know for sure is that yesterday at work I was utterly exhausted, and that I came home and collapsed last night and slept until dinner, then went back to bed and slept until 06h00 this morning, when I finally felt vaguely normal-for-me again.
The con itself is almost inevitably fun, or at the very least emotionally refreshing. I told a friend of mine yesterday
that it very much felt like going to church for the weekend, and I know that probably sounds crazy, especially in light of the fact that I'm horribly unchurched—or perhaps underchurched or mischurched depending on point of view—but there is a sense at the con that I am around "like-minded believers," even if I'm not. People walk around in ears-and-tail or full fursuits and nobody thinks of them as weird... or at the very least such opinions tend not to be loudly expressed. There's a higher sense of casual intimacy that's at once very comforting and very offputting, but it too is strangely familiar, moreso than the standoffishness of casual life. Even the vocabulary and vernacular of the group is subtly different in ways that make me feel more included than I typically do with the majority of people.
So, Anthrocon—and likely other furry gatherings as well—always give me the sense of "coming home" that other gatherings don't. I can only imagine this is how other people feel about Bible camp, or a family reunion. It's a
place where certain beliefs are just assumed true, and there's less for me to have to explain when trying to make myself understood.
This year, though, things were rather awkward for a number of reasons.
Normally I'm staff at AC, and this year was no exception to that, but I felt more out of the loop than normal. SusanDeer used to be the programming director, and I served as writing-track advisor and nominal assistant director of programming. Last year I carried a radio and did all the running Sue couldn't, and even in prior years I at least served as a sounding board for the schedule creation process. I was used to a certain level of involvement with the whole schedule creation process, hearing about the panels that related to my track, ofering suggestions about what could go when, and generally learning about the process of building a schedule. To be quite honest, I thought to some degree that when Sue announced her retirement from the board to focus on her career that I was going to end up with her job.
Instead, KuddlePup, the programming director for MegaPlex was offered the role, a fact that at first relieved me. I wasn't quite sure I was ready to fill the role of programming director for the largest furry con in the world, and that somebody else was willing to do it meant I had more time to learn about it before having to face it myself. However, from the get-go things were a little more complicated. KP's in Florida, and I'd never met him before, much less worked with him in any sort of official capacity, so I really didn't know what to expect as far as personality went. I did get the chance to meet him at AC2004, when he ghosted Sue's position alongside me, and he seemed nice enough, but my brain being the broken piece of hardware that it is, I still wasn't really that comfortable. Plus, getting in touch with KP proved to be a lot more difficult than I'd expected. All in all, it never really felt like I was working with KP so much as he and I were both working around each other to get to the same goal.
The schedule is a good example of that. As I said above, I was used to having some level of information aboutthe panels before they went into the schedule, and at least marginal information about the schedule itself before it went to press. The first time I saw the schedule is when Jessie—as designer of the pocket program—came to me and said, "I've noticed a few problems." In the two months prior to that, I hadn't heard anything from KP about the schedule at all, so I didn't even know it'd been started until the proposed final draft was Publication's control.
At this point, we were about two, maybe three weeks out from Opening Ceremonies, and our press deadline was in a week, so at the risk of stepping on some toes, I put together a replacement schedule based on what I knew of Sue's practices and sent it to Kage with a polite note saying we'd spotted a few issues and here was our suggestion. This got forwarded to KP, and after a few more rounds of back-and-forth on this-can't-go-there and that-can't-go-here and these-two-things-can't-happen-at-the-same-time, we ironed out something that everyone seemed to like, and it went to press.
At Closing Ceremonies, Kage praised KP's schedule work. At least somebody got some recognition.
Then again, Kage said a few other things at various points that irked me to some degree or another, mostly relating to this year's theme of the convention, "Heroes." During the opening ceremony, Kage called for all the EMTs, firefighters, police and military personnel to stand and be recognized. While I can hardly say I'm surprised by such an action, it seems blatantly propogandistic and reinforces the idea that heroism is tied to profession, and further tied to a certain social view. I had much higher hopes, and was greatly disappointed by what felt like unnecessary pandering to a very antithetical worldview.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't support the police, the military, firefighters or doctors. I do. I believe they
put their lives and their values on the line every day, and I recognize that. However, I also believe that our society as it currently stands is rapidly losing another class of hero, the ideologue willing to combat the rising public sentiment that disagreement is tantamount to treason. Where is the recognition for teachers who stand up for reason and logic in the classroom against the proponents of abstinence-only education and "intelligent design"? Where is the support for the foster parents who are taking in and raising all the children born because their parents didn't have access to timely abortions, or proper child support that would let them raise their own children? Where is the praise for the journalists who were willing to report unpopular news stories that challenged public sentiment and ran contrary to official doctrine? Where is the admiration for the political activists that overthrew dictatorships in Uzbekistan and Ukraine without firing a single shot? Why are we as a society pushing this one particular view of heroism tied more into profession than ideology, and why is someone as allegedly intelligent as Uncle Kage supporting it uncritically?
It's not even that some professions are heroic and others aren't. There are those in the so-called "heroic jobs"
who have done their own share of questionable activity. What of the environment of evangelicalism at the Air Force academy, and the removal of a chaplain from her post because she dared to challenge it? What of the story of Rodney King? What of the EMTs who pointed and laughed at a victim in an auto accident, denying her critical treatment and contributing to her death because she was a pre-operative transsexual? Fine, yes, recognize the heroes who exist, but don't treat every cop, ambulance driver and soldier as a hero just because of zir job. That'd be like treating every lawyer as crooked and shady, or every judge as impartial to the law. Essentialism can only
get one so far in life before it runs into these kinds of problems, and the fact that nobody seemed to notice this or care bothers me.
Of course, the conbook was loaded with glurge about the WTC Debacle, firefighters, police, military, and a few references here and there to the medical profession. I submitted a story that I felt did an adequate job of challenging the prevailing views, but it felt like mine was the only one to do so, and as a result I probably spent far more time than necessary hawking my story to the few who I knew actually read the conbook, hoping to get them to read past the sugar coating and see something a bit meatier and savory. I can only hope I succeeded, but I probably irritated more than a few folks in the process.
I have, since starting this post, been informed that Kage did bring up the idea of marrow-donors as an
alternative hero, and he did make mention to heroes being "anybody you looked up to," and I'm quite glad to learn of this. However, I think my point still stands that the overwhelming majority of images and words and actions were in support of a very limited range of interpretations of the concept of heroism. This is as much the fault of the fanbase as it is of the chairman. To be sure, there were other stories and art in the conbook depicting Good Samaritanism and other, less obvious forms of heroics, but they were in the minority by a wide margin.
After this unconscious pandering to the majority view, Kage called for a moment of silence for the victims of the London bombing the day before, and I used the opportunity to quietly leave the proceedings. It's not that I don't feel sorry for the dead or their families, but again I feel that this was an inappropriate expression of solidarity. I don't know anybody that died, or anybody that knew anybody that died. I had no reason to grieve, and I'm willing to bet neither did the vast majority of people in the room. However, like the WTC debacle, it would have been politically inappropriate to say as much, and yet to stay and participate in this moment of silence felt like an affront to my beliefs. Let me choose the time and place and manner of my grieving, should I feel the need to do so. Don't push it into the public arena and presume that I feel a certain way. Don't make an issue of something that by all reckoning the survivors themselves aren't discussing openly. Honor my right to express myself if I choose to do so, but don't use the podium as a tool to convince me that I should feel a certain way.
While I'm on that subject, in fact, don't use this kind of tragedy as an excuse for why people didn't come to the con. The predicted attendence was three thousand, based on past projections. Six hundred people did not cancel because of bomb blasts on another continent. If you run the percentages of attendees based on last year and you see that Europeans as a whole were vastly under-represented, then maybe you can use it as a point, but I have difficulty believing in absense of such statistical analysis that this had anything to do with our numbers.
Now, all of these complaints aside, I really did have a good time at the con, though as always I was exhausted by the end of it. I never seem to get enough sleep, partially because I was sharing a double bed when I'm used to a king, partially because I never sleep well in hotel rooms as a general rule even when I have enough space, and partially because as a member of staff I was pretty much busy all day every day. Even though I'm not in an active-duty position like Operationss or Registration, when a programming issue arises I have to help solve it, and this year that meant running back and forth between panel areas trying to make sure everyone had the space necessary to actually fit.
Saturday was the worst day for this. As a writer, I'm usually disheartened by the lack of interest in the writing panels, and so I was elated for all of about two seconds to discover that one of the writing panels had more than quadrupled its expected attendance, but this turned quickly to horror when I realized I had nowhere to put them. The animatronics panel had run long and they had assumed that they could simply use up the gap time since "nobody needed the space for another hour". This meant an emergency reshuffling of people into other places, which quickly propogated along the chart on Saturday from about 14h00 through to dinner.
Then Mr. Albee had to be located for his 15h00 panel; he'd lost track of time and was chatting amiably with folks in the dealers' room. To be fair, he was mortified when he discovered he'd missed the first fifteen minutes of his scheduled chat, and he practically ran from his table to the room where he was scheduled to discuss his animation. He's a nice enough fellow, I suppose, but it felt at points like the con book, badges and the other swag that people get as part of their registration were all loaded with advertisements. It's one thing to give a free promo to a guy because he's the guest of honor. It's another to become that person's private marketing company for three days.
Finally, the improv panel scheduled for late Saturday night after 2's ever-popular Rant and the Masquerade got delayed because we discovered at the last minute that the puppet show that had been in that room earlier had not dismantled their stage, on the grounds that they were going to be using it the next day. So, we tried to find another room in which to put the Masquerade, only to find out that we didn't have one big enough that wasn't already being used for something else! So, after much hemming and hawing, we finally elected to dismantle the stage for the puppet show and leave them a note explaining what happened. Technically they should've torn down their own equipment after they were done, but I wasn't going to argue at that point.
The two panels that I ran seemingly went off without a hitch, at least. Eye of Argon is always a hoot, and now I
know there's a "lost ending" which should add another three paragraphs to the reading. This should mean another
half-hour of bleeding eyeballs and smelling salts for the audience. Then there's the Iron Author competition which
challenges writers to come up with the worst possible furry story given the required elements. I'm a little embarrassed that this year's cliché list didn't add anything new, but I blame the hell of my regular job over the last month for that. Next year's will be better, I assure you. Or is that worse?
As always, I saw too many people to name that I wanted to see, didn't get to spend nearly the time with people that I wanted to spend, and came away from the event feeling like the whole affair wasn't nearly long enough for the opportunities it presented. Hopefully one year I'll have enough of my act together that I'll feel un-disorganized enough to actually do all the things I want to do. I doubt it will be any time soon, but I can hope. In the interest of furthering this goal, I hereby present a few basic Buni-At-Anthrocon-Handling Instructions:
- No groups larger than six people
- I cannot stress this one enough. Six is about the maximum number of people that can sit around a dinner table and have a mutually-beneficial conversation that won't break up into smaller groups. Six is about the maximum number of people that can actually make a coherent plan without requiring a voting methodology. Six is about the maximum number of people that can easily get seated at a restaurant without requiring special arrangements necessitating half an hour's wait. Six is also about the limit of people around whom I can be at any one time before I have to start filtering people out to pay adequate attention to others. Thus, when a group hits six people, we make a decision and go. I'd rather have a dinner on time with six people—or even two or three or by myself—than stand around waiting for half an hour trying to see if "just one more person" wants to be invited. This is no offense to anyone, people. This is purely me and my broken brain. If you are person number seven—or eight or nine as the case may be—I am not trying to
snub you by not waiting up for you.
- Groups larger than six are acceptable if they happen spontaneously and without effort
- As always, every rule has an exception. If there are nine of us standing outside the video game room and we all say "let's go eat at the pho place across the street!" I will not ask three of you to leave, nor will I suddenly decide to go elsewhere. I just know that we spent a lot of time at AC waiting for individual stragglers and sending runners to find people and delaying the acquisition of foodstuffs to cram into our gutsockets, when we could've simply called and said "we'll be at the pho place across the street if you want to join us" and then just gone to the pho place across the street. If the others wanted to join, they could find us there.
- Room parties are great as long as they're in other people's rooms
- This one may seem a bit odd, but it comes back to th' buni and her need for a hutch in emergency situations. I need somewhere to go to shut down mentally if I get overwhelmed, and if there's a room party in my room, I can't go there to take a bad brain break. At one point, I had to get up and leave my own room because there were too many people present doing too many things at once, and I honestly didn't know where I was going to sleep that night because of it. No offense to anyone who was present, but I can't do that again.
I'm sure I'll think of more requests and requirements as next year's con draws closer. For now, I'm just content to sit back and wait for the rose-tinted afterglow to settle into place so I can think about everything that happened with fondness instead of mentally picking it all apart. I've got some questions remaining about how things will work when we move to Pittsburgh, and a few things to work out with other staff members, but it's nothing that can't be resolved, I'm sure. I'm definitely looking forward to it, and everything that follows.
See you next year.