I’ve been a convention rat since 2007.
I’m still not clear on how I convinced my parents to take me, fourteen and parading a homemade Ty Lee costume, to DragonCon that year, but the second I got out of the car, I was home. Never mind the social anxiety that made me sick to my stomach on Saturday nights before church youth group the next morning. Never mind the full-tilt scholastic competition I engaged in because it was the only way I knew how to relate to my peers.
Someone with a nice camera stopped me for a photo before I even made it into the con. Other Avatar fans brought me into their photoshoots, celebrated something we all loved until our various crews had to drag us from the food court. I had a twenty-minute conversation in the elevator with a stranger twice my age about dice. I spent a weekend drunk on inclusion, having the time of my life. That DragonCon placed me—very, very directly—on the life path I am now on.
So when I say that attending the Writing Excuses retreat was like going to my first con again, I want you to understand a little bit of what I mean.
Everyone I talked to was bad at small talk and professed such, so we unilaterally dispensed with it. “What are you working on?” was our opening salvo, in the full knowledge that it would be an intensely personal question with an incredible answer. I knew my yellow-badged tribe better in fifteen minutes of conversation than I know some of the colleagues I’ve worked with for two years. I stayed up late into the night playing board games and discussing writing and books and shows and anxiety and life with these amazing people I’d known less than a week. (The haze of sleep deprivation also does a lot to make an event feel like a con. I’m still paying down that debt, and will be for quite a while.)
Thing is, as incredible as all the attendees were, this kind of atmosphere doesn’t just happen. It’s crafted. And the organizers of this event are exquisite craftspeople.
Never before in my life have I been to an event of any kind that places so much importance on the physical and mental safely, comfort, and care of its participants. The WXR crew had a chief safety officer whose cabin number we all had written down, in case something should go wrong, as well as additional staff of five dedicated committee members. I never heard about any problems on the ship, but I have absolute faith that any that happened were handled well.
We all wrote our pronouns on our name badges, regardless of whether that’s a thing we normally think about, because, well, we’ve never met one another and we’re looking at each other’s badges anyway. Why assume? Why single anyone out? To me, a cis woman, it felt like a small thing, but it contributed to an atmosphere of inclusion and comfort and, honestly, love.
We had the Newmans. I’ll talk more about that in another post (I’m anticipating three of these), but two of the instructors went so far beyond what anyone expected, and I owe them an immense debt of gratitude—for helping me get unstuck with my story when what was really happening was that I, myself, was stuck. Every instructor was incredible and available, but the Newmans really set the tone for the event, and it was richer for having them.
At the beginning, we had the image laid out for us that we were sitting in a loading screen: that we would emerge leveled up, with better gear, but that we hadn’t yet. That we would need to be patient and be prepared for it to get harder, but that we had our party with us.
And in the end, we had the acknowledgement that leaving was going to hurt. That writing was going to be harder. That we would grieve.
I’m grieving. I’m ecstatic and thoughtful and catching up on sleep, and I’m grieving.
I had everyone I could sign the little blank passport notebook I won during one of the shipboard writing challenges. Instructors, new dear friends, people I met once, a collage of the hands and pens that changed my life. On the second-to-last page, while we waited to disembark, Mary Robinette Kowal jotted the line I needed: You are out of excuses.