The Strange Phenomenon of Post Con Blues – Charles Gannon
With World Fantasy in the rearview mirror, a rumination on why SF/F Cons are all at once incredibly exhausting and singularly restorative:
I must start with a limiting disclaimer: I did not grow up among fen, and have never self-identified as one (or been exogenously identified as one, either, to my knowledge). I came to cons late: by the time I went to my first in (I think) 1987, I also had my first professional genre writing credit (I had been producing TV scripts for years prior). As a consequence, much of what might be old hat for life-long con-goers/fen is still novel to me.
For instance, only recently, have I noticed the creeping onset of a condition that most convention goers recognize and have experienced from their early years: the strange phenomenon of the post-con blues.
For me (and I suspect for most folks) these are not even truly blues. They do not impede work, or diminish my mood, or make me grumpy, or anything like that. It’s more the feeling you get when you are boarding the outbound plane as you conclude a brief visit with a dear friend you don’t see very often. Because, when you get right down to it, that’s pretty much what the end of a con is: we are taking leave of so many people who either are our friends, or certainly would be, if we only had the time and proximity to do more than bump into each other like so many hyperenergized particles as we rush from panel to signing to kaffeeklatsch to bar.
And again, to the bar.
And later on, let’s get together at the bar…
There’s something bittersweet in these manic enterprises we call SF conventions, at least for me. And it boils down to this: it is profoundly ironic that 99 % of the folks who I *know* could become fast friends are also folks that I will only encounter in these venues where I spend well less than 1 % of my waking hours. This may seem a strange comment, and perhaps it only applies to me (and fie upon me for veering toward projection!) , but there is, I contend, a certain logic to this sensation—or at least, to its inevitability.
We SF/F writers (and fans also, I suspect) almost all (perhaps all?) have one thing in common—and it is a powerful commonality both because it is rare and it marks us as very distinct from the well-populated bulge that dominates the center of the demographic bell curve. Our commonality is that we work in, live in, are immersed in, alterity. It is not that we are disinterested in or estranged from this world—anything but. But we spend a great deal of both our professional and personal time considering how that world might be different. Whether the imaginary change is a small modification upon the contemporary culturescape, or whole-cloth inventions in which myth and magic are actualities in a world that is poised upon a giant turtles’ back, we revel in that alterity, that deviation—whether fanciful or serious—from contemporary ‘reality.’ Part of this phenomenon arises from what I can only call a shared mental habit and affinity for difference: whereas many people find solace and stability in the shibboleths of quotidian existence, SF/F folks tend to conceptually and mentally breathe freely only when sprung from those bounds of common convention. In a SF/F convention, the population is utterly dominated by persons attracted to alterity; on the street, in the workplace, at the store, alongside the Little League field, the odds are tilted even more profoundly in the other direction. And so too, therefore, are the odds of meeting not merely a like-minded person, but one with a similar impulse toward and affinity for alterity. Only at conventions are such minds not only plentiful, but predominate.
Note that this has nothing to do with intelligence or creativity (although engagement with alterity is usually associated with a very questioning, and therefore, active mind): it has to do with world-view. Or, as might better apply to con-goers, worldS-view—for why should we be constrained to just one? Particularly when the questions we pose in imaginary realms often provide us with unique mirrors that reflect back diverse and revealing images of our contemporary conditions.
Time spent at a convention is a mixture of reveling in such pursuits, sharing that experience with almost everyone around you, all given contrast and context by discussions of “the business” that has grown up around it. A business which, in itself, it almost too wondrous to believe: that an industry has arisenin which other people actually pay us for taking them along as passengers on our narrative flights of fancy.
I suspect I’ve become far more susceptible to the post-con blues since becoming a full-time writer in 2008. Before then, my day job put me in regular contact with throngs of graduate and undergraduate students, endless committees, and diverse and interesting peers at academic conferences. But while full-time writing might not be a lonely profession (I do not feel it to be so), it is inarguably isolating. Even if you are one of those folks who can write a 100K word novel over the course of a string of sustained caffeinated retreats to your closest Starbucks or Panera’s, you are still not writing *while* socializing (at least I’ve never heard of anyone who can pull off such a feat). When we write, we fundamentally live in, or as a dedicated spectator to, the imaginary world we are summoning into virtual existence via words. That is not really a collective enterprise, even if it starts out as a collective brainstorming session: the work of writing is inherently solitary.
So, now, I spend a great deal of time alone. And I’m fine with that. But I also enjoy spending time with people, so I can’t really call the activity of writing a “happy balance” between the natural human impulses toward both solitude and social interaction. Unfortunately, the more one succeeds at this career, the more solitude one must embrace, for that is when the words have the freedom to come forth, and you have the freedom to record them. And then edit them. And then further massage them so that you may send out a finished manuscript—and begin the process all over again. And, every once in a while, go to a convention to talk about those words you wrote—and bask in a community that, like you, revels in the experience and possibilities of alterity.