I wanted to talk about how important discovering WisCon has been to me. For those of you who don't know, WisCon is a Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention that happens in Madison Wisconsin every May. But I found that I couldn't talk about it without going on a journey (isn't that often the way?) It has been a twisted journey - and it is fitting that it all started back in 2004 at the first Mythic Journey's Conference in Atlanta.
In some ways I am reluctant to talk about my experiences at Mythic Journeys - because I know that for most attendees it was an unalloyed weekend of bliss - the programming was spectacular and the array of guests breathtaking - but in fact my experience was mixed.
I was excited about going - I had been a mythic artist for 25 years, working almost entirely in solitude - and at last I was going to get a chance, not only to get some recognition for the work I had been doing, but also to meet other mythic artists and share experiences and inspiration.
I am sorry to say that the first thing I noticed was a sort of flavour of elitism – of an ‘inner ring’ that I and the other artists were most definitely on the outside of. It wasn’t a deliberate exclusion – just a sort of self-absorption that was not sensitive to or inclusive of the many newcomers. My interest in mythic arts was not superficial or passing: I felt that I had something to contribute – but that I was not allowed in.
Sadly - because of the way the "Mythic Marketplace" was set up (and don't even get me started on the demeaning associations of the word 'marketplace') I couldn't participate in any of the great events that happened without leaving my booth unattended (which I occasionally did anyway) The schedule was so heavy with programming that attendees rarely had a chance to spend time in the 'marketplace' so mostly I and the other handful of artists only had each other for company. We enjoyed each other’s company - but were a bit irate that we were lumped in with importers, (especially as we had been promised that we wouldn’t) but mostly that we were not in any way considered participants in the conference. We were considered 'vendors' rather than mythmakers in our own right.
Happily I made many amazing connections. It was there that I first encountered fellow Canadian Charles DeLint, was introduced to the amazing Endicott Studio in the persons of Terri Windling and Midori Snyder, had great conversations with Jessica Wick (left - photo by Eric used with permission) of Goblin Fruit, and made lasting friends with fellow artist Chandra Cerchione-Peltier - among others.
Also - I found out about WisCon.
Well, no-one actually mentioned it, but I had been so delighted with the people I met that I asked myself - "Where else do these people go?" And when I googled them all - WisCon was a common denominator.
I had somewhat lost touch with my feminism over the years. Because I lived in an artists’ world - and most of my friends were artists, with the usual accompanying open-mindedness - I thought that most of the battles had been fought and won.
I had stopped reading Fantasy and Science Fiction when I began my own mythic studies - because I wanted to go to the source and develop my own vision rather than seeing the myths through someone else’s creative lens.
So I felt like a bit of an impostor. I wasn’t a feminist and I didn’t read Fantasy or Science Fiction…
But I’m so glad I went. I found out that in fact I was a feminist (always had been) and that whether I had read their books or not I really had quite a lot in common with the writers, artists and thinkers that I found there - who were not all women.
I wasn’t in a ‘marketplace’ I was in an “Art Show”. Someone was in charge of this area – someone totally practical who not only made all of my sales for me, (including collecting and remitting state tax so that I didn’t have to go through the hassle of getting a temporary license) but made this a simple a trouble free transaction. For this service I was charged the ridiculously low price of 4% of sales (no, that it not a typo that’s four percent, not forty!) I was at complete liberty to visit the and participate in the panel discussions
One of Devony's fabulous hats Photo by Eric used with permission
And what panel discussions there were! They were a smorgasbord of luscious topics that made my mouth water and had me agonising over whichto choose.
There was an academic track with interesting topics like “An Introduction to Fantastic South Asian Literature”, “Fantasy Fiction: Great Goddesses, Whole Women”, “The Political Potential of Feminist Science Fiction”
But even the regular panels were set up to stimulate real thought. Who could resist topics like these: “Feminist Fairy Tales”, “The Changing Language of Communication”, “Never the Hero: Girls in Genre Literature”, “Raising Kids as if Not All of them Will Be Heterosexual”, “Cultural Appropriation & Writing Fantasy Outside Western Tradition”.
I couldn’t help noticing that none of the panel discussions were about art. I and Devony Smith (left - photo by Lisa Stock used with permission), another artist asked Miss Jane Washburn (Artist and Art Show Coordinator extraordinaire!) about that and she explained that all we had to do was suggest it, and if there was enough interest it would be quite likely to be accepted. So we did and it was! I was a participant from the moment I arrived. I realised later that this was because of the feminist nature of the undertaking: with a non-hierarchical, grassroots, inclusive and a sensitive, listening approach to the organisation of the event.
Response to my work was positive and supportive – response to my ideas was respectful and spontaneous. New and interesting ideas and people were all around me. I was in heaven!
Being now the venerable veteran of no less than three WisCons I am constantly surprised by the response I get from others when I tell them I am going to a Feminist Science Fiction convention. Women are sardonic and ask if everyone is wearing Spock ears. Men scoff or just look frightened. I was seeing first hand that the battles had not been fought and won – they had been fought and lost.
Artist Connie Toebe, filmmaker Lisa Stock and myself - photo from Lisa Stock - used with permission)
I no longer feel like an impostor there – indeed no-one can feel that way in such an accepting and thoughtful community. I still don’t read much Fantasy or Science fiction – but I have lots in common with those who do since I am engaged in the same work – I just turn my research into works of visual art instead of into works of fiction…
In fact it is one of the few places I feel really at home.
Special thanks to Eric and Nigel for kind permission to use their photos.