The Strange Phenomenon of Post Con Blues – Charles Gannon

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.

37 responses to “The Strange Phenomenon of Post Con Blues – Charles Gannon

  1. I like that turn of phrase: alterity.

  2. +1

  3. Interesting perspective… I don’t do cons since I don’t write SF, but I do know from our shooting and blog get togethers they are way too short and we’re always down after them. Cons seem like (from an outsider’s perspective) to be a continuous swirl of running hither and yon, with very few real connections (unless one has known people previously). And alterity is an interesting word choice too! 🙂

  4. There will be the occasional Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Yukio Mishima, authors who write successfully and also live adventurous lives, but most of our ilk are reclusive creatures. I’m as bad as any.

    That said, I’ve resolved to be more social, and hanging out with other writers is, just as you say, both natural and rewarding. So I attend workshops and critique groups to hone my craft and socialize. I should’ve done this years ago.

  5. Thought provoking. Cons to me are Aspirin’s Bazaar, a mystical place where magic and mundane interact simultaneously. Probably why I have avoided them like a plague. I don’t want my illusion destroyed. Not to detract from the article; but, perhaps add a little salt. Gigantic flea markets are good replacements; maybe. The world for sale and lots of potential customers who share a taste for the unique. You can see someone looking at an old nailpuller and imagining the gnarled hands that once plied the craft it represents. I always come away with story inspirations and the regret that I won’t be able to go to another market for a long time. Perhaps if possible, I will try Liberty Con next year. It won’t be cluttered with SJW and ‘safe rooms.’

  6. Tangential to this topic, a question that I have been wondering about for some time:

    When fandom’s primary method of intense social communication was the con, it seemed to me that fandom seemed to be a much more welcoming, friendly and unifying movement. Now in the 21st century, where fandom’s primary method of social communication is the Internet, fandom seems to have picked up a great deal of factionalization, conflict and acrimony. I’ve hypothesized that this is because when you can only spend a small amount of time interacting with people who share your interests, and that time face to face, almost by definition that interaction tends to be positive because it involves a lot of catching up, a lot of delight in renewing connection, eliminates the miscommunication of text-only correspondence, and a commitment of time and money that almost forces people to concentrate on what they like and share together, as well as a long time apart in which to forget or forgive any ruffled feathers from previous meetings and the opportunity to apologize in person for faux pas which are much more easily forgotten for not being written down.

    By contrast, the Internet allows one to be involved in fandom 24-7-365, and the longer one stays in any group the more time negative feedback has to accumulate, especially when offensive remarks or arguments are much more easily misinterpreted for lack of personal context, as well as being written down and *not* forgotten. Just as absence makes the heart grow fonder, so constant interaction circumscribed by its medium can make the heart grow wearier. So the irony, as I see it, is that the very thing that seemed like a tremendous gift to fandom — the ability to find and build communities of like-minded people anywhere and effortlessly — has in fact been a thoroughly double-sided blade, in that it facilitates far less investment in what one brings to that community and far more in what one personally gets out of it.

    Does this make sense? Or am I just an old fogey who doesn’t understand the ‘Net?

    • Well, there’s always been a lot of factionalization and feuding (see the Fanwank and Fancyclopedia sites for stories of feuds of yore), but most people could ignore it. It was something that went on behind the scenes in a convention committee, or in a fanzine’s politics, or at parties. Gafiation (Getting Away From It All) was the usual solution to not liking what was going on, which meant you didn’t hear from the losers.

      But I lived through plenty of fannish interpersonal drama and politics, before the Internet.

  7. I’ve been to Bubonicon twice. I didn’t do anything but the panels and dealers’ rooms, because 1) I had to stay at a place closer to UNM and 2) I felt a little old compared to most of the folks there. Hmm, perhaps tired is better than old (I’ve been doing research at UNM around the Con.) I’ve had fun both times, and I keep planning to go back (and then life happens). Because let’s face it, there’s not many places you can go and see a guy in full steampunk kit chatting with a woman Lt. from the Royal Manticorian Navy as a StarWars stormtrooper and Imperial officer stroll past.

    • OMG, if you go again you must tell me! Plus I managed to get myself *off* the staff for next year, even though I’ll still work, no doubt. Also, if you’re at UNM ever, you must also tell me, and maybe if the meteorite exhibit is back open we can check it out.

  8. OSFest in Omaha this past summer was my first con. Was only able to make it up there for one day (and I got to meet Larry (SQUEE!!)), but, yeah…leaving there and driving back home was kind of a downer. I wasn’t depressed, but…calling it post-con blues definitely fits. It was a great experience, had a ton of fun, but it was over and I had to go home…back to reality and real life. 🙂

    I’ve been a range officer for 11 years (and a chief range officer running one of the events for the last 5 years) (I think…I might be longer) at the Bianchi Cup National Action Pistol Championship. You arrive every year to prep the range and reunite with friends you haven’t seen since last year. Then the competitors arrive from around the world and the you go through it all over again. Then, after a long week of hard work…it’s the awards banquet and you’re saying goodbye. Some of your friends are driving home the next morning just like you, some are catching flights to the west coast, or Australia, or New Zealand, or Germany. Its over and that three hour drive home is one of the longest known to man. You have to go back to reality, to work, to real life. You’re exhausted, but…you can’t wait until next May gets here so you can do it all over again. Post-match blues.

    Thinking about it now, I suspect it’s withdrawal symptoms from the adrenaline and other endorphins.

  9. This touches on one of the reason’s why I live in an intentional community, an alternity of sorts, that grew out of the emotional experience that Gannon is describing. For me, it became just too emotionally painful to return to the “mundane” world. At the close of a weekend of close fellowship, I wanted to stand in the parking lot and yell out “Hey! Let’s all room together next semester!”

    There’s a line describing what heaven is like in an old hymn; it says that “the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.” Spending a weekend immersed in a fellowship of kindred minds is a heady experience to enjoy and a painful thing to leave. For me it was like the line from Faust “Verweile doch, du bist so schön.” In the story, Faust is willing to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for a experience that is so pleasurable that he’d want it to last forever. In the book, Faust only finds that sort of lasting pleasure when he’s working to create a new way of life in which people can live free from the social constraints of the past. I would come away from those weekends determined to find a way to make the experience last for more than a weekend.

    For me, the challenge of creating Windward, an intentional community founded on Heinlein’s vision, was too exciting a challenge to pass up. It hasn’t been an easy road, but for me one of the most powerful reasons to stick with it has been that the alternative was to have to return to the everyday world we came from. That was just too depressing.

  10. Sounds invigorating, this con community you experience. I’ve been tempted, but have yet to give in and attend.

    Some days, I’m pretty sure I’m a little too outside for community.

  11. And then there’s coming home with con crud…

  12. questionableprovenance

    This post fits in so well with Madame Hoyt’s post of yesterday: “My People.”

  13. There’s also the fact that writing is an inherently solitary activity, and most if not all the people you see in your everyday life have never heard of you. But at a con, you’re a Big Name Author and a celebrity. People sit in the audience and listen to you talk about stuff in panels, or read from your work, and they clap afterward. You hobnob with other writers you admire and you’re one of them! Coming back down off of that high is hard.

    • The thrill of having an entourage, the chill of having a stalker … Cons offer something for every one!

      • . . . the excitement of guessing which panelist it was that Kate offed in the most recent Con story, or which one you’d nominate . . . 😉

  14. I’ve only been to two cons but I’d love to go to Liberty Con sometime and meet some of the Huns. I did get to meet Larry Correia once. That was cool.

  15. L Jagi Lamplighter (Wright)

    I fine two reactions after cons…either a sense of let down, or I come home so fired up to write that I hardly notice the rest of the world.

  16. It is one of the treasured achievements of my life that I got my Mother to a Con. See, she’d read the Dragonriders books, and wondered if Anne McCaffrey was little Annie McCaffery who lived over the back fence in Montclair Nj (and was a pest following my mother and the other bigger girls around when they were playing Captain Blood). Then, in one of the last years held in Delaware, the Darkover Grand Council announced that Anne McCaffery would be next year’s GOH, and that memberships would probably sell out before THIS year’s con was over. I bought my Mother a membership that day, fully expecting that she wouldn’t come. She did. She had a ball. She and Ms. McCaffery were thick as thieves. She went filking.

    She didn’t go again, but she did go once, and she loved it.

    I’m kinda sorry I never got my Father to go. I won’t say I read SF because of his SF books; he didn’t have that many (the Foundation trilogy, and Double Star. Later he raided my shelves for Bujold, and I gave him a first edition of THREE TO CONQUER by Russell because she loved by battered old paperback so much). But he did like some of it, and liked people watching. But he had his own Cons to go to (the Midwest Junto for the History of Science, the American Physical Society, that kind of thing) and he didn’t really like hotels and plane travel.

    They both dressed up for my Tudor English wedding. My Father didn’t even have to have garb made; he had Harvard graduation robes, which are Period.

    I’m third generation Odd.

  17. EgregiousCharles

    Abney Park’s “Blowing Off Steam” has a great song about the post-steampunk-con blues that is beautifully relevant in feeling:



    “All alone in a crowd
    With strangers who all know me
    And I try to be friends
    But there’s no one here who chose me”

  18. I often come away from cons bubbling with ideas but seldom with the blues. Then, cons can overload my limited capacity for social interaction as it is.