15 December 2008

Why Fandom is Made of Awesome.

I want to tell you about my Thanksgiving week-end.

First off, I am on staff at Chicago TARDIS, a local Doctor Who convention held in Chicago over the holiday week-end. It upholds something of a tradition, as there had been for 10 years or so a British telefantasy & Science Fiction con called Visions in Chicago all through the 1990s. I first was introduced to Doctor Who by a guy I met at my first Visions. His name was Fred Meyer, and there were many long distance phonebills over the years, as we geeked out over everything from gaming to Who to GI Joe. When I moved back to Chicago in 1996, I attended the last few Visions, and reconnected with Jen Adams Kelley. When I fell and fell hard for the relaunched series in 2005, but was too broke to attend Chicago TARDIS, Jen offered me the job of keeping the Green Room stocked with snacks, in exchange for a staff badge.

Over the last 4 years, I've enjoyed my job tremendously. In case you've never met me, here's an important thing to know: I like feeding people. I've been attending cons (and being a panellist and con constaff) for nearly 15 years, and one of the most important lessons I've learnt (or had beaten into me by friends) is that you cannot spend 4 days on minimal sleep, surviving on diet coke, crashing from sugar highs, and then drinking in the bar having eaten nothing but sweets and crisps all day, without massive consequences and occasional epic fail. This goes for attendees, but more importantly, it's important for guests and staff.

So with Becca and Liz, one of the things I really enjoy about running the Green Room is knowing that folks are going out onstage hydrated, caffeinated, and with some healthy food in them. I feel like I'm contributing to attendees overall experience, if a guest has more energy onstage or at marathon autograph sessions. Or at least has a place to duck into between panels and sessions where they can relax for a few minutes without having to be "on the job". In reality, I'm not sure how much this does contribute (after all, these folks are professionals, who would give 110% probably even without fresh-brewed coffee, chocolate, and sandwiches). But I like to think it helps. And if the guests are happy, and the staff are happy, generally the attendees are happy. And that's a chunk of what makes being constaff a joy and not a trial.

I love Gally and CT especially, because it's entire through cons I met Rob Shearman, and then Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox, Shaun Lyons, Sue Cowley, Steve Roberts, Simon Guerrier, and all of these wonderful people that I can't picture my life without any longer. Or if I can picture it, it's a pretty bleak picture. But this is part of the magic and joy of fandom. Because conventions allow people with shared interests to gather, and in special cases, genuine friendships are formed that aren't just about shared love of a single story. Some of them, as is the case with Amy Fristch whom I met in a lift at Visions in 1992, have lasted almost 20 years. I've slept on Amy's sofa, illustrated a fanzine with her, officiated at her wedding, was there when both her children were born.

All because we happened to love the same TV series as young people.

When I went to the UK earlier this Autumn, it was with fangirls I met on the internets, to visit friends I'd met at cons and on mailing lists. It's been easily one of the high points of the last few years, especially as the last few years have included a lot of stress and hardship in my personal and professional life.

While I was at CT, I learned my friend Abby Albrecht had been admitted to hospital. I got further updates over the next 24 hours from friends as I was away from the internets, and as I was running around trying to make sure we had milk for tea and salt and vinegar crisps to last the day, I was also thinking about Abby, whom I'd last seen in August. When I got the call that she'd passed away, surrounded by her family and people who loved her, Sunday evening I had just shoo'd the guests out of the Green Room to attend the staff gofer party. Becca was with me, and she, Liz, and I spent the evening up in the room talking and sharing memories of Abby over a sack of White Castle bacon cheeseburgers (which, like beans on toast, or macaroni cheese, is comfort food).

Abby was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and zoomed around in a super-awesome chair that airlines tended to destroy piece by piece. She was a webdesigner, vidder (editor of fannish music vids), writer, journalist, and slightly evil genius. Abby was 33 years old. Every day with her was a gift. But as always, when you love someone, it's never enough time. Here is a beautiful post by her mother after Abby's 30th birthday, and a follow-up by Abby.

I can't remember when I first met Abby. I think it was at MediaWest*Con in the mid-to-late 1990s, or thereabouts. I am eternally grateful that the internet allowed us to be total dorks together 24/7 even though we only ever saw each other maybe once or twice a year. I am so incredibly glad that I saw her in August, because there were loads of hugs which are very very important. We geeked out about our jobs, and our lives, and we had the Best Lunch Ever at MediaWest 10 or 12 years ago, and I refuse to feel insane about the fact that ever since, Chicken Fingers ALWAYS remind me of that afternoon in Lansing with Buffy The Waitress. When my mum was in hospital in a coma last autumn, she encouraged me with livejournal comments, and a devout Lutheran, lit candles and included my family in her prayers.

She was caring and smart, snarky and funny, and she vidded March of the Penguins to Johnny Cash's "Walk the Line", which was shown at her memorial service in the Bay area this week-end. It takes a special kind of crazy to vid Johnny Cash to baby penguins. But also a huge amount of heart. And that was Abby in a nutshell.

Missy Wilson wrote about Abby at FireFox news, which Wil Wheaton picked up and blogged about as well. Abby would have cackled with glee at being Internet Famous-- which I still call infamous, cos the works of Spider Robinson taught me in my teens to love bad puns, though never as much as he did. I also think of her as exactly the sort of person you'd have met at Callahan's Place. It's how I tried to describe her to people who had never met her, but shared their thoughts, prayers, and kind words in sympathy. And I think it's close. Not quite, but close enough.

And she's probably laughing her ass off right now anyway. Just too far away for me to hear it at the moment.

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