Our Revels Now Are Ended
by Jae Leslie Adams
On Friday afternoon when I first came up the stairs into the second floor lobby for WisCon registration, I was for a moment appalled at the number of people there that I recognized. All that weekend I kind of missed the simple days when any room at the convention would present me with only one or two choices of comfy companions, if any. My feelings alternated between this shy shrinking from the surrounding crowd and a rejoicing glow at having such a wide choice of friends presented to me in every room. I am only beginning to learn the kind of social triage by which I work through who I most urgently need to talk to, who responds to me, who will be mad at me if I don't attend to her social needs, (whether I care) who will let me listen but offers scarce chance of a word in edgewise, who will be most amusing even to a fly on the wall, who will come across with the frank attention I want, and other such complexities. This was only the ninth year that I have attended the convention, which still leaves me feeling like the new kid in town in the small circle which calls itself Madison Fandom. Fortunately WisCon has become a much wider slice of the world.
Tracy Benton had enticed me to work on Publications again this year by promising no such grandiose efforts as last year's, when Andy had chained me to the mimeograph machine. The newsletter Vintage Times was a daily flyer, available for general at-the-con notices and miscellany. We played around with making hand carved rubber stamps instead of using commercial clip art or mugging any fan artists. As I was not handmaiden to any machine I actually attended some programming, and floated around. When Tracy required assistance she would (like the White Rabbit) send in Bill. So I occasionally found Bill Bodden following me, or he found me, and unobtrusively herded me through the milling social distractions until I had made my way back to the Publication room. This level of production only took a couple of hours' attention each day, which left Tracy and Karen Babich and me free to spend a lot of time on other things.
The handful of panels I saw had more participatory audiences than were common at WisCon, before last year's extravaganza. I imagine that the other hundred-sixty-odd panel items were likewise resolving such highly charged questions: Is Resistance Futile? Yes, the market forces of the genre are too powerful for mere writers, readers, and librarians to influence, although we all should probably be as cranky about it as Eleanor Arnason. Futuristic Motherhood will be a lot like the old kind for which we're hardwired, which still has a thing or two to teach technological society. The Angela Carter panel adjourned to the hotel bar before I had a chance to join them, and toast the new Fairy Godmother writer's award named in Carter's honor. Crones, Sages and Silly Old Women were discovered in the audience when the panelists all found themselves too young to lecture on the subject. That pesky question of market influences came up again in the discussion of Signs of Genius in prolific writers, but the panelists eventually wandered back to the big question of what we really want out of our reading, and those who had showed up for class on this one unsurprisingly demanded, More But Different.
One might wish that the four days of WisCon were on some kind of holodeck to wander through over several months. There were still far too many places to be at the same time. Parties in three to five different large suites on the same floor with the consuite made staying up way too late every night easy. The spontaneous outbreak of hall parties impeded otherwise easy progress from one party to another.
But going to bed to get away from it all seemed more to the taste of most of the conference participants. I theorize that the purpose of hall parties is to waylay and distract people on their way to the privacy of the elevators: a drawn-out losing battle in which all are called upon and all inevitably defeated.
On Saturday evening, I had to make a provocative choice in programming between a small and intimate poetry reading which I had previously committed to, and a panel delayed from last year, which I had looked forward to ever since the planning stages at Potlatch 5 in Portland: Ellen Klages and Pat Murphy with the assistance of their lovely audience established a SPECTRUM OF RESPECTABILITY across all media for works of fantasy. As reported in the con newsletter, the pinnacle of respectability is held by Shakespeare's The Tempest, British live theatrical by a dead white guy; the lowest depths murkily inhabited by My Mother, The Car (American TV show) just below Tarnsman of Gor. The audience assigned the Foundation trilogy to the neutral center of the spectrum. Personally I would put the neutral center a little higher, around by The Wizard of Oz the book, above Wizard of Oz the movie, and I imagine the Argentinian Borges would be floating somewhere off the top of this scale. But I wasn't there to defend these opinions. As usual those who showed up for the meeting got to decide.
The Tiptree auction occurred in two parts, apparently because there was so much wealth to distribute -- and collect -- and many of the con participants would be leaving Monday afternoon. Their opportunity to throw money at the fund was Sunday evening, when the original manuscript of Tiptree winner The Sparrow (complete with elegant recyclable binder) fetched $123 and odd cents, which was also the amount raised by a cake skillfully decorated by Georgie Schnobrich to look exactly like the cover art of The Sparrow.
Ellen Klages continued as auctioneer at the ultimate program item on Monday afternoon. After auctioning a great many $30 autographed bottles and $80 teeshirts, she seemed surprised at the amount of interest in her casual offer to shave her head if the audience as a whole could raise $500 for Tiptree. But Steve Swartz apparently saved all his mad money for the opportunity to contribute a large bid on this unique item. Then she actually went through with it, which must have been terrifying for her as the exhausted third-day-at-the-con audience swayed and moaned and clutched their seats to see Ellen's scalp exposed. She bravely kept cracking jokes about the cutting edge of feminism and such. Some suggested that the hair be collected and woven into lockets for future auction. I am beginning to see Ellen's role as a de facto tax agent of fandom. I hear that the Tiptree fund raised some $5,000 this weekend.
After this emotional climax the concom agreed that there was no need for the customary wrap-up panel.
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