I’m recovering from con crud (slept until four Tuesday afternoon and still got to bed reasonably early Wednesday night, as a measure of strain on my body). Since CONvergence has been with me a few days longer than expected, I might as well write a little bit about the experience. Goodness knows I’m not getting a lot else done.
CONvergence is a strange experience for me. As I said more than once over the course of the weekend, the con crosses all my streams. I would estimate that I know 3-5% of the attendees. When more than 6,300 people attend, this means I know an awful lot of the people there, and they come from all over my life.
In addition to the huge crew of volunteers that make SkepchickCon and the FtB party room work, there’s a large local contingent of atheist and skeptic geeks who find CONvergence friendlier to their interests since more skepticism and science programming has been added. I went to college with one of the founders of CONvergence and met more through the generation of Renaissance Festival workers that they and my husband are all part of. I’ve been attending cons in the region for well over a decade, meeting regular attendees. Many of CONvergence’s year-round volunteers also come from both of these groups.
Then there are the writers. At least four people I’ve been in writers groups with were at CONvergence. Two other writers groups where I know most of the members were well-represented, along with locals who aren’t in writers groups or whose groups are online. And because F&SF is a small field, these writers know all the other fiction writers there, from the guests of honor to all the writers who were guests once and keep coming back because CONvergence took good care of them and the spirit of thoughtful squee is appealing. They know the fan writers (a category that includes critics) too, because this isn’t so much a clique as an intellectual ecosystem, in which everyone creates and consumes and creates in a dialog with what they consume.
I don’t know quite all these writers, because I haven’t actively written fiction in a few years and because my own fan writing is not consistent or frequent enough to make me recognizable and because even in a four-day weekend there is only so much time to meet even very cool friends of friends, but I know a lot of them. I know so many of them that I can’t keep track of which of them are at CONvergence in any given year. We see each other serendipitously and often in passing, if at all.
This means CONvergence sees me pulled in lots of different directions, sometimes trying to manage an interruption to an interruption to an interruption, and sometimes finding myself with no dinner plans because everyone assumed I was busy elsewhere. It means spending a lot of time on the edges of social groups because I don’t have the time or attention to become central to them. It means sometimes being frustrated that I can’t spend the time I’d like with all the people at com whom I admire the hell out of.
It also means that spending a good chunk of time interacting with someone I’ve never met is a rarity. Sometimes it’s even a bit of an oddity.
Fully half of my CONvergence panels happened on Sunday this year. As is traditional and nearly inevitable, I was badly sleep-deprived, but the topics were all things I’ve been talking and writing about for years (science of group differences, evaluating and communicating scientific results). There are benefits to knowing what you’re talking about.
Still, by the last panel, any information I didn’t know well was lost to me in the brain fog. When Debbie Goddard asked me who was on the panel with us, I remembered Shawn Otto, who’s participated in panels on climate change and the intersection of politics and science in prior years. All I could recall about the last person on the panel was that his name sounded familiar. I’d never met him.
At that point, he helpfully walked in and took his seat on the podium. I pointed to him. “That guy.” I still didn’t know his name, but his face looked familiar too.
Shortly thereafter, Shawn came in. Then the four of us gathered together to do a little planning for the panel. When a science or social justice panel hasn’t been put together entirely out of vetted Skepchick volunteers, much of the planning process involves mutual reassurance that everyone has the background necessary to speak to the topic. Here, it meant that the three of us who had a good idea who each other were tried not to look too skeptically at the person none of us knew before he had a chance to introduce himself.
Our fourth panelist was Rob Callahan. No worries on credentials. He’s a reporter on contract with the Star Tribune, who also writes for VitaMN and has experience with Cracked. Perfect for a journalism panel. His mention of a recent article he wrote introducing people to cosplay cemented his geek cred.
Then the name clicked. “Did you write the recent piece on hipster racism in Twin Cities theater?”
That was him. I thanked him for the article, which went beyond pointing to a problematic show to putting it into the historical context of portraying racist characters and comparing the functions of those characters to those of modern racists on Family Guy and South Park to covering the way show creators interacted with members of marginalized groups in person. It was thorough and thoughtful and well done. If you haven’t read it, you should.
Discussion of the article and the issues it brought up took over most of the rest of our time before the panel. Hopefully Callahan hadn’t walked into the panel worrying whether the rest of us were up to speaking intelligently on the topic, because I think he was only properly introduced to Shawn Otto before we got started.
Callahan and I chatted a bit more after the panel. He mentioned that the name of my blog sounded familiar, though he couldn’t place it. I mentioned that I’d linked to his hipster racism article, so he may have seen me in trackbacks or traffic stats. He didn’t seem convinced, but the last day of con is not the time for unraveling mysteries, so we said our friendly goodbyes.
A day or two later, I noticed a tweet from Callahan on the CONvergence hashtag. I checked out his feed, which was largely local arts news and anti-racist discussions of other news. Then, just a few days back, there was a link to the blog of my friend Tim Wick, profiling Callahan for his Friend A Day series. Tim had written about me there the day before. I’m pretty sure he didn’t do it because he saw us both on the same programming item in the CONvergence schedule. Hell, I’m pretty sure Tim hasn’t had time in years to look at the full, finished CONvergence schedule.
Now I finally knew why Callahan looked familiar to me at the panel and the probable reason my blog’s name was familiar to him. I’m less sure why I didn’t remember who he was the first time I saw his name on the schedule. We’ve also both been on Tim’s Geeks Without God podcast, me during CONvergence 2012, Callahan a little more recently. We were going to have to meet sooner or later, barring us both being wrong about the lack of interventionist deities in our universe, and it was almost certainly going to happen at CONvergence.
Steve Brust recently described CONvergence as a gathering of the tribes. While I get what he’s saying, I’m not quite sure whether I disagree with him about the general character of what happens at CONvergence or just don’t personally like the word “tribe” for groups of people I move fluidly between all weekend. I think of CONvergence more as a network that functions as a literal net.
The con grows as the people who are already part of it draw more people in by talking about what they enjoyed over their long, exhausting weekends. Then, at parties and on panels and over boffing and art and costume squee and waiting forever to be seated in one of the local restaurants, they create new bonds with people the should have already met. In turn, those new bonds make a stronger web because people go back home and talk about new things they found at con, new itches that were scratched, new welcomes they found there that they may not find anywhere else. And more people get caught in the many threads that are CONvergence.
I may have a few too many threads tugging on me to always be able to move comfortably through the con, but I think this model of growth goes a long way toward explaining how CONvergence has grown as large as it has while still retaining the feel of a con run for the love and, in fact, becoming the largest F&SF con run for the love. CONvergence isn’t a temporary truce between factions in the interests of a party so much as it is an exploration and celebration of all the myriad things we have in common, a little bit here and a little bit there.
Most of us will do a lot to make that possible. We’ll organize and plan and badge and panel and party and queue and educate and build and sew and pose and sing and dance and laugh and write and draw and game. We’ll feed each other and serve drinks and watch each other’s backs and each other’s things and each other’s kids and clean it all up when it’s done. We’ll do it all even when we can’t keep it going long enough to enjoy everything we made. We tell each other and ourselves, “Next year”, with the assurance that together, we’ve built something good enough to endure.
Then we’ll go back to our everyday lives with circles under our eyes and blooming cases of con crud. We’ll talk to all our coworkers who spent the weekend sleeping in and laugh at them when they try to pity our wan states or condescend to the geeks. Even if we sniffle as we do it.