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I had planned on spending this entire post ranting about the supernova-esque fail that was Chi-Fi even though plenty of colleagues and fellow local nerds have already mapped out its cringe-worthy pre-party problems in the more concise ways. I’ve spent the last week and a half giving this post a lot of consideration.

What would be my purpose in weaving my wondrous words into a pithy subset of prose, designed to defecate all over the Chi-Fuckery that recently hit the Chicago Nerd scene? Would it be to join the bandwagon of “Oh Why, Chi-Fi?!” in how they misled and mishandled a number of their scheduled media guests? Would it be to point out how basic event planning etiquette like answering emails and providing proper equipment had not even been performed?

No, it wouldn’t. So why then, am I even bothering to say anything?

Because I want to see the nerd community succeed, that’s why. From what little I’ve been fortunate enough to observe on this 3rd rock from the sun, success comes from the endless cycle of acknowledging your achievements and improving upon your failures. That means going through repetitive, agonizing cycles of growing pains until you can finally start failing better. Hey, this axiom doesn’t exist for its eloquence.

Getting In Over Your Head

Those of us in the nerd community remember the Great Chi-Flict of 2014. Nerds of varying stripes banded together behind the Chi-Fi ConCom to fight against allegations of Mainstream Corporate America reducing us to “Freaks of Nature” and other diminutive caricatures that took some of us back to the days of being shoved into lockers or humiliated in gym class. Some of us went as far as going on live TV, putting reputations on the line, in order to right what we had been told was a horrible, egregious wrong. Ironically, as the dust began to settle, the facts began to cloud. There was no account of the hotel rep who made the original derogatory statement. The original derogatory statement had not been made in the meeting as previously alleged. And so forth. Those of us who were able to attend Chi-Fi 0 reported mostly pleasant experiences. Thus, anticipation for Chi-Fi 2015 was well under way.

As time passed, unfortunately, so again did the similar murky dealings of the ConCom.

I won’t deny that I went into Chi-Fi the morning of March 20th bracing myself for the shit show of rampant disappointment and utter contempt for the ConCom’s unprofessional audacity. It didn’t help that, at the time of my arrival, the ConCom had failed to post any signs indicating the location of the registration booth. It certainly didn’t help that I only received a mock Powerband for my con entry. And it certainly didn’t bode well that, as a speaker, I had no name tag and no schedule indicating the time and location of my panels. Sorry folks, but a QR Code to access the Con schedule does not an effective tool make.

Not scientifically proven to increase strength or geek cred.

Not scientifically proven to increase strength or geek cred.

Here’s the thing. Putting on an event is hard. Delegating responsibility is a pain in the ass. Any activity involving heavy interpersonal interaction with several people at all hours over an extended period of time will test the limits of anyone’s resolve. All of the aforementioned are things I learned the hard way at the beginning of 2014 when I took responsibility for managing my Skeptics group’s local Skepticamp (while, I might add, my life was imploding as life sometimes does). My experience managing Skepticamp 2014 taught me several highly-necessary lessons about what makes for a successful event, and what mistakes are going to sink you quicker than the Titanic.

  • Promptly answer your emails/make sure that your guests’ & participants’ emails are answered in a timely manner.

One of the major complaints from the Chi-Fi guests was the ongoing radio silence. I cannot stress how important ongoing communication is for a successful business in the digital age. The best way to lose any and all sort of professional cred is to stop communicating with the people whom can aid you with positive promotion and potential growth. Answering emails is the bare minimum of professional courtesy. It’s how people know to be confident that your event will take care of them and that you’re prepared. Avoiding emails because you might have share information that won’t make someone happy won’t make the problem go away – in fact, it’ll be WORSE if you play ostrich by sticking your head in the sand and hoping they forget about it because guess what, they won’t. The only way you’ll be able to come to any sort of solution is to keep the dialog going. A guest might decide to pull out of your event anyway, but the separation will probably be anything but amicable if it happens because they weren’t getting any communication from you.

TL; DR: Answer your goddamn emails.

  • Ask for help.

If you want to run a show, any show, you need to know your strengths and your weaknesses. Walking onto the 2014 Skepticamp Planning Committee, I knew that I had no working knowledge of creating graphics for promotional merchandise. I also had no working knowledge of amp set-up, microphone equipment, or any other AV tech that would be needed in order for the speakers to present to a large audience. I knew that I could not put on Skepticamp alone, so I asked for the assistance of the people whom I knew had these skills. I also made sure that the people whose assistance I needed were able to provide me with it when I needed it. I’m not discounting that life has a tendency to fuck up a well-laid plan, but I am holding an [able-minded] adult individual accountable if they can’t provide me with what they promised to provide. It is vital that each member of a committee know, and own up to, their own strengths and weaknesses.

  • It’s about doing your job, not making friends.

The ConCom’s main objective is to oversee the Con. You spend your convention time running around behind the scenes basically putting out fires so that your guests and your attendees have a delightful experience without having any idea of how close the whole thing came to falling apart. And you do this without asking or expecting any praise, pats on the back or other reassurances of your self-worth. You do this because you understand that your individual egos are insignificant next to the communal joy that your guests are having because they’re able to converse about Klingon culture without wondering whether they’ll be getting mic equipment, let alone clean glasses for the 75 minutes they’ll be speaking.

You don’t spend your time inappropriately approaching two strangers and start exclaiming that you’ve been accused of being “a misogynist”, “a rapist”, and “a harasser”. (Pro Tip: If you are getting these accusations, perhaps YOU should look into YOUR own behavior to see what is causing them to occur). You don’t spend your time, with no pre-existing context, bragging to one of your literary guests, who has a history of being assaulted at a prior convention, that there’s no way she’ll be assaulted at yours. And you certainly don’t spend your time cornering the programming coordinator of your only successful panel track into a hotel room alone to back-slide and babble for 20 minutes about whether to report a complaint made against her group.

Running an event like a con isn’t something you do just to be The Cool Kids. As the saying goes, “It’s NOT about YOU.” Life isn’t a 1980s Patrick Dempsey movie. You want to be part of the Cool Kids in Adult Land? Then you show the Cool Kids that you can do the work and keep your mouth shut.

Going The Distance, Then That Little Bit Extra

There’s something to be said about people who are willing to push through that giant wall of crap for the benefit of the group. Chi-Fi itself was a bust, but you would have never known it had you been sequestered with the Skepchicks like I had.

I’m going to spend the next couple of sentences talking about my friend Jamie who busted her ass putting together and supervising the Skepchick Track for Chi-Fi. I won’t bore you with the details or nonconsensually disclose any of the situations with which Jamie had to contend in order to maintain the level of awesomeness that she did for the Skepchicks and our local Skeptics group. I will simply say that Jamie’s commitment to the Con in spite of the myriad of problems, as well as her resolve to badger until she got what she needed from the ConCom, has more than certainly earned her a spot on my Zombie Apocalypse Team, should the need to form it ever arise.

Also, if you haven’t read Jamie’s stuff, you should. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

You good? Awesome.

Getting Something Unexpected

Now, for the good.

What did help make Chi-Fi more amazing than I could have thought possible was hanging out with the Skepchick Network. Back when I had first dislocated my shoulder, I learned the importance of the company you keep and how said company can turn a horrendously painful situation into one of the most positive moments of your life. Just as my best friend from college had been willing to ride around Beth Israel’s ER on my gurney with me, the Skepchicks, MALs, GPs, Queerekas and I veered around corners of the convention that Daedalus designed, making the most out of what life had thrown in our path.

I had the opportunity to bond with these amazing people over LGBTQ writers, bourbon, anxiety disorders, catching malaria, fire spinning, misandry gifs, Star Trek, and the different worlds of Kink. Seriously. Read. Their. Stuff. If ya don’t know, then now you know.

So, What Now?

I start preparing for C2E2, that’s what’s going to happen now. I’ll be speaking on each day of what is potentially now the largest professionally-run fan convention in the Chicago, and I cannot allow whatever hard feelings I may harbor towards the Chi-Fi ConCom to distract me from performing at my pivotal geekiness. At the end of the con, by sticking around, I personally felt that I had made the right decision for me. Had I bailed, I would have never forgiven myself for letting down a good friend and missing out on the opportunity to meet the people who continually fight to push Skepticism out of its narrow corridor of the Cishet Able-bodied, Able-minded, Economically Privileged White Male with the power of Richard Dawkins’ Tears on their side.

The Skepchicks/MALs/GPs/Queerekas changed my mind; they broadened my perspective; and when you get right down to it, that’s why we all continue to fight the good fight. This is why, in spite of the thickest puddles and piles of unprofessional bullshit, we continue to do what we do.

Oh, and Klingons. Klingons provide a hell of a lot of inspiration. It is always a good day to fight, and to nerd.

I bonded with a Klingon by threatening to use his weapon against him.

I bonded with a Klingon by threatening to use his weapon against him.


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