It’s time for a project update! I’m always kind of surprised that I manage to get scholarship and creative stuff done, but apparently it happens.
Last year started off with a research bang with my Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. I am finally ready to start delving into the 100s of letters I scanned. While it is true that I have been preoccupied with other work, the delay in getting back into this research was more due to the need to have mental distance from it. I was unprepared for how emotionally overwhelming I would find the research—the letters I was reading (from Le Guin, Russ, Tiptree, Delany, and many more amazing SF writers) brim with the lives of the people who wrote them. Given that I am an “emotional sponge,” I soaked up everything I was reading. Apparently, I needed nine months for things to get quietly sorted in my head so that I can now focus on drawing out conversational threads most relevant to my research interests. While I intend to incorporate some of my findings in a chapter on feminist SF in my planned book (more on that at the end of this post), I’m excited to see what other projects will spring from it.
One of those projects, actually, is an upcoming chapter titled, “Becoming Adult, Becoming Other: Anomalous Embodiment in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle.” I’ll post more details about that piece (and the edited collection by Sherryl Vint and Mathieu Donner that it will belong to) as the publishing details become finalized (as it is still in process). You can also read an interview I did with Alice Evans (of the CSWS) about the fellowship and my archival research.
In terms of notable scholarly publications in 2014, my “Disability Studies ‘101’” is in SF 101: A Guide to Teaching and Studying Science Fiction. It’s available as an ebook for a few dollars. [I’m also considering republishing it here on my blog, for free for all to read, if it doesn’t end up in the next issue or two of the SFRA Review—that decision will be discussed in an upcoming blog post]. For 2015, I am eagerly awaiting the April publication of Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media by awesome editors, David S. Roh, Betsy Huang, and Greta A. Niu. I’m honoured to be a contributor with my chapter, “Re-imagining Asian Women in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk” (make sure to check out the super cool cover at the link). And while not a scholarly essay, I’m proud of the blog post I wrote about Misha’s Red Spider White Web for tor.com’s “That was Awesome: Writers on Writing” column last fall.
In just a few weeks, I am off to my favourite conference ICFA. I had originally planned on presenting a paper on disability in feminist SF along with organizing a panel on archival research in the field of the fantastic. Due to scheduling issues, however, I withdrew my paper and will be focusing my energies on the archival research panel. It feels a bit strange to not be delivering a paper this year, but I have good reasons (which are, again, being written up in an upcoming post).
Of course, the biggest news is Accessing the Future! Co-edited with Djibril al-Ayad, our disability-themed speculative fiction short story anthology is in the finishing stages. Accessing the Future will be published this summer (ah!) and it is amazing. While you wait for the summer publishing date to arrive, read one of the many blog posts Djibril and I wrote during our successful crowdfunding campaign. Working on this anthology has been life changing for me (and, yes, there will be posts coming about that too). Check out the awesome Table of Contents over at The Future Fire’s blog and look at the fabulous cover art by Robin Kaplan (below).
My next goal is to start, in earnest, writing a book on disability representation in science fiction once I am back from ICFA. I have set out two timelines for myself—one has me finishing a full draft by this time next year, and the other is accelerated, with a full draft come late fall. I do need to keep working (running Academic Editing Canada, which is work that I really enjoy, especially as I continue to receive more challenging and interesting client projects), so I’m keeping a flexible schedule of deadlines ahead of me. But still, a book! It’s hard to imagine such a huge undertaking coming together but since I also felt the same way about Accessing the Future (and Disability in Science Fiction), I know that it is possible.
I’m going to try to keep Bleeding Chrome blog better updated throughout this year. Writing leads to more writing, and it is helpful for me to keep engaged with other people and work out my thoughts in a more public space. So 2014, all things considered, was a darn good year, and 2015 is looking just as interesting and challenging. I’ll let you all know how it turns out!
As March approaches, so does my favourite conference: ICFA. After a successful presentation on disability in Star Trek last year, I thought I would stick with the film and television track of the conference. Not only do I thoroughly enjoy analyzing popular films, but it seems that everyone loves watching movie clips during conference papers. Win-win.
This year I am presenting on Rupert Wyatt's reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). I've seen all of the Apes movies--was alternatively amused and appalled--and went to see Rise in the theatre (by myself) because I was extremely curious about how Wyatt's film would deal with the offensive racial politics of the earlier Apes films. Rise of the Planet of the Apes did not fail to deliver a similarly problematic narrative of the primate other. And so another academic conference was born. Here is my proposal for my paper/clip show with analysis:
“Some Things Aren’t Meant to be Changed”—Disability in Rise of the Planet of the Apes
In Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), the Planet of the Apes franchise goes high-tech—both in terms of the films extensive use of CGI to create the lead ape, Caesar, and in its key plot device of the creation and misuse of a “neurogenesis” drug. Referred to as “the cure” for Alzheimer’s disease, the drug ends up significantly transforming the primate mind. Like most cure narratives in science fiction, the film speaks to Western culture’s preference for an idealized “wholeness” and imagines a scenario where only the most physically dominant and intellectually capable survive (represented by the technologically-enhanced chimpanzee, Caesar). As Elaine Graham writes in Representations of the Post/Human, however, it is essential that we interrogate such narratives of the future “ideal” body: “What is at stake, supremely, in the debate about the implications of digital, genetic, cybernetic and biomedical technologies is precisely what (and who) will define authoritative notions of normative, exemplary, desirable humanity into the twenty-first century” (11). As a way to distance itself from the overt racist politics of the original Planet of the Apes series, I argue that Rise of the Planet of the Apes instead emphasizes a normative humanity predicated on the erasure of the “undesirable” ill and disabled body.
Disability studies scholars Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell observe the tendency to frame the disabled body as “primitive throwback” to an earlier time in human development: “In a culture that endlessly reassures itself that it is on the verge of conquering Nature once and for all, along with its own ‘primitive’ instincts and the persistent domain of the have-nots, disability is referenced with respect to these idealized visions. As a vector of human variability, disabled bodies both represent a throwback to a human prehistory and serve as the barometer of a future without ‘deviancy’” (Cultural Locations of Disability 32). With its focus on “curing” Alzheimer’s disease and improving “natural” (but limited and “primitive”) cognitive abilities through medical testing on apes, along with a sustained focus on the animals’ institutionalization in “care” facilities, Wyatt’s film makes problematic ableist connections between primates and people with disabilities. Reading Rise of the Planet of the Apes with disability studies in mind, I want to address issues of agency, compassion, and the drive to “overcome” physical and cognitive differences. While there is a claimed desire to “cure” people, the lone female in the film, Caroline, nevertheless tells the (white, straight, able-bodied, and male) protagonist Will, “some things aren’t meant to be changed.” Where does this line of thinking—as well as the imagined apocalyptic consequences of creating “the (failed) cure”—situate people with disabilities both in the present and in the imagined future?
Good news! My proposed paper was accepted for the Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre conference at McMaster this fall. I'm particularly excited about writing and presenting this one, since it will be my first try at crafting a theoretical framework in a conference paper (more than simply presenting an analysis). Here is my proposal:
Backwards and Beyond: Neuroscience and Disability in Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy
In Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW trilogy (Wake, Watch, Wonder), Caitlin Decker is a blind teenager who is given technology that enables her to see both the physical world and the virtual realm of the internet. She becomes a figure that stands between a human past where intelligence is characterized as singular and “primitive” (represented by the apes Hobo and Virgil) and a “posthuman” future where intelligence is multi-faceted and supported by a great number of organic and inorganic technologies (i.e,. the spontaneous AI, Webmind). Framing my reading of the books within Disability Studies, I propose that Caitlin’s prosthetic enhancement, as well as the novel kinds of intelligence displayed by both the apes and Webmind, disrupt the Western cultural construction of disability as a biomedical condition that can be known, contained and controlled.
In Cultural Locations of Disability, Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell contend that the disabled body is often characterized as temporally in flux: “As a vector of human variability, disabled bodies both represent a throwback to a human prehistory and serve as the barometer of a future without ‘deviancy’” (32). Given that current neuroscience demonstrates that the brain is far more complex than previously understood--moving away from the study of the single neuron to positing that “communities” of neurons act together to complete a task, allowing for the direct integration of prosthetic technology into the brain (see Miguel Nicolelis’ Beyond Boundaries)--the Western biomedical model’s conception of disabled bodies as “primitive” or limited must be reconsidered. I will theorize how the threats to normative human embodiment displayed by the “enhanced” disabled/deviant bodies in Sawyer’s WWW trilogy reflect the advancements in neuroscience that have disrupted the distinction between the “primitive” and “human” being. My reading of the science fiction series will address the necessity of changing our Western understanding of what constitutes intelligence and ability, and which bodies are therefore entitled to autonomy and self-determination.
Nicolelis, Miguel. Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connection Brains with Machines -- And How it Will Change Our Lives. New York: Times Books, 2011. Print.
Sawyer, Robert J. Wake. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2009. Print.
– – –. Watch. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2010. Print.
– – –. Wonder. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2011. Print.
Snyder, Sharon L. and David T. Mitchell. Cultural Locations of Disability. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. Print.
My time at the Eaton/SFRA conference last week was well spent. After almost cancelling my trip (due to a heavy workload), I am so glad that I stuck to my plans and made the journey to Riverside, California. As an Independent Scholar, I was in good company: there were many inspiring papers by non-traditional scholars that held their ground with those by senior academics. My own presentation, “Reading Disability in Star Trek” (focusing on the last TNG movie, Nemesis) was an overall success. I am extremely pleased that I was able to demonstrate the productive possibilities of bringing Disability Studies (DS) together with science fiction. Genre studies in general can really benefit from a framework that interrogates the dis/abled body. Every time I had a conversation about addressing disability in SF with someone who had not previously thought about it in any depth, we both came away with new ideas to flesh out and texts to read. I only hope that I continue being a worthy ambassador of DS in the academic SF community.
I also have a renewed motivation to seriously start the research process for my planned monograph (which is, of course, fancy talk for “book”). From my plane ride down to the late night hours after the closing banquet, I was challenged by insightful questions and pushed to think about temporality and disability (the broad topic of my interest) in ways that I hadn’t yet considered. Between ICFA last month and Eaton/SFRA this one, I’ve truly had the full conference experience. I am already looking forward to the SF: The Interdisciplinary Genre at McMaster in September (fingers crossed my paper is accepted, but I will attending either way).
Without a doubt, I am on the right path. Do I know where that path leads yet? No. But I am so happy to find myself in a community of people who are supportive and excited about my scholarship. And I have made new friendships over the past year that have helped fill a gap in my life that has been there for too long. When I was ill during my graduate studies, it felt as if my peer community disappeared. The loss that I experienced at that time was incredibly painful and I have been searching for a place to belong since then. SF has become that home for me.
Since I can’t afford to go to WisCon or WorldCon this year (sniffle), I’m going to make an extra effort to keep in contact with my new SF community on line (through guest blogging—give me a shout if you want me on your blog—and Twitter and emails). I’ll use this extended period of time at home to keep writing about SF as I grow my academic coaching and copyediting business. For the first time since I finished my PhD, I feel like I have a productive and positive direction in my career life. There are actual things to do (that I love doing)! There are clients to help and book reviews to be written. There are deadlines to meet and book launches to throw and films to see (looking at you Star Trek: Into Darkness). This year is off to a great start. Next project please!
Last year when I went to ICFA, my only hope was that people would be nice to me. It was my first time trying on the “Independent Scholar” label and I worried that no one would pay much attention to anything that I had to say. Happily, however, this was a groundless concern and I ended up having an extremely positive experience (which spawned this post). This year, I went to ICFA with a different set of hopes and fears (but mostly excitement).
Since last March, I have made some good headway in my independent scholarship, most notably my soon-to-be published (in August) edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. In addition to that book, I also have several peer-reviewed articles/chapters in process, as well as a few non-academic bits of writing floating about (my favourite being the Afterword I wrote for Outlaw Bodies). I viewed this year’s ICFA as the start of my official debut as an Independent Scholar (capital letters and all). I knew that I would be meeting and talking with a great deal of lovely people, but I still had some anxiety about the reception of my latest work. My previous papers had arisen out my doctoral research, all thoroughly vetted and evaluated by my thesis committee. My research and writing about disability in science fiction, though, has happened in the comfortable bubble of my home office. While I have had a passing conversation or two about disability studies in the past year--and obviously have been engaging with it in depth for my collection-- I hadn’t yet tested my new knowledge base on the spot, in front of a room of my colleagues. So I worried. What if I interpreted the theory wrong? What if everything I have read is embarrassingly out dated? What if nobody cares?
As usual, I was stressing about nothing. It turns out that I do know what I am talking about. Of course I still have so much more to read and learn, but I am definitely on the right track. One of the highlights of the conference for me was talking for hours with another disability studies and genre scholar, Derek Newman-Stilles (visit his wonderful blog, Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy). Next year, we want to organize a panel discussion on reading disability in genre literature. We both agree: The timing is right, the interest is there, and disability is an identity position that deserves greater engagement within genre studies. With such conversations in mind, I have left ICFA feeling a great sense of forward momentum in my scholarship. I have finally found my niche and connecting with so many supportive people warmed the long burnt out cockles of my academic heart.
I also left ICFA with a renewed sense of advocacy for graduate students and underemployed adjuncting PhDs. There is still a lot of work to do around raising awareness and developing plans for action around the job market (both academic and non-academic). I talked with at least 10 grad students who had no exit plan at the end of their degrees. Most were clearly struggling to fully comprehend the financial reality about to befall them once they left their programs. I also talked with many sad and angry adjuncts--far too few actually enjoyed their current job position or felt any optimism about their future as academics. Now that I am operating on the outside, the stratification of labour within the academy is even more obvious…and more appalling. I can no longer imagine being within that system and needing to fight a daily battle for fair and equitable employment. In the upcoming years, I would like to see some sort of panel discussion that addresses alternative work strategies for genre scholars. The science fiction and fantasy fan communities are robust and might offer previously unconsidered opportunities for MAs and PhDs wanting to engage with genre in a meaningful (and perhaps paying) way. This year I had several grad students and TT faculty directly ask me about my independent scholarship, so the interest in non-traditional academic career paths is definitely there.
Next week I am off to the Eaton/SFRA conference and I am feeling, overall, a lot more confident about my scholarship going into it. I still have some of the same groundless worries bouncing around at the back of my brain, but I am getting so much better at ignoring them. When I was in grad school I could not have imagined this life that I have carved out for myself. While I have no clear goals for the future outcome of my independent scholarship, I am starting to make long(ish) term plans (e.g. write a book). Whenever my anxieties creep up now, I remind myself: an uncertain future is also a flexible one. And thank Cthulhu for science fiction.
A few months ago, I was asked by a kind and generous woman to be on a panel about independent scholars at a large, well-known conference. She found me through this blog and I was honoured to have been asked – it is always nice to be noticed after all. My first response was an immediate but tentative “yes.” Apparently, two different academic organizations were sponsoring this panel, so I thought that perhaps, given the topic (the challenges of being an independent scholar), this meant that there would be some kind of funding offered. I wasn’t expecting much, but I hoped that at least the conference fee would be waived.
It only took a few email exchanges to learn that not only was there no funding for me, there wasn’t even any funding available for the woman who put the panel together (which meant that she herself couldn’t go). At this point in our conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder: what kind of professionals “sponsor” a panel to learn about the barriers and challenges of independent scholars and then neglect to provide any sort of financial support? Learning that I would have to fully pay my own way to attend the conference in order to share my experiences, there was no way I could justify the expense of the trip. I still wanted to be part of this opportunity to discuss independent scholarship however, so I proposed the possibility of presenting a paper via Skype.
Emails were sent. Higher ups were lobbied. And yes, delivering a paper via Skype was an option …but I would still have to pay the conference fees! At this point in time, I was beyond annoyed. I was being asked to present on my experience as an independent scholar over Skype--a free service--and I still had to pay them for the honour. My frustration with the elitism and pay-to-play culture of academia was at an all time high. The attitude that I encountered from these conference organizers was that I should be grateful that they were going to let me speak in the first place. I decided that I would never attend this conference (as there really is no benefit for me to be there) and thanked the woman who had contacted me. I sincerely appreciated her effort in trying to make my participation on this panel happen, and we both agreed that, if nothing else, at least we were able to make a meaningful connection with one another.
As an independent scholar, I have no interest in paying to tell salaried and funded academics about my experiences creating an intellectual life outside of the university system. So to anyone in academia reading this, here’s the deal: if you want to hear from independent scholars at a conference, give them money. Any amount will do, really, as we are writing and researching on our own, without university resources. We independent scholars clearly have a passion for sharing our knowledge and expertise, but it is insulting to be invited to speak about our challenges and then be expected to financially perform as if we have tenure-enabled travel funds. Greater value needs to be attached to our efforts and contributions to scholarship, especially when those inside of the academy invite us to return and share with them our unique struggles and successes.
Pippi to Ripley: The Female Figure in Fantasy and Science Fiction
May 4-5, 2013, Ithaca College
Keynote speaker: Tamora Pierce
We welcome paper proposals on all aspects of female representation within an imaginative context, including but not limited to:
- A discussion of the child-heroines in folktales from multiple cultures.
- The evolution of characters such as Buffy (The Vampire Slayer), Cat Woman, and Red Sonja as they are presented in television, film, graphic novels/comics, or literature.
- The female characters in video games such as Tomb Raider, Metroid, and Mass Effect.
- The female characters featured in Shonen and Shojo manga as well as other images of female characters in anime films and television.
- Robot , cyborg, and psychically enhanced girls and women.
- Female heroes and villains in comic books and graphic novels.
- YA heroines in the works of Madeleine L'Engle, Tamora Pierce, and Suzanne Collins.
- The depiction of goddesses, Amazons, and other fierce female entities from western and non-western traditions.
Please send a 300-500 word abstract by February 1, 2013, to Katharine Kittredge, Ithaca College, Department of English, kkittredge[at]ithaca[dot]edu
Pippi to Ripley is intended to foster intellectual engagement between the college community and local students, teachers, writers, readers and artists; and to provide an affordable venue for undergraduates, graduate students and professors to present their work. Towards these ends, the
presenter’s registration fee is $35; all other participants are invited to attend for free. Direct questions to Katharine Kittredge, kkittredge[at]ithaca[dot]edu.
Hey! An interesting and worthwhile academic SF conference being organized by my PhD thesis supervisor (who is wonderful) at McMaster University. I will definitely be sending in a proposal! Here are the details:
“Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre”
Featuring Robert J. Sawyer
September 13-15, 2013
On the occasion of Robert J. Sawyer’s donation of his archive to Mills Memorial Library, the Faculty of Humanities at McMaster University is hosting an international conference entitled “Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre,” a meeting of academics, writers, professionals, amateurs and fans, focusing on Canadian Science Fiction in general and Sawyer’s work in particular.
While the core of the event will be academic papers, we will also feature authors, editors, booksellers, librarians, commentators, and, of course, readers. Special guests are Robert J. Sawyer (author), John Robert Colombo (specialist of Canadian literature), Julie E. Czerneda (author), David G. Hartwell (editor, Tor), Élisabeth Vonarburg (author), Robert Charles Wilson (author), and Chris Szego of Bakka Phoenix Books.
The multimodal or interdisciplinary approach to the creation, reception and study of the SF genre has been a salient characteristic from Hugo Gernsback’s initial conceiving of the term “scientifiction” in 1926. Later, literary theorists such as Darko Suvin insisted on the particular knowledge, competency and frame of mind required in order to decipher the genre’s figurative meaning: SF, according to Suvin,
is an educational literature, […] irreversibly shaped by the pathos of preaching the good word of human curiosity, fear, and hope. […] It demands from the author and reader, teacher and critic, not merely specialized, quantified positivistic knowledge (scientia) but a social imagination whose quality of wisdom (sapienta) testifies to the maturity of his critical and creative thought.
Indeed, Sawyer’s work has garnered the attention of both the literary and scientific communities for its technical accuracy presented through speculative imagination, appealing to both the rational imperative and the sense of wonder inherent in the union of science and fiction. While Sawyer’s stated mandate is foremost to “intrigue,” and not strictly to “educate,” he insists that “[r]esearch is the heart and soul of modern SF writing; scientists are handing us gigantic ideas and mind-boggling stuff” on which to base stories. Through rigorous research initiatives, Sawyer has cultivated and contributed valuably to knowledge in various fields and his expertise is highly sought-after in both popular culture and official circles: for example, he explains that when he was writing “Frameshift, I thought I didn’t know enough genetics, so I dived in to learn all about it… and ended up on Rivera Live on CNBC talking about the Human Genome Project and advising Canada’s Federal Department of Justice about it.” Sawyer’s work and that of other thinkers and writers, past, present and future, have the power, “with words, [to] reach across time, even after death, to influence people.” Human knowledge thus becomes increasingly accessible thanks to the various media through which it is approached and transmitted. Diverse perspectives on knowledge serve to shed new light on traditional thinking and sf clearly represents radically different perspectives:
Multidisciplinary studies are the future: one of the reasons I write so much about the burgeoning science of consciousness […] is that it is so multidisciplinary: neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, AI researchers, anesthesiologists, quantum physicists, philosophers, and even some of us lowly science-fiction writers have made important contributions.
It is in the spirit of an interdisciplinarity approach to science, fiction and science fiction that we invite thinkers of varying descriptions to propose talks aimed at enriching the discussion. While the conference is focused on Canadian SF and especially the literary work of Robert J. Sawyer, papers may address the broader issues at stake, notably the scientific and ethical ramifications at the core of the fictional intrigues: machines matching human capabilities (or the singularity), synthetic biology, etc. We would also welcome panel proposals should you feel inclined to organize your talk and those of willing collaborators under a single topic.
The principle language of the event will be English, though we would like to explore the possibility of running certain panels in French, according to the needs of presenters and interest of other participants. Please indicate if you are a native speaker of French or sufficiently fluent and whether or not you would prefer to give your talk in French or if you are in a position to attend talks and panel discussions in French.
Please send proposals (of 300 words max.) by March 31st, 2013 to both C. Annette Grisé <grisec[at]mcmaster[dot]ca> and Nicholas Serruys <serruys[at]mcmaster[dot]ca>.
We will also endeavor to publish a volume of selected articles, ideally within the year following the event.
 Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (New Haven: Yale UP, 1979): 40.
 Sawyer quotes taken from an interview conducted by Roger Deforest and posted April 3rd, 2007 on the website Hard SF: “Robert J. Sawyer Confronts Our Damn Life Clocks in Rollback.” <http://www.hardsciencefiction.rogerdeforest.com/?mode=8&id=6>
The 2013 Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy will be held on Friday, June 7, and Saturday, June 8, 2013, in Toronto, Ontario, at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, one of the world’s most important collections of fantastic literature.
We invite proposals for papers in any area of Canadian science fiction and fantasy, including:
-studies of individual works and authors;
-studies that place works in their literaryand/or cultural contexts.
Papers may be about works in any medium: literature, film, graphic novels and comic books, and so on. For studies of the audio-visual media, preference will be given to discussions of works produced in Canada or involving substantial Canadian creative contributions.
Papers should be no more than 20 minutes long, and geared toward a general as well as academic audience. Deadline: February 15, 2013. Please submit proposals (max. 500 words), to: Dr. Allan Weiss (aweiss[at]yorku[dot]ca).
Before I get any further into this piece, let me state this clearly: If I met you at WisCon and chatted and connected with you, or shook your hand and said, “it has been great to meet you,” or had a meal with you, or invited you to email me or connect on Twitter… thank you. This post is not reflective of my feelings towards the many individuals who I am truly pleased and honoured to have met. I hope that if we connected, you can still trust that my interest and excitement in getting to know you – even if it was only for a twenty minute hallway conversation – was sincere. I always aim to present myself honestly, so my pleasure in meeting you was not performance. I hope that we can continue to get to know one another in our new varied relationships even if we disagree about the WisCon experience.
I will not be returning to WisCon next year. I might go back in the future, after sufficient time has passed and I have gathered other experiences and established myself further in the broader SF community. I have left my first WisCon with a mixed bag of feelings … and great trepidation in expressing those that are not positive. Since WisCon is a community that promotes honest discussion from all of its members – no matter how marginal they might be – I am going ahead with this post. It has been a long time since I was this nervous about publicly airing my thoughts on a topic (seriously, I feel like I did when I was criticizing grad school for the first time!).
I’m nervous because I feel that the expectation from the WisCon community is to love WisCon. But I just didn’t. It’s hard to articulate exactly what I experienced, so the closest I can come to it (and what I tried expressing to others when they asked), is that I felt welcomed but not invited. I think that many people coming into a new community for the first time feel like they are on the edges of it, and that is certainly how I felt for the whole con. Whereas I have always felt like there is a place for me in other con or SF-centric communities, I didn’t get that sense at WisCon. It’s entirely possible that this is my own social anxiety speaking or I’m being too quick to judge, nevertheless, my sense of “outsiderness” didn’t dissipate.
I don’t know, I’m having an incredibly hard time writing about my WisCon experience. Part of it is that I don’t want to offend or hurt the people that I met and connected with – it was individuals who made my trip to Madison worth it – but I just didn’t mesh with the larger community. There are several experiences that deeply upset me during WisCon, where I witnessed members being silenced, marginalized, or simply ignored. I can’t write about those incidents, however, without having to speak for others, and I don’t have their permission to do so. What made WisCon so frustrating for me is that the community-line is equality and accessibility for all (at least that’s the message I heard), so when I saw incidents where that ethic failed, it was, in many ways, more egregious.
I suspect that some people will want to respond to me: “Well, all communities have their problems. You should have spoken up. Volunteer to make WisCon better for next year!” But the issues I have with the con cannot be solved by my volunteering or lone voice. Hell, I can’t even openly write about the problems that I have with the con! No one has the power to fix the ways people are (un)intentionally dismissive to others who they read as different (even when they promote inclusiveness). I can’t re-adjust established personalities or restructure larger modes of community identity.
Ultimately, I don’t think I fit in at WisCon. At least, not in the way that I want to and not right now. What I’m looking to get out of a con is not what WisCon is offering at the present moment. And that’s fine. It doesn’t have to. A con can’t be all things to all people. I guess that I’m sad that WisCon is not the place for me – and I am startled by the depth of that sadness. I wanted to step into a place where I instantly felt like I belonged. I’ve been searching for community for so long, that to feel uninvited – uncared for and unchallenged – at a feminist SF convention is heartbreaking.
I don’t feel good about having to write this post and it is incomplete and terribly vague. I might write more about my WisCon experience at a later date, but it is also likely that I will leave this half-articulated statement as it is. Despite the obvious shortcomings of this reflection piece, I’m still going to publish it, because I want all the awesome people I met at WisCon to know that my dissatisfaction is not with them or anything that they did. There were positives to my time at the con: I discovered a few new writers and had good conversations (and reconnected) with some cool and intelligent people. Those individuals made my trip worth it. I don’t regret attending WisCon, but I am incredibly disappointed that I don’t want to go back.