Interview with a JOF: Meg Totusek
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Meg Totusek is one of the moderators of the Journeyplatypi of Fandom group. As a big platypus fan myself, that was enough information for me to put her onto my list of Generally Awesome People.
Meg was kind enough to talk about conrunning, fandom, conflicts, and more of the behind-the-scenes stuff fans don’t always see.
Also, I’m told her mother has promised to kick my butt at WindyCon and make me eat nothing but healthy food if anyone is mean to Meg, so please be nice!
1. For those of us who might not be familiar with SMOFs and JOFs, what are the Journeyplatypi of Fandom, and how did you come to count yourself among this august company?
The Journey Platypi are a group of con runners similar to the SMOFs (and some of us happen to be both!) who converse on Facebook about a wide variety of topics including registration queues, facilities, marketing, harassment policies and really anything that our members want to talk about. We work really hard to make sure that the group has a positive feel — we being myself and four other awesome mods: Warren Buff, Cathy Mullican, Crystal Huff and James Bacon — so that hopefully the group has a better chance of being productive. The Platypus became our mascot after a discussion about keeping things gender neutral, and because we love ridiculous things.
I’ve been in fandom literally all my life, but really got involved in running cons on a higher level in the last few years, and with JOF more than a year ago when it started up. I couldn’t tell you an exact date because the Facebook logs won’t tell me any more than that and I was too busy to note it myself.
2. You said you focus on running cons and fixing problems. Tell us a bit more about what’s involved there, and what kind of problems you work on.
Everybody in JOF focuses on different things. For instance, I work mostly on the Promotions side of things (I’ve been the voice behind the social media feeds for LoneStarCon and Chicon and am taking on Press Office for Detcon) while my best friend Jesi spends her time focusing on con safety issues.
One of the things that I’ve had my hands on recently was the backlash that came from the Song of the South situation. That was really difficult because there was so much more behind that situation than what we ended up saying. I got to read all of the rightly outraged tweets and try and talk with the people about it in a way that didn’t make it worse without bringing up all of the background stuff.
3. Do you feel like lack of diversity is a problem with fandom, conventions, and SF/F in general? If so, what can the JOFs do to try to change that problem?
This is a difficult question for me to answer. I spend most of time working on the back end of conventions and in my experience I have seen more diversity behind the scenes than at the conventions. And because I’ve grown up in fandom, I naturally have a longer memory than a lot of people my age about the types of change, so I see change everywhere. That being said, at cons, some of that diversity is lost and that absolutely is a problem and I think that if you look, you can see JOFs making a lot of great changes.
For instance, Michael Lee of CONvergence is a JOF and their ‘Costumes are not Consent‘ got a lot of attention and were then seen at other conventions around the country. Crystal Huff of Arisia made sure that the convention had a budget line for ASL interpreters that is now a permanent thing that they do every year to make sure that those with hearing issues can still participate. I saw that extend to the CONvergence art auction this year and that was fantastic. Crystal is also in charge of the Photo Booth that many have seen and it turns out that we’ve been documenting age, gender, sexualty and race diversity in fandom. There is so much to be done, and the more JOFs work conventions, the more we can do for the better.
4. The “Us vs. Them” siege mentality – have you run into this as a JOF? Where do you think that comes from, and any ideas on what we can do about it?
I’ve never felt ‘Us vs Them’ in the JOF vs SMOF sense, but I have seen it in the JOF/SMOF vs everybody else sense on both ends.
This is a particularly hard thing to deal with because to some extent, both parties are in the right. The con runners have spent a year, or years in the case of Worldcon, putting something together and sometimes making really hard decisions. Sometimes, there isn’t a better answer than what ended up happening, just worse ones. On the other hand as a non-working member of the convention, what ends up happening still isn’t acceptable. And because the decision making process isn’t transparent enough, nobody sees that this was the least bad option.
5. As a JOF/SMOF, what are the rewards, and how do you avoid burnout?
To me, working the convention is a reward because I honestly just love working them so much. I grew up with a lot of the people who run the conventions so it’s just like hanging out with family to me and the friends I make are so incredibly spectacular that it’s hard to describe. I met my fiance through running cons, so that’s a big one for me.
Burning out is a big problem, though. I have to be honest with myself about how much I’m working on and whether or not I can take on any more work. If not, I drop the ball and the con hurts for it. Taking breaks is something that I try and make sure I do. I’m taking 2014 off and going to London just as an attendee. I might do some low-level volunteering, but I can’t go anywhere near the level of work that I’ve done for the last two years. It would just be suicide. Admittedly I’m running the Press Office for the 2014 NASFiC so my definition of a ‘year off’ might be different than someone else’s, but if I completely walked away, I think I’d just miss it too much.
6. For the past two years, there have been complaints about accessibility and disability issues at WorldCon. Institutional memory seems like a serious problem for a convention run by different people each year. How can we do a better job making sure WorldCon is accessible to all fans, and to encourage all conventions to do the same?
If you see a problem, don’t just talk to people about it, do something about it. Nobody is going to be more passionate about your problems than you. There are a good group of people who genuinely care about disability problems, but they can’t think of everything, and they have day jobs that don’t let them devote every waking moment to how to make a con better. Join JOF or SMOFS so you can explain the issues that you see and get advice on solutions. People on those lists have years of experience and they will help you just like other people helped them on their problems. When we see problems, we pick them apart so that we can learn from them, not so we can be mean.
Two of the biggest problems committees face are as mentioned, the lack of institutional knowledge and the changing of venues. Even when someone runs a division two years in a row (which is crazy exhausting) they are faced with a unique problem each year. I know they seemed similar, but LoneStarCon had vastly different problems (for accessibility and in general) than Chicon did. Heck, Chicon 7 had vastly different problems than Chicon 2000 and they were in the same hotel! The more volunteers passionate about making Worldcon better for people with disabilities of any kind, the better.
7. I know volunteering is a good way to make sure problems you care about are addressed, but I feel like that can’t be the only answer. If I’m concerned about accessibility at Worldcon, for example, won’t it be harder for me to volunteer when I’m in Michigan and the con is in London? What are your thoughts?
A significant portion of volunteering for the con is done before hand in lots of conversations about what should happen and how to make that a reality. Volunteering, even on the lowest level, will give you a seat at the table for these discussions. It doesn’t mean you have to be on the ground. Heck it doesn’t even mean you have to show up at the con. Best of all, it’s done mostly through email. You can be in Michigan and work on London. I’m in NYC and work on London, and a few months ago I was in a tiny town in Missouri working on Texas.
And keep in mind that just because you’re not working doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to conversations. Write to the person responsible for the issues you want to see addressed. If that person doesn’t exist, write to the chair and point out the oversight. If you come up with possible solutions, suggest them! If you know of a group that will donate ramps to the con, or that will donate ASL interpreters to help, let us know!
Introduce yourself. It’s a lot easier to work with someone if you know their name before you know their problem. Seriously though, find me at a con, or email me and I’ll try to find someone to help you with your issue.
September 11, 2013 @ 5:14 pm
Thanks for doing these interviews, Jim. I’d never even heard of SMOFs until this whole situation came up, and I’m learning so much. I’ve only ever been to my local con, so I don’t really know anything about how the big cons work, or what it’s like to attend one even. I’m thinking of doing some volunteering at my local con next year just to better understand how it works from that side.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
September 11, 2013 @ 7:10 pm
“One of the things that I’ve had my hands on recently was the backlash that came from the Song of the South situation. That was really difficult because there was so much more behind that situation than what we ended up saying.”
Well, as one of the people who prominently expressed “you have GOT to be kidding” sentiments about LSC3’s plan to show that movie with no context whatsoever, it seemed to me that the concom responded quickly and thoroughly, without defensiveness, and indicated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they understood why people were upset. I have a few criticisms of LSC3, but the way they handled this isn’t one of them.
Jim C. Hines
September 12, 2013 @ 7:59 am
I suspect there would be many, many people happy to take you in and
put you to workshow you the ropes 🙂
Linkspam, 9/13/13 Edition — Radish Reviews
September 13, 2013 @ 8:31 am
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