Recap: BayCon 2017

Your Humble Narrator

Your Humble Narrator

Well, I am back from BayCon, and have spent enough time at home to remember that the San Mateo Marriott is not, in fact, where I live, so I think it's time for me to put fingers to keyboard and sort out my thoughts from the weekend.

CN: This overall very positive unpacking of the con contains untagged mentions of anxiety, ableism, and theoretical violence.

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I started out this long weekend in a less-than-stellar headspace. The need to save money led me to set up to commute from home to the con and back, an idea that looked fine when I first checked the distance on Google Maps, but got more and more daunting the closer I got to curtain call. I also volunteered for a lot of panels this weekend (eight; count 'em, eight), and that similarly swelled in both importance and dread. Add on an unexpected (and unrelated) anxiety meltdown on Monday that left me in an emotional deficit for the rest of the week, then stir in some day job pressures bubbling to the surface so suddenly I didn't have time to consider coping strategies, and I was the very definition of Not OK as I rolled into Friday. It probably didn't help my catastrophizing that my very first panel was about politics and U.S. society. I won't lie -- there was a little part of me that was afraid I was going to be punched during that panel, and another little part of me that thought this would be an excuse for me to beg off the rest of the con.

With all that preamble, it pleases me to say that BayCon 2017 was an almost completely untarnished joy.

Every panel I attended and every panel I spoke on was fantastic. The panelists were erudite, interesting, and engaged. Special mention goes to the panelists on "Women's Utopias and Queer Utopias," who shared experiences and perspectives I quite literally never would have gotten on my own, and both the panelists and audience in "Cosplay is Not Consent," which gave me hope for humanity. Even the political panel wound up being good. There are some very smart, talented, interesting people out there, and a lot of them were crammed into that hotel.

But just as much as the panels being great, the success of my weekend should be attributed to how welcomed I felt. Not just welcomed, but wanted. I make no secret of feeling outside of things a lot -- not disliked or unwanted, but just not quite a part of things the way others are. That wasn't the case at BayCon. The Ops person who gave me my guest badge was happy to see me. My writerpals were excited to spend time with me. People told me they enjoyed talking to me. And for the absolute first time ever -- not just once, but four separate times -- a fellow panelist made a point of getting my contact information. This includes Actual Published Authors, People Who Are Popular At BayCon, People Who Have Won Awards. Strangers gave me approval without being prompted or required to and I returned the feeling and...well, it's weird and wonderful having a sense of community reinforced with concrete data like that.

Networking never felt so natural, and rarely has public speaking been this enjoyable for me. I even had enough emotional charge to honestly turn down a request for me to do something that would have made me uncomfortable, and that's a separate point I want to make: My anxiety was never a problem this weekend. I mean, it was a problem, because its existence is a problem and it will always exist, but I never struggled because of it, beyond one specific instance of being triggered (which was not malicious at all). On a weekend where I met double-digit new people, spoke publicly every day, and had to unexpectedly moderate a panel, that's a victory beyond measuring.

Now, this is not to say that the only problem was my brain-spiders. I definitely have a lot I learned by doing it wrong this weekend. I tried to do too many panels; I never dropped the ball, but I was without a doubt juggling too many of them. I swore too much in my early panels (no-one complained, but I have much better words in my toolkit than "fuck"). Before I remembered to pack my Fidget Cube on Day Two, I looked at my phone more than was healthy or good optics for me. Today, I attended one panel that I realized too late I was not actually listening to due to lack of mental energy, and I feel bad for exiting so abruptly.

Also, for as wonderful as the con was, and as explicit and well-crafted as the harassment policy was, the flame of casual ableism still burns bright and enduring. No-one official was guilty of it that I heard, nor was it condoned (in fact if anyone had raised an objection, the harassment policy would have likely backed them up), but casual use of ableist slurs from "stupid" to "crazy" was in full effect among both panelist and audience member. There was also some more overtly deplorable language that was never actually harassing, but sure made me uncomfortable and/or angry. In both cases, I wish I had done a better job policing it; I consider that my greatest failing from this weekend. My Twitter followers will have seen my Subtweeting PSAs by now, and I'll also be dropping that feedback in the appropriate places so BayCon can watch out for it later. But that is not a problem with BayCon, it's a problem with humans; fixing it is an ongoing project, and BayCon does it better than most.

In the end, I've returned home relaxed and energized. My reading list is three sizes longer, I've got some new Internet friends that I hope even out into actual friends over time, and I feel like maybe this writing thing is going to work out OK. For now, I need to go have dinner, relax, and get back to both my day job and the writing side of writing; and as my new followers will no doubt notice, I am due for the website overhaul that I really intended to handle before I left for con. But come next year, if they'll have me, I'm definitely coming back to BayCon.

Thanks, everybody, for a fantastic weekend. I hope to talk to all of you soon.

 

[Edit: I misused the term "squish" in the original draft of this post; that term connotes something more intense than I intended, and I also did not realize it was a term from the ace community. At risk of co-opting and imprecision, I changed the language. My sincere apologies. - The Management.]