Balticon 50

There it went.

I have tried to give myself a little time to get past the immediate reaction and allow for more thought. The problem with that is news of a convention gets stale rather quickly. I’ve been going to Balticon for a while, but not as long as quite a few folks. In fact I had a conversation with a man this past weekend who has attended all 50 of the conventions so far. It’s an impressive number.

For me, it was an impressive convention celebrating the 50th anniversary, but probably one of the worst for me personally. That makes it sound worse than it really was. Perhaps it was the level of expectation going in? I’ve got that sort of thing going with books and movies, maybe it was the same thing for the convention. If I go into a movie or a book with crazy high expectations – those expectations are almost never met so it feels like a disappointment, even it the work in question was actually quite good. IF I go with low expectations and get something crappy, I’m good. My expectations were met. If I go with low expectations and get something excellent… you get the picture. I’ve seen a number of folks on social media and other blogs say they had “wonderful”, “awesome” and “fantastic” conventions. My reaction wasn’t as positive.

I have had a lot of great cons over the years. I’ve really loved being a participant and not just an attendee at conventions. Balticon is the one that I consider my “home convention” and is the one I always give preference to. This year had real issues for me. Some of those things were directly related to the convention, some of them were all about me and some of them were outside the realm of things the con could control (and it’s not fair to blame them for those). I was also somebody that friends brought issues to (they know I’ve joined BSFS), presumably so that word would travel with somebody. That made it a struggle. When you’re the staunch defender, what happens when you don’t want to defend anymore? I got really, really tired of trying to help and defend things that I didn’t find defensible.

The hotel was new this year. That was important – the space was needed for a record number of guests. It also made for lots of people not knowing where anything was, long lines at the elevators, confusion about parking and frustration over added expense. Some of that was just the unavoidable nature of change. Some of that was trying to settle in to a new location. Some of that was people not communicating well and having their expectations not met. I could have worked with all that. I expected it.

I know some of the people involved and I know the intent was good. Programming was an unmitigated disaster from my point of view. Double booked rooms, double booked panelists, changes, deletions and random additions that weren’t communicated well just made a hash of things for me. I’m going to emphasize that again – for me. I am the D list person here and I understand that I’m not going to get priority or even a lot of attention. I got nothing for programming. Nothing. When I asked about this the response was a very snappy “well what do you want?” I want these things figured out before Saturday morning of a convention that starts on Friday for starters – and a little less attitude to go with the response. I get the stress. I work cons too. Snapping at me isn’t going to help anyone. It will in fact hurt the process and cause responses that aren’t necessarily deserved. I just stopped trying to fix it right then. There’s nothing I could do that would have made the situation better and anything I said in anger would not help. I stopped defending. I stopped volunteering to help. I walked away and just did my own thing the rest of the weekend.

I was not the only one in a situation like this. For me – a total ‘D’ lister – it’s not such a big deal. I’m sure I’ll get over it. I’ve already received an invitation to another convention asking me about my thoughts for programming. I’m going to hope for better, or at least in advance, there. The problem is I’ve heard from other people that should be the backbone of the convention – the folks you want to return again and again because they’ve got a solid following and some excellent knowledge to share – that they won’t be back. They reached their saturation point with the frustration and problems and have decided to just walk away as well. I was actually saddened by this. Conventions are where I get to hang out with these folks. Some I might not see otherwise. Most of all, I’m concerned for the next convention, and the next one after that. There was, rightfully, a lot of attention paid to the big names that were there, all the big names that were brought back. Those folks got a lot of attention and drew a lot of convention goers, but at what expense? I fear the damage done. Perhaps I just haven’t gone through this from the participant side of the fence before.

I don’t want this to to turn into some kind of doom and gloom sort of thing. There were a lot of fun things that did happen at the convention. There were great times, laughs and fun mixed with the frustration. I was super glad to have helped out with the Liar’s Panel again this year. I was one of the runners that dashed around the audience collecting up the donations for charity. There’s actually a photo and a little more detail over at Mark’s Journal. Raising a few hundred bucks for charity is a great thing and the panelists were really funny.

I also watched the Mr. Poor Choices III comedy show. I howled. It was fun and funny. The show was totally stolen (from my vantage point) by the sign language interpreters. How do you sign “the nut mangler gym shorts” exactly? Their expressions were wonderful. I went and thanked them after the show. It was great fun.

I got to connect with a lot of folks this past weekend. I think that was really what made it all survivable for me. I had dinner with folks I don’t get to see often enough, drinks with others that I was thrilled to sit and chat with and even a teeny amount of time in the game room (even though I can’t hang with the Power Grid guys and totally forgot my t-shirt – sorry John, I’ll get it right eventually).

I expect with time that I’ll gloss over 50 and other Balticons will be better for me. I really want some of the folks I talked to this past weekend to make some good connections. I’m hopeful that some of the connecting I did over the weekend will lead to future projects. I’m also hopeful that folks that said they were done would be persuaded to return. I am hopeful, and if I work hard and am lucky enough maybe I’ll be one of the folks brought back by special invitation for number 75.

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