I'm really, really glad I got to do that.
I really, really should not have done that.
But let me back up.
I spent the weekend at World Fantasy Con in Saratoga Springs, New York. Getting there was an adventure in itself, but I'm so glad I got to go: WFC is the first "all-pro" convention I've attended, and spending a weekend at what feels like the ends of the earth, stuck in with a few hundred of your peers, is a real experience.
|I'm calling it "Still Life in Hilton Bathroom: How To Tell Your Roomie Had a Great Night."|
|And this guy. THIS FRICKIN' GUY.|
There was an "all-call" mass autograph session, which if you ask me, is a really great idea: they just filled up a ballroom with tables and chairs and invited everyone who wanted to (not just the people on programming!) to find a seat and sign their books.
And boy, it was the best kind of bedlam. I had never seen so many people rushing around with armfuls of books – not comics, but actual honest-to-god novels to be signed. It was glorious!
|Look at it! Isn't it the most stupendous sight?|
That's when I realized that I hadn't seen any staffers. No volunteers at all – not one in the entire weekend.
They were there, of course. Handing out packets at the registration desk, flashing five-minute signs at the panels, setting table tents between each of the readings. But they weren't marked at all: no vests or shirts or colored badges. Just the same street-wear (okay, nerd-shirt-wear) as the rest of us. If you weren't actively watching them at work, they were invisible.
And that's when it hit me: what would I do if there were an actual problem? Forget missing out on an autograph – what if I got the bad touch, or watched it happen to someone else? What if there were a fight, or a theft, or a creeper?
|Look again: which of these people do you go to for help?|
One of the readings I went to was Mike Underwood's. Well, tried to go to: I showed up, along with a few other people. Mike never did. That was unusual: we knew he was at the con, and he's not one to flake on a gig.
When I caught up to him later and gave him grief about it, I found out what I would have known days ago, if I'd been paying literally any attention to the digi-sphere: he'd declined his programming as a matter of principle – as a way of protesting WFC's disaster of a harassment non-policy.
And like... I did know about that. I wasn't so completely up myself that I hadn't learned about the controversy. But I'm ashamed to say that it wasn't until that moment in the autograph hall that I actually felt it: that it finally occurred to me that I might not be in a safe place.
I'm not proud of that. I don't like to think of myself as a person whose empathy doesn't extend past her own nose, whose concerns stop at the boundaries of her own experience. I've been doing this convention thing for two years now – more than enough time to catch wise to the serious, pervasive behavior issues that have long festered in our backyard.
|Reminders of which were literally spelled out for us this weekend.|
I'm not sure what the right answer is for those of us on the attending side of the table. There's not a firm consensus, even among the leading lights of our community: John Scalzi has implemented a standing boycott of conventions that fail on this front, while Kameron Hurley has critiqued this approach as unfeasible if not blatantly counterproductive.
Regardless: I know what the ancient Greeks said about hosts who disregarded their sacred duties. I know we can work harder and do better. And with all my '90s-kid heart, I know I wanna be like Mike.