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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16 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

  3. Linda White says:

    Hi Michael,
    Honestly, I had no idea. The few times we’ve met, I didn’t know you had a disability.
    I can understand why this would be difficult for you – or anyone even slightly introverted.
    I went last year for my first time, and had a blast. But when faced with going to AWP in Seattle, I was all set to go and was so stressed about the prospect of just getting around (and I’m not physically disabled!) that I cancelled the whole thing four days ahead of the conference. All I felt then was relief too. I lost some money, but I am glad I didn’t try to go. The anxiety was killing me.
    So while I will miss seeing you (one of only two times a year I seem to run into you), I applaud your decision as being wise for you.

  4. Hey, Michael!

    I don’t know if you’re willing to travel to Iowa, but I think you’d enjoy Demicon (Des Moines) and/or ICON (Cedar Rapids). They’re both around 400-600 people.

    Sorry to hear CONvergence isn’t working out for you anymore, but I understand. Before my surgery last summer, getting around the con was a chore for me, too.

    – Adam

  5. Michael Merriam says:

    Jennifer – I really prefer the smaller conventions. I like being able to connect with people and Convergence makes that hard just by its sheer mass.

    Linda – I should start doing more of the Carol Connelly reading series and other Loft and Rain Taxi events. I should be at TC Book Festival with a table for MinnSpec.

    Adam – I have been to Icon and enjoyed it. People have recommended both Icon and Demicon to me before and I might explore them in the future.

  6. Anne says:

    I’m not an introvert in the slightest, but was largely overwhelmed by CVG last year. The crowds, the difficulty getting to programming I was interested in, the lines for badges, etc. I didn’t want to go this year, but at the same time, wanted to support my Urban Fantasy writers.

    Finally I came to the decision that I didn’t want to spend four days packed into a hotel where I mostly wanted to hide all the time. Me, an extrovert!

    So, I’m not going either. I’m sorry it’s come to this, but so glad you’re comfortable with your decision. Relief can be glorious, sometimes.

  7. Erik Pakieser says:

    I always loved CONvergence, but I agree it’s gotten too big for me. It’s no longer fun, it’s more like work.

  8. Jody says:

    You will be missed but I am glad you are doing what is right for you. Thank you for articulating the issues you have faced. But as a convention volunteer I will help to bring them forward. We can’t make the con smaller but for people with more bandwidth but similar issues we may be able to make it a little easier.

  9. Anne says:

    Michael,

    I can certainly understand your decision. I’m an extrovert and have never been bothered by crowds and last year at Convergence just turned me off of conventions. While the idea of capping the attendance isn’t something it seems the main organizers want to do. perhaps finding a different space to hold the con should be something they look into. Convergence used to be fun. A fun place to people watch, attend some panels, meet interesting people, etc. but now it’s more of a glorified frat party. I was one of the volunteers who passed out food/drink for the hundreds and hundreds of attendees waiting up to 3 1/2 hours last year to get their con badge. The con nor the hotel even demonstrated the concern for security should the line of humans decide to riot. Thankfully they didn’t of course. As the weekend wore on, the hotel stank horribly and was I say one of the worst con experiences I’ve had. This year? nope, not going. Beyond this year? likely not attending in the future either. So, the con lost a volunteer of 20+ hours; the revenue from the purchase of my badge; dealers and artists have also lost sales and of course the hotel has lost out on the money I would have spent eating all 3 daily meals in their restaurant. Too bad Convergence doesn’t bring in professional problem solvers to work on resolving the constant ongoing issues they face each year. Then perhaps you, me and others who quit having fun might give the con another try sometime.

  10. Caden Logan says:

    Michael, I only learned about convergence 3 years ago, and I am already considering not attending this year. I have multiple disabilities which require an electric wheelchair for transportation, and serious health problems that are harder to manage in settings like that.

    Like you, I followed all the rules, but didn’t get a hotel room. That means driving back and forth every day, and trying to find parking for a van with a wheelchair ramp. That means I have no place to lay down, as I would not feel comfortable doing that outside of a hotel room. I also wait in very long lines for the elevator while able people push through the line, which causes me to miss my panels and activities.

    Then there’s the crowds. I can’t tell you how many people–adults and children I have hit with my wheelchair because nobody pays attention to what they’re doing. Frankly, it feels like I’m invisible to them until I’ve run over their foot or yelled at the parents of the 2 year old I barely missed taking out. I have the same sensory overload issues you do from 2 TBI’s. It’s been ok in the past because I’ve had a dark, quiet, room to go rest in. Without it, I am at risk of having seizures. That’s one of the big dealbreakers for me.

    Finally, I hate having the mindset of PTSD just to function at Convergence. I want it to be a happy, fun, exciting experience. This may be my last year. I’m not sure if I’m going at all. If I don’t, I will miss it. I LOVE Convergence!! I guess it’s just gotten so big it can’t be accessible. And while I don’t like it, I understand.

  11. Albatross says:

    Can I have your room?

  12. Susie R. says:

    So, as someone working on the accessibility procedures for a 800-1000 person con (which will almost certainly grow), are there things we should be doing to make a con more hospitable to folks with vision and mobility issues?

    We’re creating dedicated wheelchair spaces and disabled seating at the front of each panel room. We are always happy to give assistance when asked, but we recognize that true hospitality means anticipating so people don’t *have* to ask. What could con runners be doing to make their conventions more friendly?

  13. Michael Merriam says:

    Susie R – I will formulate a full response and send you an email.

  14. Michael Merriam says:

    Caden – Yes, you and I are having many of the same issues. Have you been to any of the other locals conventions? Marscon has some of the same stuff as Convergence, but with a membership ranging from 750 to 1000.

  15. Joel Arnold says:

    I totally understand, Michael. I often feel overwhelmed there. I still enjoy it for the most part, but my anxiety levels are high, high, high for much of the con.

  16. Caden Logan says:

    Michael, I have not been to other conventions. I am still very new to the scene. One of the reasons I go to Con is that so many of my friends go there,and it’s close to where I live. Plus, I am a huge fan of some of the acts there, that don’t perform at smaller venues.

    I think I will attempt a very modified schedule this year and see how it goes. I especially don’t want to miss Marina Sirtis. Star Trek:TNG was my favorite sci-fi TV show. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet anyone from the cast. That might be the only reason I end up going, but it would be a very good one!

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