When the lights went out in the room due to the lack of bodies, we had to laugh.
I was a panelist at Rustycon this weekend, a lovely small local con run by very dedicated and passionate volunteers. Unfortunately, several factors led to smaller than expected turnout — horrible Friday weather and traffic, every other person in the State apparently having the flu, and a Seahawks game on Sunday among them. As a result, my panels all had two to five attendees. The Guest of Honor’s had maybe fifteen. I was lucky enough to have a handful of people at my reading, but several writers had nobody show.
I’m glad I went.
Like a lot of people, I’ve been crazy busy of late, essentially three-full-time-jobs level busy. So there are those who might question whether a con where only a handful of people attended my panels might be seen as a “waste of time.”
But here’s why I don’t feel it was:
First, because I am busy, it is very easy for me to not step outside my work and home and routine, and engage in actual social interaction. I have a lot of friends online, sure — and I actually consider every single person I friend on Facebook a friendship, it’s just that many are in a very embryonic state. At this con, like any con, I got to deepen some of those friendships, to engage in a personal and meaningful way with some of those friends, including Grant Riddell (of 3 Unwise Men podcast) erotica author Sienna Saint-Cyr, YA/Superhero writer April Daniels, and the Cascade Writers crew. I also got to brush the dust of my general social skills.
Second, when I first went to cons, I was a me, an uncertain and inexperienced writer and genre fan, I was not a crowd. And there were a handful of pros like Jay Lake who made me feel like I was not just an attendance number to them. I had John Pitts and Spencer Ellsworth as critiquers at my first writing workshop at my first Norwescon, and their advice and encouragement helped me get where I am today, and now I count them among my friends and fellow professional writers.
So when I go to a con, I don’t go for the crowds. I go for all of the individuals there, each person who might be like I was 5, 10, or 20 years ago.
Third, there are people who come to the smaller local cons that do not go to the bigger cons. Persons with physical disabilities, social anxieties, and other factors that make them perhaps unable or unwilling to push through the crowds at a packed larger con. And I want to offer my time and experience and friendship to them, and learn from them, as much as any fellow fan or writer who is able to attend the larger cons. I don’t want to contribute further to marginalizing their experience of fandom. Actively participating in and giving equal energy and attention to these cons is something within my control that I can do.
Finally, I try to make the most of all situations. I am constantly a writer. I can constantly learn new things. I can sit in on a panel on a topic I think I know well, and learn surprising new things — and if I’m not learning, I’m writing. I can have conversations with strangers and learn fascinating aspects of jobs or interests that I had never given much thought to. And of course, I still take the time to step away and write whenever I can.
The caveat here is that I did not pay for a booth in the Dealer’s room, and I live close enough to the con that I commuted one day (and stayed in the hotel the next just for convenience). So my financial output was minimized. I understand how a person who invested real money into being there in the hopes of making that money back would be disappointed in low attendance and count it a loss financially. Though we can never fully know how our actions today may result in returns in the future.
But in the end, I got out of the con what I put into it, what I brought to it, what I expect from any con — to spend time with people who share my love of the genre and of writing, to gain some inspiration, and to share what little knowledge and experience I have with those who came seeking it, to pay forward in some small way what was given to me in cons past.
I look forward to seeing folks at Radcon, and Norwescon, later this year.