How ADHD and Using a Cane Saved My First Worldcon

At the beginning of the month, I attended Chicon 8 in downtown Chicago, my very first* World Science Fiction Convention, aka Worldcon. I participated in some great workshops, reconnected with a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in several years, and met and hung out with a lot of awesome new people as well. But rather than trying to capture that illusive lightning in a blog-shaped bottle, I’m going to delve into a different element of to my Worldcon experience.

(* Fun fact: When I was in high school I won a free membership to Chicon 2000 (actually the 6th Chicon), as a finalist in the Chicon 2000 Student Science Fiction & Fantasy Contest, but I lived in California at the time so I didn’t end up going.)

First, a little backstory, which may help explain why this is my first blog post here in nearly 2 ½ years. In March of 2019, not long after I (somehow) walked away from a horrifying car accident (which you can read about here), I started experiencing deep fatigue and widespread body pain. A year later, the stress of the pandemic kicked the symptoms into high gear, and shortly after I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. So that’s what I’ve been doing instead of writing blog posts. (Instead of a lot of things.)

Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve been disabled my whole life, but the addition of this new, exciting disability really awakened me to that fact. As evidenced by the abundance of parentheticals in the previous paragraphs, I have ADHD. I try to be honest with myself about how much ADHD has impacted my life, keeping me from completing (or even pursing) projects, paths, and goals I might otherwise have. But I didn’t frame it in my mind as a disability until I was coming to terms with fibromyalgia. A lot of things that are more difficult for me now were already difficult for me because of ADHD. Now the two have a tendency to compound each other.

But back to Worldcon. On the first day of the convention, in a classic case of my ADHD and fibromyalgia colliding, I initially forgot my rail pass and had to go back for it. (Then I called my wife and begged her to come home and drive me to the station, which she did, because she’s wonderful.) I was footsore enough from the back and forth that I pulled out my collapsible cane, an aid I rarely use because (thankfully) my fibro pain doesn’t often hit my legs hard enough to affect my mobility.

The lobby and convention spaces at the Hyatt Regency Chicago are a sprawling labyrinth of weirdly-placed elevators and escalators ferrying you between different conglomerations of confusingly-named (and sometimes multiply-named) floors, areas, and event rooms. To avoid more footsoreness as I was hoofing it around hoping to find Ariadne’s red thread, I continued using the cane. Gradually, this brought me to a revelation that seems absurdly obvious in hindsight: if you have a chronic pain condition, using a cane at a convention is a Good Idea.

I sometimes joke that my cane is, “A device for transferring pain from my lower body to my upper body” — which is another reason I don’t use it that often. With all the walking I did at Worldcon, I managed to find the right balance of weight to distribute to the cane such that my arm didn’t feel like it was going to fall off. And, lucky me, since both my legs hurt more or less equally, I could switch the cane to my other hand as needed.

“A device for transferring pain from my lower body to my upper body" (with bonus cat)
“A device for transferring pain from my lower body to my upper body” (with bonus cat)

But I think the real benefit of the cane was one I hadn’t anticipated: it forced me to slow down. My habitual walking pace is pretty fast, and, in another instance of the ADHD plus fibromyalgia double-whammy, I have a tendency to just… forget I’m disabled and keep doing things the way I always have. (Sometimes I’m halfway through a task before I realize, “This was a terrible idea.” Like the time I decided not to wait for roadside assist and just change the tire myself. In the rain.) This can very easily lead to a fibro flare. Having a cane in my hand gave me a physical reminder that I need to slow my roll and not overdo it. “Hey, maybe you don’t need to rush to that next panel. Maybe don’t take the stairs. Maybe go lie down for a bit in the hotel room you specifically booked for that purpose.”

So I made a point to keep using the cane for the rest of the weekend. And while correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, I think it worked. I was able to attend every day of the convention, even staying up obscenely late one night (I typically need a lot of sleep), with no catastrophic collapse at any point along the way or in the aftermath. Not bad, considering I fully expected to dissolve into a puddle of goo at any moment. I do worry that longtime familiarity will eventually render the cane’s “reminder” benefit null, so I haven’t been using it every day. But I have been using it more often than I would have prior to Worldcon, and I intend to use it whenever I attend conventions in the future. It’s great to discover that using an assistive device can help me a lot more than I would have thought. And I owe it all to forgetting my rail pass on that first day. Thanks, ADHD.

My First Virtual Con: Flights of Foundry 2020

As the title indicates, this past weekend I attended my first virtual SFF convention, Flights of Foundry. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it proved an interesting, informative, and all around good experience.

The panels and presentations were all excellent, and while not entirely the same as they might have been held in meat-space, didn’t lose anything essential in digital form. There is something to be said for the convenience of being able to pop into (and out of, if necessary) a whole array of fascinating programming events and discussions, with participants from around the world, without having to set foot outside my home. [Edit: I forgot to mention how much easier it was to take notes! I’m much more comfortable typing notes into a keyboard than trying to write them out longhand or capture them somehow on one of those newfangled pocket gizmos.] That said, one of my favorite things about conventions is the in-person contact and conversation with folks I might not otherwise get to meet face-to-face, which is sadly not feasible right now. Overall, I’d say the pros and cons balance out, so that Flights of Foundry was easily on par with other SFF cons I’ve attended.

I moderated a panel on Adaptation and Remix Culture, with SL Huang, Cislyn Smith, and Rebecca Slitt. While tech issues caused me to be about 10 minutes late (another hazard of the online format), I thought the discussion went well. When I arrived, the other participants were already discussing The Lizzy Benet Diaries (modernized Pride and Prejudice done in the form of a series of vlogs; very entertaining; look it up), which I took as a good sign.

The most nerve-wracking portion of the con for me was my Sunday presentation on How to Create Your Own Fictional Religion. My impostor syndrome was flowing strong, but I got through the presentation and reactions seemed positive. There was one follow up question I bungled though. (There were probably more I bungled, but one I recall in particular.) One attendee asked for examples of animism in SFF, and my mind just blanked. I ended up blurting out something about Avatar: The Last Airbender.

While I love ATLA (and do encourage anyone and everyone to watch it, if they haven’t already; if you have already watched it, watch it again), that had to be one of the dumbest answers I could give. Here I’d been encouraging everyone to be careful of their Western bias, and I went immediately to a Western property that took heavy influences from Eastern media and culture (especially anime), rather than going to the source.

I’m not sure how my brain managed to skip over films like My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, considering how huge of a Ghibli/Miyazaki geek I am. (I saw Princess Mononoke in the theater about 8 times when it came to the US back in 1999. And then I went to see it again a few years ago for a 20th anniversary screening. I’ve also been to the Ghibli Museum in Japan, which is AMAZING. Again, huge geek.)

But my biggest oversight was not mentioning Mushi-shi, an anime with its roots buried deep in animism and Shinto. In its own unique way Mushi-shi makes a science out of animism. The protagonist Ginko is a mushi-shi, an itinerant doctor/shaman studying strange life forms called mushi which inhabit the natural world but are somehow alien and different from other forms of life. The show is episodic, each installment a quiet, nearly slice-of-life tale about people dealing with the weird effects a mushi is having on their lives or community, as Ginko attempts to help them and perhaps untangle the mystery of yet another mushi. I’m not sure where (if anywhere) it’s readily available to watch right now, but if you find a way to watch it, do.

Sorry this post kind of became a plug for anime I like. That’s my ADD-brain, which has been working overtime to be extra ADD in this time of crisis.

Stay safe, everyone.

Windycon 43 Postmortem

This past weekend was Windycon, and I had a blast.

I’ve been going to Windycon every year for the past four and always had a great time. This year was the first time I signed up to be on panels, and it definitely made for a different — and even better — experience.

After work on Friday, I did my best to put the recent election out of mind and headed over to the con to catch a few panels (ones I wasn’t on). I sat in on my buddy Brendan Detzner‘s reading and got to hear some excerpts from his new novella, The Hidden Lands, followed non-sequitur by a Q&A session with Eric Flint.

Saturday was my first panel, “We Live in the Future.” I wasn’t scheduled to moderate this one, but got suckered into it anyway. Despite being unprepared for that role, not to mention the fact that this was my first time as a panelist ever, and notwithstanding a slight digression into the pharmaceuticals market, I think it went pretty well. We discussed many emerging technologies, like ectogenesis (what Lois McMaster Bujold calls “uterine replicators”), lab grown meat (what LMB calls “vat meat”), and self-driving cars, as well as post-scarcity economics and the how we may be seeing the leading edge of the jobless future, widespread technological unemployment as human tasks are increasingly automated and performed by machines. We barely got to touch on augmented reality or AI, but I guess fifty minutes just isn’t enough time to fill with all the ways our modern world looks like science-fiction.

Sunday morning I was scheduled to give a reading, and much as I’d expected given the timing, no one showed up. I did get to meet author guest of honor Adam Selzer, who was reading right after me. Using the wonders of technology, Adam live-streamed both our readings to Facebook, so we’d have a bit of an audience. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down the video of me reading just yet. If I do, I might post a link, depending on how cringe-worthy my presentation is.

Sunday afternoon I moderated my second panel, “Where Did That Word Come From?” I’d been expecting to moderate this one, so I was a bit more prepared, and I think it went pretty well. Everyone involved seemed to enjoy the discussion and I think each person in the room, myself included, learned at least one thing we hadn’t known when we walked in. I’m no etymologist by any stretch, but I was personally delighted to inform a gathering of twenty-odd people about the root components of the term cyberpunkcyber, short for cybernetic, from the Ancient Greek kubernetikos, meaning “good at steering” or “good pilot;” and punk, originating in some past century (19th?) as a slang term for a prostitute. So, a cyberpunk is a prostitute who’s a good pilot. Awesome.

Allergies were kicking my but all week and didn’t let up for Windycon, so I was mighty weary and didn’t stick around into the wee hours schmoozing with fellow writers — in fact, I barely got to say more than a brief hello to friends passed in the hallway — but nonetheless I think it was a weekend well spent.

Nebulas 2015

I had a new and unexpected experience this past Friday at the Nebula Award Weekend.

Someone recognized me from the internet.

A few months back, looking for feedback on short stories, I joined Codex, a forum for “neo-pro” spec-fic writers. After joining, I decided I should do what a normal, sociable human being would do, and post in the “Introduce Yourself” thread. As usual, I had to work against my inherent reserved nature to put myself out there like that, and also as usual, it seems like it paid off.  At the Nebulas, fellow Codexian S.B. Divya recognized me, and introduced me to a number of other Codexians in attendance, and my time there was much enriched for it. (Thanks, Divya!)

I’d expected that I’d spend the Nebulas shuffling around by myself, maybe run into and chat with some folks I knew from Gumbo Fiction Salon. I did do those things, but also ended up meeting a lot of awesome new people. Which was kind of the point of going – I just thought it would be much harder, or that I’d fail miserably to capitalize on the opportunity.

I spent most of the weekend hanging out with Gary Kloster and his wife Brin (Gary is the writer of the two, but Brin shared some fascinating insights into the world of medicine), and Elizabeth Shack, all of whom were incredibly nice and friendly (as was everyone I met, really). Between standing around awkwardly in larger groups and then talking Elizabeth’s ear off later at the signing event, I realized something else about my aforementioned reserved nature. It’s something I’d known for ages on some level, but the weekend helped crystallize it in my mind: among the gregarious, I’m always the quiet one, and among the quiet, I’m always the gregarious one. In some (purely imagined) statistical model of loquaciousness, I seem to fall in a kind of valley between the natural bell curves of talkative people and quiet people. In the valley of the mute, the babbling fool is king – or something like that.

It amazed me how many of the Nebula-goers knew each other, seemingly quite well. Perhaps if I don the skin of the writer and exhibit its habits, the herd (pack?) will come to accept me as one of their own.

WisCon 39 Musings

In my last post, I promised to talk about WisCon 39. Personal stuff came up last week after the con, but I am now able to follow through. I’ll hit a few highlights, panels and events that made a particular impression, but feel free to jump around and read whichever sections catch your interest.

Little-Known Goddesses (Panel)

This panel was chock full of interesting female deities, both ones I thought I knew, and ones I’d never heard of. I wish I could give more specific examples, but tragically I lost my notes later in the night, misplacing them in a sleep-deprived fugue. One interesting point I recall was the discussion of goddesses (and deities in general) who represent both sides (or a spectrum) of a concept, such as a goddess of both life and death, or of both disease and healing.

The panel discussed goddesses from various different cultures, but I was disappointed by the lack of pre-Columbian New World deities. (I would have liked to learn more about Coatlicue, for instance.) This was no fault of the panelists, as they were each speaking to the religious traditions which they were most familiar with, and had a lot of interesting knowledge to share.

Though some audience members chimed in with questions or comments, I valiantly refrained from interrupting and derailing the panel with a soliloquy about Amaterasu and the possible matriarchal roots of Shinto.

Cultural Literacy or Cultural Appropriation? (Panel)

As a writer who tends to draw a lot of inspiration from non-Western cultures, this question is one I’ve considered often. The key takeaway from this panel was: respect. It’s perhaps reductive and naive of me to throw that word out and expect everyone to interpret it correctly (I don’t really expect that), but that’s what the consensus seemed to boil down to. Artistic expression is a kind of conversation, and whenever you enter into conversation with another culture, it needs to be a dialogue, not a monologue, and it needs to be done with respect.

Scientific Utopianism in the Work of Kim Stanley Robinson (Panel)

The very un-naive optimism of Kim Stanley Robinson‘s writing is one of the (many) things that makes it so compelling. Utopianism, in this context, is not the end goal, but the process: a continuous striving to build a better future. Many of Robinson’s characters are scientists who are also at the forefront of social, political, economic, and cultural change, very different and far more interesting than the apolitical walking lab-coats or politically destructive “mad scientists” that frequently show up in science fiction. Robinson portrays the ethical application of science as the way forward for humanity, but never oversimplifies it into a silver bullet for the world’s problems, a vision very much in keeping with my own worldview.

Science-Compatible Religion in Fiction (Panel)

This panel was interesting, but not what I was expecting or hoping it would be. From the title and description, I thought it would be an exploration of various science-compatible religions in various works of fiction, how and why certain examples work (or don’t), and what qualities of a (fictional) religion make it compatible with science. The panel began with a few examples, notably the “five gods” religion of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series. But rather than delving into details, the panel turned instead to various other topics, such as the relative science-compatibility of non-fictional religions (each panelist enumerating how they thought their own paradigm was or was not science-compatible), as well as whether science was itself just another religion (!). So, as I mentioned, while the discussion was interesting, I was somewhat disappointed that it wasn’t what I’d been expecting.

Kim Stanley Robinson Guest of Honor Reading

This totally blew me away. Robinson’s reading was a bit of a multimedia experience (experiment?). For about forty minutes, in the dark, he read the thoughts of a quantum AI on a generational spaceship traveling close to the speed of light, while a prerecorded track played underneath. The recording consisted of an ebb and flow of voices, variously reciting the names of stars (as if charting their passage), or echoing lines from the text, or preempting lines Robinson hadn’t read yet. When the lights came on, most of the audience were tongue-tied (I certainly was), and it took a moment before any hands went up to comment or question.

When the Q&A portion ended and everyone got up to leave, I noticed a few people filing up to the front to ask for signatures. Since I’d been lugging around a big hardbound copy of The Years of Rice and Salt waiting for exactly this kind of opportunity, I joined the small line. I was glad for the chance to speak with Robinson, however briefly, and delighted to learn that of the nearly twenty novels he’s written, The Years of Rice and Salt is his personal favorite.

Communism Was Just a Red Herring! (Panel)

Despite the punny title, this panel was very well-reasoned and thought provoking. Most of the panelists agreed that there is merit in Marx’s writing, if you divorce them from the Stalinism, Maosim, and the various revolutions which tried (and failed) to put his ideas into practice in a way he never intended. Kim Stanley Robinson was a panelist on this one, and I thought he summed things up quite well (paraphrased): Marx was an excellent historian of political economics, but once he started predicting what would (or should) happen next, he moved into the territory of science fiction, and like most science fiction writers his predictions were deeply flawed.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed WisCon, and I’m glad there is a sci-fi convention with such a strong focus on diversity. I doubt it will become a regular thing for me, because of the expense and hassle involved in attending a non-local convention, but it was definitely worthwhile to get out to Madison and see what it was all about.