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ConFusion 2010
An Attendee's Report

I have such a difficult time in writing these follow-up posts after a convention. I desperately want to write everything down immediately, while the memories are fresh and interesting to me—unfortunately my brain is usually such a exhausted, jumbled mess after a weekend immersed in the freaks and geeks that it is virtually impossible to string together a coherent narrative (which presupposes that I have ever before strung together words that could be considered “coherent” or even “a narrative”, but I digress). So usually I wait a week or so and find that my loss of interest and hazy memory of events results in a rather lackluster summary of the weekend. This time I'm going to try to write this out immediately, and hope that the editorial process will make it something akin to readable. This is my “from an attendee's perspective” version…I'll do one from the conrunner's perspective if I'm so inclined later.

If the years of the conventions were given names based on their characteristics—like the Chinese zodiac—, I See by my ConFusion would have taken place in the Year of the Storyteller. Our guests of honor spoke to us tales of fantasy, regaled us with anecdotes from conventions past, sang stories of beautiful fantasy, and shared epic tales of space exploration as if yanked directly from a grammar schooler's imagination. Oh, and we had an awesome artist guest who I couldn't make fit the metaphor at all.

Thursday

Ger had to work on Thursday, so I was able to begin my weekend early by picking up Peter Beagle and his Minion/Lackey/Cohort/Friend Connor Cochran from the airport…and giving them the ride back to the hotel began my weekend's story. Peter is a masterful weaver of myth, so hearing of his last time in the area some forty years previous was like hearing the highlights of a great book not like hearing someone's memories. This became more apparent when we were able to join him at his table at the GoH dinner (a fantastic choice by Jess, for the record…an Asian buffet) and hear his and Connor's banter, jokes, and stories. We got a chance to see most of the other GoHs (and more than a few friends that we haven't seen for a long time) before an awkward closing speech (seriously awkward…as in, the phrase “I really don't know much about you” was used to introduce one of the guests, shortly after referring to the the guest's significant other as his “girlfriend-wife-date-thingie”…that kid of awkward) closed things out. At meal's end, Peter had been up for something near to forty hours, so we got him back to the hotel—it should be noted that we got him back to the hotel amidst his protestations that he didn't want to seem ungracious—and let them get some rest before the weekend really kicked off.

Upon our return to the hotel, we met up with Dawn, Greg, and Leane, who hadn't eaten yet. After a bit of discussion, we determined that Ger and I would be happy to accompany the group to PF Chang's to make asses of ourselves while they ate. And oh, make asses of ourselves we did!*

Friday

Friday, I arrived on site to find a bit of a mess. Nothing major was going wrong, per se, but there was a bit of a lack of organization. I ran around for a bit and helped coordinate things with the hotel, while hanging out with friends. The clusterfuck was generally settled within a few hours (with the notable exception of some issues that should have been dealt with pre-con and now were entirely un-deal-with-able). Once that was done, I had time to kill while I waited for my panels to start. Mostly, we just kind of hung out until the first one—Introduction to ConFusion—hit at 6pm, in which I largely sat and gave additional points of information for whatever topic was meandered across during a rather disorganized info-dump by my co-presenter. At 7pm the AASFA board convened to give out on-the-spot grants in a very Dragon's Den style…only with a few less pairs of pants. The proceedings were entertaining, one involved the PF Chang's story coupled with interpretive dance and one involved random acts of randomness, but I hope that in future versions of this people grasp the importance of putting on a good show when they make their pitch. In all, we provided financing for a liquors panel, a massive room party and some liquor beverage to go with, Jello brains for the consuite, and lube wrestling in the pool area (which ultimately got canned by the hotel for liability reasons). That completed my responsibilities to the convention for the day, so we moseyed on to opening ceremonies to be bored.

The boredom was short lived.

After a moderately stumbling opening ceremonies-style introduction to the convention by ConChair Jessi Zerwas, the guests of honor each introduced themselves, beginning with Peter Beagle. Catherynne Valente followed with *the* speech which so knocked the audience on its collective ass…as I said on Twitter immediately following, “GoH speech by @catvalente was the single greatest I've heard...beautiful, literary, funny, and entirely ecapsulating why we are here! <3”. SJ “Sooj” Tucker sang us a convention song that was gorgeous and sweet. David Gibbs shared with us why, as our Fan GoH, this was such an honor (and also let slip that only once they were on stage were several of the GoHs told there was a speech, which was reiterated by Matt and Steve later). Matt Busch let out his inner fanboy for a moment as he spoke of his excitement in being a part of the convention and of being honored alongside such esteemed counterparts. We finished with Steve Collins telling us of “exploring Mars” and, for a brief moment, reminding us of why astronaut is every school child's dream job for at least a little while. I don't often go to opening ceremonies of conventions, but if they were all like this I might start.

Most of the rest of the evening was spent hanging out with friends. Several members of the Chicago crew were up for the convention, so for several hours I “held court” in the lobby amongst Dave, Elizabeth, Leane, Greg, Dawn, my lovely wife, and a rotating field of various others. Around 10:30pm, I was reminded that Man of a Thousand Names had a show with his band Stone Crazy Pirates, so several of us ran down to catch the last half hour. Fan-frickin'-tastic. To (again) quote my Twitter (something I predict I will be doing a lot here...), “Must see: Stone Crazy Pirates...not a gimmick, a pretty awesome set of musicians!” and “Last SCP post: I want these guys to play Penguicon...in a much bigger room...they rock.”. Following the music, The Great Tree Caper occurred!**

The normal conventiony-time madness happened throughout the evening (up to and including a noise complaint only mildly more surreal than the noise woes Penguicon is dealing with in that this complaint involved a volunteer staying in the volunteer crash space complaining of noise), but generally we just wandered the (relatively abysmal) party scene. There were, however, two high-notes on the party circuit…the first, a semi-private (in that they did not do much announcing) party themed as a fancy bar full of fancy drinks and run by Tammy, Erik, Kevin, and (I'm told) a fourth person whose name I do not know offhand. I was mixed a non-alcoholic soda beverage (which caused the normal moment of concern for me as I stared at my glass and hoped-hoped-hoped it was going to be non-alcoholic) that was absolutely delicious (thank you Tammy!). I was thankful to see that others had tipped as heavily as I did in thanks for this awesome contribution to the con. The second was the KITH themed party thrown by Moonbeam, Dan, and others (I think) that was entertaining…clearly a lot of thought and time was put into doing it big, and it showed. Ultimately, the length of the day and utter exhaustion got the better of us, and Ger and I passed out around 2am.

Saturday

First, let me say that crashing in a room with the kids is a somewhat different con experience night-wise than Ger and I are used to. That said, I managed to rake in a whopping five hours of sleep on Friday night, which about the amount that I normally manage all weekend at an average con, so perhaps their presence was good for that. It was also great for breakfast, because at con I tend to just fail to eat entirely until someone reminds me, with children I have a built-in reminder that meals need to happen. I will probably not mention the children much in this narrative, if only because Cody essentially existed in the gaming room for every waking hour, whereas Amber spent her time divided between KidFusion (which was yet another amazing effort by Lisa…next year is going to be rough with her as Fan GoH rather than KidFusion awesomeness generator) and hanging out with a gaggle of children doing their own thing. While I don't mention it here much, just assume that periodically throughout this weekend there were all-too-brief visits from the children and constant text message check-ins (“still here in med room” from Cody and “Kidfusion” from Amber, mostly).

As the kids were finishing their game of “cram breakfast into faces as quickly as possible to abandon lame-old-dad in favor of fun” The Ferrett and Gini wandered into the dining area and agreed to join me for a bit. It was nice, actually being able to sit and have a conversation with them without their usual envoy or the hustle and bustle of surrounding con folk as it was ridiculously early by con standards. Discussion of fandom, collectible card games, and Yu Gi Oh thug life ensued until I realized that I was in danger of being late to my first panel of the morning.

The morning version of the Intro to ConFusion panel was in sharp contrast to that of the previous evening. I was on the schedule with Anne and David, our Fan GoH, and both seemed far more prepared and interested in telling our one new participant about the convention's history, how to get involved and meet people, and what to do that is fun at the convention. The only downside, unlike the previous evening, no hot ladies gave me their room number this time (sorry I never made it up ladies…call me!). Shortly thereafter, several of us made our way to the Concierge Lounge for the Improv Panel featuring Carrie, Dawn, and Greg with special guest Josh, who was fresh off a red-eye and utterly exhausted. The panel was hilarious, and had a better turnout than it has seen in the past. Chris' Loch Ness Pterodactyl was a riot, as was Skennedy's paranoid schizophrenic. I, as always, participated…and I was reminded why I don't do improv comedy…I'm just not as quick of wit as people that are actually good at it. If I were to make any improvement to the panel, I would make it an easy hour longer; just when things got going, the panel was done.

Once done, we all made our way downstairs to hit the Social Media panel, featuring Mike Reznick, Cat Valente, Sarah Zettel, Dawn, and The Ferrett, which became the Jer_ show briefly in the middle, prompting Cat to state more than once that everyone is awful to me…needless to say, with my ego, it was a good time for me. A lot of very interesting points were made about how everyone is using social media as a method for advertising one's self or for building community. A particularly amusing exchange between Reznick and Cat then between Cat and Greg resulted in some fairly amusing quotes that stuck with us long into the SMOScast later in the evening…and with any luck, it will be usable when I do the editing. During the panel, I also decided to manipulate some FourSquare locations so that it would be more useful for the convention, so I registered two of the Salon rooms and the Concierge Lounge as individual destinations. With luck, we can use this to help track popularity of certain panels at Penguicon or next year's ConFusion. It won't be great data, but it will be interesting tracking. Oh, it is worth noting that, mid-panel, my hive-mind failed me for the first time by entirely failing to provide me with Sarah Zettel's Twitter ID.

We all quickly bailed on the meet and greet segment of the panel to catch Greg, Anne, and David giving the SMOF: How to Run a Con panel, which was informative and interesting and often funny. Quite a bit of time was spent talking about launching a convention, and quite a bit was spent discussing the facility aspect of the event, which lends credence to my belief that this part of it more than any other is mystifying to many. That fact explains why when I do the relatively minimal amount that I do for the con with regards to the hotel, it is so well received. The single most important fact, however, is that Greg was renamed at this panel and shall henceforth be named “Senor Greggypants the Twinkle-Toed.”

By the time we were done with the panel, it was definitely time for dinner. Since the kids had their dinner covered by the KidFusion pizza party and Ger had duties related to liaising, I was on my own, so I joined a rapidly increasing group of folks to hit a local coney island. By the time we got to Kirby's we rolled deep enough to fill a table that cut a swath down the center of the place; Josh, Senor Greggypants, Dawn, Lucy, Scott, Kirby, Joe, Katie, Rachel, Nuri, James and I all hung out, had fun, were entertaining enough that we were being photographed and video-recorded by a nearby table of teens, and ultimately scared the shit out of those teens.*** Oh, and my wife might have missed an attempted guy-on-guy kiss at some point there.

Dawn, Greg, and I stopped by the liquor store to pick up the brown liquors for the panel and grabbed several nice choices which went over quite well. During the panel, one of my biggest convention pet peeves reared his head—the annoying attendee and his sense of entitlement. About two-thirds of the way into the panel, an individual wandered in, waited about one minute, and interrupted the panelists to interject some random fact that was both not entirely correct and covered about five minutes previous. He immediately turned to walk out when Greg make a sarcastic barb related to hating it when people show up late to a panel and interrupt with useless trivia…because, you know, that's kinda what happened. Instantly, some asshole in the audience interrupted with his Captain Save-a-Douche uniform on display, "I showed up on time, and I've been enjoying this panel, but if that's going to be your attitude, fuck you." At which point he walked out. Seriously. I…fucking…hate…people. Fortunately, Greg laughed it off, snarked, and moved on. The rest of the panel appears to have gone swimmingly.

After that, we all went back to Mr. Twinkle-Toes' room to “rehearse” the scripted portion of the evening's SMOScast…and by rehearse I mean look at it for the first time for all but Dawn and I. After some reading and some light notes, I ran downstairs to print. I was thwarted for about fifteen minutes by some jackhole who was playing Mafia Wars and Farmville on the business center computer. Now, let me preface the following by saying that, while I think both are foolish to the nth degree, I don't have anything against Mafia Wars or Farmville or any other stupid Facebook game. I do, on the other hand, have a problem with some pitiful chump who is so addicted to their pathetic Facebook game that they feel the need to tie up the sole business center computer for extended periods of time to play in the middle of a convention. Sir, go kill yourself, you definitely have no reason to go on. Seriously, this is not a joke, go take your own life. We will wait.

If you are the individual described above (heretofore referred to as “Cockboy”), and you are still reading this, I'm even more disappointed in you than I was before. No commitment sir; none at all!

Once Cockboy was done, I got my printing done and ran upstairs to get ready for the SMOScast…well, I got ready to wait until the Port panel that ran long finished (but fuck it, I wasn't going to rush them, because they appeared to be having a ball and, it's not like we were on a schedule) and until I could get my Ubuntu laptop to notice that I had a microphone (I never did get it to work, we ended up loading the software on Greg's Windows 7 laptop, much to Microsoft evangelist Josh's delight and Ubuntu evangelist Trevor's dismay). Then we were off. The scripted portion, a recounting of the saga of the Penguicon noise complaint done in the style of an old time superhero radio show, went very well. The rest of the 'cast was absolutely hilarious, and almost assuredly unusable. There is this fantastic part, however, where Greg is joking about the social media panel—specifically the exchange between Mike (Reznick), Cat (Valente), and himself—mocking Mike and Cat's responses when Mike Reznick walks in the door saying, "I heard my name."

As Greg reiterated his Mike impression (which involved the phrase “Buy my books then go die”) for Reznick, to which Reznick responded, in hilarious fashion, “That's pretty accurate, actually.” In all, the live show went very well, as it generally does, and editing should be a nightmare, as it generally is. Such is the nature of a bunch of people with no concept of boundaries recording things they think are funny. The part that is most important to me, however, is that some of the funniest people I know got together and had fun with one another. That…is…awesome! After the show, we hung out and conversed for a brief while, but Ger was pumpkining hard so we called it a night around 2, despite some really enticing hot-tub offers.

Sunday

Sunday began as way-too-early as did Saturday, wherein the kids and I grabbed a Consuite breakfast (thank the great gods of Consuite for Pop Tarts, Nutrigrain bars, and cereal) while I was told tales of things that went wrong in the night. After breakfast, I cruised downstairs only to have some more of the events of the evening related to me by some of the hotel staff…all I can say is I hope the convention tipped the staff well, because they took considerable care of us in several ways on Saturday evening—and if the tales I've heard from both hotel and congoers of senior concom's handling of some situations (both by a drunken concom member and a sober-and-should-know-better one) are true, we should be ashamed of ourselves. We mostly hung out with friends, had a fantastic goodbye lunch with Dawn, Greg, and Leane, then killed some time waiting for closing ceremonies.

While waiting for closing ceremonies to begin, Nuri leaned over and asked me if this shindig was in need of a tree. I agreed that it was, so we ran out into the hall to retrieve the Christmas tree left over from the Great Tree Caper** and wheeled it through the crowded hallway into the ballroom where the walkway was not wide enough to get the tree up front. There was a moment where Nuri and I stopped and we considered moving an entire column of chairs to make this work…ultimately, we just parked the tree in the back as a spectator. The GoHs talked about their favorite parts of the convention—Peter Beagle spoke of how spoiled the convention made him feel (which can be attributed directly to my darling wife, despite Peter having said both of our names…I was support staff, she was the orchestrator of any pampering that was done)—and Sooj sang another amazing song, prompting me to note in Twitter that I don't know how I've gone this long without hearing more of her music. Jess thanked select individuals for help then someone from the back (Freon if memory serves) had the presence of mind to ask the convention committee to stand and take their applause. After a few more disorganized add-on thoughts to an emptying room (note to prospective conchairs: have a plan going into opening and closing ceremonies), the con was over.

Nuri, James and I quickly bolted to the back of the room and grabbed the tree to hustle it into its final appearance at the feedback session. This time, Christmassy McTree was able to get a seat up at the front table, so there were no hurt feelings. The gripe session was…interesting, I suppose. Several of us noted that the people in the session might have attended a different convention. Suffice to say that after around 2 hours of mind-numbing torture during which very few actual action-items were discussed, I was ready to leave. Anybody that sat through that probably has a stronger understanding of why Penguicon shuts down the “me too's” so quickly; a properly managed feedback panel is invaluable, improperly managed it is without value—and those don't mean the same thing.

Finally, the lot of us headed to Red Robin for post-con dinner full of back patting, relaxing, withdrawal, and not a small amount of quietly planning for the next convention.

Summary

In all, the first convention I “didn't work” since becoming involved in this community was fun. There were definitely lessons to be learned, but I had a great time. My kids loved everything and could not speak highly enough about the gaming, kidfusion, and consuite. A few days following, we still aren't back to 100% on our sleep and we're still working on recovering; something must have gone right. I had a great time and it was a nice warmup to Capricon coming up in a week and change.

* The story of PF Chang's is a long story, and one that doesn't lend itself well to the written word. Ask me about it sometime.
** Now, the Great Tree Caper is almost assuredly going to be an entry of it's own. I'll link it in here when I get around to writing it.
*** This, too, is a fun story that I'll either write or you'll have to ask me about it. When Greg says “all the big guys, get by the door” there will be a story at the other end.