alexandraerin: (Default)
2017-05-31 04:50 pm

On The Throwing of Parties

Last year we made the decision to host a party at this year’s WisCon. At the time we did not know what all that would entail or how to go about making it happen, but we were willing to learn.

And we did. And there were some bumps along the way (for instance: we not only ordered more of certain materials than we needed on the principle that if we could fit it in the budget it would be better to have more than we needed than less, but we found out as we were setting up that we had more than we’d even ordered, and no clear plan at the time for what to do with it all), but there were also some happy accidents and serendipities and flashes of inspiration, and all in all, the whole thing came off rather well.

I may have another post up later today that’s more analytical about what we did right and wrong, less for purposes of self-recrimination than for the fact that this way we won’t have to remember all of it for a year.

This post is about why we threw a party, and what it meant to us to be able to do so, and how much it means that it went well.

The proximate cause for the party was the realization, a year ago, that this June was going to be the tenth anniversary of the start of my most successful story project to date, Tales of MU. That was a milestone that meant a lot to me and that would be significant to the subset of the con that’s been fans of my fiction writing.

(I’m forever in a weird place where far more people are fans of my existence, of what I say and what I bring to people around me, than my actual work. Which is not a terrible place to be! It’s just surreal sometimes.)

But the deeper cause was the desire to do something for the con, to give something back to it. As I said in an earlier post today, I’m not suited for committee work. I can’t run the con. I don’t have the wherewithal to communicate directly with specific other people on a regular, frequent basis. I have barriers to traveling on my own. I work best when I just… do things, because the mood and muse have struck me. That’s not how you run a thing as big and complicated as a con.

But… I could throw a party.

The actual function of parties in the framework of the con is pretty important. This is the part where a lot of people would say something about “networking”, but I’m talking about what the parties do for the con as a whole.

See, when you throw a party, you’re helping to distribute the load of keeping people entertained, engaged, and fed. You’re taking on a portion of the catering bill and meal/snack planning. You’re providing an on-site space for socialization that’s not one of the bars, a narrow hallway, or noisy lobby, and you’re taking responsibility for that space so there’s always someone accountable even in the moment that Safety is not making rounds through it.

It is an important function. A vital function. And yes, the people who throw the parties are usually promoting something (I sure was), but I also approached it as an important trust and responsibility, and a chance to give a gift to the con that has become my home in fandom.

I would like to thank a few specific people who really helped make it happen:

Sooshe and Gretchen from the WisCon party committee who were quick to answer questions and fulfill our requests with precision and professional aplomb. The answers we got were timely and detailed.

Lynne let me borrow her expertise and a few moments of her time, giving me some advice that helped lessen my second-guessing and sooth my pre-party jitters at a time when I was really worried.

Theo showed us a different vision of what a con party could be last year with their chill, laid-back launch party for the coloring book The Robot’s Guide To Love. It was just such a different scene from the typical industry-oriented wine/cocktail party (which of course is not possible under the current rules binding the con and the hotel), and it gave us the confidence that we could pull together a party that would be more enjoyable for more people.

Cabell provided logistical support in receiving party supplies and arranging transportation to the Concourse.

Sarah, who was not in on the planning with Jack and myself, but pitched in on the execution in a big way and helped straighten out a hitch in the catering plans.

And last but not least Kit, for providing an impromptu conversation piece that was surprisingly on-theme.

Then, of course, there was everybody who showed up, and everybody who didn’t make it (to the con or the party) but who wanted to. The good news is we’re going to be doing something very similar next year, with refinements and improvements. I seriously think that now that we have experience and firmer numbers we could do the even better with half the budget, or less.

So if you’re bummed that you missed the party, or you didn’t know that there was even anything to miss… don’t sweat it. You’ll have another shot next year, and honestly, we’d love to build this into a WisCon institution.

I’ve spoken before (most often while in the planning phases of this) about how the WisCon party culture is changing, the convention party culture as a whole is changing, and how this isn’t a bad thing. There’s still a bar right there in the hotel for social drinking and people still have the option of throwing their own private shindigs and providing whatever legal substances they feel like providing. Grousing that the officially programmed parties can’t fill this need anymore is counterproductive and unnecessary. I honestly feel a lot safer to drink and enjoy drinking in the spaces that are left for it than I ever did on the party floor. That’s a bit of a tangent and might be worth its own post.

The point is: we looked at what is possible and permissible and built our party concept around that, and I think that’s got a lot to do with how much we just hit it out of the ballpark on our first time out.

I wasn’t sitting there with a clicker counting people coming in or anything, but I know for a fact we went through just under 100 serving glasses of drinks (with most guests only having one), and our food supplies that were calibrated for somewhere between 75 and 100 people were all but wiped out. (There was a bit of the juicier fruit tray selections left, probably because I blanked on getting forks.)

There were some people who came through and sampled the wares and left, and I count that as a success, again, part of the function of the party is to feed some portion of the con some portion of their daily intake, shouldering a bit of the burden of that task. There were people who stayed for however long it took them to eat a plate and drink a drink, or as long as the craft table kept them occupied. And there were people who were there for an hour or more, going between talking to me about my work and my life and talking to each other, or even just talking quietly in a corner with the same friends they came in with.

Every single one of those people are part of the success story of the party. None of them were ~*partying wrong*~. My goal was to provide a space that was safe as it could be and structured for people to be entertained, and I think I delivered.

All in all, I think the future of WisCon’s party culture is on a solid footing. It just takes a different mindset than “buy booze, set booze out, commence boozing”.

The Uncanny Magazine party was a great model of what’s possible and what works. They had a theme (SPACE UNICORNS), an attraction (sparkly unicorn cakes!), and an activity (balloon sculpting). Again, Lynne Thomas helped reassure me about my catering levels, but it was also just reassuring to look at their set-up and note they had the same basic sorts of elements we’d aimed for: a theme (which had become superheroes by the time the con rolled around), an attractor (the mocktail bar), and an activity (the mask crafting station).

I’d say anybody who wants to throw a party at a con with an open party floor should try to include those three things. It’s a great formula. It gets people in the door and it gives them a reason to stick around for a while, and something to talk about.

I’d guess the fourth element would be something visible and distinctive for them to carry out onto the larger floor. For a lot of parties it’s the craft element (like the crowns and tiaras that come out of the Carl Brandon Society party), but for ours it seemed to be the fancy glasses we brought even more so than the superhero mask. I was just looking for something that looked more like a real bar glass while being lightweight and safe, but it really did the job of getting people out in the hall and other rooms asking our former guests what they were drinking and where they’d gotten it from.


Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)
2017-05-31 01:20 pm

“Welcome to WisCon”

Well, last weekend was WisCon. Very late last night or very early this morning, I made it home from there.

I told a dear but distant friend who was at the con for part of it but whom I missed in both applicable senses of the word that I was having a silver/gold situation this year: lots of old friends, lots of new ones, and not enough time to go around. Another very good friend told me that she did not even go to any official programming this year, which surprised me until she laid out how she was prioritizing her time and I realized that if I had the same constraints and I had to choose between programming and seeing my con friends, I would have made the same choice.

In fact, I largely had. For years I’ve dealt with the problem of too many panels/not enough time-turners by setting my priorities around which people I wanted to who I hadn’t seen yet. This year, every single programming item I attended had one or more person on the roster I was there to see. I also realized that the general trend for me has been to attend fewer formal programming items over time.

The first years, when I knew few people, fewer of them well, and fewer still from anywhere face-to-face, attending panels and readings and speeches gave me a structured way to participate, to interact, and to meet people. A lot of the people I’m now unabashed fans of and even friends with, it started with seeing them on panels.

And a lot of my friends have had a similar arc.

A con is, at its core, people (most things are, babies), and if you keep going to a con long enough, then past a certain point what you’re really going for there is the people, both the individual persons whom you know and the amorphous, energetic, memetic organism that is generated by the interactions of these people in large numbers.

So there is always the danger (and frequently, from what I hear, the reality) that a long-running con will grow insular at its core, reach a tipping point where it’s pulling inwards more than it is reaching outwards. It’s not an absolute (few things are, babies), and there have certainly been shades of that at WisCon. There likely still are, in places.

While the con was ongoing, though, there was a conversation that kept happening from two different ends, which I kept or hearing or having.

From the one side, it always started something like this, “Every time I tell someone this is my first WisCon, their face just lights up. Like they’re really happy to see me. Like they’re really happy for me.”

From the other side, it went more like this, “There are just so many new people this year, I’m so excited for them. It’s such a great energy this year.”

And it’s such a great feeling, to be part of a con that can be so warm and welcoming, that doesn’t hold with the idea that people have to “pay their dues” in some fashion other than literally paying the actual membership dues before the con is “for them”… and I know there are gradations of this, I know there are multiple factors at play and that there are still doubtlessly a few people who cling on to the con with both hands while grumbling about how all these newcomers are changing the tone, but in the terms of trends and prevailing factors: I like where this is going. I like the way the wind is blowing.

One of the secrets of congoing is that whether anyone is going out of their way to make you feel unwelcome or even if someone has gone out of their way to make you feel welcome… a lot of the time, you do have to kind of stick with it a bit before it’s really actually as fun and rewarding as you feel like it should be. There’s impostor syndrome, and there’s also just not knowing how to navigate the event in a way that you get the most out of it… believe it or not, going to cons is a skill. In fact, I’d say each con is its own skill.

And some cons will never be worth it for you personally, so you’re taking a risk by putting the time, money, and effort into it. And the hypothetical best con in the world might not be worth taking that chance for a year or two or three, when it might never pay off and the harm you suffer in the meantime is still real.

And there’s really no way around that, just like there’s no way to make a space filled with people safe in an absolute sense rather than safer, always a little safer than it was or would be without the effort. But I like to think that at WisCon, we’re doing what we can to speed people through the adjustment period, invest them with the skill of being at WisCon, and give them a softer landing into con culture. It’s both a formal effort by the people doing the hard work of running the con (the volunteers and the committee members) and it’s part of the feeling on the floor, as it were.

I tried the committee thing a while back and found that it’s outside my strongest skill sets and current level of ability, but nonetheless, I’m doing what I can to be a good member, a good representative of the WisCon brand, a good guide for newbies, and a good ambassador between the con and the world outside. And while I can hardly take credit for the still ongoing improvement myself, I feel confident I can say I’ve been helping. It’s part of why I was so committed to throwing a party for the con this year.

Last year, when I was talking to a new friend about the almost inevitable impostor syndrome that almost everyone feels their first year, she told me that she must be weird because she didn’t feel that way at all. I thought this must be something special about her (and she is pretty special, to be honest), but maybe that was also partly just a sign of our progress as a con, because I heard from a lot more people saying the same this year.

This was also the year I had the most people coming up and talking to me, instead of finding Jack when I’m not right by his side and telling him that they’d wanted to do so, but were too intimidated. Maybe part of that is the fact that I spent an entire year, off and on, telling the internet “I’m going to be at WisCon and I’m there to see people and this includes anyone who wants to see me, for real for true.” Maybe part of it is the con’s increasingly welcoming atmosphere making the whole experience less scary. Maybe I’m just figuring out how to be more approachable.

I’m sure a part of it was the fact that more people than usual this year were there specifically to see me, but the thing is, the heartbreaking thing about the people who tell Jack (or tell me later, online, after the con) that they were too afraid to say hi is that some of them have always said that.

This is so far the year where I have heard the least stories of how the con as an entity egregiously failed, harmed, or let someone down. It’s not perfect. It will never be perfect. But a science fiction convention of all things should never let the impossibility of reaching the heavens prevent it from reaching for them.

Mikki Kendall has a post up about her own complicated relationship with the con. In her post (which you really should be reading in full), she pushes back against the too-prevalent idea that people of color attending the convention aren’t investing in it, a notion which baffles* me as women of color in particular (including Mikki herself) have saved the body and soul of the con often at great personal effort and cost.

But as she also notes: new people are coming in all the time. They bring with them new ideas and new energy. And a con is, at its heart, people. New people make a new con.

And as I said up above: I like where this is going.

(*I mean, it doesn’t really baffle me, because I know that racism and sexism, and their painful intersection, exist.)


Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)
2015-05-29 11:15 am

Things I learned at WisCon39…

…About Tales of MU

First of all, there was a conversation I kept having around the subject of Tales of MU, involving people who were either lapsed readers or current readers who were far behind. Someone would ask me how often I update it, and I would say, apologetically, that I try for more, but just lately it’s been one a week most weeks.

And the response would be something like, “Oh, good, maybe I’ll start reading/catch up.”

I’ve always seen frequent updates as a key to maintaining an audience and also making sure I’m giving sufficient value for my readers’ money, but after the third time I had a conversation like that, I started to wonder if my sense of “frequency” isn’t calibrated a little high. I am an unusually fast reader, after all.

I’ve been thinking about the value I give my readers, but I hadn’t given much (or any) thought to the time investment being a reader requires of them. Maybe having 6,000-9,000 words of new story a week is too high an “engagement cost” to most readers, compared to 2,000-3,000.

So, as an experiment, I’m going to be dialing it back to once a week, intentionally. I know I’ve done this before, but always for internal reasons. Here I’m going to have a mixture of internal and external. The current book is already intended to be a good jumping-on point for new readers, so I’ll also point it out to former readers looking to ease back in without having to archive binge first if that’s not their thing. We’ll continue onward at the relatively gentle pace of one chapter a week… though not this week. My travel misadventure plus (ongoing) sickness has not given me much in the way of creative time or energy.

Second, it’s striking how frequently readers I meet in person mention how hot/well done the sex scenes are. This is something I have a great deal of insecurity/uncertainty about. The idea of writing straight out erotica with the MU characters/in the MU world (as in stand-alone shorts that don’t need to be understood in the context of the larger story) is one that is evergreen, but one that I’ve never quite been able to pull off… but I feel like there could be interest (and thus money) there.

Third, even people who have drifted away from or outgrown the series appreciate it. Multiple individuals told me words to the effect that the story was there for them when they needed it or taught them something that they needed to know. That’s a good feeling.

…About Myself

First, I am much better at moderating panels than I am at moderating forums or comments sections. I was assigned to moderate one of the panels that I was on, which gave me some concern as I’ve never counted moderation as being within my skillset. It actually went fairly smoothly, with some understandable first time hiccups that didn’t seem as noticeable to anyone who talked to me about it afterwards, and next year I intend to actually put myself forward as a moderator.

Second, I am getting much better at recognizing people. Frankly, I think this is partially down to going to WisCon every year, but I think Tumblr deserves a little bit of the credit.

…About Life

My first panel of the weekend was on the subject of managing canon, how much one cares about maintaining strict continuity. I may make a blog post summing up my feelings on this later, if I still feel like doing it when I have a more orderly brain, but one thing that came up in the panel that was sort of a theme for me for the rest of the con was the idea that we are not the same people who wrote our first books/earlier works.

And this helped slot some things into place that I’ve been trying to get a handle on in my personal life, where I spent about five years trying to live my life in a holding pattern and have been having a hard time shifting out of that. I think the major problem there is that I can’t go back to who I was in 2009 and hit resume, which is what I’ve been trying to do.

…About WisCon

As (WisCon 39 Co-Chair) Mikki Kendall has noted, the situation was never quite as dire as the mythmaking has made it out to be. WisCon 39 was always going to happen as long as enough people were willing to make it happen. Of course, “enough people” is a slippery concept… we really need to better distribute the load for next year.

While many people are understandably disappointed in some of the decisions that were made during the transition between the old guard and the new, the quiet efficiency with which certain problems were handled this year speaks to a more pro-active and nimble approach to things that I think will make for a safer and more pleasant convention all around. Many people I spoke to noted a change in the atmosphere that was hard to define, but welcome.

I don’t know. I left very hopeful for the future of WisCon. I didn’t do as much to support WisCon 39 as I’d wanted to, partially because my life was bumpy in unexpected ways but also partially because I think I misjudged where I could most easily make the largest contributions. Knowing better where my skills are needed is going to let me contribute much more to WisCon 40.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

alexandraerin: (Default)
2015-05-20 08:24 am

Hello, WisCon!

So, today we leave for Madison, one day earlier than planned. We won’t necessarily be at the Concourse before tomorrow… that depends on how we feel after a day of traveling, following closely on the heels of a day of panicky, last minute packing and preparations.

If you’re going to be at the Con and you want to say hi and/or hang out, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Because I have a high degree of face blindness myself, I have a habit of making myself recognizable, especially at the con. My trademark rainbow fringe is actually a style I adopted specifically for WisCon two years ago. Depending on when you see me, I might have black hair with rainbow bangs or full-on rainbow hair. I won’t necessarily be the only person with rainbow hair, but the combination of rainbow hair, a floppy black hat, and a floor-length skirt are pretty distinctive.
  2. A thing I hear from people quite often is “I wanted to say hi, but you looked tired/sad/lost in thought.” I assure you, that is just my face. I mean, I might be tired. I have a chronic fatigue condition so I’m often tired. But if I let that stop me from having a good time, I would never have one. I am not the most social person in the world, but once a year I fly hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to meet people and be social. Help me get my money’s worth!
  3. The face blindness thing is real. If you do come up to say hi, please introduce yourself and please tell me if we’ve met before. I mean whether or not we have. Like, “Hi, my name is Connie Wisconsinconson. We’ve never met, but I wanted to say hi.” The reason I ask this is because if someone comes up and says hi to me, in most contexts this means we know each other and ordinary social norms require me to pretend I recognize them while I silently try to figure out who the heck they are. At con, I’m more likely to say fudge it and explain that I don’t recognize faces, because people are more likely to understand it.
  4. Name tags make things easier, but understand that even if I see you multiple times during a day, I will probably be scoping your tag each and every time. So far WisCon is the one place where I’ve had to do this that no one has been noticeably offended by it, but just letting you know.
  5. I am jumpy when touched unexpectedly. I do enjoy hugs, with sufficient warning.

And that’s about it. I am on a boatload of panels and my boyfriend Jack is also on panels for the first time and I’d like to support him when I am able to do so, so my schedule is not going to be terribly flexible, but seriously, if you want to say hi, say hi.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

alexandraerin: (Default)
2015-05-14 02:34 pm

My WisCon Schedule

Getting caught up on stuff now that I have a bit more energy. I am on five panels at WisCon this year. This is the first time I’ve done that since… the first time I was on five panels and immediately vowed never again. But that was also the year I mixed up my pills and took my sleeping pills on Sunday morning. I’m told I killed on my Sunday panels, but I don’t remember much about them.

I kick things off right off the bat on Friday at 4:00 with How Much Do I Worry About My Own Canon? My short take on this is: the past is pilot. I can’t think of a single great work of serial fiction in any media that didn’t benefit from ignoring/re-imagining/re-working something that was established early on rather than allowing themselves to be painted into a corner.

Saturday I have back to back panels at 1:00 and 2:30, on Feminism, Ethics, and BDSM and Dysphoria Is Not Magic… someone had the bright idea to make me the moderator of the second one.

Sunday at 10:00 a.m. I’m on a panel about Call-Out Culture that is a follow-up to a panel at last year’s WisCon that I don’t believe I was on, but someone suggested I join this one.

And then at 11:30 at night, I’m on a panel called What Kind of a World Do We Trans People Want? I know this is going to be a late one and people might be crashing and/or partying, but my boyfriend Jack is also on this panel, so if you want to see us together, there’s that.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write. Please leave any comments there.

alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-10-24 02:31 am

With everything that's been going on...

...I don't think I mentioned that I have in fact joined the WisCon convention committee as a member of the media & communications team. In the long-term, I would like to take a more active hand in the public internet presence of the convention, but right now those things seem to still be in a bit of a transitional mode. I have been helping to craft and polish external communications a bit, where I can.

I volunteered my skills because communication is one of my strong points, but also because it's been one of the con's weak ones, in both directions: listening and speaking. The idea of a media & communications team is a fairly new one and its role is still being defined, but my personal take on it is that our role should include listening.

During the crises of trust that resulted over this summer from the handling of abuse claims, there was a persistent refrain from within the ConCom about the importance of maintaining a single channel of information in order to prevent confusion and rumormongering. As an outsider to the ConCom, I challenged this line of thinking several times by asking if anyone really thought that it was working. From my position on the ground, it seemed pretty clear that the attempts to maintain a wall of silence did nothing to alleviate confusion, and created the circumstances that led to the circulation of rumors.

In fact, I think we must give credit where credit is due. If not for the ConCom members who broke silence and "told tales outside of school", either publicly or in confidence, then a number of people who ultimately increased their involvement with the con might have otherwise left it for good.

I know that's true of myself.

This is why I can't turn around and co-sign a policy of squelching open discussion. The convention is run on a consensus model, though, so while I will be defending this idea vigorously, I cannot unilaterally implement it. Still, it is the viewpoint that I will represent.

This is a time of change for the con, and its leadership. A lot of things are still up in the air. A lot of things have yet to be determined. This much is true: the con belongs to its members, but the big decisions will be made by those who do the work to make them happen. We have an opportunity here, and a responsibility to use it wisely.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-07-27 11:51 am

Explaining WisCon

So, somebody on Twitter asked me to "explain the WisCon thing". I've received a few similar messages on Tumblr. This post is intended for people who have zero familiarity. It is an overview and does not cover every detail. It's just an attempt to explain what WisCon is and what's going on with it.

WisCon is a 38 year old science fiction and fantasy convention held in Madison, Wisconsin. It differs from what a lot of people think of when they hear "sci-fi convention" in three major ways.

One is that it is more of a literary and academic convention than a comic book convention. Although the focus is no longer solely on books (if it ever was solely) and there has been more discussion of things like comic books, the internet, and geek culture in general in recent years, it's still more academic in approach. There's not the same culture of cosplay at WisCon, for instance, and the crowd maybe skews a bit older... which is not to say that there aren't young people in attendance, which is important for when we get to "what's going on with WisCon".

Two is that WisCon has an explicitly feminist and implicitly progressive stance as an oganization. It calls itself the world's first feminist sf/f con, and actively tries to promote inclusivity and sensitivity along a number of axes.

Three is that the con is entirely member-run. People on the outside commenting about WisCon-related situations often get the wrong idea about things because of this. For instance, assuming that people who are appearing at WisCon are invited guests. With the exception of guests of honor (of which there are usually two), WisCon does not invite people to come and speak; members of the con (people who buy their admission to the con) volunteer their expertise and experience to participate in panels and speak on subjects.

Although there is a parent entity that is the corporate body of the convention, the immediate governing body of the convention is the convention committee, or "ConCom", which is what you might call a super committee consisting of every single person who volunteers to keep the con running. The current ConCom is in excess of 80 people. The ConCom uses two major tools to come to decisions: the group as a whole uses consensus-building discussions, and sometimes out of that discussion a new sub-committee will arise to deal with a specific aspect or issue.

So that's what WisCon is. A sci-fi/fantasy con strongly rooted in literary endeavors (writing, publishing), with a stated feminist bent, operated by consensus of the members who do the work.

What's going on is that in 2013, there were two formal complaints of harassment filed against long-time member and one-time guest of honor James "Jim" Frenkel, then an editor at Tor. Mr. Frenkel has a long-standing history of harassing behavior towards women, including sexual harassment and violent or frightening outbursts. The 2013 complaints included one of each.

There was a lot of ball-dropping and buck-passing--despite the complainants themselves taking pains to be heard and following up more than they should have needed to--and Mr. Frenkel attended WisCon 38 in 2014 with nothing having officially been done.

It's hard to sum up what happened leading up to the con or after, but the short version is: WisCon failed to address the complaints at all until after the con was over, and has failed to address them in a meaningful way so far afterwards.

If you would like to read more on this topic, I recommend reading this post by Natalie Luhrs, which has evolved to be a round-up of other people's reactions and bits of news.

There are signs that things are moving slowly in the right direction. The "slowly" is substantially because of things relating to point three above. At this point the bigger problems in the present have to do with failures of transparency and over-correction to the wrong lessons in past failings. I'm not going to expand on that right now, though, because I am optimistic and I don't wish to write a post-mortem when the patient may be on the verge of recovery.

I will say that a lot of people who are closer to the inside than I am have said that a lot of the problems stem from people who put loyalty--to the con, if not specifically to its one-time luminaries like Mr. Frenkel--over safety.

Me personally?

I am fiercely loyal to WisCon.

And it is out of this loyalty that I speak out the way that I do.

Because the con is not James Frenkel. The con is not the ConCom, or its co-chairs, or its ruling cliques. The con is not even the institution or phenomenon of WisCon. The con is its membership. The members are the con. That's where our loyalties have to lie: not with anyone because they were there at the beginning, but with everyone who will be there at WisCon 39. And WisCon 40. And WisCon 41. We have an obligation to everyone who shows up. The things we get out of the con--and I have gotten so much from WisCon--are what we owe to the people who will attend it in the future.

And where we have been failed... or where we have ourselves failed... we owe them better.

That's why I'm not giving up.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-07-25 10:45 pm

Updated my WisCon posts on LJ/DW... tag them with both "WisCon" and "Jim Frenkel", for easier reference.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-07-24 07:55 am

Frenkel's Lie

So, one of the things that affected the committee's "sentence" for Jim Frenkel was his claim that his settlement with his former employer Tor (an imprint of Macmillan Publishing) would prevent him from speaking publicly about his conduct for five years, which would be four years now. The existence of this injunction became the basis for the time period before Frenkel could petition for readmission, since they couldn't expect him to apologize and acknowledge what he did publicly before that.

I've said before that it was completely unnecessary for WisCon to incorporate this supposed settlement into their decision. Even if one accepts the idea that he could acknowledge his wrongdoing and petition for re-entry, any legal trouble that would prevent him from doing so until a certain date would be his problem. Setting the timetable based on neither helps nor harms him from a strictly objective standpoint.

Yesterday, it came out--confirmed by the legal department of Macmillan--that he was bound to no such agreement. He straight up lied about its existence.

Some people have positioned this as him lying to avoid apologizing, or lying to avoid punishment. I'm not sure that the second is exactly accurate--by which I mean, I don't know that he actually avoided punishment by it--but the fact is, they're both far too innocent a description for what happened here.

What he did was lie to avoid acknowledging his conduct, publicly and on the record.

Jim Frenkel is a serial harasser and abuser of women. I saw a disagreement on Twitter earlier today about whether he had really "flown under the radar" or whether he was a "known quantity", and the fact is, he was both. Some people knew, some people didn't, and the things that some people knew differed in apparent context and magnitude.

A man like this depends on the fact that information is compartmentalized, even within a community. A man like this needs to be able to shake his sadly and say, "Well, that's their story." or chuckle wryly and say, "The things they say about me." or "You know these things have a way of getting blown out of proportion." or (if he has the right audience) "Women, right?", whenever there's even a glancing mention of his past conduct.

He has to be able to spin off the things that "everyone knows" about him as so much rumor and innuendo and exaggeration to the people who aren't part of the everyone who knows them.

The question of why it took so long for him to suffer any real consequences is a complicated and sad one involving many failings, societal and personal. I have to imagine that the matter of why now, though... the question of why critical mass started to build up around 2010 and a tipping point was reached between 2013 and 2014 has a lot to do with the internet, with the way that it has de-compartmentalized information and brought people together, and even changed the way that many people think about and deal with these things in offline spaces.

Frenkel has not acknowledged his conduct in any public space or forum. He showed up this year at WisCon 38 to assert his innocence. A man like this will privately express "regret" show "contrition" when necessary, but to have a public statement from his own lips or fingers where he owns up to what he did would be devastating. That's the Game Over.

Or at least, a major setback. He might be arrogant enough to believe he could still spin that as an unfair condition that he was forced to accept, and might be charming enough to sell that to some people.

The bottom line is, the fact that Jim Frenkel lied about this and the circumstances of the lie are collectively one of the most dangerous indicators of his true character yet revealed. They reveal that his contrition is a sham, they reveal that his manipulations are deliberate and calculated, and they reveal that his intentions are not to change his ways, not any more and for any longer than he has to, in order to continue to get away with this.

I know a lot of people have been hoping that the sub-committee's decision would be revoked and substituted with another one. I know virtually everyone has been hoping that they will at least release an official clarification to firm up the timeline. I don't know what the conversation around this in the ConCom looks like right now, or even if it's still continuing.

I would certainly hope that the knowledge that he lied to the sub-committee would on its face be enough to end the debate and merit a permanent ban. I can sadly imagine people who still value loyalty over member safety, con ideals, or even the reputation of the con making the argument that there's no rule that says that and it's not like he was testifying under oath, which ignores the implication of the lie.

On the chance that the debate is still for whatever reason raging, I'd like to offer a way forward that doesn't require another sub-committee and doesn't require another decision of the same complexity.

The original decision mentioned that his provisional right to return would be subject to evidence of either substantial change in behavior, or continued problematic behavior. We now have evidence of continued problematic behavior, intent to continue problematic behavior, and fabricated evidence of changed behavior that calls into question .

My understanding is that the original decision was meant to say that there would be a hearing for this evidence in four years' time. Well, for whatever reason, it doesn't actually say that. Anywhere. All it says is that WisCon will entertain "grounded, substantive evidence" that he's changed, and also any evidence against him. Well, we have the evidence against him, and this evidence makes it hard to believe any evidence he provides would be substantive or grounded.

So my suggestion to the ConCom is this: in keeping with the wording of the original decision and in light of the evidence, kick him out the door and lock it behind him. No hearing. He blew it. He's gone.

Here's hoping that you're way ahead of me and these words are completely superfluous.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-07-22 03:02 pm

(no subject)

There's one theme I keep seeing in comments about the Jim Frenkel case, and while this particular thought mostly seems to be coming from erstwhile defenders from outside the immediate community (and people who probably be Frenkel's peers in age and other demographic markers, I imagine), I do have to wonder if it's related to why one piece of evidence in particular apparently didn't seem compelling to the sub-committee's chair.

Author/journalist Mikki Kendall reported that on her first meeting with Frenkel, he spent the entire conversation openly leering at her cleavage. She has written and spoken about this incident and about WisCon's handling of Frenkel here, with an addendum taking specific note of how the recently-released apology reflects (or rather, fails to reflect) the treatment she's still receiving.

The reason I'm speaking about this has to do with the picture that one of her friends snapped of the incident. This picture has been dismissed by the commenters I described above as being just a single moment of time and not proof of anything... you know, because a picture flattens perspective, he could have been in the process of moving his gaze down to something on the floor when the camera went off, he could have been suppressing a sneeze, et cetera.

I could point out that it's really unlikely someone would have managed to snap a picture just in time to catch an accidental juxtaposition like that, as compared to noticing something both obvious and ongoing and getting a picture of it while it's still ongoing. And I guess I just did. But let's forget that.

But the thing is, this line of argument requires us to throw out Mikki's own testimony as to what happened. She was there. Don't you think she knows the difference between someone who is supposedly engaging with her instead staring directly at her chest, and the same person glancing down at the floor next to her? Is there any reason to be interrogating her claim, especially when it's perfectly in line with other reports of Frenkel's typical behavior?

The photograph as a single piece of evidence, a single snapshot in time, might not be damning. But it doesn't have to be. It's supporting evidence; it backs up what Mikki has to say. Other people's experiences were believed without such support.

That the one supported by a picture is also the one that was apparently thrown out is interesting to say the least.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-07-22 09:43 am

A question WisCon needs to be asking itself.

Is "Member Advocate" merely a title for someone who runs committees at the behest of committees in order to deal with the disposition of reports and generate new reports... or is it, as the title suggests, a person whose number one job is to be an advocate for WisCon members, the representative and voice and liaison between members who have a safety issue and the powers that be?

Because while I have heard many positive things about the person holding the title, I have not gotten the impression that she has embodied the role of Member Advocate in a way that lives up to the ideal conjured by the words.

She saw no need to keep in touch with the people who produced the complaints during the process of handling them, which feels really jarring given that the position was created in part to end the troubling silence that resulted from lost/mishandled/ignored reports.

She apparently picked and chose which members' concerns would be represented in the write-up that the sub-committee worked with, leading to conspicuous absences and the appearance at least of weighing some members' comfort and safety over others.

And when the uproar and confusion greeted the poorly-worded initial statement, she did nothing to address that.

Now, I'm not writing this because I think the Member Advocate is a terrible person and I'm not even calling this her failure, because I don't know who defined the role exactly, or how it was defined to her. It might be that she did exactly what she was asked to. It almost certainly is the case that she did the job she thought was before her, to the best of her ability.

That's why this is phrased as "a question WisCon needs to be asking itself".

What is the Member Advocate actually there for? Are they really just another committee head? Should it be their job to simply reduce conflicting opinions to a consensus and then write a statement?

Or is their job to be an advocate for the members involved?

I think it should be the latter. There has been some criticism of the sub-committee's attempt to mimic a judiciary approach. This is especially troubling if--as I understand--the Member Advocate serves as the chair of the harassment sub-committees that she convenes. Because that's her in the position of the one moderating the discussion, the one acting as "judge" (to the extend that anyone on a committee of equals is)... as a chair, it might seem natural to serve the interest of perceived impartiality.

And there is nothing wrong with impartiality. There should be impartiality.

But if your title is Advocate, you are not and should not be impartial, because it is your job to represent a party.

An advocate is not neutral.

An advocate is one who has taken someone's side.

One of the most trenchant criticisms of not just the product of the committee but the process that created it was that it did not center the victims of Mr. Frenkel's behavior. This should be astonishing, given that the proceedings were called and ran by the advocate of these people.

I realize that the proceedings are confidential, but as the members of the sub-committee are no doubt also participating in the conversation about how to change or save or revamp the process they participated in, I would ask them to ask themselves:

Was the Member's Advocate conspicuously on the side of Elise, Lauren, and the other people affected by James Frenkel?

Assuming the harassment sub-committee system is not scrapped entirely and a completely different model put in place instead, making sure that this happens--that there is an advocate in the room who is completely centered on the concern of the complainant--would go a long way towards addressing the shortfalls of the current system.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-07-21 07:15 pm

A few more words about the James Frenkel decision.

I keep wrestling with whether or not to say this, but my brain keeps coming back to it.

We have a culture that will excuse, ignore, or sweep sexual misconduct under the carpet, especially when it's done by a "respectable" white man. This is something that is going to affect even an institution that positions itself as WisCon does. I don't bring up the fact that it happens to say we should accept it; I bring it up to say that we should expect it, and expect to have to deal with it.

But one of the two specific complaints on the table involved a book being thrown by Mr. Frenkel at a young female writer's head. This was an act of violence. Suggesting that he did it in anger or frustration (I don't know which description would fit better) would be a mere descriptive gloss, not an excuse or even an explanation, really.

It's harder to imagine that being swept under the rug, especially given the lack of other dynamics like race.

Now, this might sound insensitive, but it seems to me like the presence of an attempted physical assault, a violent, angry outburst, should have simplified matters. Does it really matter what the other complaint consists of, when one of them involves this kind of outburst? Does it really matter whether the twenty year history of similar behavior can be brought before the sub-committee or not, when you have this on the table?

I don't say this to minimize the other complaint or the history.

But this is the question I keep coming back to.

If the only complaint on the table had been that someone had thrown a book at someone's head during a WisCon programming item, would there have been so much hand-wringing and dithering? Would it have been as something that requires a table so much as a swift and obvious action?

I have a hard time believing this to be the case.

I feel like... and I try to think of other ways to interpret the chain of events, but I can't... but I feel like not only does the handling of the incidents and Mr. Frenkel's history fail to account for the seriousness of what he has done, but I feel like the consequences are less severe then if he had "only" tossed a book at the head of a writer he was dismissing, if that had been the only formal report.

I don't want the other complainant or the other people who have come forward to tell their experiences to think I'm blaming them for having muddied the waters. Obviously, more offenses should equal more consequences, and a more obvious course of action.

But I try to think of circumstances under which someone could behave in that manner and not be shown the door, and I can only think that the hand-wringing and half-measures that too often greet reports of sexual harassment must have had something to do with it.

The problem is that we view certain transgressions, no matter how gross or obvious, as "a kind of gray area". The evidence that suggests--if not proves--that this happened here is that even with the presence of an offense that doesn't fall into that area, the result was still hamstrung by such hand-wringing and half-measures.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-07-21 11:32 am

WisCon: On transparency, jurisprudence, and responsibility.

The context of this post will be obvious to some people following me, and a complete mystery to others. The short version is that in 2013, a man named James Frenkel--then an editor at Tor, and a big name in the circles surrounding the literary-slanted sci-fi/fantasy con WisCon--was the subject of two formal harassment/abuse reports, which were part of an ongoing pattern of behavior going back decades.

Despite the presence of multiple unrelated formal reports and despite the feminist and progressive slant that WisCon has branded itself with, Frenkel was allowed to attend WisCon 38, where he gave the excuse for his presence that he was trying to "redeem" himself while also insisting that to not go would be to admit guilt.

If there is a single, simple reason why he wasn't barred, it's because no one had barred him. Supposedly, there was no policy or process in place to handle this. Since WisCon 38, committees were formed. Meetings were held. Decisions were made, and announced.

And while it's now (provisionally) certain that he won't be in attendance at WisCon 39, little else seems certain.

Other people have written about the specifics of the situation with WisCon, the history of James Frenkel, and what the decision (provisionally) and the way the case was handled implies.

My reason for making this post is to address something else. One phrase I keep seeing from those involved is "we're trying to be transparent", but this is one of the least transparent processes I have ever seen. I see the intention to be transparent, but I don't see the resulting transparency.

And that's because...

Without clarity, there can be no transparency.

There are two terms you might remember from elementary physics, when we first learned about light and the properties of matter: transparent and translucent. A transparent object is one that you can see through. A translucent object passes light through, but not with sufficient clarity to see what's going on behind it. A house might have transparent windows in most of the rooms, but frosted ones--translucent ones--in the bathroom.

The difference is that when someone is in most rooms with the light on, you can look through the window and see who's in the room and what's going on, but when someone goes into the bathroom and turns on the light, you can at most make out a vague shape. You don't know who's in there or what's going on.

Obviously, this is great for privacy, which is why the frosted windows tend to turn up in places like bathrooms.

The difference between transparent and translucent is clear, and by that I mean, the difference is that transparent surfaces are clear while translucent ones are not.

To put it quite simply: transparency without clarity is meaningless. It's not transparent.

As an institution, WisCon is a multiplicity of entities. There is the corporate parent organization SF3, there is the volunteer/member-staffed Convention Committee (ConComm), there is a team for the convention tasked with Safety and a head of that team, there is a sub-committee tasked with overseeing a harassment policy (I've seen this group referred to as HarPolComm, and the fact that this name is sometimes used without explanation is as perfect an example of non-clarity as one could dream of), and there is a sub-committee that was convened specifically to deal with the reports of harassment by James Frenkel.

In a conversation about this topic, people party to the decision(s) made might refer to "safety" without specifying who they meant (a person? the team? the general concept?), or "the committee", or "the sub-committee". No matter how transparent they are being, they are not being clear.

The problem is exacerbated when someone who has been immersed in an ongoing closed conversation where a kind of shorthand understanding develops comes out and starts referring to these entities in the same off-hand way that they've grown accustomed to speaking of them. This is a great and recurring problem of the human condition: if we do not stop to consider the point of view of others, then we will always tend to take for granted anything that comes naturally to us or has become second nature. Or to put it more shortly, if I know what I'm talking about, then ipso facto, you know what I'm talking about.

We see this phenomenon in the statement released by the Frenkel sub-committee. My informal observation is that the farther someone was from the actual decision, the less likely they are to understand it in the same way that the drafters apparently intended. This is a serious red flag that the text does not say what the authors think it says.

There is a principle of game design/testing that I cleave to, which is that a tabletop game should always be tested by people who had no hand in its creation. If a perfect stranger can't sit down with the rules and, with no prompting or hints except what's in the pages of the book, play the game as written, then the game as written doesn't work.

For purposes of clarity, the worst drafted line of the sub-committee's decision on Jim Frenkel is the most important: WisCon will (provisionally) not allow Jim Frenkel to return for a period of four years (until after WisCon 42 in 2018).

The "provisionally" there could mean anything: he's provisionally not allowed, the term is provisionally four years in the sense that it might be longer, the term is provisionally four years in the sense that it might be shorter. The lines meant to clarify it seem to imply the last possibility: This is "provisional" because if Jim Frenkel chooses to present substantive, grounded evidence of behavioral and attitude improvement between the end of WisCon 39 in 2015 and the end of the four-year provisional period, WisCon will entertain that evidence. We will also take into account any reports of continued problematic behavior.

Now, I've since been told that the whole point of the four year period is that he's legally constrained from submitting such evidence until the end of the period, which seems like the opposite of what's being conveyed here, which is the expectation that he should be spending the time between 2015 and 2018 making his case.

So we've got two very carelessly placed modifiers here, the initial "provisionally" and the phrase beginning with "between". If you already know the intended meaning or you have the expectation that it will be something similar to this, you can read the sub-committee's statement to mean that he's definitely banned for a minimum of four years, and after that he must show substantial evidence of change before re-admission will be considered.

Without that context, the "provisionally" seems very menacing, and the whole thing appears very wishy-washy, with the next paragraph (that spells out that his re-admission is not guaranteed at any time) seeming like a mere addendum, and thus so much-behind covering.

However you parse it, we have a situation where three days after a decision was unveiled whose existence had been announced a week in advance, there is no clear consensus about what it's supposed to mean.

Those of us who have asked have been unofficially told that the sub-committee is working on some clarifying language to release, but there has been no official announcement. Not even an "unofficial official" announcement posted in the LJ/DW communities, where most people read the initial wording of the decision.

Those I've asked about this have basically said that it's not their place, as 1/5th of the sub-committee, to make such a statement.

This brings me to my next point.

Many hands make light responsibility.

I think I won't be saying anything new or controversial when I say that a fundamental problem over the years in dealing with Jim Frenkel and other similar people and situations is that no one (at least no one in a position of power) wants to be responsible for the decision that so many people recognize as necessary.

As others have observed, an outbreak of norovirus one year that threatened the con was dealt with swiftly with effective countermeasures for future cons, and a newcomer to the con who came to troll by taking pictures without people's awareness or consent and post them to the internet was banned without deliberation, handwringing, fanfare, or the convocation of a special committee.

But a man who occupied a position of importance in publishing, a man who was part of the local progressive scene, a man who had been part of WisCon for far longer than many of the people writing about this (myself included) have been aware the con existed... no one wanted to be the one to show him the door, or even to take a hard line with him.

This same phenomenon is probably responsible for the "confusion" about why he was allowed to attend WisCon 38 after having two formal reports lodged against him in conjunction with WisCon 37; no one wanted to be the one to give him the boot, but no one wanted to admit responsibility for not having done so.

The formation of select sub-committee tasked exclusively with The Problem of James Frenkel should have been the final answer to that problem, but we still see the same diffusion of responsibility, the same unwillingness to act. We see this in the blame being placed on other entities and previous incarnations of the current entities. We see this in the unwillingness of the sub-committee members--even ones who have been actively engaging with critics and disappointed members--to be the one to say, officially and on the record, "We're sorry. We fumbled this. Another announcement will be forthcoming, we just really want to make sure we get it right."

And we see it in how the sub-committee apparently approached its task, which was more concerned with creating a formal process that can be generalized to other cases than dealing with the specific case that was in front of them, and more concerned with deciding the disposition the two formal reports they had in front of them than the problem that had resulted in those reports.

This brings me to my third point, which is...

When lay organizations try to focus on jurisprudence, they end up focusing more on juris than prudence.

In cases like this (including this case), the concept of "due process" is often invoked. Other people--including lawyers and barristers--have explained how easily this goes awry, when laypeople try to imitate the outward flourishes of the legal apparatus without understanding their context and purpose.

If we follow the purpose of the narrowest entity involved--the sub-committee on James Frenkel--back to its point of genesis, we find that the ultimate purpose here is the safety and comfort of the membership of WisCon. We can trace back further to find that the purpose of WisCon is to be an inclusive, feminist-centered version of the literary/science fiction convention experience.

Some members of the sub-committee were evidently unaware of the larger context; others were not, but chose to focus on the reports that were on the table, even to the point that other information on other cases involving Frenkel that had been evidently solicited was apparently then disregarded.

Whatever the proximate cause of the sub-committee was, their ultimate purpose--the purpose of their purpose--was to see to the safety of WisCon's membership. In focusing their deliberations and decision narrowly on the content of the two specific reports that resulted in their sub-committee being convened, they failed.

They failed in that their decision may be (again, clarification is needed) inadequate to the task of keeping a (sometimes potentially violent, and by "potentially" I mean that he literally threw a book at a woman's head and missed) serial harasser of women out of the convention space, and they failed in that their conduct and communication has not done anything to repair the harm done or reassure those who have reason to fear more harm.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-06-03 12:14 pm


While I've read some of N.K. Jemisin's fiction and blogging, I came to WisCon with no prior familiarity with the other guest of honor, lyrical author Hiromi Goto. My first introduction to her work was thus when I saw and heard her performing it at the reception and reading the evening before the con truly began.

I'm not for anything going to suggest that you never pick up another book unless you first have a chance to witness the author personally performing it, but I will say: it would be hard to beat that first impression, as introductions go.

I say performed and I mean performed. I have a hard enough time reading my work in public, but Hiromi Goto embodies hers. Later in her guest of honor speech, she spoke of animating a word with a living spirit. The two readings of hers that I attended were vivid illustrations of this belief in practice.

At the reception, she read from her first novel, Chorus of Mushrooms. It's a prose work, but with something like the cadence and verve of the best slam poetry. The words she read were twenty years old, but they might have come to her off the top of her head. Or the bottom of her heart.

The selection she favored us with dealt in part with the subject of microaggressions while shopping for vegetables in a Safeway. I think it might have been instructive for some people to hear her read from this decades-old work, and when I say that, I'm thinking of the sort of people who think "microaggressions" is a made-up word (unlike all the other ones harvested from the word mines), and the people who believe that before the internet social platform of the moment Nobody Had Time To Care About This Stuff When There Is Real Racism And People With Actual Problems In The World.

And when I say this, I don't simply mean in a "See? See? Here's an example that counters your supposition about things." way.

It's instructive to watch this woman stand up, open a book, and then act out the pent-up, long simmering frustration of dealing with a kindly, interested fellow shopper who finds such surprise-wonder-joy in the exoticness of witnessing someone outside her experience shopping for produce.

It's more instructive to realize that beneath this act of frustration, there is joy... that dealing with the negativity created by such encounters is not the same thing as dwelling on it. That talking about these things, working through them, acting them out... it can be a release. It can be a relief.

Rather than trying to sum up her guest of honor speech, I'll link you to her own words on her own site. If you weren't there and haven't seen it, it's every bit as worth your time and attention as Nora Jemisin's. I believe it will stand as one of the most pivotal works on the subject of diversity in creativity and representation in stories.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-05-27 01:15 pm

Wiscon 38 Guest of Honor Reflections, Part 1: N.K. Jemisin

This year at Wiscon, I did a couple of things differently from previous years. One thing I did differently was recognizing people, and the other was talking to them.

I spent a lot of time at Wiscon this year complimenting people on their outfits. Since I don't recognize faces, I have to look for other things to help me fix them in my brain, and while clothing changes from day to day, it is a useful short-term reference point, and even works a bit from day to day when someone asks me if I'd met someone. Saying something to the person about the detail I'm focusing on helps to solidify the connection... and it's not like you need a reason to pay someone a compliment. It was never insincere, either, It's not hard to find something worth pointing out when you start paying attention to people.

Last Thursday wasn't the first time I met Nora Jemisin, but it was the first time I successfully fixed her--along with a lot of people I see once a year or so--in my brain. I told her that I liked the way the studs in her top coordinated with her earrings, which she appreciated because it turned out to be a happy coincidence. I might have also used the phrase "business casual steampunk" and called ensemble "riveting", because not only do I not know when to stop, but would not be capable of doing so if I did.

When you meet Nora Jemisin, you can't help being impressed with her gentle amiability and graciousness of spirit. She was very kind about the way that travel fatigue steals my strength, that first evening I was in town. It was a very small gesture, and possibly she doesn't remember it, but it was very important to me.

And then when it's time for her to stand up in front of a crowd and speak, you can't help realizing that gentleness and grace are not the same thing as weakness or timidity.

There are a lot of things wrong with the paired stereotypes of the Angry Black Woman and the Strong Black Woman. A lot of people with direct experience have written about this, and when I'm not waiting for an airplane I might make a round-up post to put this information in front of people who've never considered it before.

But one of the simplest is that they simply aren't true. They don't reflect reality. They don't reflect the complexity of a human being, a person who sometimes gets angry and sometimes does need to be strong but is so much more than that and needs the freedom and ability to lay a burden down more than she needs the strength to keep bearing up under it for the convenience or entertainment of others.

A lot of things are going to be said about N.K. Jemisin as her amazing speech makes the rounds. Don't let her detractors reduce her grievances, her resolutions, and her hope to solely anger, and don't let them suggest that the anger which is there is not natural and not necessary. Don't let your support of her consist solely of admiration for her strength and bravery. Be brave enough to share the load, in whatever capacity you're able. She has sounded a call to arms, not announced a plan to single-handedly dismantle the power structures she describes.

But I want to close this quickie of a post by talking more about N.K. Jemisin, the amazing author of the Inheritance Trilogy (the kingdoms one, not the dragons one) and the Dreamblood books. She who is warm, witty... frequently looking absolutely delighted at the warmth and wittiness of all the wonderful people around her. I spoke above of her hope, which might surprise some people who heard or read her speech. But what is it that tells her it's worth fighting, if it isn't hope?

When I say hope, I don't mean the naive optimism of thinking that things simply will get better over time, that time is the same as progress so all we have to do is wait. I do not mean the willful ignorance that claims that things have gotten better in an absolute sense, because some of those things have changed form and we've stopped talking about others.

And look at that... I'm talking about the speech again. Well, it's quite a speech. In order to actually close on a personal note about one of our guests of honor, I'll simply say: Nora, it was so very good to see you.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2014-05-24 11:23 am

WisCon 38: Call Out Culture Panel


I had some plans to live tweet this panel, as part of engaging more with Twitter. I was not able to do that for this panel, nor engage with it as fully as I might have liked, because of last-minute volunteering as an accessibility aid. I don't regret taking that on, but it will impact the accuracy and depth of this write-up. So, I apologize in advance for covering this in broadstrokes, and for anything I get wrong. There will also be fewer direct quotes or attributions. From past experience, I am sure that interested parties will be able to find quotable highlights by reading other tweeters' contributions to the designated panel hashtag, #calloutculture

The Topic (As I See it)

This is not a summation of the panel's discussion or a paraphrase of anything anyone said. It is different than the description I would have written before sitting in on the panel, because the ideas that were expressed and the way the panelists expressed them

The topic of this panel was call out culture. That's a very broad topic, and one that has multiple ways you can take it. Some of the early discussion among the panelists touched on this. I think we can break it down into two basic categories: "call out culture" as in a culture of accountability, where people are willing to speak up when something harmful or hurtful is being said or done and (hopefully) the person being spoken to is willing to listen and take it on board, vs. "call out culture" as in a culture where this sort of thing has become a vicious cycle, self-fulfilling prophecy, or even game that is played for points/laughs/sub-cultural cachet.

There's not a clear, hard and fast division between the positive and the negative. Some people--maybe most people--are engaging in shades of both. Certainly there are people who are both acting in good faith and people acting in bad faith in the same circles/communities, and to the people for whom this is a game, it's not hard to mimic the cadence and jargon that the community falls into, using it both as protective coloration and weapon.

The Discussion

Some of the high points:

  • People who are in privileged positions--part of the dominant/default narrative (white, straight, cis) are more likely to be listened to than marginalized people, who will be ignored or dismissed as "angry" and "unreasonable" even if saying the same thing. This was specifically raised in the context of race ("Angry Black Women" vs. "Nice White Ladies".)
  • Allies should be aware of this, conscious of this, but not use it as their excuse to let things pass.
  • "Allies" who are concerned with making sure that people know that they are allies and are looking for a cookie or a trophy for their good work are very tiring.
  • "Allies" who see someone engaging in a constructive call-out or simply answering a question in an exhaustively informative fashion and respond as if they're egging on a vicious burn or turn it into a dogpile are contributing to the problem.
  • One of the most important things for an ally to do is to speak up when someone assumes they can get a pass on saying racist/sexist/oppressive things because no one is around to be hurt by it.
  • "Outrage fatigue" is a bit disingenuous because it is fatiguing to deal with the things that are outrageous. We can't get away from the things that hurt us/people who target us because we can't take off the parts of ourselves that get us targeted.
  • There was a pair of points raised that women are socialized to express hurt, while men are socialized to see expressions of hurt as anger. (Note: Obviously anything that says "women do this, men do this" is going to be both a massive simplification and wrapped up in some problematic assumptions, and this was addressed at the panel. My thought is that as long as we have a socially constructed gender binary these things will have real effect, even if the ways we deal with them are a bit reductive and can contribute to the very problem being discussed if we're not careful.)
  • One question I raised for discussion was the difference between a take down and a call out. I have some thoughts about this that will be put in a separate blog post; since I wasn't on the panel and didn't want to talk over the panelists, I refrained from shoehorning an editorial comment into my question. N.K. Jemisin, in the audience, ventured the answer that the difference is that a call-out is intended to help someone you see as being on your side, someone you recognize as having a good intent (this is a paraphrase and may be a bad one; I'd love to be checking the Twitter feed to see if anyone has captured it, but the hotel wifi is a bit overwhelmed right now, and the longer I wait the less I'll remember) whereas a takedown is on someone you recognize to be acting in bad faith.
  • I feel like there was a comment near the end that had to do with approaching it as a battle, which I wish I could remember the specifics of as it touches on something very present in my heart right now.

As I said, I'll have a separate blog post about the takedown/callout, but my thoughts are less about how you know which one is appropriate to how to recognize which one you're actually doing, in the sense that I alluded to above where I talked about people being a mixture of acting appropriately for solid reasons and people acting out... it's easy to set out to call someone out and shade into showing off, or exerting power, or seeking acclaim.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2013-06-03 02:25 pm
Entry tags:

A small post-con note/travel tip.

I just want to say that while I've been attending WisCon every year since 2010, this is the first time I managed to completely escape picking up any form respiratory illness (what I usually refer to as "creeping con crud"), and that the rest of my family escaped, as well.

Con-related illness is a real thing, though it can be hard to tell if the bugs are actually picked up at the con or in transit. You might have heard that it's from breathing the same recycled air as a hundred strangers, but the air in an airplane is actually heavily filtered air that's refreshed with outside air as you go. It's some of the most sanitary air you'll ever breathe.

What hasn't been sanitized at all is the surfaces in the plane: the seats, the seat belts, the tray tables, the arm rests. Airlines may remove obvious messes, but they don't really "clean" a plane in between flights.

We've recently become very sensitive about this sort of thing due to a chronic health condition in the extended family, and as a result we pack hand sanitizer and antimicrobial hand wipes for traveling. If you're flying anywhere, stick some wipes in your pocket and wipe down everything you need to touch on your seat (in the airplane and the seat) then wipe your hands. Nothing is foolproof, but even with all the travel I do I haven't caught a "travel bug" since last summer.

(I never really noticed it before, but WisCon itself is very good about providing wipes and hand sanitizer during the con.)
alexandraerin: (Default)
2013-05-29 12:05 pm

10 awesome moments from WisCon.

These are in no particular order, and they're all personal to me... I'm not representing these as the most awesome things about WisCon as a con.

  1. Fancy date night with [ profile] moofable! The first night in Madison, we got dressed up and went to Samba Brazilian Steakhouse and had an excellent time.
  2. Every panel with [ profile] tanyad, and I mean every panel because she was on three of them and I went to all of them. Any gaming panel with her is automatically awesome, and the Tumblr panel she was on with [ profile] cabell should be the stuff of legends.
  3. [ profile] tithenai got me to snort hot cocoa up my nose during her recitation of her piece from Queers Dig Time Lords. The comedic timing is very strong with this one.
  4. [ profile] karnythia's Steampunk Speakeasy party, for which I coined the term difference 'n' gin. It's not currently attached to an actual drink, though, but it's such a good pun that the first time I said it out loud a random person on the other end of a hallway said I needed to go sit in the corner and think about what I did. The party was awesome, though. Karnythia pulled so many people to one end of the hotel that I'm surprised it didn't capsize. This was the first year that I really did the party scene at all, and having one room where I knew there would be so many people that I knew and was comfortable with made a big difference there.
  5. When I made sure to get the name of someone whose comments during a panel had interested me and it turned out she was one of my readers.
  6. Lunch with [ profile] ktempest and about a dozen other people. That was a wild good time. There were so many people in the procession leaving the restaurant that when I sat down across from [ profile] angelsscream and Leah, I'd had no idea they were with us. It was awesome.
  7. Everything [ profile] angelsscream wore. Everything. She fashions well.
  8. Having an actual conversation with deducecanoe. We were both drunk and sitting side by side instead of across from each other. I don't remember much of the actual conversation but I remember that it happened. I would love to spend more time with her in the future.
  9. Lunch with [ profile] shadesong and company! In terms of having met and shared experiences offline, she's one of my oldest friends at WisCon but one that I have very limited ongoing contact with, something I'd like to rectify because she is awesome. I especially wanted to sit down and talk with her because I felt she'd be able to appreciate the groovy developments in my personal life with moving and such, and I was right.
  10. So many compliments about my hair. This is not a thing I'm used to.
  11. This one makes eleven but it didn't technically happen during or at the con, but rather at the airport as we were checking in one of the counter personnel recognized me. I think that's the first time that happened outside of specifically fannish circles.

I loved seeing every single person I mentioned above and many others. And there are so many I missed and hope to see again in future years. Most of them in both categories are people who are on LJ/DW... I haven't paid much attention to these spaces lately, so this is my reminder to myself to do so.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2012-05-31 08:19 pm

A Wilder Religion

One of the panels I attended at Wiscon was on building religions in fantasy and fiction, and one of the things I took away from it is that religion is about connections within a community, about how people relate to each other, and I think that's something to keep in mind when tackling religion in A Wilder World. I'm specifically adopting the idea that different types of clerical/religious characters will be defined by how they relate to people/the world rather than in terms of what special magical powers they have.

This is more of a clarification of thinking than anything else... as I noted in my post about clerics, I've already been thinking about clergy/characters of faith in terms of their social and temporal power.

A bit of a preamble: there is no default world map for A Wilder World. The basic rules offer a framework for a "road campaign", which assumes that the player characters are traveling from place to place (chasing someone, being chased, traveling there and back again, whatever) and that the setting of the next adventure the GM is going to run is down the road, over the hill, or around the next bend. The world is assumed to be a "big" one, in the sense that cars and jet technology and communication networks makes the world "small": it is dangerous and difficult to travel, so ten miles is a significant distance to most people.

This means that a lot of religion is going to be a local matter. Each town might have not just its own temple or shrine, but its own god, who is likely to be the god of [town/region] as the god of [specific natural force/cosmic concept]. For purpose of world-building and character-building, though, some religions and religious concepts will be included that can transcend local boundaries.

Rather than presenting players with a list of globally recognized gods, what I'm planning on doing is presenting them with a list of (sometimes overlapping) cosmologies and philosophies, some of which don't require gods, some of which have room to fit in any number of local or personal deities, or can accommodate things like "generic fantasy cleric of healing and light" or "battle priest of thunder god" without much trouble.

One of the basic flavors of theism are Omnists, who are basically pantheists sometimes verging on deists. They believe that all gods are a manifestation of the All, which is normally both remote to mortal affairs and omnipresent. Omnists refer to a mortal-relatable manifestation of the All as the One... any such "god" that mortals interact with is this distillation of the All into a form that we can comprehend. There is only one One, because the One is really the All.

Omnists believe that the mortal world and mortal life are a mirror of the divine All, so they assume that what is good for continuing and enriching the lives of mortals is pleasing to the All. They follow rules that they believe will lead to a better life. They pray to the All for guidance and protection, but they do not believe that the All judges. An Omnist prayer for forgiveness expresses hope that no one will be hurt by their errors or that those who have been hurt will forgive them.

An Omnist temple is a place of contemplation and study as well as a community meeting hall, a place of celebration for the whole community in Omnist-dominated towns and a place for the Omnist minority to come together in solidarity where they are less common. Omnist priests are community leaders, teachers, and judges. Their authority is derived from a mixture of tradition and their own demonstrable wisdom.

A related flavor is Monists, who are what happened when people with individual gods discovered Omnism and decided that their main god is the One who created the All, and all other gods are either manifestations of that All, or their One wearing a mask, or completely false gods, depending on their levels of zealotry and tolerance. Some Monists only worship the One as the One, others worship a local, personal, or otherwise more-tightly defined manifestation such as the One of the Whistling Hills or the One of the Blazing Fire.

Monists believe in divinity as something that is local and personal and can be interacted with, so their prayers for intervention tend to be immediate and direct. Their concept of forgiveness is rooted in the idea that the One can be (and often is) angered or pleased by mortal action, so when they believe they have transgressed, they seek the One's forgiveness.

Because Monists have a concept of divinity that is active, they tend to be active and outward-facing in their faith. They believe in carrying their faith out into the world with them, reaching beyond their own community with it. Not all Monists are crusaders or missionaries, but a missionary or crusader is likely to be a Monist.

Monists may organize into hierarchical sects, or practice a universal priesthood that relies on individual initiative and personal revelation. Monists believe that all authority is personal, though they disagree with each other on what that means.

Omnism and Monism are often in disagreement with each other about finer points beyond the nature of the All and the One, but they aren't necessarily in conflict with each other. In particular, neither side believes that the All or the One are in opposition to each other. They simply disagree about which is the original and which is a manifestation of the original. Some Omnists hold that it doesn't actually matter, the All and One are both manifestations of each other, but to Monists, not agreeing that the One created the All is the same as saying that the All created the One.

Monism is a relatively young idea, though one that has traveled fast and far. Omnism is an old one that offers little conflict with local beliefs, so Omnists can be found in many corners of the world. Since Monists and Omnists both believe in the existence of the All and the One, and the All and the One aren't incompatible with the existence of individual local gods, greeting others in the name of the One or the All is held to be a relatively inoffensive or even benevolent thing. A Monist who is making a point to be open and hospitable will greet an Omnist in the name of the All (and vice-versa).

So, you can play an Omnist or Monist and encounter people who share your religious sensibilities just about anywhere. Even when you encounter a local religion that is not specifically Omnist or Monist, you can still relate to it through your character's faith.

Note that I'm not saying that all religions in the game fit into Monism or Omnism, or any of the other included frameworks. If the people of the Sandy Shore started worshiping a coral-haired sea goddess seven hundred years ago, they didn't automatically sort themselves into a bucket labeled "All" or "One" and when the first Omnist or Monist reached their villages they wouldn't have all immediately converted. The game design purpose behind Omnism and Monism is to provide a framework for fantasy religions that makes them, essentially, portable and cross-platform compatible.

So, your Monist paladin can talk to the priest of the Coral Goddess without having to condemn her as a heretical servant of a she-demon. You can help recover the gems that serve as the eyes of the goddess's statue and do so in the service of the One. Even if you have a specific concept of deity that your character follows, even if you're not a staunch Monist so much as a follower of that deity, being aware of the theories surrounding the concept of the All and the One gives you some theological breathing room.

(You can also play a close-minded zealot, though you can do that even as a Monist or an Omnist. A single-minded Monist can refuse to acknowledge the One under any false names or guises, a close-minded Omnist can refuse to give any respect to any lesser manifestation of the All, or anyone foolish enough to worship such manifestations. Even if you're playing a zealot, Monism and Omnism can help give you a handle on what that means.)

GMs who wish to create a single unified pantheon for their world (or set the game in an explicitly mapped out region) can also use Omnism, Monism, and the others as sample frameworks, of course.

I'm also including a specific church that sort of roughly follows the pre-medieval Christian/Catholic church model of hierarchy that is theoretically answerable to a central authority but time and distance are pretty big barriers to communication so you have bishops basically acting like independent powers and wholly independent local offshoots like the Coptic and Celtic churches will also be included, so that players who want to play as a priest in the sense most familiar to most English speaking people will have that option.

The Church of the Everlasting, as it's called, is Monist, though they believe that other Monists are distracted by an illusion and only they see the true nature of the One, the All, and the Everlasting One Who Is All. (Yes, they're dualistic trinitarians.) The included character elements that represent having an organized church rank or connection above local priest implicitly apply to this church, though they could make use of other ones created by the GM or player.
alexandraerin: (Default)
2012-05-30 03:18 pm

Some practical stuff I learned at WisCon that might be of interest to other self-publishers.

The importance of Amazon reviews - just having reviews at all is of direct benefit to rankings and things. (Indirect hat tip to [personal profile] haikujaguar... people were talking about her blog and this came up from there.) - If This, Then That. It's an automation/social media management tool that can do things like automate cross-posting, tweeting links, and a whole host of other tasks. It can also be used to generate custom alerts to your email, phone, etc. I'm starting pretty small with it. I just added a task for automating my Twitter announcements of MU stories. It could simplify my life immensely, though, in the long run.