Artist in Residence Quarantine Diaries Episode 12: Virtual Existence

A couple of weeks ago I did a First, for me: I attended my first virtual convention. To wit, the NASFiC from Columbus, Ohio, which was entirely run in cyberspace – with panels and things on Zoom, and virtual gatherings held in breakout Zoom rooms (chatting in person on video) or in text chat on Discord servers which were broken out into programming rooms, the Green Room, the virtual bar, the consuite… the works.

Oh. My. God. I needed this.

One doesn’t perhaps even realise how hunkered down and isolated one is until there is an opportunity for something like this – and it’s been described by at least one of the participants as a “family reunion”. Isn’t it just. You get to talk to people you might normally have encountered in meatspace at a con here or there and it’s a rush of joy, that connection – you’re talking to your tribe again, to friends you don’t see often, perhaps even (because of the virtual nature of this beast) seeing friends from across the globe whom you might only encounter at GLOBALĀ  cons, not even local ones. I felt knots untying in my soul. There are people out there – there are still people out there – who know and understand me, who listen when I speak and laugh at in-jokes or nod in understanding or even disagree with what I am saying but then we have a spirited discussion on the matter with someone whose opinions matter – do you get the feeling I miss cons? I do. I miss the give and take, the camaraderie. I usually go to Orycon, in Oregon, in November, but it is iffy if that will even happen this year and if it does I know several good friends whom I usually look forward to seeing at this con who will not be there because their health is just to fragile to risk it.

So this con came out of left field, I kind of joined it at the last minute, and I am so glad I did.

They say they’ll probably have some videos of some of the panels up on their website within a week or so and I hope they pick at least one of the panels I was on – because I had a couple of really good ones (and one disastrous one – but we’ll get to that in a sec…) It’s worth keeping an eye out for that (their website is here) They’re also partnering with an online booksellers where you can buy books and get them signed by con participants – all of us have our own links – mine’s here, for a couple of books. Put together at a headspinning speed and at a shoestring budget, run by devoted volunteers, this con deserves a shout-out and a large dose of grateful appreciation. Here’s to conrunners. What would life be without them?

There are pros and cons of a virtual convention, of course. This being my first one I learned on the fly. The biggest con for me is the isolating effect – you are a knot of talking heads in a Zoom room, for a panel, and they isolate you from the audience – there is a wrangler whose job it is to reproduce any potentiall discussion or questions that arise on the Discord channel for that panel in real time on the in-Zoom chat which is ONLY visible to the panelists and not anyone else – but unless you’ve got the Discord page open and keeping your attention divided by looking over there to keep up with the audience… *there is no way to read the room*. There is no response that the panelists can see, not until it is too late. And this is partly the reason for the “disaster” panel that I mentioned beforeĀ  – we had a technical glitch, the panelists continued talking while the transmission froze, as it were, and the audience missed a chunk of the discussion but by the time we all reconnected the Discord channels had exploded with the original discussion point, which was (so we thought) clarified in our post-point talks but which the audience of course never saw. We ended up with a disconnect between audience and panel which was never properly re-joined and in the end it all went rather spectacularly to pieces. But my other two panels went just fine, no glitches, and there was a lot of very nice and even deeply fascinating discussion that went on there. I met some new people, reconnected with people I’d known for years, and acquired a hefty new reading list. Of course i did. That’s what you do at times like these. But as a fellow participant – who felt the same way I did, apparently – said, “I can talk to to 5 people and I can talk to 500 people but I talk DIFFERENTLY” – and we had no way of seeing who, or even how many, were in in the audience. It made things difficult to pitch, to gauge, to communicate. THings were at once intimate (we were talking between ourselves, three or four or five people) and pitching it to an unseen audience that might have been none, one, seven, twenty, or a hundred (we had no way of knowing) It made things a little bit difficult.

But if I were to do another of these, now, I’d do better. I was starting to get a handle on what was needed.

The pro part of course is obvious. The connection, and reconnection.

To all of you who might have been there (participant or audience) – to all of you who helped make it happen – thank you, really, from the bottom of my heart, for saving my sanity this weekend. I needed this con like I needed a drink of water in the desert. And it delivered.

Onto the next thing. I’m finishing up my quarterly newsletter (PS – if you want to be on my mailing list, shoot me an email addy to add to myaddress book…) and then I have an editing job I have to do, and then I need to start working on the endgame for the Were Chronicles omnibus due out through BVC right here in December (mark your calendars…) And there’s new stuff to write.

It’s post -con euphoria. I am energised again.

I TOLD you I needed this thing.

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Artist in Residence Quarantine Diaries Episode 12: Virtual Existence — 3 Comments

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