2019 Windycon Fan Guest of Honor Speech: An Apocryphal Story, 43 Things I Learned Being In Fandom and Mean Comments From File 770 Readers
By Chris M. Barkley: Good Morning. I’m Chris Barkley.
A word of warning: At one point during this speech, I will be making a partisan political reference that may offend some of you. The rest of you can laugh. Don’t worry, you’ll know it when you hear it. Viewer discretion is advised…
I am very honored to be Windycon’s Fan Guest of Honor this year. Ever since I was asked to be Windycon’s Fan Guest of Honor nearly a year and a half ago, I felt like I was asking to host Saturday Night Live. Because when you think about it, conventions are very much like live television. There’s a lot of spontaneous action and unpredictable stuff going on, sometimes all at once. Well, ok, here the sketches are also longer and it would help if they were better written.
And as a “reward” I am obligated to regale you with some musings and philosophical insights I have gained in my many years in fandom.
I also note that in some circles, I have what is quaintly known as a “bad reputation”. Well, I can tell you that Joan Jett was speaking directly to me when she sang:
And I don’t give a damn ’bout my bad reputation
Oh no (No no no no no no)
Not me (Me me me me me me)
I was born in August of 1956. Dwight David Eisenhower was the President of the United States. Some weasel from California was the Vice-President. (And NO, this isn’t the political comment you’re waiting for. Patience.)
My mother became an elementary school teacher who specializes in reading. My father was a mechanical engineer for General Electric’s jet engine division. So, it stands to reason that their oldest son is an avid fan of science fiction (and under certain conditions, fantasy).
Comic books were one thin dime apiece. Penny candy actually cost a penny. There were only three broadcast television networks. Rock and Roll, the bastard child of rhythm and blues and jazz was poised to take over the world.
And, aside from the racism, marginalization of minorities, lynchings, rampant, sexism, homophobia, the Cold War, governmental malfeasance and the imminent threat of nuclear war, it was a great time to be alive in the most prosperous nation on the planet.
Not that I’m complaining.
From my perspective as a 63-year-old African American, with forty-three years and five months plus in fandom, I have seen a lot, done a lot and survived all of the cultural and political forces that were lined up against me since my mother, the late Alice Barkley and my father, the late Erbil Augustus Barkley, gave birth to me on a sweltering August summer evening at Jewish Hospital. (PS: I’d like to take a moment to thank them for the free circumcision. A very cool gesture for that era.)
Nineteen years and ten months after my birth, my best friend, Michaele Jordan (no, not THAT Michael Jordan, Michaele Jordan the fantasy novelist my other official, big sister) and I discovered fandom on the back page of the July 1976 issue of Analog, which ran, for the only time in its history, an announcement of a science fiction convention just a few miles away from where we resided. It was held at a run of the mill hotel called the Quality Inn in Norwood, Ohio. The convention was called Midwestcon 27.
“We should go to this convention,” I recall saying to her, most emphatically.
“Are you kidding?”, she replied. “It’s probably just for professional writers. They would just throw us out.”
“Well,” I said, “you can sit at home if you want, I’m going to go there and find out.”
And so we went. It changed the course of our lives forever. Going to Midwestcon 27 introduced us to an entirely new world of people, opportunities and social interactions that resonate to this very day.
The end. Thanks for coming, you’ve been a great audience, Chicago…
NO! WAIT! Just kidding!
Among conventions, Windycon hold a very special place in my heart; I’ve been attending a semi-regular basis since the early 1980’s. I have also attended the four worldcons that Chicago has hosted since I got into fandom and happily served on the staff of three of them.
My slight digression is an Apocryphal Story about Chicago that happened at Chicon 2000, which was held in downtown Chicago.
BUT, in order to do that, I need to digress further and tell you another story about the late Harlan Ellison.
(Oh, so you knew him, too?)
I first met Harlan in 1978 at Kubla Khan 5 in Nashville, Tennessee. Like countless other people, I found him to be a brilliant writer of fiction and essays, a dynamic personality and above nearly all of his other talents, an amazing and brilliant raconteur.
One story he shared with the audience at that convention was been burned into my synapses forever was an incident he had experienced at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Harlan had just finished doing his ‘business” in a washroom when he noticed out of the corner of his eye that a middle-aged patron was leaving without washing his hands.
Now THIS greatly offended Harlan since, if anything, he was a real stickler for health and cleanliness.
“Hey! You”, he said in his loud, nasally, faux-Brooklyn accent. “You forgot to wash your hands!”
The man in question turned and said something incredibly rude about Harlan’s parentage and proceeded to walk out into the terminal.
Enraged at this person’s intransigence, Harlan burst out of the restroom and trailed behind the man screaming at the top of his lungs, “UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN! DON’T TOUCH HIM! HE DIDN’T WASH HIS HANDS!”
And he did this. All the way to this person’s departure gate.
Now, I told you that story to tell you this one: For Chicon 2000, I was promoted from my regular duties in the Worldcon Press Office to serve on Chairman Tom Veal’s staff AND as the Fairmont Hotel liaison. It was a very important position, which I shared with my ex-wife, in that both the Masquerade and the Hugo Award Ceremony were being held there.
One afternoon, I was finishing my “business” in the restroom, when I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a middle-aged fan was leaving without washing his hands.
My mind immediately flashed back to Harlan’s story. My first thought was, I am NOT Harlan Ellison. And then my second thought was, “What would Harlan do?”
So, within a few seconds, I screwed up my moral courage and, in my even tempered, faux-midwestern black accent, I spoke up and said, “Excuse me, but you forgot to wash your hands.”
The fan whirled around and shouted, “YOU’RE NOT MY DAD!”
Needless to say, I was taken aback. But fortunately, my skills as a radio talk show host and a standup comedian kicked into high:
“You see this?” I pointed to the bright blue COMMITTEE ribbon hanging on my convention badge and stated with absolute authority:
“While you’re here at this convention, this ribbon says I AM YOUR DAD!!”
The fan sighed, turned and washed his hands.
I’ve learned a LOT of things in my time in fandom. I would now like to pass along some of the more profound life revelations that have occurred to me over time, one for each year that I have been in fandom:
- Smiling and being polite costs you nothing and may gain you new friends.
- Reading is the best gateway to other worlds and other points of view.
- I am convinced all fascists and Nazi sympathizers were once involved in Home Owner Associations. It’s the only possible explanation for their actions.
- Cultural appropriation is like porn, I KNOW it when I see it.
- You must challenge the past in order the forge the future.
- When you are making policy or changes in your life only three factors matter; Is it true, is it necessary and most importantly, is it vital?
- Try and learn at least one other language in your lifetime. For example, Welsh, Irish, Scottish or Australian.
- Never forget that taxes pay for civilization. And that those who don’t pay their fair share are welchers and cheats.
- Buy a copy of the Constitution of the United States. In this day and age you never know when you may have to invoke it, especially to people who haven’t read it.
- Public radio has saved my life and sanity for decades. And it can do the same for you!
- BUT, if you love your NPR station and donate your car to help out, would that be considered autoeroticsm? Asking for a friend…
- Occasionally, you may be asked to take a stand and make your voice heard. And yes, you will be afraid to do it. But the alternative, of silence and token assent, is much, much worse.
- Congratulations, you’re working on a convention. Here’s a big piece of advice for you con-runners. To preserve our sanity at Chicon 2000, my friend Bridget came up with a simple working mantra we repeated every morning: There will be a convention. There will be rooms at the convention. Some will be right. Some will be wrong. And then IT WILL BE OVER!
- Nothing keeps you more grounded and humble than owning a pet. Pro Owner Tip: If you own a cat (or vice versa), consider emptying an entire bag of cat food into their litter box. That way, you just skip the middle process altogether and get on with your day.
- By the way, cat dandruff is a first world problem.
- Never, ever, annoy writers. Especially the good ones. Not only will they say nastily adroit things at you, you may become a victim of embarrassing situation, imprisoned or murdered in a book, play or screenplay with the name of said person so barely disguised, EVERYONE will KNOW it’s YOU!
- Speaking of writing, NEVER give in to censorship, either in your works or in the defense of others. Free speech does not mean being free from consequences. But either everyone has the opportunity to express themselves or no one does.
- Unless you are the author or editor, DON’T WRITE, HIGHLIGHT, ANNOTATE OR SCRIBBLE YOUR NAMES IN BOOKS! Well, at least in the books that I want to buy. It’s so damn annoying!
- When you write, write for yourself. You should welcome criticism of your writing. But do not make the fatal mistake of pandering to appeal the masses. If you can satisfy your own standards of what you like to read, others will see it as well.
- Also, KEEP WRITING. You’ll get better at it.
- Also: READ! As much as possible; fantasy and sf for sure but try to be as diverse as possible. Don’t confine yourself to literary bubbles and for god’s sake, don’t denigrate anyone else who reads, even if they’re reading something you don’t like. If they read and comprehend and understand what they are reading, there’s a chance, a hope really, that they can understand what is truthful from what is fantasy or propaganda.
- You have never known true fear until you see a full-grown Great Dane take a baby chick in its mouth and start running around the yard like a seven-year-old on a playground with their mouth full of Halloween candy. And unfortunately for you, are are trying to catch a three-year-old Great Dane who can run twice as fast as any NFL or Premier League defender. (PS: Yes, I eventually caught the dog and safely freed the chick. But she has yet to lay a single egg. I don’t blame her.)
- Do you know where your water come from? Do you know where the wastewater goes? Find out. And then pledge yourself to not wasting a drop of it again in your lifetime.
- Music is my friend. Music is my life. No matter what you listen to, enjoy it and let it massage your brain and imagination. And if you actually make music, I envy you because that is one of the greatest gifts of all.
- Whether you’re at a convention or not (especially not) if you see something is amiss, if a person is being bullied or harassed, do something or say something. Render assistance in any way you can. Is anyone here familiar with the lyrics to the alternative rock anthem “How Soon Is Now” by The Smiths? One part of the main chorus has always touched by heart every time I hear it:
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does
Because that should be the core of our values in fandom and in life.
- Fan writing is much cheaper than therapy.
- Han Solo’s Rules for Life: Get In. Sit Down. Buckle Up. Hang On.
- Chris Barkley’s Rules for Hitchhikers: See the Han Solo Rules for Life.
- Leading into: If you don’t use your car’s turn signals, YOU GET WHAT YOU DESERVE!
- I think everyone should take a CPR and Emergency Aid course whether it’s offered by the Red Cross or any other agency in your community. I was once employed to be a caretaker for a disadvantaged person and I took an exhaustive, seven-hour course covering nearly everything and anything that might happen to you. Let me tell you something, it was a real eye opener to find out how many things could go wrong with the human body on a daily basis with the introduction of an infection, virus or pathogen. At this very moment in Los Angeles, the partner of a friend of mine named Genny is fighting off an extremely debilitating disease called Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which struck her suddenly and without warning. The treatment is long and extensive but there is no cure. You should do it because the life you save may very well be a family member, a friend or your own.
- If you want to be loved, start by loving yourself first.
- This past Monday was Veteran’s Day. I would be remiss if I did not remind everyone that at this moment, there are thousands of men, women, members of the LGBTQ, transgendered, non-binary communities and otherwise, are out here serving in our armed forces. And sooner or later, they too, will be veterans. It has been estimated that more than 20 percent of the service personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And thousands of others are suffering from debilitating injuries while serving. And don’t forget that there are still living veterans of World War Two, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Lebanon deployment, Desert Storm and Shield and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. As they protected us, we need to do everything we can to help them. Find out what your local, state and federal representatives are doing for veterans. If you find out they aren’t, then vote their asses out of office and vote for candidate who will.
- Failure is part of life. Don’t be afraid to fail. Success is fine but unless you fail, you don’t learn anything and you never progress as a person. And more importantly, you mustn’t be afraid to fail. In a book that was just published last week, You Are AWESOME, How To Navigate Change, Wrestle With Failure and Live an Intentional Life, author Neil Pasricha points out that one of the main things that hold people back from their full potential is the inability to tell the difference between truth and the narrative lies we keep telling ourselves such as, “ I’ll never learn this”, ”I’m going to be stuck in this job forever” and the always deadly, “Other people are better off than I am”. Your life does not have to be a runaway, non-stop train of doom and gloom. I know because I’ve been there myself and I got off that merry-go-round, with the help of my good friends and beloved partner. You can do it, too. My advice is to stop, take a deep, metaphorical breath and try and find out what you are capable of doing or achieving. Then go for it. If you can do that, you have just taken your first steps to self-discovery.
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood should be mandatory viewing. For the current ‘president of the United States. As part of his sentencing conditions. If he objects, the ONLY alternative should be Paw Patrol. (CHASE! MARSHALL! SKYE! ZUMA! TRACKER! ROCKY! RUBBLE!) Just Sayin’. Period. Full Stop.
- Be woke, aware and informed. Try and understand why people come to different conclusions than you. As actor-philosopher Edward James Olmos once said, “There is only ONE race; the human race.”
- On the other hand, don’t take yourself TOO seriously. Don’t be a drag in the consuite.
- If someone likes something you loath, don’t rain on their parade. Let them enjoy it. Don’t post that comment on Facebook or Instagram. Just walk away. Knowing that you haven’t ruined someone’s day.
- I attended a lecture in 1995 at the University of Kentucky in which Stephen King imparted some very pertinent advice to young people: “If an adult tells you NOT to read something, make it your business to go out, find it, read it for yourselves and make up your own mind about it. Don’t ever depend on some ‘well meaning’’ adult with an agenda to tell you what to read, make up your mind for you or dictate how you should lead your life.” Best. Advice. EVER!
- Always try to meet your heroes. It’s better to find out that they are just as human and fallible as you are. And maybe even more so if they truly believe they belong on the pedestal people have placed them on.
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once wrote in his novel Mother Night: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” He also said, “There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look.”
- Three more things: I know that we’re all here to have a good time and celebrate with our friends and guests of honor. But remember, as bad as things are here in America, our problems don’t begin and end with our country. Hong Kong. Brexit. Bolivia. Chile. The immigration crisis in Central America and Africa. South Sudan. Spain and Catalonia. The Philippines. Myanmar. Iran, Iraq and Syria. Hell, in comparison to those places we are living in paradise. When you leave here this weekend, don’t forget that.
- Whenever possible, Be Kind. And always carry a towel.
- And finally, let me leave you with these wise words, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.
And lastly, I want to dedicate this speech to the memory of the late Frank Johnson, a fellow member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group who died earlier this year. His very last convention was last year’s Windycon. I’d like to think he would have enjoyed this speech.
Thank you for attending and listening to me ramble or a while. Be good to each other and have a great convention.