lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
[personal profile] lizvogel
So, there was 4th Street.   

First, travel stats:
7hrs 50min to my preferred rest area (418.2 miles)
5hrs from rest area to hotel
     672.9 miles total, just under 13 hours.
On the way back, 11hrs 9min, 661.9 miles

I hit a couple bouts of torrential downpour on the way there, bad enough that I found a big, brightly-lit truck to tuck in behind, on the theory that I could see him and hopefully he could see the road better than I could. The MP3 player started playing "Nice Weather For Ducks" just as the skies opened the first time, which amused me.

The trip back was smooth sailing, clear skies, not much traffic, not much construction. I made almost too good time on the first legs, and so hit Chicago before rush hour had quite cleared out. But it was only the tail end and on the outskirts, so not too bad. I was contemplating re-routing and dropping down toward Joliet to get out of the crush, but it turned out that was where most of the crush was getting off.

I went for my first jog of the season in the rest area Thursday morning, which (a) left me feeling virtuous, and (b) meant that when I got to the hotel, they could check me in right away. No wandering around unshowered and road-lagged for hours; a win all around. Also, for once I researched coffee options on the route: Lake Delton (exit 92) has a Starbucks, as well as good gas and food options and easy on/off.

It was weird not laboring to help set up the con suite, since the person for whom I would happily labor was no longer with the con. (Not that I have anything against the person who did run the con suite; she was fine. She just wasn't Janet.)

I got up far too early Friday morning to go baby-sit the Writers Workshop, as referenced here. It went well, except for the consuite coffee maker brewing too slowly. ;-) Both panelists and participants seemed to get a lot out of it. I eavesdropped shamelessly and got some important doodling done.

And then there was the con itself.

I've been trying to decide how to address the kerfuffle, hence the delayed nature of this post. Suffice it to say, I won't be going back. The 4th Street I fell in love with does not drive people out for failing to toe the ideological party line. I don't know what this thing occurring in its place is.

I went to fewer panels than I have ever gone to at 4th Street. Partly this was because I had the intellectual facilities of road kill; although for the first time ever I got a decent amount of sleep leading up to the con, I was stressed out enough that my ability to focus was very limited indeed. Partly it was that I'd already had my fill of certain panelists and certain attitudes, so I abandoned some panel topics untested and others as soon as I saw who was assembling for them. (The person in charge of panels had not managed to get the panelist list to the person in charge of printing, so the program book had no such information.)

The panels I did go to varied. "Whose Dream Is It Anyway?", on collaboration, was not really in my wheelhouse, but was entertaining as hell. Skyler described the secret to successful collaboration as finding a complimentary neurosis. "Dreaming Under Darkening Skies", on Cold War fantasy, had the unprecedented quirk of referencing multiple books that I have actually read. There was an unfortunate unity of experience among the panelists, who insisted we all spent the Cold War believing we'd be a first-strike target, which just ain't so; I and everyone I grew up with knew we wouldn't be killed in the first strike, it was the radiation and roaming petrol raiders that would get us. ;-P "How We Think Other People Think" sounded like a terrific topic, but swiftly went into territory I couldn't follow. I left halfway through, because being that baffled makes my head hurt. It wasn't just me; I asked several people afterwards if they'd understood what the panel had been talking about, and none of them had.

"Does Lothlorien Have A Lumpenproletariat" I mainly went to for the panelists, and got a lot more out of the discussion of economics and class in fantasy than I expected. Of particular value was the comment by Emma that "There is only so much cloth in a medieval society." (I have a novel idea which is very Austen-y for wardrobe, but medieval in society. The wardrobe is vital; I'm going to have to do some worldbuilding-tweaking to make that fly.) "Popular Artistic Mistakes I Have Made" was missing a key panelist (ref. kerfuffle), but was very good anyway. A major take-away was the idea that readers may accept something better if you don't explain it than if you do; if the whole book tells you X, the only place left for the reader -- and the reader's imagination -- is not-X. It also produced the quote "Chekhov was just one guy." - courtesy of Michael M. Butler, whose name I remembered to note but now I've forgotten who it was who wanted the attribution. (Ah, con brain.) "Routes Arcane: The Magic of Roads in the American Mythscape" -- well, it should surprise no one, given the way my con and trip posts tend to be about the journey as much as the event, that this panel was catnip to me. I was struck as the panel talked by the weird society of the rest area -- especially if you're staying overnight, you have this strangely intimate shared experience with complete strangers, some of whom you may never even speak to. And yet there's a sense of connection.

Interestingly, despite the smaller sample size, my record of panels that sound right up my alley leaving me cold and panels I don't think I'll connect to grabbing me continues (How People Think & Lumpenproletariat, respectively). It's one of the things I've always found challenging and brain-stirring about 4th Street in years past.

The Intermediate Writers Gathering suffered from too many people crammed into a too small and far too echoey space, and most folks bailed early. But I'm told that many of those who did so went off to continue their conversations in a more copacetic place, so that's okay. I had the pleasure of staying late and eventually having a thorough why-we're-stuck-on-our-writing conversation with several people I was very pleased to get some quality time with.

ETA: OMG I forgot the feedback reading! Sherwood Smith did this amazing thing where anybody who wanted to could submit the first two pages of a story. She read each one aloud (anonymously), and everybody who'd submitted sat in a circle with their eyes closed. Only the author could open their eyes, and you could watch people's reactions live and unfiltered! People would raise their hands when a bit particularly hooked them, and there was a couple minutes for comments after each piece. You could actually see if people laughed in the right places, and where they smiled or frowned in concentration or quirked in puzzlement. It was terrific! (And I won't pretend it didn't help that the first two pages of ...And the Kitchen Sink were well received. ;-) )

Of course the best part of the con isn't the official con, but the conversations that happen in and around it. And those were consistently outstanding. Naturally those are the parts I don't have notes on, and they're all a bit blurry at this point. But there was BarCon (was that Thursday night?), with an ever-shifting amalgam of terrific people. There was a rousing discussion of socialism out on the smokers' patio, which I was more observer of than participant in but still enjoyed. There were many good meals, wherein we discussed writing and books and all manner of things (including another in-depth discussion of my very stuck novel; still no light-bulbs, but some intriguing threads to follow). And assorted conversational clusters with various VPers and the Intermediate Writers crowd and the "old guard" and some new faces. There was sitting out on the smokers' patio again (Saturday night?) trying to hang on to the last gasp as the people kept changing but the interest didn't diminish. The birds start singing at around 4am in Minneapolis; guess how I know this? And finally having to give up because it had gotten cold, and I was shivering hard enough to be in danger of pulling a muscle. (Which is when I realized I hadn't packed a jacket or anything at all with long sleeves. It was 90 degrees when I left home; keeping warm was not on my radar!)

As usual, I came away with a list of books and movies and songs I want to track down. Rather a shorter list this year than previous; I'm not sure whether that was due to the chilling effect of the kerfuffle, or simply that I tried to triage for the really interesting-sounding things, so there'd be at least a slim chance of getting to them all.

I went to closing ceremonies... well, not expecting much. And it lived down to my expectations and then some, as certain people were conveniently disappeared from the official record despite having done a hell of a lot to make the con happen. And then the final address, in which it was made clear that some kinds of people and some kinds of conversations are no longer welcome at 4th Street -- and since I am that kind of people and enjoy that kind of conversation... well, then. In a way, I'm grateful; I was really struggling with whether I was going to come back or not, and that speech made the decision easy for me.

I walked out. And met up with some other folks who aren't afraid of words, and had one last rousing and spirited debate about "challenging" subjects. And then caught up with some more of my favorite people for dinner and yet more good conversation. And arrived back at the hotel to find it utterly dead, which left me to the strangely surreal experience of sitting in my hotel room watching a couple episodes of The Professionals, with breaks for watching the ducks and little fuzzy gray ducklings in the pond next door. I decided to do one last pass to see if anyone fun was still around, and I'm glad I did, because there in the consuite was a clump of "my tribe". As the evening wore on, the clump became a herd, with dire jokes and assorted beverages and J drawing illos on people's badges (I'm more delighted by mine every time I look at it), and Dan being an interdimensional Cheezit portal, and horseplay and serious delving into writerly topics and people laughing until they couldn't breathe. It meant a lot to me that even as I was saying goodbye to 4th Street because of what it had become, I could still have an extended, intense indulgence in the very best that 4th Street could be.

And so that was my last 4th Street. I am heartbroken, and I am furious. But I am also in a strangely okay place. Partly this may be because I am too exhausted to feel strong emotion. ;-) But also: The cool people are still cool. I will see them at other cons, and communications technology exists. And new things are always being made in the world; it may be that there will someday be a better, even cooler sandbox for me to play in. I can't wait to see what form it takes.


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