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wealhtheow ([personal profile] wealhtheow) wrote2011-07-12 12:50 am
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Think Galactic or your world is lost!

Think Galacticon 3 was this weekend! It's a leftist sf/f con held in Chicago every other year, and it's one of my very favorite cons. It's significantly smaller than most other cons I go to (100-150 attendees, maybe?) which means it's far more intimate. The panel format is an obvious example of this--instead of having panelists, who speak for the majority of the time slot and then take questions/comments from the audience, all the panels I went to were modded by a facilitator. I loved having the chance to participate in actual discussions and feeling like my voice had equal weight to it--as well as the chance to hear a multitude of different voices coming from a wide array of experiences.

Think Galacticon is also the only con I've ever been to where the opening and closing ceremonies were almost *better* than the rest of the con, as opposed to being the boring bits. Plus! The consuite! So delicious whilst so healthy and friendly to dietary choices and needs and ecological considerations. But mostly I cared about the deliciousness. Feeling gutsy I tried the pumpkin-seed-and-chai cookies instead of the familiar chocolate chip, and holy god they were good. Heather Galaxy is like a god among bakers.

I didn't actually spend all my time stuffing cookies in my face. The first panel I went to was "Octavia E Butler and Emergent Strategies," led by Adrienne Maree Brown (the Activist Notable Guest) and it blew my mind. She talked a bit about how to apply what we find in Butler's fiction to our own organizing and strategic planning, and then we workshopped amongst ourselves. Here's what I took away from that panel:
  • Don't use the oppositional paradigm. Our activism and work shouldn't be us vs. them, and we shouldn't need opponents to motivate us. We need to seek unity, not dominance. So much time and effort is spent trying to get the majority of votes, or trying to "win", but in the end, that just means we continue the dichotomy, the divisiveness, and the struggle. Instead, how do we work without trying to dominate or be the majority? We need to learn how to do work while being non-dominant.
  • Don't feel like there's an end, or a victory. Revolutions and work need to be on-going, never-ending, always changing, adaptable and sustainable. The leadership cannot be allowed to become rigid.
  • We need to create, not just institutional or political alignment, but also philosophical alignment. The relationships and shared identity and solidarity need to come before the physical infrastructure or creation of an organization. (As an example of this, Adrienne referenced Olamina going door-to-door talking to people and telling them about Earthseed.) In some situations, it may be useful to stay under the radar and let them underestimate you until you've got the strength and solidarity. Physical infrastructure can be destroyed, but it's harder to destroy relationships and networks.
  • Make sure the most impacted people are at the forefront of developing strategy.
I had a hard time with the idea of spending time working on one-to-one relationships, forming an identity and creating ideological alignment before doing more visible work. But thinking about it more, it's very much what the Religious Right did in the last forty years, and look how successful they've been. And as hard as it is to see injustices continue without being obviously opposed, surely it's better to achieve the goals and do it with support than to stage unsuccessful, wearying attempts.

I didn't take notes during Nora K Jemisin's (SFF Notable Guest) leading of "In Fantasy, Servitude," but we mostly talked about class, not servitude itself. The idea of The Chosen One being a servant to the prophecy got brought up, but I don't really buy that interpretation. We had a hard time thinking of sff works that focused on servants, particularly servants who stayed servants. Servants are generally in the background, or are revealed to be a wizard/future king/whatever. The only sff I can think of wherein the main character starts out in servitude and is still in servitude by the end of the work is Sarah Micklem's Firethorn and Wildfire, both of which I highly recommend.

Next I went to "How Can We Do an Industrial Revolution Right?" I saw this panel idea first at Wiscon, where (if i remember correctly) it derailed into historical pedantry. One of those panelists (the best one, imo) facilitated the discussion at Think Galacticon, and we got into a heated discussion about what constitutes an industrial revolution and if it even is possible to do it without doing huge ecological and societal damage. The facilitator has a background in history, and talked about how machines that can produce quickly need a great deal of raw material and a great deal of demand in order to be cost effective. Meanwhile, the owners of the machines and the operators get stuck in a never ending battle over ever-decreasing wages. Basically, what I took away from this panel was that in order to do the Industrial Revolution right, we pretty much need to not do it at all. Instead, use the technology that we have, while continuing to innovate and experiment with it. But not get locked into this idea of mass production for mass consumption, but instead, reduce both production and consumption by going back to a more artisinal and local method of production and expecting better quality goods, not faster or more.

Andrea Hairson (Wiscon's Guest of Honor next year!) and Pan Morigan put on an electrifying performance of selections from Andrea's book Redwood and Wildfire and Pan's songs, which were inspired by it. I'd never heard banjo live before--I had no idea it could be so loud or sound so beautiful!

Andrea led a discussion of "New Tales for the 21st Century" the next morning. The panel was about how to introduce audiences to new storylines, and make it engaging and fun to get out of familiar story ruts.
Andrea talked about how there's a lot of sf/f in plays, but the theater doesn't distinguish between sf/f and non, but rather between musicals and straight plays. She said speculative ideas were unremarkably present in the theater. Plays, music, magazine articles--all are ways to bring new stories and also reach new audiences.
Anthologies, which are easy ways to sample many new authors, are another great mechanism.
We need to change gatekeepers' assumptions of what counts, what sells, and what people want to read.
We also need to change audience culture and writer culture. To get new stories and ways of telling stories more visible, we need to encourage and help people who have already survived the unsurvivable, who are already living in the post-Apocalypse, to tell their stories. And we need to stop waiting for someone to write it, but help draw it out. Adrea used the example of the collaborative nature of drum circles; an audience member mentioned writing down shared stories created during role-playing games. Adrienne talked about how genius emerges from the community, from people collaboratively telling stories amongst themselves and then it all culminates. The groundwork for a genius moment or work has to be laid, first. So we need to acknowledge the necessity of community, of practice, of social support.
How to write new ideas?
Adrienne suggested writing one's autobiography, and then fictionalizing or exploring parts of it. Andrea suggested writing stuff *especially* if it's not nice, or goes deeply into stuff and isms we've internalized. Then, *after* writing it all down, stepping back and looking at it critically, asking questions. We need to engage in the problematic.
Another audience member suggested writing what makes you deeply uncomfortable.
Or take a trope and explore it, or turn it on it's head. For example, it's common to read tales in which girls lose their power or magic when they "lose" their virginity. What about if women get their power at menopause?
Adrienne said, step into the shoes of someone you fear, someone you judge, someone you don't understand. Write from their perspective, try to deconstruct your response to them. But you can't comment or judge--you have to *be* them. (Gremlin suggested Nisi Shawl's Writing the Other for examples and exercises on how to write from alien perspectives.)
Andrea said that the majority of our stories are melodramas, by which she meant in which it's very easy to distinguish good from bad, and it's easy to tell what a character will do. It's non-complex storytelling and either/or thinking. But what if you took one of these tales and made it have 3 sides instead of 2--or 10!

At the end of the con, the notable guests spoke for an hour about what fiction shaped them, the powers and pitfalls of activism and sff, and what they hope congoers take away from Think Galacticon. I was too busy listening to take many notes, but basically, Adrienne said Butler's Wildseed helped her jailbreak her mind. She said (I'm paraphrasing, of course) that we get told we have to make all these choices between binaries, but what we need to do instead is give everyone the space/freedom/permission/inspiration to try on all aspects of themselves, find the people they want to be, without getting boxed in.
Nora said that sff helped her to understand that this set of inequalities and isms is only our latest iteration, and the current prejudices and dominance can change. It's not immutable, it's not eternal.

In sum, I left the con feeling tired but energized. I can't wait for the next one!