If there is a better way to spend five days than as toastmaster at a ConAdian Worldcon, I cannot think of what it might be. From the invitation to be toastmaster rendered by Con Chair John Mansfield all the way through to the round of applause Regina and I received from our fellow passengers as we boarded our flight back home, it was entertaining, fulfilling, funny, moving, important, silly, esteem building, and but one moment of worth crushing horror.
First, The Horror
Toward the end of the opening ceremony, which went exceedingly well, came the moment when I was to introduce the major cheeses who, after running a successful bid, were putting on ConAdian 1994. After the opening ceremony ended on a successful note—I thought—the con chair, John Mansfield, approached and informed me that I had neglected to introduce one of the rather central members of the con staff: Namely himself.
In panic I looked at my script, his name was in there. Somehow caught up in the moment I must have skipped that line. Certain apologies fall short next to the events that bring the need for apologies into being. Failing to introduce the fellow who busted his butt to bring a Worldcon into being in the City of Winnipeg at that self same Worldcon was just such an event, and that was only the first day of the con. I immediately projected that this was going to a horrible, five-day, gut-grinding guilt pageant with me the principal non-Canadian object of scorn. It turned out to be anything but.
The next item on my agenda that day was to be interviewed in front of a live audience, and apparently the person scheduled to interview me was a no-show. John Mansfield filled in for the missing interviewer, he graciously avoided covering my error in his questioning, and between us and the questions from the audience we had a lot of laughs.
The big question from the audience, of course, was why wasn't a Canadian serving as toastmaster at ConAdian? The fellow who asked the question gave the impression that the con committee had somehow let down Canadian fandom by allowing a non-Canadian to serve in such a prominent position. It wasn't my question to answer, which was good because "I'm a really nice guy" didn't seem sufficient.
John explained that I had been an early supporter of Winnipeg's Worldcon bid, he knew me, I knew a good many of the names and faces in fandom and among writers and artists, and I had served as GOH at the con he had organized years before in New Brunswick. I suppose the most important thing that came out of that interview was that world-wide sf & fantasy fandom is very much a family of round pegs in a world of square and super-square holes. Slinging about nationalistic and other divisive labels did not seem a promising benefit to a community whose only requirement for membership was an interest in or love of the literature, art, and music of the fantastic. I was a member and Regina and I were made very much at home in Winnipeg and at ConAdian.
Working with the staff responsible for the Hugo Award Ceremony, in both design and production, was such a pleasure. I proposed modeling the ceremony after the 1980 ceremony at Noreascon II, presided over by Toastmaster Robert Silverberg, in which I received a Hugo for Best Novella ("Enemy Mine") and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It was a wonderful experience.
During rehearsal, I skipped over my pre-ceremony warm up. It was something of a comedy event and I hate letting the cat out of the bag before it has its kittens. The staff took direction well, and it was easy for me to modify what I was going to do according to the needs of the staff and video taping crew.
In the warm up I covered a much neglected literary area of science fiction and fantasy, the editorial rejection. It was an omission I intended to correct through the presentation of the No Award for the best editorial rejection slip or letter. Using that as a means, I yanked on quite a few editorial chains. Each laugh was a treasure, and after the ceremony, as a reward, author Joe Haldeman gave me a very big hug. It was a special treat for me that one of the award presenters at the ceremony was Robert Silverberg.
So many great moments, meeting and hanging out with old friends, getting to discuss a few of my works with fans in the con suite, seeing fans costumed as clowns and circus performers from my Momus stories at the special event for guests of honor, meeting writer GOH Anne McCaffrey, finally getting to meet one of my favorite illustrators, artist GOH George Barr. The panels I was on were terrific, and the City of Winnipeg was beautiful. The two restaurants at which Regina and I ate were superb.
Most important to me were the fans I met who shared their thoughts, dreams, and special costume treats with me. One woman showed me a coat the outside of which was covered with pieces of CDs creating a multi-colored reflective lightshow wherever she went. Another was collecting autographs on her coat that she would later embroider in bright colors. She collected mine, as well. Long talks – late talks with new writers, fans, a lot of not-so-new writers, and dropping into bed late at night wishing I had youth and energy sufficient to keep at it all night and every night.
As I mentioned at the top of this piece, after the con when Regina and I boarded the plane for our flight home, as soon as we entered the passenger cabin, all the passengers gave us a big round of applause. Except for the glitch at the beginning, we had done well. I remember saying to Regina, "I don't think we can ever equal the time we had here unless they have another ConAdian." It felt very good, but that was not the most touching moment for me at ConAdian 1994.
Early one morning, while Regina was back in our room getting dressed, I went down to the convention center cafeteria to get some coffee for us. My head was filled with greetings and scribbling a few autographs on the way to the cafeteria, in addition to the things I was supposed to do that day. As I got into line to pay for the coffee, a young man came up behind me, took the two big cups of coffee from me, and said, "Here, let me pay for these." I looked at him in surprise. I'd never seen him before.
He told me that he had seen the panel I had been on the day before. In the process of answering a question (I forget what the panel's subject was) I gather I illustrated my point by revealing that I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I don't often remember specific questions nor my responses in any sort of forum. Among my issues, I am severely ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), which means I never have to watch reruns; Every movie is a new release. Although I didn't remember exactly what I said, the man told me that his wife was a writer and she had been one of my fellow panelists. She was also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and this had been a secret that had been crushing her for years and during their entire marriage. Nevertheless, from my bit of sharing she understood, finally, that she was not alone with this problem. She had plenty of company, it wasn't her fault, and it was possible to get to the other side. Although such abuse leaves scars, one can recover sufficiently to live a life of creativity and joy. After paying for the coffee, the young man gave me a hug, handed me the two cups of coffee, and that was the last I ever saw of him.
I was rather stunned by this. Childhood sexual abuse, incest, and rape leave terrible mental scars on children that, unless treated, lurk forever sucking much of the joy out of life. It is hard for the survivor. I believe it is even harder for those who love the survivor. It is terrible to stand by helplessly as a loved one goes through this nightmarish pain. The young man had seen some hope in his wife's eyes after that panel. She told him why, and for the first time in months he heard her laugh. He thanked me, and, yeah, I had to go find a quiet corner away from everyone and have a rather solid weepy moment of my own as I got together with my past and my new relationship with a Higher Power and sent a prayer off for this young man and his wife in their struggles.
In interviews and online I am sometimes asked what my favorite convention was. I am asked this most often by those who believe they know the answer. Such folks assume my favorite con was Noreascon II in Boston at which I won those awards. They are sometimes puzzled when I tell them they are dead wrong. Now, pardon me while I gush: I have been going to cons and worldcons since 1978, and although there have been many cons I have enjoyed, ConAdian 1994 stands far above the others in my memory for sheer joy, interest, ideas, importance, fellowship, friendship, love, and inspiration.
I borrowed the title "Best Job I Ever Had" from the war movie, Fury. In that movie, the soldiers often use that expression cynically. For me, it is a term of precision. I use it to describe the best job I ever had. I hope I live long enough to see and possibly attend ConAdian II.