MidSouthCon–Part 1

Jeff VanderMeer • March 24th, 2009 @ 3:09 pm • Culture

Would you buy a book or listen to a presentation from these two goofs? Well, the folks at MidSouthCon did. Due to a, well, just a mistake I forgot to pack my more formal clothes and wound up giving my part of our Booklife workshop in a hoodie and a t-shirt that read “Nyet!”. Matt Staggs at least had on the mimic’s version of a professor’s uniform. But you couldn’t have more of a contrast. Matt’s thoughts on the con can be found here.

Me, I’m still formulating my thoughts, but here are a few pre-con observations, in the context of having had a good time and the con people treating us just wonderfully well.

Con hotel/convention center

A genre convention is largely defined by three elements: location, the quality and type of the group mind running the con, and the people, guests and attendees, who animate the that location and vision. Location can reflect the true desires of the group mind, but more often it reflects the strong (and correct) desire to save money. When conventions isolate their attendees, it’s often stated that this is to make people focus more fully on the experience. Rarely is this the truth. Sometimes, the group mind is fleeing some great catastrophe elsewhere, or simply trying to escape a bad location.

MidSouthCon28 was held in Whispering Woods, a conference center and hotel about twenty-minutes outside of Memphis (in fact, just across the border in Mississippi)—basically in the middle of nowhere. Whispering Woods has a 70s feel to the exterior, especially in the attempt to make concrete behave artistically, which is against its essential nature. Inside, the building consists of long spaces carpeted in conflicting “Southern Psychedelic” patterns (muted colors, but Rorschach-ish) and Escher-like proliferations of ramps and staircases. Confusing directions in the form of arrows pointing up or down at the wrong angle to the actual ramps seemed to belong to another hotel entirely.

Somehow it seemed like there might be an infinite number of ramps and staircases; we just couldn’t see them all because some existed in parallel universes. In fact, the sense that this lacerating series of lines cutting through the hotel hid something was heightened by the lack of a second or third floor. The elevator gave us only the option of “1”, “M”, or “4”. Even if the mind understands the word “mezzanine,” it doesn’t on some basic level understand the lack of sequential numbers in an elevator. Every time we got on, there was that sudden pause to grok once again the absence of those hidden floors.

Further mysteries awaited us. Whispering Woods had no restaurant. Whispering Woods had no bar. The walk from the lobby of Whispering Woods down the elongated wormholes to our room took ten minutes. The wireless connection seemed appropriate as the pulse of the place: thready, fading in and out, but never dying away entirely.

Heard in the corridor the first day:

“I’m just going to glue it to the toilet.”
“If you do, just make sure the bed ain’t in there when you do it.”

Graceland

Friday, the con organizers thoughtfully brought us and most of the other guests of honor to Graceland. Mike Resnick’s plane had been delayed, so he wasn’t there, but the gaming guests came along and so did Jane Fancher, Lynn Abbey, and C.J. Cherryh. Only, I’m so bad with names that the details of this troika of lifelong writers escaped me for the longest time. Somewhere in the middle of Graceland my brain exploded as I realized suddenly who Cherryh was, and only on the trip back did the other two register and become names on books in my mind. Yes, that’s just how close to Alzheimer’s I am these days…

So how was Graceland? Small and personal and glitzy and bright and terrible. How strange and ragingly symbolic to include Elvis’s boyhood sled right next to a collection of his cars. I also found bizarre the Elvis impersonators visiting the place in civilian clothes, pushing baby strollers or keeping their sons in line. Again, this sense of a limitless number of mirrors, distorting, contracting, and expanding, came over me, as it had in the hotel

How unlike my expectations, too, the house itself, both extravagant and tiny. Boxy, even. Every room a marvel of campy-ness or of legitimately brilliant design. Here a huge malformed teddy bear in a creepy creaking rocking chair. There a porcelain Hanuman monkey staring up from a table set in front of a reflecting series of mirrors. Here a kitchen that looked a lot like our own, nothing fancy. There a room for the pool table that had a ceiling and walls that looked like they’d been designed by Andy Warhol on acid. Some of it looked like what a child transformed instantly into a man would’ve thought constituted “adult”.

Much that had been functional had been turned into something shiny. The promised racquetball court had refinished walls upon which had been hung hundreds of his various awards for sales and artistic achievement, including a whole section just for Australia. I think I would’ve preferred to see the court before that transformation, scuff marks, faint smell of old sweat, echoing reverberation of past matches, and all.

Not much after that captured my attention, perhaps because even Elvis’ gravestone seemed superfluous. He already inhabited every empty rhinestone jumpsuit. Everywhere and nowhere. Plus, I’ve never been a hardcore Elvis fan, so it was more the spectacle of opulence that interested me—the odd ways it manifested, and how these odd manifestations had seemed normal to him, and to most of those visiting the place (although I can’t read minds).

For these reasons, I hadn’t accepted the headphones for the tour like everyone else in our group. I didn’t want to know the details. I just wanted to look at it all—and look at the people looking at it all. (Because everyone else was ensconced in their headphones, I added a meta-level of commentary by emailing images of Graceland from my phone to a few people. This focused me a little bit on what was odd or interesting, and didn’t feel like interference. Oddly, it made me happy, to live in a world where I could share this stuff so quickly with anyone, anywhere.)

We ate lunch at a diner inside Graceland. The food was rather generic: burgers and fries. About as far removed from the hype and glory as you could get, but everybody was wolfing it down, not yards away from a solid gold belt. A childhood sled. A titanium sink. A ruby crown. A plane so large it had a bed in it, and the bed, per FAA regulations, had a seat belt across it, just below the pillows. A seat belt that I can’t imagine being of any use at all during an emergency, except perhaps to strangle you before you’d be able to achieve the more terrible death of being evaporated or sucked into freezing non-air or blasted into a rain of tiny bits.

Planes were the least of it, though. Elvis could’ve changed his pants about three hundred times and not gotten to the end of his endless supply of clothes. Could’ve stepped into a row of mirrors and come out the other side–emerging through the wormholes leading to the Whispering Woods later that day–with scales of broken glass woven into his Vegas-era white jumpsuit, into a flow of Stormtroopers, zombies, reinforced corsets, steampunks, and Trekkies…and not even been noticed.

3 Responses to “MidSouthCon–Part 1”

  1. Ennis Drake says:

    “Would you buy a book or listen to a presentation from these two goofs?”

    I’d be highly suspicious; then again, I think I’ve got an Indy film pretty much written just off that pic. ; )

  2. JeffC says:

    Whoa… It looks like a picture from the high school science fair. Matt even has his 1st place ribbon pinned to his chest. Also why the wacky date on the photo?

  3. Marmot Dancin' says:

    Yep. It was the dry run. It’s pretty funny, really. I’m gonna keep that photo as a reminder when we ramp it up.

    Jeff

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