Jan. 24th, 2016

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Last weekend, we went to our second trip to Boston and Arisia. Boston kicked off splendidly with a trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. On the way, we ran across a terrific hurdy-gurdy player in the train station who proved to be the famed Donald Heller of the Hurdy-Gurdy Band. We didn't know he was famed, precisely, at first, but we had acquired a taste for the hurdy-gurdy when we went to the late, lamented Nordic Roots Festivals at the Cedar Cultural Center. And he's very good and very charming and we geeked about hurdy-gurdies and such and bought a CD. Good stuff!

From there, we went on to the Museum, where a nice man stopped us on the steps and handed us two tickets to the Museum, thereby saving us $50. He said it was too crowded for him that day and was headed for quieter pastures so we got to celebrate part of our 22nd anniversary trotting around a lovely museum. Amongst our discoveries, actress Sara Bernhardt was also a sculptor! This is a fabulous self-portrait of herself as a sphinx.

After that, we were off to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, with its glorious interior courtyard. Lovely furniture, art, tapestries and other sundry pretty things to look at, plus a nice cafe and good gift shop. Definitely going back there again next time we're in town. Then we went back to the con, and things went awry for a bit (see next post).

Saturday's panel on Founding Mothers of SF and F went pretty well. We covered a lot of genre territory, from Mry Shelley and Margaret Cavendish to the Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain to Shirley Jackson, Zenna Henderson, Naomi Mitchison, Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Lynn, Angela Carter, Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ and others. The audience was very involved and interested so there were a lot of good additions and questions. I went on to a very entertaining talk on bad cover art while Jana went on to various art programs. After that, I tracked down the fine folks at the Broad Universe table and roamed around with one of my friends. Then Jana and I wrapped up our evening by enjoying dinner at a local restaurant with author Jude McLaughlin and her lovely wife. And we got back to the hotel in time for the Worldcon 75 (Helsinki) Party and I got to meet Crystal Huff and we both sampled reindeer pate and pine tar soda, as you do.

Sunday was miscellaneous stuff, then lunch with the fabulous Julia Rios, followed by a very nice party/discussion for the Outer Alliance. I haven't had the opportunity to sit around with a group of queer-identified folks of different ages and backgrounds and identities and chat.  Plus, there were really good munchies. Sacchi Green gives good party, just saying. And we got to hang more over dinner after that. 

The masquerade was impressive (we watched it on TV) and the rest of our time was spent working on sundry projects until we had to head home. Overall, people were pleasant, the programming we went to was decent to good and the hotel was quite nice.

In the next post, I'll talk a bit about what didn't go as well.


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Okay, so registration on Friday night was a disaster. It was a disaster that started out as an inconvenience, then ramped up to an accessibility issue. Here's what I gleaned about how that came about: somewhere along the line, it got decided that the con (which gets attendance in the 4000+ range) should have a signed code of conduct from each attendee. Okay. There's a registration database, customized for the con, but for some reason, the form wasn't included in the preregistration options; I can only assume that it was a late addition. I know that I got a copy in an email on the 11th but didn't get around to running off a copy before the con. I had a LOT of company, as it turns out, and it would have made little difference if I had run it off beforehand.

What they decided to do instead was to set up a couple of stations and one printer. Each con goer in line was expected to run off a personalized print out of the code in order to get a printed on the spot badge. No provisions were made for people with obvious mobility issues or small children or panelists or vendors or preregistration vs.pay at the door, or any other logical breakdown that would have helped this process in any way. Periodically, small handfuls of people who had printed the code off were run through faster, but not consistently or often. I ended up in line for over two hours, with no sitting and one cup of water. I think the people further back ended up waiting even longer. One vendor I spoke to the next day told me he was in line for 4 hours, due to various issues which got him returned to the back of the line for sundry reasons, only one of which seemed to have much to do with something he had forgotten to bring. Anybody who had any programming or plans for Friday night and didn't already have a badge by 5PM missed a big chunk of the evening. So, yeah, disaster.

Why was this an accessibility issue? Let's start out with all the folks who couldn't stand in line that long. I stayed because I had a morning panel and I had no idea whether things would improve in the morning, and I thought I needed a badge. At the end of my time in line, I had a swollen knee and a hypoglycemic crash, neither of which were fun. I also had a badge and a signed, personalized code of conduct that neither I or probably anyone else in that line actually read, thereby reducing its effectiveness to nil. But I was also not the elderly man with the cane who one of the line volunteers persuaded to get up from one of the few chairs to stand in line again, despite the fact that he seemed unsteady on his feet (I was too far away to hear what actually got said, in all fairness, but could see the affect). There were folks with walkers and wheelchairs or using canes or crutches (this does not, of course, include less visible disabilities that would have made all this unpleasant, if not impossible), standing in line for well over an hour in many cases. The registration volunteers either couldn't or didn't look for other options. And, based on conversations I had the next day, a lot of people paid for it in physical discomfort. The con was very, very lucky that no one passed out or had a seizure or other issue.

I have no idea how those decisions got made within the Con Com, but I really hope that that they do better next year. A signed code of conduct is all well and go but it's only effective if someone actually reads it and agrees to abide by it. One of the things that I like about CONvergence is the "Costumes are not Consent" campaign which includes posters and flyer throughout the con. Many of these are humorous, but all of them taken together help create some level of awareness around harassment. I assume that was one of the intended points of Arisia's code of conduct. Maybe some day, I'll get the opportunity to read it and find out under less unpleasant circumstances.


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