The Realization of the Situation
“Oh my glob, what to do. 50. 50 orbits of old Sol. 47 billion orbital kilometers plus who knows how many around the galactic center and away or towards the galactic ecliptic. So how do I celebrate this lifetime landmark?” That’s a fairly good approximation of what was bouncing around in my head in December of 2010, when I passed 50 years old.
I’d long made a habit of attempting one big new thing each year. It always had to be something I’d never before attempted. Never attempted because I’d never found the time to do it, or because I was convinced it was beyond my innate abilities, or because I was simply afraid to do it out of fear of failure. That’s how I’d ended up in grad school. That’s how I’d ended up moving across the continent from sunny Southern California to New England. That’s how I ended up learning to strap a highly engineered composite plank to my feet and slide down snowy mountains sideways. That’s how I started volunteering as a worker and panelist at cons.
I wanted something special to celebrate the exit from my first half century of life and entry into the next 50 years. I decided to steer clear of the stereotypical male mid-life crisis insanity. So no selling of my possessions to go live in a yurt on the Mongolian steppes. No adoption of strange religious practices. No running out to purchase an insanely expensive and insanely fast sports car. No illicit affairs with young men half my age.
The Search for a Solution
So then, what do do?
I decided that I would be guided by things I was afraid to do and that others around me would find uncharacteristic. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as surprising others even as you pleasantly, simultaneously surprise yourself.
I’d grown up as a queer, geeky, science fiction loving kid who hated playing sports, in particular organized team sports. I’d totally bought into the stereotype of the anti-sports bookworm. My heroes had names like Niven, Harrison, Silverberg, Ellison, Asimov not Goodrich or Robinson or Namath.
I was too short for basketball, plus, I intensely disliked the cultural expectation that I should love, play and excel in the sport. I was too lightweight for football. I didn’t have enough upper body strength for baseball. As a closeted young gay kid, I found wrestling, gymnastics and swimming far too emotionally and sexually dangerous. Far too fraught with the the danger of outing.
Plus, even at the tender age of 13, I thought I saw in my parents the germ the possibility of their becoming the type of overwrought, overenthusiastic sports parents that make the lives of their kids into hell. Adding the pressure to exceed in a sport on top of barely endurable pressures for exemplary academic performance would have been disastrous.
All of this added up to decades of studiously avoiding team sports. Big stuff. Fertile ground from which would spring my personal foray into unknown territory. Team sports.
The Achievement of Action
But which team sport?
I do not remember where I first came across the quote attributed to Oscar Wilde; “Rugby is a barbaric played by gentlemen. Football is a gentlemanly game played by barbarians.”, nor do I remember where or how I was first made aware of the Boston Ironsides Rugby Football Club. What I do remember was my first workout with the team on a winter’s night at a high-school gym in Cambridge. I thought I was in good shape. I was oh so wrong. I didn’t make it though 1/2 of a not particularly tough workout. In spite of the reassurances of the guys at practice (“Don’t sweat it. At least you didn’t throw up like lots of guys do”), I was embarrassed, chagrined, humbled. But I promised to come back in 6 months at least ready to practice, if not to play.
What’s a geek to do? Here, I’d found a sport and a team open to a total neophyte, open and eagerly welcome to LGBT members, and I wasn’t ready to play. So I did what any good academically oriented geek would do. I studied. I learned. I put into practice what I learned.
I kept my promise to myself and joined the Boston Ironsides rugby team 6 months later and set into motion chains of events I hadn’t foreseen.
The Consequences of Choices
All of this could not help but have knock-on effects across the breadth of my life. Some foreseen, some welcome, others not so and not so much.
Even though camaraderie was one of the things I was seeking, I wasn’t quite prepared for the intensity of the feeling. I’d argue that something intensely primal is awakened when a discrete groups of humans strives towards a common goal, particularly when that striving involves struggling through ignorance to understanding, through physical exertion and exhaustion towards strength, through physical discomfort and injury to healing. I was surprised to find myself thinking thoughts like, “I’d bleed for these guys”, and equally surprised by the depth of feeling mixed in with those thoughts. It even re-ignited my interest in guided imagery, hypnosis and NLP through my discovery of Michael J. Emery’s audio files for athletes: “Advanced Sports Imagery for Athletes”. Who knew?
The End of the Beginning
Time to bring this to an end. What better way than with the typical “lessons learned”? So then, what did I learn?
- I learned that here in the U.S., rugby harbors it’s own form of geekery. This is a big difference between U.S. rugby and rugby in other countries.
- A sense of belonging is a powerful thing for a primate. I guess I have more tribes than SF Fandom.
- I’ve long been more than a bit afraid of my aggressive side. I’ve been afraid of losing control, of doing something horrible. It’s a bad lesson I’d learned from my parents. The fear is still there but attenuated, restrained by the evidence of praxis.
- I’ve come to believe that the UFP would have an awesome rugby side. So would the Klingon Empire. The Klingon’s, however, might need to be reminded that no weapons are allowed and that the limbs of opponents are not to be ripped off.
- United Federation of Planets rugby jerseys would be awesome. Klingon Empire rugby jerseys would be off the hook.
- I had to learn how to train towards a specific goal.
- I had to learn how to recover from an injury.
- I had to learn when to acknowledge the march of time, admit the increasing length of recovery time, and retire.
- I had to learn how to lose gracefully, something I’d never before been good at.
- I learned that there are things I’ve never before considered doing, that I can not just do, but love doing.
What the hell is Rick and Morty?
Thank you for asking. In short, it’s an animated series showing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of animation that is thoroughly not for children, telling the story of super-scientist Rick Sanchez who takes his grandson Mortimer Smith on adventures in spacetime and across dimensions. Of course, this description while accurate, is totally, thoroughly and absolutely inadequate.
Imagine Dr. Emmet Brown from Back to the Future. Now imagine him insatiably inquisitive, perpetually drunk (though not an alcoholic, I’m sure he has a pill for that somewhere) and unrepentedly tactless, cynical, even nihilistic, but not a bad guy. After all, he loves his daughter and his grandchildren. That’s Rick Sanchez. As for Morty, imagine Marty McFly, but younger (14), dorkier, dimmer, shorter, more timid, far more insecure, and as sex-obsessed as real 14 year old boys are. That’s Morty.
Rick can travel through spacetime and across dimensions. He takes his grandson Morty along. Science-fictional hijinks ensue.
If I am recollecting correctly, this is at least the fifth year in a row where the just completed Worldcon has prompted a “Why can’t Worldcon be more like Fill-In-The-Blank Con?” discussion. The blank is usually filled with SDCC or Dragon*Con or Pax or another very large convention featuring media / anime / gaming.
Some focus on attendance numbers. Others, like this, or this focus on the aging of fandom. Still others, like Gavia Baker-Whitelaw’s (linked above) focus on cultural / sub-cultural conflicts and issues.
If I may be so bold, I think an answer is condensing out of the stormy aether. I think that some fan run conventions are discovering a way forward. Earlier in this thread, Arisia was mentioned. I’m guessing that before too long, the Arisia model will be applied to a Boston / New England Worldcon and we’ll see how scalable it is. Arisia, Inc. does a remarkable job of balancing an increasingly large array of sub-cultural interests. It would perhaps be wise for the convention committees for Worldcons 2015 and 2016 to contact the officers of Arisia Inc. for their input. I’m serious.
Are there changes that should be avoided, or at least hotly debated?
I believe that Worldcon would be wise to avoid becoming like those other conventions because they already exist. They have their own cultures, their own attendance goals, their own traditions, their own purposes, their own audiences. Worldcon has, or tries to maintain, a specific place in worldwide science fiction fandom. What place is that? In my opinion, over the past 70+ years, Worldcon has created a place for itself as the annual SF convention with the deepest roots into SF’s deep time. Once again in my opinion, more than anything else, the Worldcon-ness of Worldcon arises from its history, its legacy, its memory. Ah, and not just its own, but the history, legacy and memory of science fiction as a particular type of cultural expression. For example, Does any other convention with a worldwide draw have worldcon’s historical perspective? Perhaps even more importantly, does any other convention want that perspective?
So yes, Worldcons have to adapt to the shifting SF landscape. Arguably, they do. Arguably, not fast enough for some. Arguably, not in the manner desired by others. Still, they do change. It is clear though, at least to me, that the changes desired by Worldcon’s most passionate critics will not take place as quickly as desired until those same people apply their fiery passion to bidding for, winning and running a Worldcon themselves. Once again, I think taking a good hard look at adopting the Arisia model for fan run conventions in part or whole would go a long way towards accelerating the evolution of Worldcon without it losing its essential Worldcon-ness. Part of that model is openness. An insular Worldcon cannot survive. See the content about Arisia above.
In my opinion, probably because I’m old (in the eyes of some in this thread) and foolish (in the eyes of others, or the same) I believe that making Worldcon into a genre sales exhibition like SDCC, or into a commercial mega convention like Dragon*Con, would leave us, at least those convention going fans who still think of convention fandom as “us”, unmoored and without a keel. Adrift and directionless.
I would definitely suggest getting to know Worldcon as an institution like the Olympics or the Oscars or Cannes or the Boston Marathon. Why? To understand what is and what isn’t essential for a Worldcon to be a Worldcon. No, what’s essential for a Worldcon to feel like a Worldcon.
I continue to find Convention fandom fascinating. From my p.o.v. US convention fandom is becoming increasingly contentious. Is it perhaps becoming balkanized? I don’t know if the same thing is happening in fandom in other countries. I do suspect that the sub-cultural power struggles in US convention fandom are not easily mapped onto fandoms in other countries. The fact that I don’t know this points to what I feel is one of the major failings of Worldcon. Namely that Worldcon is not nearly as global as its name implies. It’s not a blatant fiction like US baseball’s “World Series”, but it is far too English speaking and North American / Western European centric for its own good and my personal tastes.
BTW – I’m specifying convention fandom because I also suspect that the overwhelming majority of people who consume those cultural products identified as science fiction have never and will never attend a convention. As convention fandom’s internal struggles become increasingly more public, will they be even less apt to attend? I don’t know.
Does any of this make sense? Is it too scatterbrained? Please let me know. Thanks!
I’m not pre-registered for the upcoming Balticon, LonCon (the 2014 Worldcon), or any other conventions between now and August, where I’m pre-registered to attend Shamrokon (my first ever Eurocon). Which reminds me, I need to arrange accommodations and purchase airline tickets.
That is, if I go.
So, I’d like to find a local con I can commute to. Just for a day. A few hours.
At least I’m not jonesing to hard as so have the shakes.
My friend orawnzva, a.k.a Ben Newman is building a creative team for his intriguing and highly original science fiction, action adventure musical, Walk In The Day – http://orawnzva.livejournal.com/66594.html – You can read the specifics of his request here. Basically, he’s looking for an assistant production manager, cast members, musicians, composers, etc, etc.
Ben is an incredibly intelligent and creative gentleman. If I were you, I’d contact him.
Contact him directly for more info.
So, this coming January, I will once again be a program participant in Arisia 2011 – http://2011.arisia.org, self described as, “New England’s largest and most diverse science fiction and fantasy convention”. In my humble opinion, the “most diverse” part of the descriptor could easily be expanded to nationwide. But I digress.
I will be participating in 4 panels:
- Introduction to SF Criticism – What is it, what is it for, and what is its terminology? Where do we find it? How do we apply it? And, ultimately, how do we contribute to it?
- Queer SF&F – Queer topics and characters are becoming more common in science fiction and fantasy–or are they? Do modern authors really do a better job addressing these concerns than in the past? How has the field changed? And what effect has it had on the fans?
- I Married a Non-Fan – She/he is only at Arisia because I’m here. How can we make the con a better experience for those who aren’t part of fan culture? Is conversion possible? If so, what’s the best approach? Mixed relationships can be difficult, so let’s share some ways to make them work. And how will we raise the kids–as fans, or not?
- Age and Treachery: The Older Fan – How does growing older impact one’s experiences as a member of fandom? How do our experiences color how we enjoy the ideas, the stories, and the media? Did we think, a decade (or three) ago, we’d still be going to conventions and seeing the same friends? Are we worried about the future of fandom?
What else will I be doing there? Perhaps some live streaming video of an event or two. Perhaps taking lots of pictures. Perhaps a blog post or two. Definitely lots of reconnecting with friends, old and new.
As usual, this will be a whole lot of fun, but in a different way than conventions were fun when I was 1/2 my current age.