Or, as you’ll quickly note, my best convention experience ever.
Let me start off by saying that I’m generally exceedingly critical of conventions. I’ve worked, performed, spoken at, and attended more conventions than I’d like to actually declare, so it’s easy for me to pick apart even the best of shows. Fandom also has a sad history of not exactly getting it when it comes to catching up with the times and the issues of today, which is ridiculous considering its core is speculative fiction. However, this inaugural post to Pablovian Response is not about an event that failed or even one that was just mediocre, but it is about the greatest experience I’ve ever had at any convention ever.
For those of you not in the know, Arisia is a 4-day SF/F convention held every Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend in Boston, Massachusetts whose history is one of defying the norm and embracing the wider spectrum of Fandom. I only really attend volunteer-operated, fan-run/fan-centric conventions these days and before I was announced as the Fan Guest of Honor for Arisia 2016, Arisia was always one of the core ones in my mind that was missing from the schedule. Of course, in order to rectify this, I attended Arisia 2015 and while it ranked up there as a great convention experience, it still had issues and problems that could’ve been easily avoided. I’m well aware that every convention has their problems, but what makes Arisia so different is that they actually listened to all of my complaints and concerns and mostly fixed my issues with the convention.
As such, the difference in quality and enjoyment between Arisia 2015 and Arisia 2016 for me and my friends attending was massive and noticeable. Apart from the minor issue of long registration lines, I noticed very little issues popping up and I try to keep a watch for these things like a noted food critic at a fancy restaurant. The programming was top notch and every panel I ended up attending or being a part of was fun and informative, along with not annoying or offensive or awkward (which is something I experience often on panels). I found myself constantly entertained and in such good company that I couldn’t believe the panels were over so soon. Also, in a moment of true rarity, there were actually PROGRAMMING ITEMS I WANTED TO ATTEND, which is honestly truly surreal. I’ve nearly stopped attending programming items because they seem so repetitive and boring, but here at Arisia, they’ve managed to catch my interest and keep things fresh.
Me when looking at the Arisia program book
Now, I’d be misleading you if I didn’t mention that I probably saw the best of things because I was a Guest of Honor, but in light of experiences friends of mine have had as Guests of Honor, let me tell you, I wasn’t really expecting much. Believe it or not, there are conventions out there that actually begrudgingly invite Guests of Honor and usually throw them into the convention without much guidance or assistance as to what the convention needs and what the Guest of Honor wants. However, I was heavily mistaken, since I felt at Arisia 2016 like I was treated like absolute royalty. The staff went out of their way to make me feel welcome, listen to all of my concerns, and even give in to some of my ridiculous requests, like having a band of roving musicians follow me from panel to panel and even deliver me an absolutely delicious birthday cake. Never once did the Arisia staff and my wonderful liaison Colette Fozard ever dismiss any of my questions, concerns and/or requests and were even there for me when I didn’t even know I needed them. My programming was not a mess and they put me on panels I wanted to be on, including giving me my own panel where I told stories for a hour and even arm wrestled someone from the audience.
Spoiler alert: I won.
Now, to get personal here, one of the reasons Arisia 2016 was so important for me was that even after dealing with the worst of the worst in fandom, life, work, and moreso for months before (including an accident that totaled my car and lost me my job), it was like being thrown from the jaws of the Leviathan into the rings of Paradise. I’ve never felt so amazing at a convention especially after feeling so down and I’d be remiss to ignore that Arisia’s amazing staff, from the wonderful chair (Nchanter, you’re the best!) down, had a major part to play in that. I was losing my vigor, contemplating whether I really deserved this honor or not (imposter syndrome is one hell of a thing) or if I even deserved to be in fandom, and now here I was reminded why I did all of this in the first place. It was just what the doctor ordered pretty much (if I could actually afford healthcare, so we’ll call it a holistic doctor) and that experience alone helped me regain my spirit and my energy for my fandom life and my own professional and artistic aspirations. All in all, just like the eponymous lead of the Broadway hit (and my current favorite alt-history work) Hamilton sings, I was feeling once more my usual “young, scrappy, and hungry” and damn did it feel great. Thanks, Arisia, for being where I got my groove back.
After all that fluffy talk, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, this is all well and good, you felt good and happy, blah blah blah, but what about the parties? Well, I’m constantly in favor of more parties and drinking opportunities and Arisia did not disappoint in that department. Once again, this is another case in which the staff did not disappoint in making sure there were various avenues of nighttime entertainment, from music to the masquerade (which I judged and dressed up for) to the room shindigs to even nighttime programming. Hell, even the lobby bar was hopping and was a great place to hang out late at night, as evidenced by the very first photo in this post, which came from drunken lobby bar adventures and the delightful sight of snow (another plus for Arisia). I also threw a few parties in my suite, which were pretty fun. Did I mention the convention got me and my friend Jared a birthday cake?
Anyways, I’m rambling. Arisia was such an amazing experience and I hope you all get the chance to go. I’ve never felt so welcome, so included, so respected, and most importantly, actually listened to. The response level of the staff to any of my concerns and even just mild suggestions was phenomenal and I never once felt truly uncomfortable, unhappy, or in need of an escape. In fact, Arisia is probably the only convention where I didn’t have one single boring moment and it was all so good. I’m sure the experience was also wonderful for my co-GOHs John Scalzi (who I slung my guest basket sodas to) and Johnna Klukas (who is an awesome artist), but I’ll let them talk on that. For me, especially after witnessing directly what had happened to dear friends of mine at another convention, this was such a wild ride in all of the best possible ways. Surrounded by such an awesome and diverse group of fans, with friends old and new, all across the spectrum of beautiful diversity, Arisia 2016 really felt like a home to me. It reminded me of one of the reasons why I’m so involved in fandom and so happy for it. Go next year and you’ll see what I mean and if you’re like me, you’re going to go to Arisia every year that you can.
The author at the Art Show Reception with the other Guests of Honor, enjoying possibly a 5th glass of wine and looking mighty happy.
A MUST-ATTEND CONVENTION AND ONE OF THE BEST