Now, for various reasons, I haven't been on any panels at science fiction/genre conventions before (other types, yes). Partly this is because I still feel like more than a bit of an imposter at cons, but mostly, this is because I have a very unpredictable illness which may mean that I will have to cancel at the last minute – and may not be able to let anyone know that I am cancelling.
However. Thursday morning I was high on sugar and caffeine (thank you overpriced Starbucks) and trying to figure out how to cancel my ongoing guilt/imposter feeling. So after the Stroll With the Stars a very kind person took me to the convention center, where I met up with another very kind person who offered to take me to Programming.
Through no fault of WorldCon, Programming happened to be located in arguably the Most Difficult To Find Place in San Antonio. The volunteer and I went Round and Round and Round, and then, for a change, Round, and then more Round, before finally finding the place. There I met a clearly overworked woman desperately trying to work out con schedules. I gave her my brief bio and what I'm sorta known for (Oz, poetry, short fiction, children's literature.)
I was offered the Disability in Science Fiction panel.
I use a wheelchair.
I was also warned that the Disability in Science Fiction panel did not have a ramp to the stage but since I was now part of the panel she would try to find a solution. I was also put on the How to Publish Your Poetry panel, and then I took the little Water Taxi back to the hotel.
About an hour later, a poetry editor rejected a couple of my poems, kinda solidifying my thought that this whole paneling thing was really not a great idea, unless everyone wanted to learn How to Get Your Poems Rejected. That, I'm really really good at. I was also worried about the Disability in Science Fiction panel, largely because I mostly read biographies and mysteries, not science fiction, and I knew the other panelists knew more of the field than I did. A couple of very nice conrunners/SMOFs from another con assured me that even if I threw up on other con panelists worse things have happened. So, I stayed on.
Saturday morning Rachel Swirsky texted me to say that Nancy Hightower was moderating a Prose by Day/Poet by Night panel at 11 am which now only had two people on it and could I fill in? I said yes and got more coffee. Another very nice person pushed me over to the SFWA meeting which started at 10.
At 10:30 I left the SFWA meeting to make it to my poetry panel. I pulled out my little Helpful Map where my route had been marked out by a Worldcon volunteer. This meant going down carpet (check!) going up an elevator (check!) following my little map and going forward (check!) finding myself at another convention....
After a short discussion with the People Magazine convention we agreed that I could cut through their convention IF I was escorted. I put my hands up and didn't look at anything (then) and made it to the other side. I decided to visit a bathroom, which went as those things do until I came out and someone accidentally spilled hot coffee over my right hand. Ouch. I headed over more carpet and looked at my watch and my little map and decided to ask for the most efficient route. Luckily at this point Juan Sanmiguel spotted me and took me to the panel, arriving at 10:59. Yes, it had taken me nearly a half hour to get from the SFWA meeting to the panel.
Where the three other panelists (L.E. Modesitt had joined at the last minute) were all up on a stage that did not have a ramp.
So they stayed on the stage and I stayed on the floor with a mike.
Otherwise I think that panel went well although I admit I was kinda sad when Locus came in to take a picture and missed me because they didn't realize I was part of the panel (it was when the others were talking). Oh well. Otherwise, it was a great discussion.
Sunday I headed over to the Disability in Science Fiction panel. There was no ramp to the stage. Instead, tables had been set up and we all sat in front of the stage to accommodate me. This was a relatively large room and people in the back apparently couldn't see me (some people later told me they couldn't figure out why we weren't on the stage until I mentioned that I was in a chair, but even then, they couldn't see that access to the stage was up steps, not a ramp. Also, the panel did not have an ASL interpreter. (I don't think any panels did, but for the Disability panel, that would have been a nice touch, especially since the subject of the Deaf community/writers did come up.)
I'm not going to rehash that panel here except to say that yes, I was upset, and no, honestly, I am not dealing with illness related stuff, including the wheelchair, right now all that well at all (in case it wasn't incredibly obvious.) Working on this. I also suspect that my disappointment about the Alamo (separate post) played a role.
A Florida friend not at the con told me to get away from the con for a bit, so I did, avoiding everyone. And took a nap. Then I came out and crept back over to the convention center for the How to Publish Your Poetry panel. This was me, Jo Walton, Rachel Swirsky and another older gentleman whose name I didn't catch. Jo asked us all to explain why we were on the panel. In answer to this, the gentleman noted that he'd been asked at the last minute to join the panel and be a warm body, and that he had last published poetry in the 1960s. Somewhat later he noted that he had written poetry to pick up girls, and that he had stopped writing poetry when it didn't get him any girls. Rachel Swirsky, who is awesome, instantly responded, "I don't know. I get plenty of girls."
I thought this panel was otherwise ok, although apparently some of my residual anger/emotional reactions were still around; the audience later said they found me intimidating. I don't feel particularly intimidating, so this is a hard word to wrap my mind around. I'm also not sure if I got my main point across, which is that we are currently in what I would call a miraculous, marvelous age for speculative poetry, with poets doing incredible work with traditional forms, experimental forms, fun forms, and just transforming words into beauty, so marvelous I want everyone to be a part of it.
It was an interesting experience overall, but I think I should probably stick to not being on panels for awhile.
Edited to add: To be clear, compared to a couple of past events, this was relatively accessible. The Marriott Rivercenter was mostly ok except for a few hiccups. The real problems happened outside the Marriott Rivercenter hotel, and were generally more associated with San Antonio/typical accessibility things.