In Which We Bid Convergence Adieu And Explain Why

I’ve been attending Convergence since 2002. I’ve watched it grow and morph, watched it struggle and triumph over those struggles. Watched it become the nearly 7000 member convention it has become. Convergence has been pretty good to me, having me as an invited participant for the last few years and hosting several of my book release parties. I sell twice as many books at Convergence as I do at any other Twin Cities convention.

And now I have to walk away.

It has simply become too much for the blind writer and fan to deal with. Too much noise, too much crowds, too much drunken twenty-somethings. Just…too much.

For the last few years, I’ve struggled more and more at Convergence. Just the logistics of packing and preparing for Convergence is stressful. The line to pick up badges seems to be getting longer and slower every year. The load into the hotel is always hot and sweaty (The con is over July 4th weekend) and the load out takes forever because of the elevator problems. Ask me about the night I climbed 22 flights of stairs. Ask me how faster, younger able bodied people would happily charge forward and cram into the thing before those of us with canes or chairs can even start forward, squeezing us out in their mad dash to get aboard. Tough luck, gimp.

But it’s the crowds that finally killed the convention for me.

Crowds are a fact of life at larger conventions, but it’s something I struggle to deal with to the point of sometimes getting so overwhelmed that I give up and go up to the room to hide. Now granted, I’m an introvert and at conventions I try to be “on” as much as possible–smiling, chatting, being social–which is exhausting to me. So I dive back into the room to recharge.

But the crowds, oh the crowds.

People at conventions don’t pay attention to their surroundings, they’re too busy talking and looking at all the shiny and at Convergence they are packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the hallways and it doesn’t matter if I’m using the cane, all I’m doing is hitting people who glance at the cane and then move on as I hit some other oblivious con-goer. Any moment I’m in the hallways and trying to get around on my own is fraught with peril — near-misses, people tripping over the cane, and accidentally body-checking strangers into walls. It is especially bad with small children, who tend to dash one direction while looking the other, often right under my feet. I don’t even go into the dealer’s room at Convergence. It presents all the same problems as above, now with bonus narrow aisles and displays lying in ambush, waiting for the hapless blind guy to stumble into them. Going into the dealer’s room (or art show) without assistance is impossible and with assistance still too difficult to manage.

The final thing the crowds tend to do is “blind” me. I’m already struggling with not being able to see much of anything in a rapidly changing environment, but the noise–especially around the party rooms (which I’ve learned to avoid)–basically leaves me without my other primary way of telling me what is happening around me. If I can’t see clearly, and I can’t hear clearly, what chance do I have? I’ve had to drop out of some things I wanted to do, simply because it became too hard on me in those situations to deal with the environment. There have been several moments where I quite literally froze in place because I lost my bearings and could not navigate my surroundings safely. It is a frustrating thing. It has gotten so bad that the year before last, I froze up in a crowd to the point that I simply couldn’t move—couldn’t even pull my cellphone and call for help—was trapped by both a crowd induced panic attack and the unending press of humanity. I had pulled my cane in and was standing still as the crowd broke like a wave around me. I finally had to be rescued by one of the roving convention hosts.

I have tried to talk about this stuff at conventions. There was some disability programming a couple of years ago, panels I pushed for about Disability in SF. Sadly, even this was problematic as Convergence put us in a space that was too small and difficult to access for our disabled fans in wheelchairs.

Last year, it was bad enough that I simply couldn’t move around on my own. If I had to be on programming or some other event someone had to be with me, helping me as a sighted guide to move around the convention. It’s the only convention I attend where I need a sighted guide, and I hate it. Hate the loss of independence. Hate that I have to take someone’s time away from the convention because I can’t function anymore: hated that if I wasn’t being led around the convention from one programming item to the next, I had to retreat to the room because I can’t managed to walk around the con on my own. If I was going back this year—if I ever go back—it is obvious I’ll need a personal care assistant to help me with Convergence. And I hate that idea as well. I know. I know I’m a blind broken gimp and I shouldn’t be so reticent to get the help I need and can legally ask for, but it takes all the enjoyment of the con away.

When it came time to try and get a room for Convergence, I was already thinking this might be my last year. Then came the day of trying to get a room; a day of more stress and frustration as once again the system crashed, some people seemed to have access to a backdoor and then all the rooms in the main hotel were gone, despite that fact I had done everything right and in a timely manner. It wasn’t until this last weekend that we even knew if we could get a room in the hotel. By then, the decision to stop going to Convergence had been made.

I realized this year I was hating the idea of going to any of the 7 to 10 book festivals and conventions I attend every year. Not just Convergence, but all of them. That I just wanted to stay home all year. Hiding. The thought of going to conventions had me wanting to curl up with my confused cat and hide under the bed-covers. After talking it over with several people, I figured out it was just Convergence. I was so stressed at the very idea of dealing with Convergence that it was spoiling all the other conventions for me. Convergence comes at the end of my convention season and having it lurking out there in the horizon makes me anxious and angry and takes all the fun out of the other conventions.

A part of me hates to stop attending, especially this year. The theme is Urban Fantasy, which seems a slam-dunk for me as an author. I am a freakin’ Urban Fantasy Author fer-cryin’-out-loud. I have two new books I haven’t tried to sell at Convergence. Scott Lynch, one of the Guests of Honor, is my friend and another GoH, Emma Bull, is someone I like quite a bit. It has always been my best convention for sales. To walk away from such a great marketing opportunity seems silly.

And I don’t have anything personally against Convergence. It is the convention it is, and thousands of people seem to enjoy being squeezed into the hotel with thousands of other con-goers. For many people, this is their favorite event of the year. Their vacation. The biggest bestest badest party ever.

Bless them. Bless them all.

But I just can’t. I can’t even.

Just the thought of Convergence makes me exhausted.

So it is time to stop.

And now I feel nothing but relief.

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2 Responses to In Which We Bid Convergence Adieu And Explain Why

  1. Jennifer Dawson says:

    Michael,

    I can relate. I am also a disabled introvert, diagnosed with mild agoraphobia. Conventions scare the crap out of me, with people shoving this was and that.

    I’ve been to two small ones and two large ones, and honestly, either way, as much as I want to meet other like-minded people and people I’ve befriended online, I’d rather just stay home and avoid the stress.

    I’m sorry you’ll be missing an event that is almost custom-made for you, but I’m glad you made a decision that feels right for you.

    Jennifer

  2. Jenny M says:

    Michael,

    I have nothing but hugs for you. Lots of them. So… HUGS!

    Jenny

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