Reflections on WisCon

Wednesday, 30 May 2012 16:31

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.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Jesse The K Sunday, 10 June 2012 21:41 posted by Jesse The K

    I'm sorry that WisCon didn't meet your hopes and expectations. I shared that mismatch at WisCons 10 and 20. Thirty was different because I'd solidified a posse of locals and net-connected folks to share the experience with. (Kept going back because I was local and it was there.)

    There's definitely cliques in WisCon, and if you're completely on your own, the loneliness is exquisitely bad.

    I'd love to discuss it in email, if you're so moved.

    This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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