Monday, May 28, 2007
Last Night in Madison
WisCon is over. We're spending a quiet night in the hotel room before our very early departure tomorrow morning. Gary's watching TV, and I'm blogging. I'm really exhausted after moderating a 10 PM panel last night and a 10 a.m. panel this morning, so I'm not even going to attempt complete coverage of the last few days.
* Learning that the Shelter galley went for $100 at auction. Woo-hoo! Thanks to The Other Susan who bought it; Emily, I'm sorry you didn't get it, but in just a few weeks you can get a real-live corrected copy for $15.00, so it's sort of a win-win situation. The person who gets the galley in the Tiptree auction donates to an excellent cause; anybody who wanted the galley but backed off from the bidding process gets to read the book for less money.
* Talking to the Other Susan and learning that she's recommended Flying in Place to all of the counselors in the women's health clinic where she works, and that some of them have recommended it to clients.
* A terrific dinner, and thoroughly enjoyable conversation, with Jeff and Ann Smith.
* The Domestic Fantasy panel was such a hit that people want to do it again next year. We even spawned our own in-joke, involving rabbits -- don't ask -- and a Secret Signal: people who were at the panel and saw each other later in the hallways were supposed to greet each other with Little Bunny Fu-Fu hopping gestures.
* The "Writing as Spiritual Discipline" panel drew a surprisingly large audience, twenty people or so, even though it was running opposite the Tiptree awards, which had gotten a late start.
* The "Religious Left" panel went well, I think, and several people thanked me for organizing the running series (and one woman wants to be on it next year). This included someone who saw me in the Dealer's Room afterwards and said, "I'm a Lutheran pastor, but I'm not comfortable telling people at WisCon that, because, well -- I don't need to tell you. You know why."
Indeed I do. To my distress, I'm still seeing too much evidence of kneejerk anti-religious sentiment at WisCon. During the Dessert Salon, someone admired the "Be Prophetic: Disturb Society" button I was wearing on my purse, and asked me where I'd gotten it -- but then reared back as if bitten and made noises of disgust when I explained that I'd picked it up at the Pax Christi table at the Farmer's Market. (I gave him a Pax Christi pamphlet anyway, and he liked it and kept it.) All but one other member of the "Writing as Spiritual Discipline" panel was in the "I'm spiritual but not religious" camp, which is fine, except that as the only person there who identified as a member of a mainstream faith tradition, I wound up feeling a bit patronized by several folks (mainly in the audience, not on the panel). Ordinarily I'd have chalked my sensitivity up to fatigue, but Gary had the same reaction, so I don't think it was just me.
I was very grateful this morning when someone told me that she'd really enjoyed that panel, that she thought it was "beautiful."
At the "Religious Left" panel -- which included three Episcopalians, a Muslim, and a Jew, women and feminists all -- I talked about the importance of being "out and visible" as members of our faith traditions in public, and we discussed various ways to dismantle us/them barriers, to see everyone as "us" instead. One of the Episcopalians, who's considering ordination to the priesthood and who volunteered in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, said that the guy who trained the volunteers told them, "You can judge people or you can serve them: you can't do both."
I told the story of how Ernest Gordon, who was a WWII prisoner of war, "practiced the discipline of seeing in the face of each of my torturers the face his mother had seen when she cradled him in her arms when he was a baby." That was how he overcame hatred and bitterness, which he felt would have destroyed his soul even if his body had survived otherwise unharmed. I asked everyone in the room to think of someone they hated or were angry at, and then to close their eyes and, for a minute -- which I timed -- to practice seeing that person as a beloved baby. Afterwards, several people said the exercise had been difficult, and I recommended that we all try to practice it for a minute a day.
Folks at that panel were all over the Pax Christi material, and my few remaining pamphlets were eagerly claimed.
But to give you some idea why I started the "Religious Left" panels, ours ran at the same time as one about "the crutch of religion." A Jewish woman who's been on my panel for the last several years, and who asked to be put on it again this year, was disappointed to find herself on that other one instead -- but said she felt she had to be there to stick up for organized religion. I'll be curious to hear from her how that went!
People at WisCon are usually so thoughtful and well-educated, and it's frustrating that there's still such a large blind spot on this subject. I know a lot of the hostility comes from bad personal experience with the judgmental side of religion, but at the same time, I don't like being stereotyped and dismissed any more than anyone else does.
I think that next year, I'll propose a panel called something like "What's Good About Religion," except that no one would come to it except people who already knew what was good, or potentially good, about religion. I'd love to find some way to do a pro-faith (or at leat pro-religious-tolerance) panel that wasn't just preaching to the converted.
Does anyone out there have any ideas?