I’ve been going over and over the events that occurred at Readercon in my head since I returned from Budapest. (In short, author glvalentine was repeatedly sexually harassed by former Worldcon Chair Rene Walling, she reported it, and instead of enforcing their stated zero tolerance policy which had been in place without question for four years and necessitated a lifetime ban from the con, the Board, almost certainly bowing to Walling’s SMOF status, told him he could come back after two years. Even after it became clear that this was a pattern and Walling had harassed others.)

This disturbs me on the plain level of someone whom I consider a friend being harassed at a convention and the Board cavalierly ignoring their own policy (whatever the wisdom of zero tolerance policies, that was the policy in place) because Walling, who used his own “need” to apologize to Valentine as an excuse to follow, grab, and further stalk her, apologized while being a friend of the Board. This is, honestly, exactly why harassment continues–everyone thinks the rules don’t apply to them, that they are special, that their friendships and power in their communities will allow them to do whatever they want.

In this case, it looks like all of that is right on the money.

But it further disturbs me because this is an incident of an author, an invited guest to a convention, being harassed by, no matter the super-awesomeness of his fanhood, a fan. If that cannot be taken seriously, how can any author feel safe at a convention? Because let’s be honest, authors who harass women are already welcome at many conventions, not policed in any way, and those who once harassed and no longer do because they are dead often have their “exploits” extolled with affection and nostalgia at con parties. Big men act with impunity, are even praised for it. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus ’twill be.

So, from whom is an author safe? The answer seems to be no one.

I love fandom. Fan activity and fans are wonderful and valuable. But we all know that fans can go sour and get extremely dangerous in their attachment to authors and books. It doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen. We all try to guard ourselves and our personal lives against the possibility of a lone fan cornering us. And now we are being told that as long as the fan has done enough cool things for fandom, the rules will not apply to him. If you are a good enough fan, you can grab authors you like and violate their physical safety and it’s A-ok. Just say you’re sorry and it’s cool.

Did you get the banhammer when you did it? Well, I guess you should have been a better fan. A more important fan. Or maybe you were just mentally ill and no one liked you so the policy was drafted specifically to ban you forever because you were Harassing While Being a Nobody and it was never intended to be used on anyone else.

And hell, one of the other people Walling harassed was also a SMOF. And no one even investigated or followed up on that incident. So it’s just a naked hierarchy of power. It’d be nice to know what level of BNF one has to attain to earn the rights and privileges Walling enjoys. His Tor.com column will continue. EDIT: I have been corrected. He is no longer writing for Tor.com and his last column was taken down over the weekend. I am very glad of this. He is part of the Kansas 2016 Worldcon bid committee. He is involved in the New Zealand 2020 bid. He is, like most harassers, entirely undiminished by this. It’s not really just the Readercon Board. The community as a whole is not holding him responsible.

I’m not sure there is a high enough prestige level to have complaints taken as seriously as Walling’s apology has been.

Here’s the thing. I’ve had issues at conventions. Some people have noted that I tend to travel with a pack at events. I have good friends around me most of the time. Some of this is social and some of this is protective. I feel safe in a pack. I look young, I present as very feminine, and I started publishing at 25, when the likelihood of not being taken seriously or respected was very high.

And both of the most serious things that have happened to me at conventions have happened at Readercon.

Please do not ask me to discuss these events. I will not. I did not report them at the time and see no purpose in dragging them up now. It is not the fault of anyone at Readercon or involved with it that this happened or that I did not report it. Both men were in positions of power over me, (people in positions of power do tend to do this kind of thing–it’s almost like they know they won’t be punished like a mere plebe), both would almost certainly say it was a misunderstanding–because that’s pretty much what people do when confronted. I decided long ago not to have the conversation that attends reporting incidents. I am not as brave as Genevieve Valentine. And since both situations occurred before the famous zero tolerance policy was even in place, I think I can be fairly sure that I made the right decision in keeping them to myself.

I have also had, somewhat infamously, my share of problems with the Readercon Board, most particularly one member who felt a proper response to disagreeing with me on the Internet was sending private, threatening emails and behaving in an insulting and aggressive fashion toward commenters to this journal. (I also did not post publicly about the emails, which I now regret. I was not brave enough.) I have been nervous about attending the convention ever since my own Internet dust-up with that Board member, because his social and physical behavior I find intimidating and I am well aware that to say he dislikes me is an understatement. I was told by the Chairs of the convention that his involvement would be phased out due to his unacceptable behavior–but that has clearly not happened at all as he is still instrumental on the Board and Committee, and thus, in this decision. That is not why I’ve not been able to go for the last two years–I was GOH at another convention in 2011 and traveling to Budapest this year–but avoiding him has become a priority when I do attend. For the last three years I have been, quite simply, afraid.

And what do you know? It IS Your Father’s Readercon, after all.

Which brings me to the point of this post, which is that I cannot in conscience continue to attend Readercon.

If the Readercon Board (which is different than the Committee, and I have nothing but respect and sympathy for the terrible position the Committee is in at this point) cannot bring themselves to care about the safety of its author guests, then I, as an author guest, cannot entrust my safety to Readercon. Everyone’s safety should be of utmost importance, of course. Valentine is not more important than a fan who is harassed. But in the status Olympics in which the Board is trying to medal, it has become clear that the only thing that protects me even a little as a female author, the fact that I am well-known and active in the community and if fucked with can make a lot of noise, is irrelevant if a harasser is sufficiently popular in the Big Boys Club. And of course, it never did protect me very well. Genevieve is also well known and active online. She can, and has, made a big noise. What has occurred was highly predictable. If they do not care about her, they will not care about anyone. If neither authors nor SMOFs can be ensured of their safety and that their violations will be taken seriously, how can any lover of books who just wants to go listen to some panels and get a first edition signed feel safe? And this is borne out by the large number of people crossing Readercon off of their calendars for the forseeable future.

Which means that the Board was fully willing to sacrifice significant portions of attendance, revenue, reputation, and possibly the con itself as it has been known, to protect a single man with a long track record of harassment.

How can I support this convention while this decision stands? I love Readercon–I used to drive 12 hours to attend. Now it is my local con. Despite my fear and nervousness, it is a place I want to be. But cons are working spaces for authors, as squirrel_monkey has pointed out, and I cannot expose myself to a workplace environment where harassment is tolerated if everyone likes the harasser a whole lot and he says sorry when caught.

This is pure nepotism and it is ugly as hell. He’s one of our own, don’t inconvenience him. Nevermind that the whole welcoming geek community thing we’re all so proud of should mean that everyone at a con is one of our own.

But what this should tell us is that the geek community–or at least Readercon–is just like everywhere else. The rules do not apply to the higher-ups.

If the policy is reconsidered and Walling banned, I, too will reconsider. But only reconsider–this is an issue of the culture of Readercon, the memes at work within it, and though I thought that culture had come a long way, it clearly has not, at least with regards to the Board. I cannot speak for anyone else, I only speak as an author and a member of the community. I have, however, certainly never run a Worldcon, so feel free to disregard my concerns completely.

The Board stated the following:

In the three years between Readercons 23 and 26 we will actively look for evidence of real and permanent positive change in his [Walling’s] behavior. It was made very clear to him that if we receive any substantiated reports of continued inappropriate behavior at any venue – during or after the suspension period – his suspension will become permanent.

And to that I say:

In the three years between Readercons 23 and 26 I will actively look for evidence of real and permanent positive change in the Board’s behavior, policies, and the environment created by both. I hope I have made it very clear to them that if I receive any substantiated reports of continued inappropriate behavior at this venue – during or after my hiatus – my hiatus will become permanent.

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Scenes from a rainy Sunday:

I talked to my mother-in-law (Tatyana) on Skype today. My father-in-law (Vadim) is visiting and since they were robbed the last time they both came up, she elected to stay at home with the Jack Russell Terrierist.

I had not mentioned my weight loss to them, and so when I came on Skype, Tatyana was quite shocked to see what I look like now. (In a good way!) She asked what I had done to lose the weight (P.S. I have a ways to go yet, process is far from over, but I’ve come a long way and she hasn’t seen me in a year, so it’s pretty dramatic) and I told her the various bits and pieces of changes in my life, the app I use, etc. Finally came to the dairy thing.

Me: So it turns out I’m allergic to dairy, which I didn’t know until last year, but I guess I have been for a long time, which is why I felt sick a lot. So I don’t eat dairy anymore. That actually helps a lot.

She nodded. About fifteen minutes later, I hear the rest of the exchange from justbeast, which went on in Russian after I signed off.

Tatyana: What is Cat doing with her diet? She is only eating berries now? That is not healthy.

Vadim: (Awesomely deadpan) No, you heard it wrong. She is now eating only bear.

Most badass diet, and father-in-law, ever.

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A continuing log of my time in Hungary, addressed to my husband in Maine.

Day 3

11:30 am: Yesterday was a low-energy day. It was hot and sticky, and after sleeping in we strolled down to Market Hall for lunch. I had a goose leg! That I didn’t have to roast myself! I was quite pleased that it tasted exactly like the goose I make, which means I am Doing It Right. It came with fresh caraway bread that had this light salt crust on it. Dora got sour cherry strudel which she loves. We walked about for awhile, picking up supplies for the apartment (tea kettle, coffee cups, pots, a palacinta pan–that’s Hungarian blini–and a sharp kitchen knife). Do you know they have a version of korjiki here? They put all kinds of sweet things on them. We should try it.

Once home, I read some of David Foster Wallace’s essay collection–I like his essays better than his fiction. I wish he’d done an update of the television essay, because after 1990 (when it was written) all the things he said became a million times more true, ie, reality TV, online streaming, ironic advertising. It was so hot in that slow, thick summer way that I fell asleep. Hungary is apparently a magical country where I can nap! I have done it two days in a row, and you know I can never nap, it takes me so long to get to sleep and I’m so cranky when I wake up. But not here–I fall asleep in a moment with no medication and wake up totally happy and refreshed. Two hours of nap! And then I got to sleep at 11:30 that night, too, which is usually impossible for me! I feel like a Terrible Midnight Princess who can only sleep in one place in all the world.

For dinner, we walked behind our apartment building, down a little street crowded with cafes and trees and the most gorgeous architecture. I said it looked like Brooklyn, a little, and Dora said: yes, if the Turks had invaded New York. And it was strangely Turkish in style, Turkish Art Deco Alhambra neo-Cathedralesque. All these relief arches and faces carved into the sides of building, white on peach and sage and cornflower. Faces we couldn’t understand, though they must be there for a reason. Like being inside a portal fantasy without an As You Know, Bob guide. There were two faces on shields mounted on the wall on one side of a square: one hooded and mustached and obviously Turkish, the other we couldn’t tell if it was male or female, but his/her mouth was gagged. Above them was a marble sun with stark, straight beams. Down the cobblestone street was a church with such red turrets and greened copper trim. The bricks of another side of the square were deliberately, decoratively pockmarked, which had come, beautifully, to match the natural fading and pocking of the concrete and brick above it.

We ate cold raspberry soup, which was astonishingly complex and delicious. I had my first (not last) goulash, and is there any better soup in the world? I think not. I have not been using enough paprika when I make it at home! It was the evening of two soups. Dora had a duck and pear salad. We talked about missing Readercon and yet, and yet, cold raspberry soup! In Budapest!

Afterward we went to see that church with the striking turrets–there was a service going, and we watched it for awhile. In the midst of the old altar was a big plasma flat screen where the Hungarian and Latin lyrics to the hymns flashed through the verses.

Along the street was a little shop where we paused to admire the dresses–we’d talked earlier about how each of us have colors we are immediately drawn to, dark jewel tones for me and lighter, more subtle shades of the same colors for Dora. Well, we both instantly pulled dresses off of the rack that proved the thesis. A deep garnet and gold for me and a spring green for her. She looked so beautiful! Like the green fairy. We both ended up getting two floaty summer dresses (the garnet one and another, dark gold and slate, and two different shades of green) and both felt like May queens in them.

We walked through the gardens of the National Museum. We made tentative talk about doing this every year, going to Budapest, writing together in Dora’s grandmother’s apartment where the pantry is full of jam and pickles put up thirty years ago.

We closed out the evening at the cafe below us. A rainstorm spun up and drenched the street outside. I fell asleep reading Engine Summer. I’m almost done–and it’s coloring my days here a little. It’s all about a beautiful, familiar-yet-unfamiliar world where everything has fallen apart, yet people have put it back together again several times and made something new and dreamlike and difficult and uncertain. Draw your own conclusions.

This morning dawned cool and grey and windy. I am all metallic to match it–black and silver and blue, with my hair pulled back severely. Outside the apartment is a tree Dora calls a Japanese Lantern. It is full of huge papery seed pods. The berries inside are green now, but long after we leave, they will turn red.

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Justbeast asked me to keep a little daily log of my activities here in Budapest, where I am ensconced with Theodora Goss in her grandmother’s apartment in the city center, writing and seeing and writing some more. I thought I’d post them here, since this is a diary of sorts. Mind the POV, these were directed toward my husband at home–but blogs are all about peeking into private correspondence are they not?

Day 1

5:20 am: I’ve only seen glimpses of the city so far–it is quieter than I expected. Part new metal and glass, part gorgeous centuries-old buildings, part Communist era faded storefronts and flat 70s architecture. It is hot and we are in our 1940s-era apartment with minimal tech–so windows open (no screens), bathtub with a pilot light, laundry in the tub, stove lit with a match. The nights, at least, are cool. We are at a restaurant called The Architects’ Gallery which was a meeting place for the revolutionaries of ’56. Now it’s the national architects’ guildhouse with an open courtyard that is still a cafe, covered in hanging ivy and neo classical busts and statues. I had the most amazing paprikash, so red, like flowers. After Finland, everything seems so very inexpensive here–13 euros for two huge meals and dessert. (Actually everything is in forints, but I only know euros conversion so far). After that I fell asleep, exhausted. Woke at 4 am. The light is out now, the moon very high up and fading to white.

Day 2:

11:30 am: The morning yesterday was cloudy and cool, full of a sudden rainstorm outside the stone walls and double windows of our place on Baross Utca. Later on, the sky went bold blue and cloudless. I never did get back to sleep after 4 am, so I ate an entire salami (a little one!) because it was so amazing and delicious, and read about 2/3 of Engine Summer, which is beautiful, and you should read it. Amnesiac Moon (and Anathem basically all other dreamlike monasterial post-apocalypses) owes a lot to it. Went down to the cafe as soon as it opened and came back up to get Dora and head out into the city. It was hot as anything by 11 and we went to Market Hall, which is like a giant Hungarian version of the West Side Market in Cleveland, with everything you could ever want to eat and a lot of kitschy stuff with “Budapest!” or “Hungary!” printed on it–but also a lot of beautiful shawls and jackets and teacups.

Afterward, we strolled over to the Danube–which is so wide, the color of cream-in-coffee, but much slower and more stately than the Thames. We walked over on the beautiful 19th century Liberty Bridge (Dora said: “There’s a lot of things dedicated to liberty here, but you can never tell which liberty: liberty from the Hapsburgs, liberty from capitalist dogma, liberty from the Nazis, liberty from the Soviets…”). and back over Elizabeth Bridge, which is very modern, as it was rebuilt after WWII. On the other side (the Buda side, Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, that were united. We’re on the Pest side.) is a famous hot springs and this strange little building you would have loved. We guessed that it was a monastery at some point–it did not seem open in any fashion. It’s built into the side of the cliffs, little castle-like buildings that follow the path of the road getting smaller and smaller, like fairy houses, but with ape-like gargoyles and trefoils. Buttresses were actually carved into the cliffside, not connecting anything, just etched into the hill.

The architecture is from every era–but there is a lot of art nouveau, which you know I love. One apartment building had a stylized elephant in relief on it.

On our way back we walked down Váci utca, the main shopping street. I found an antique map shop and will be heading back there for you–they had an old map of Transylvania and Bulgaria! It was a strange combination of antique stores, MAC makeup counters, high end jewelry and folk art stalls (though Dora assures me that if it says handmade it’s most assuredly not). We also saw a 1918 etching of Budapest through autumn leaves. If Dora doesn’t get it when we return, I may have to, it was haunting and lovely and a little sad, in that melancholy way some etchings have. We found towels (the apartment needs to be supplied to some extent and we’re doing our best–yesterday brought us cutlery, towels, pillows, and salt and pepper shakers) with our names on them! They only had a few names but two of them were Dora and Kati (Catherine is Katalin in Hungarian) and we were delighted. Hers is pink, mine is white. We went to Gerbeaud for tea (smoked salmon and brown bread with raspberry elderflower lemonade for me, caramel chocolate cake and coffee with ice cream for Dora) which is a pastry and tea shop established in 1858. A man played the violin so fast and gorgeously in the courtyard outside.

By then I was feeling sick–lack of sleep, the heat, and my belly disliking the tap water in the apartment. We headed home and I immediately embarked on an epic nap. When I woke up, I had some pogácsa, a savory pastry, and salami (which was not as good as the one from the previous day, but then, I got it at Tesco’s, so serves me right) and Dora and I had one of those long, meandering, wonderful conversations about life and love and mistakes and fate and writing and mothers and displacement and romanticism that goes until two am. I finally got a real night’s sleep, woke up at 11 this morning to Dora already at the American cafe below the apartment (California Coffee Company, which is air conditioned and has wifi) and the air a little cooler than yesterday. Had some sour cherry juice and headed down with computer in hand.

I am wearing an orange dress today. Sour cherries are called meggyes in Hungarian. Igen is yes, nem is no, koszonom is thank you (pronounced kur-sur-nurm) jó napot is good morning. Jó napot. I love you.

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I’ve been off the grid. There are a lot of reasons for that: work and deadlines, depression, travel, workshops, my increasingly complicated relationship with the Internet. I’m having some kind of weird tech/art identity crisis right now that all the travel and deadlines are deepening and widening. I see little holes of light and Figuring Things Out.

I thought that the best way to explain why I’ve been so behind the veil lately would be to quote a passage from 2312, which is Kim Stanley Robinson’s phenomenal (not perfect, but daring and strange, which is sometimes better) new book. It is a passage that seemed So Important to me, a message to my poor scattered brain and a thing to hold on to as I tightrope it out of a dark place. All bolding is mine, FOR EMPHASIS YO.

Habits begin to form at the very first repetition. After that there is a tropism toward repetition, for the patterns involved are defenses, bulwarks against time and despair.

Wahram was very aware of this, having lived the process many times; so he paid attention to what he did when he traveled, on the lookout for those first repetitions that would create the pattern of that particular moment in his life. So often the first time one did things they were contingent, accidental, and not necessarily good things on which to base a set of habits. There was some searching to be done, in other words, some testing of different possibilities. that was the interregnum, in fact, the naked moment before the next exfoliation of habits, the time when on wandered doing things randomly. The time without skin, the raw data, the being-in-the-world.

They came a bit too often for his taste. Most of the terraria offering passenger transport around the solar system were extremely fast, but even so, trips often took weeks. This was simply too much time to be banging around aimlessly; doing that one could easily slide into a funk or some other kind of mental hibernation. In the settlements around Saturn this sort of thing had sometimes been developed into entire sciences and art forms. But any such hebephrenia was dangerous for Wahram, as he had found out long before by painful experience. Too often in his past, meaninglessness had gnawed at the edges of things. He needed order, and a project; he needed habits. In the nakedness of the moments of exfoliation, the intensity of experience had in it a touch of terror–terror that no new meaning would blossom to replace the old ones now lost.

Of course there was no such things as a true repetition of anything; ever since the pre-Socratics that had been clear, Herclitus and his un-twice-steppable river and so on. So habits were not truly iterative but pseudoiterative. The pattern of the day might be the same, in other words, but the individual events fulfilling the pattern were always a little bit different. Thus there was both pattern and surprise, and this was Wahram’s desired state: to live in a pseudoiterative. But then also to live in a good pseudoiterative, an interesting one, the pattern constructed as a little work of art. No matter the brevity of the trip, the dullness of the terrarium or the people in it, it was important to invent a pattern and a project and pursue it with all his will and imagination. It came to this: shipboard life was still life. All days had to be seized.

–2312
Kim Stanley Robinson

I wish I could surround that last line with neon glowing arrows and underline it a thousand times. It is something I have never managed to believe for long as a working adult and something I desperately needed to hear.

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