I have to give the good folks of Conflation massive credit for the most creative way to keep a con alive during the pandemic: move the whole thing to the metaverse.
And no, not that lame Meta-verse that the artist formerly/currently/whatever known as Facebook is attempting to pass off on us, but the original-ish metaverse of Second Life. Conflation’s organizers recreated the entire con, right down to the design of the Comfort Inn at Westport where it’s taken place for umpteen years, including the recalcitrant automatic doors and funky stairwell and not-actually-a-fireplace in the lobby. Only when you walk out the back door, instead of a shuttered pool and parking lot, you would see a vast playground of oceanfront walkways and hot tubs and dance floor with swirling lights and other fun things. For two successive Conflations, we partied in Second Life, and it was delightful – and introduced me to Second Life, about which I have written before.
Conflation returned to meatspace last week, and it was glorious. As is the tradition for a relax-a-con that puts emphasis on socialization and relaxed schedules rather than panels and workshops, we sell out of our rooms and open/close as we see fit. I’ve vended at Conflation for umpteen years, running the Literary Underworld Traveling Bar and hawking the books in the same place, and I love it.
This time I was solo, as my scheduled minion contracted the Voldevirus and had to quarantine. Fortunately I have many pals at Conflation and elsewhere who helped me unload the van, set up the tables, and watched the booth while I did my workshops. Special props go to the Branson-Koppenhofer-Rendleman family, author Elizabeth Lynn Blackson, and Conflationites David Szucs and Brad Hicks for doing extra duty helping me out
And that leads me to the unusual part: with so much success in Second Life during the pandemic, they opted to simulcast my reading in SL while I was speaking in real life at the con. My avatar looked smashing. (As I said at the time, she’s a lot prettier than I am and her dancing is a vast improvement.
Later, I gave a two-hour writing workshop that is essentially a condensed version of the workshop I developed this year in the MFA program, and I will conduct that workshop again in Second Life on April 1.
It was a first for me, plus an international audience I’ve rarely had, and I thought it was a great success. It’s a little disconcerting to read to a roomful of avatars, as I never quite realized how much I key off body language when reading – are they bored? Excited? Distraught? Checking their phones? Surprised? Making eye contact? Avatars aren’t stone still; they have scripts that make them move or shift, but it’s automatic and subtle, and it’s impossible to read their reactions.
I read “Sisyphus,” which I’ve probably read too often, but it’s always well-received and kind of my default reading. I wasn’t sure of the audience, and I wasn’t sure they would be ready for something more obscure like “The Train” or, god save us, the popobawa excerpt. I made the mistake of reading that one once and it freaked out several members of the audience. No, wait! Buy the book! Fortunately the majority of listeners in real life and SL had never heard “Sisyphus” before, so the ending comes as a surprise.
I made good on my personal vow to always attend at least one panel I’m not on, and I got to spend time with some of my favorite humans and enjoy the festivities we once enjoyed before the world ended. It was a wonderful kick-start to the convention season, and a blessed return to a little bit of the World That Was.
Note: I took several photos of awesome costumes with permission, but I did not explicitly ask if I could post said pictures, therefore I have omitted them. Darn ethics.
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