I'm back from Conflation, and exhausted even after sleeping most of the day. Capsule summary: all of the news is good news, oh ye of little faith. My estimate of total attendance: 80-90. Jason Carter and cunningminx were excellent guests, always out with the fans rather than holing up in private and clearly having the time of their lives. No major crackdowns or hassles, despite ample reasons for things to have gone wrong; minor hassles easily dealt with. Both of my parties went well. Hospitality very well designed and (from what little I saw of it, admittedly) apparently well run. Dance no worse than usual. Dealer's room screwed over slightly worse than usual. All scheduled program events seem to have gone well, or at least well-enough. And there are substantial signs of good news for the future of this event. Now, more details about the parts of this that I saw with my own eyes:
Friday: Opening Ceremonies. The "royal order of the bath" declared that the uniform for the Conflation Royal Court, for opening ceremonies, was a bathrobe and bedroom slippers. I brought my kinkier sleep mask and earplugs, too, and carried through on my threat to pretend to sleep through opening ceremonies. After we got called up front to be given our Conflation beads to give out, ldyalia "leaned into it" (as Da Crew used to say) by lending me a pillow to take back to our table. Bobbi had no such sense of humor. She doesn't see things like what I wrote last week the way that I do. I see what I did, and what so many of us did, as part of honestly addressing the concerns of people who were waffling over whether to come by not dismissing their issues and concerns completely out of hand. She sees it as not respecting the fact that she works all year on this con; she as much as said in her very, very public meltdown over this that she thinks that anybody who wants to criticize any of the decisions she's made over the last five years shouldn't be allowed to come to Conflation. I'm told by two people that she was glaring specifically at me, among a few others, when saying this. But guess what? It's not up to her. She has had enough of the complaining over her "new direction" for Conflation, and has up and quit as co-chair. She's remaining next year, but only so that she can train her replacement, who will effectively be the co-chair with LdyAlia instead of Bobbi as of when next year's event begins; Bobbi is stepping down two "ranks" to just being a volunteer. For unrelated reasons, the head of security for the event is stepping down, too. I never particularly felt any urge to pick fights with security for implementing Bobbi's policies; it's not like it was up to them. But I know some people who felt hassled over costumes that were technically within the dress code but that security didn't approve of will welcome the change.
Friday: Polyamory Panel. CunningMinx rocks. OK, you probably want more than that. After five years (I think?) of it being off the schedule, there was clearly pent-up demand for a polyamory panel at Conflation; we came within a chair or two of completely over-flowing the space. What's more, at least half of the crowd, including most of those at or near the center round-table where the conversation was being driven, were people from very long term stable poly relationships, which means less fuzzy-headedness about how poly "ought to work" and less time wasted on the same tired "jealousy management" theme that, while interesting, has this sad tendency to be the only thing that most poly panels and discussion groups manage to make time for. For example, there was a longish discussion by one triad and one vee both of whom had cancer survivors about how incredibly essential it had been to the survival of their marriage that there had been one more adult in the relationship to help with the psychological and sexual issues of "chemo brain" that, I learn, are blamed for the astronomical divorce rate among cancer survivors. People were at their most thoughtful, polite, and cooperative too perhaps because of Minx's microphone; she was recording the panel to provide material for an upcoming episode of polyweekly.
Friday: Toga Party. About 30 or 40 people, I think, went through the whole night, and nearly all of them cheerfully played along with it; of the half of the con who weren't toga'ed up by 10 or 11pm, most of them were because they had put too much work into their existing cool costumes and some of them still leaned into it. For example, David (of David and Dawn Marie) had, being the costumers that they are, done an absolutely amazing job of costuming Victorian for the "Victorian Party Games" panel the same night, so to play into the toga party theme, rather than dress down, he simply came in and tried to buy all of our ancient artifacts. kukla_tko42's design for the room decor was an immense hit with the crowd. Her main decorative element was inspired by the fact that, for set decoration left over from her last performance of Midsummer Night's Dream, she has a metric jackload of plastic greenery left. So she festooned everything that could hold a vine with plastic vines. But the cool part is that we also bought an entire flat of seedless red grapes, which she found a volunteer to twine into the vines every few inches. So every surface of the room was covered in fake grape vines from which the guests could languidly reach out and pluck grapes to feed each other. People thought this was the greatest thing since sliced stupid people on toast; heck, they liked that part more than the free booze. (Although I will say, somewhat wryly, that I was still finding grapes under everything everywhere 36 hours later.)
Odd personal note: I wore a shimmering red satin toga. The next night, a woman said to me, all excited, "oh, hey! were you the guy in the red satin toga last night?" When I said yes, she got all excited, and squealed, "oh my god! you really do exist! my friends told me I'd hallucinated you!"
The one costume hassle I heard about was Friday night. Maya ("Purple") was topless for much of Friday night, and twice got hassled by someone from con security for it while entirely inside convention space, going back and forth from the toga party to Hospitality. Suspected reason: the hotel had screwed us over, Friday night, and booked one mundane into our space; there may have been complaints. (LdyAlia, to me, afterwards: "We are never again signing a contract with a hotel unless the part about us having exclusive access to our floor is in writing.") Even then, there were no consequences and few hard feelings. (A few. But only a few, easily soothed.)
Friday night, I slept for crap, even worse than I usually do in this awful weather. The hotel air was bone dry, the bed softer than I'm used to, I was too keyed up thinking about my events for the next day, and I had delightful company. I think I got as little as two hours of sleep, and that in fitful on-again/off-again naps. That frayed my mood a little the next day, shortened my temper slightly, but I don't think I was completely out of control. If I was, though, feel free to chew me out over it.
Saturday late morning/early afternoon: Hospitality. Serious kudos to whoever laid out the Hospitality space, as they managed to make it moderately attractive and very functional, going well beyond solving the classic "not enough places to sit" problem so many Hospitality suites have. Imagine my amusement to find half as much tiki decor there as I'd brought for my own event; the design theme seems to have been taken from Shag's "space age tiki lounge" paintings such as his "Night of the Tiki" series. Got into some good discussions prompted from stuff in Friday's Wall Street Journal which was laying around, which benefited no small part when Jason Carter wandered through on his way to get a smoke and chatted with us about the tectonic changes for the better in some ways this year since the days of Thatcherism, a subject on which he seems to have some rather strong feelings.
Saturday afternoon: Pr0n Panel. After I wrote my review of The Other Victorians, morgaath asked if I would volunteer to help with the scheduled panel, "Centuries of Porn: Victorian, Vampire, Internet, Robot." I waited 15 minutes for the other panelists to show up, only to find out that nobody else had agreed to moderate the panel. So for a slowly growing group of about 20ish, I went through the background material for the chapter on porn for the book I'm writing on Forbidden Lore, contrasting ancient Greek, Roman, Victorian, and Internet-age attitudes towards pornography and the differences in the types of pornography each set of attitudes produced. I'd brought along Johns' Sex or Symbol and Clarke's Roman Sex to give people some actual pr0n to look at during the panel, and sent them around the room in opposite directions to great interest. I think it went well.
Saturday late afternoon, dealer's room. I didn't have time to stick my head into dealer's room until late. Turnout was disappointing, but that may have been the good news, because they had the dealers in the single least convenient and hardest to notice space in the hotel. I'll bet traffic sucked, even before they blocked off nearly all access to the dealer's room for hours of prime time on Saturday so they could use the hallway in front of it as a changing room for the fashion show.
Saturday early evening, private: event setup. Then I went out and grabbed a quick early dinner from the St. Louis Bread Company in walking distance, so that I could start early on preparations for the tiki party. This took me out of public view and reach for a lot of hours, because Kukla and her volunteers had left the room completely frelling wrecked; it took me slightly longer to clean up from the toga party, even after housekeeping had been though, than it took to decorate for the tiki party, not least of which because I got less help for that part. No particular blame: the party ran longer than she could stay awake, and she was busier than a one-armed paper hanger the whole afternoon and early evening with her own programming events. But because of the delay, I was massively stressing. But fortunately most of the body painters showed up early, got their own prep work done in a hurry, and they and their various mates chipped in on the grunt work of tiki party set up just in time for me to be done with it, and only 15 minutes late, even if I wasn't ecstatically happy with how it worked out - something I stressed out over enough, and got cranky enough about, to annoy several of my friends.
That brings up a question I thought to ask a lot of people, and I wouldn't mind more feedback. Between the Brad Party days and a trip to Burning Man and my own inclinations, I don't think of designing and decorating for a themed party as anything that simple. I think of it as "constructing site-specific installation art using found materials and re-purposed cultural icons." Is that unbearably pretentious of me?
Saturday evening: Tiki Party. I got some complaints for opening this to the public as late as I did, but there was a reason. During planning, I'd taken mild flack from some of the other organizers for competing too hard with the dance. So to give the DJ time to try to grab an audience without any competition from me, I made a conscious decision to delay the public start of Saturday's party, despite intense demand, until 10 pm. That left two hours, from 8 to 10 pm, for the body painters and their subjects. Now, one of the things that I was stressing about was my total lack of control over how many no-shows or drop-outs would happen among the painters. But we ended up with the opposite problem: five painters and fewer than 20 models, only a few of which wanted more than minor face painting or a painted necklace of flowers over an actual top. In fact, we only ended up with a couple of women with totally painted-on tops, fewer than had pre-committed to me even. Although it absolutely has to be said that bakadragon's paint job, co-designed by her and Kukla and executed by Kukla with help from alienne, was The Coolest Damned Thing Ever: her painted on top was designed to look like, I kid thee not, chibi baby octopi, painted by Kukla. On her back were Cthulhoid wings painted by Alienne. Below the waist she layered a green grass skirt over an identically colored green sarong to great effect; Alienne tells me there was also a belly-dancer's jingle belt that I failed to notice. If you missed her, your life is over; nothing else you ever see will be quite so cute and quite so sexy and quite so cool.
Me? I wore a tiki-print sarong, "regimental," with a floral lei and a tiki necklace over a bare chest, with the silliest tiki hat you ever saw. Except for a few brief appearances in a tiki mask that was silly enough to appear in a live-action Scooby Doo re-enactment. No big deal. But I needed it to be no big deal; I knew I was going to run myself ragged. I took the first, hardest shift as bartender, having set myself an insanely hectic project that was also insanely fun, and went over huge with the crowd. I had four and a half liters of mai tais on ice in the main cooler, plus a couple of gallons of mixed fruit juice for the non-alcoholic crowd. This was served with in a 9-oz cup with: a pineapple spear, a maraschino cherry and a pineapple cube speared on an unfolded cocktail umbrella, and a tropical-themed swizzle stick, all three in each of them. I ran myself ragged, feeling remarkably like Shag's "The Incredible Bartender." We ended up with about 16 people in grass skirts with various tops and random things under the skirts, probably 15 or so people in Hawaiian shirts (Curious Cat Clothing is doing land-office business, and deservedly so), and a steady parade of people in floral leis of variable quality. Judging from the leis we gave away and the stickers that our volunteers stuck on badges, I'd say our total attendance at the party was around 60. It felt like a higher percentage of the people who were at the con Friday night "got into" the toga party and like it got more acceptance, but I think the people who did go to Saturday night's tiki party had more fun, and I know I got about twice as many compliments for it.
Oh, and I want to say one thing about the shortage of topless women in paint, compared to what some of you would have liked to have seen or to the numbers from "back in the day" when it might have been three times as many. Kukla talked to many women who might have volunteered, and ran into two obstacles, only one of which is the one you might think of. The other, bigger obstacle turns out to relate to the increasing levels of professionalism in St. Louis's costumer's guild scene; many women had planned their outfits for Conflation hour by hour up to a year in advance, long before they knew what Kukla and I were planning, and had made enough committments to each other's group (and group-fetish) costuming ideas that they didn't have the flexibility to change. There was also, I think, some nervousness over whether or not we'd get away with it, people still stinging from the past "new direction" to want to know what would happen to them if they did take their shirts off. Our cheerful (and, at least on Saturday night, cheerfully un-harassed) models almost certainly cleared ground for future fen to feel comfortable wearing less next year.
(But not as much ground as LdyAlia did by egging on CunningMinx, who turns out to be a cheerfully bubbly enthusiastic exhibitionist. As she mentioned in her own convention review, she was delighted to discover that at some of her programming events there were often women who out-raced her to be the first one naked or nearly so. Still have doubts about the pendulum swinging back?)
Sunday: Closing Ceremonies. As usual, a snore-fest on a par with opening ceremonies. How could it not be; everybody's exhausted! But there were some useful announcements. Both Jason Carter and CunningMinx committed to coming back some time in the future. Next year's theme: Firefly. And most importantly, we are going back to a hotel that has been very good to us in the past, the former Day's Inn, former Doubletree Inn, now Comfort Inn at Natural Bridge and Brown Road by the airport.