Some Thoughts Post MileHiCon

I’m back from MileHiCon in Denver which took place October 1-3.

It was lovely to attend and meet wonderful people, including convention organizers like Melanie Unruh, Meg Ward, Linda Nelson and Christine Childs, among others! My great thanks to them for putting on a wonderful event and having me there.

At the opening ceremonies, I said a few words about the pandemic, community and science fiction.

Apparently, this was on everyone else’s minds, too, as the toast master and most of the guests considered what it’s going to be like as we return to a world with conventions and people, rather than lonely houses in quarantine. In particular, I was considering how our current global situation feels both science fictional and not.

Here’s a bit of what I said:

It’s hard to think about what quarantine isolation would have been like in 1918. The dystopian imagery from our cyberpunk novels has come out as people wrangling babies while doing video conferences and lawyers showing up to court wearing kitten filters. It’s science fiction, but mundane and liveable. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow–no matter the excitement or import of events–will always be inflected by the tiny things. Our EMTs need bathroom breaks. Our nurses come home with PTSD from full days of both horrible death and also average, ordinary work. Hundreds of thousands of people die, and the dog still needs walking.

During “An Hour with Rachel Swirsky,” I read three short stories:

They’re all stories that break the rules about what “can” be done in fiction. Dinosaur is written in second person and takes place internally; Purse is a list story that ends just as events start taking place; and Quiet is written in an omniscient, consensus point of view without individual characters. Art is full of possibilities. Why constrain ourselves as artists or readers?

I also participated in three panels.

I was on a panel about Gender Beyond the Binary where we discussed examples of non-binary characters in fiction, and one called Starfish Out of Water which discussed stories of aliens on earth (with a digression into the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and the Star Trek episode Darmok).

My favorite panel was Art As Resistance with panelists Eneasz Brodski and Chaz Kemp, moderated by Kim Klimek who did an unusually excellent job with posing questions and furthering discussion. Chaz Kemp was passionate about the idea that making and enjoying art is itself an act of resistance. One of the first things fascist governments do is restrain art. They arrest–or even kill–artists. As much as the contemporary United States has problems, I think it’s incredibly important to remember that artists are (by and large) not taking our lives into our hands with what we say and how we choose to say it. The world hasn’t always been like that, and in many places it still isn’t. I worry greatly for our colleagues in countries where government reprisal is more than a threat. I found this panel profound and am grateful to the other panelists, and the moderator, for the discussion.

While we spent a lot of time in our room for Covid reasons, it was a delight to interact as much as we were able to.

On a personal level, I enjoyed seeing long-time friends and colleagues like Carrie Vaughn and Matthew Rotundo. Also, it was a blast seeing the masks–sequined masks, fringed masks, masks with cartoon capybaras… I wear a paper mask because I can stand having it on my face, but oh, I appreciate the sequins.

Although it was less of a difficulty in one-on-one conversations, I do have to say it was disconcerting presenting to a masked audience. I didn’t realize how much I rely on seeing people’s faces for their reactions! Without smiles, or even grimaces, audiences seemed to be very raptly paying attention in an extremely sober fashion, which is weird when you’re trying to tell jokes. 😉

Thanks again so much to MileHiCon–everyone who worked on the convention, and everyone who attended!

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3 Responses to Some Thoughts Post MileHiCon

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    It’s hard to think about what quarantine isolation would have been like in 1918.

    Aren’t there contemporary reports?

    Chaz Kemp was passionate about the idea that making and enjoying art is itself an act of resistance.

    I have seen a (very) few artists and critics state that art must – as opposed to can – be resistance to or it is not art. Do you agree? I should think that art is always influenced by the society in which it is produced, but do you think that it must always be considered as direct commentary on that? Must it always illuminate and comment on society’s faults?

    As much as the contemporary United States has problems, I think it’s incredibly important to remember that artists are (by and large) not taking our lives into our hands with what we say and how we choose to say it.

    True. But do you see examples of artists having their careers affected or even ruined based on what they say – not with their art, but with their expression of their opinions outside of their art? For example, radio stations, You Tube and other media facing demands from activists that they refuse to use an artist’s content because of political or social opinions they expressed in an interview. I don’t mean Dave Chappelle, necessarily – the content of his Netflix special after all touched directly on a social issue. That’s one valid point for discussion and I see there’s a separate thread for that. But there are other artists whose work did not touch on a particular issue that they then commented on separately. This is not government action, of course (thank God). Not yet, anyway, although it seems to me that people pushing to have offenses of “hate speech” codified into law would like to move in that direction.

  2. 2
    Mandolin says:

    1918:

    I think there are contemporary 1918 accounts, so yeah, I was being a bit hyperbolic. I’m not sure about the quarantine itself, but many events were surprisingly close parallels. (Unrelatedly, but of interest to me at least, one of my grand,others brothers died in the 1918 flu in the army barracks.)

    Art as resistance:

    No, I don’t think art is always a direct illumination like that, especially from within a cultural context. (In like three hundred years or a very different culture that might read differently because the implicit assumptions become differently highlighted.) I do think that there are political *implications* to all art. But that’s not the same thing, I think, there are political implications to near about everything. It’s like— not all paintings contain red, but even when they don’t, if what I’m interested in looking at is how things relate to red, that painting still has a relationship, the relationship is just “doesn’t use red.” Then I might ask why it doesn’t if for some reason it was an interesting question (it’s in black and white, it’s a study of blue, there’s symbolism about avoiding the color of blood, the whole thing is a giant banana, whatever). But that doesn’t mean the painting is defined by or primarily about its relationship to red.

    I do think that imagining things has a political valence in that it’s an exercise of thought that isn’t wholly controlled by the government. That’s not very shocking here and now to us, but in a fascist regime, it’s an innate threat. For instance, I have a friend who knows someone who grew up in a fascist regime—just seeing art from outside the regime gave them a window into seeing past that regime even without any particular political content in the art. That’s a threat to fascism.

    Will reply to other bit in a sec.

  3. 3
    Adrian says:

    I’ve been listening to punk klezmer and thinking about the idea of art as resistance. It made me wonder about the question Chaz Kemp seems to imply: resistance to what? Resistance to formal government pressure? Clearly, some art does that kind of resistance and some doesn’t. (Some art appears to support local government.) Resistance to unofficial social norms like the idea that women who have sex outside marriage should be ashamed of themselves, or the idea that immigrants are scary? Some art resists those norms, other art supports them or ignore them.

    But there’s a very general pressure to sit quietly and do what you’re told. To be a good worker, a good student, a good consumer, a good sports fan, a good patient. Anything you create outside that framework is a tiny act of resistance against that framework. If it’s an abstract work of colored light or wordless instrumental music that you create for sheer love of beauty and the sake of the art itself, you’re still resisting the idea that you should be spending your time normally or profitably like regular non-artists.

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