I’m seeing a lot of really great events wither and dry up, and it pains me.
People on the Internet are often taken to pining for real-world experiences. It’s all good and fine to write and chat and read Wikipedia, but actually meeting meaty people and singing, laughing, dancing, and sharing fellowship together is something you absolutely cannot get via the Internet. However, you can’t really convince netizens of this, until you can drag them away from their flickering screens and sit them down in front of a campfire.
This also wanders into my frustration with Pagans who think/expect that anything a shaman/spirit worker can do, they should be able to do remotely and for free. I can’t count how many emails I’ve received from potential pastoral care clients who absolutely refuse to even meet via Skype, much less meet me in person. There are some things I cannot teach, or do, unless the person is right in front of me.
It sticks in my craw because I paid my dues by spending money and traveling. I am not well off; I don’t even come close to the poverty line. I have a ton of physical issues that make traveling difficult. But I do it, and I don’t complain about it. Sure, there are some events I can’t afford: if I feel very strongly that I want to attend, I will contact the organizer and see if we can’t come to an agreement. That’s the secret reason I started teaching classes at events – I would never, ever be able to afford to go to the events I do if I didn’t get a work exchange. And this negotiation doesn’t have only be with the event staff – if an event can’t offer you a comp in exchange for volunteering, ask the people attending if someone might need a service person who will pay your way in exchange for your help. (As a note from someone who hires these sorts of people: It’s good to know what you’re good at and what you’re able to do, and be honest up front about what you can and can’t do. And once you’re at the event, you better live up to your end of the bargain if you ever want this sort of arrangement again!) You might be able to do a quick fundraiser: “I want to go to LokiCon, so for the next two weeks I’m offering [skill or craft] for [wacky reduced price].” Heck, I’ve had organizations pay my way to events in exchange for me placing fliers on tables for the organization and talking up what the org does to the attendees!
Travel can be tricky, but I frequently take on carpoolers on longer trips and ask them to pay a portion of my gas. Sometimes, everyone in my car will pay for the gas, and my contribution is the miles I’m putting on my car. When I’m riding with someone else, the fact I have a handicap parking placard has been a bargaining chit.
Obviously, there are ways you can make the trip more affordable, too. You can share a hotel room, or check out a couch surfing site and see if you can’t find a couch to crash on within walking or driving distance of the event. You can sleep in your car. You can bring all your own food, which is usually cheaper than relying on fast food all weekend. You can ask other attendees if someone is willing to rent floor space in their accommodations for either money or service. (I know someone who got free floor space in a hotel if they made sure coffee was ready for their roomies every morning!) See if you have any friends or relatives who live nearby you can crash with – or even friends-of-friends. Heck, I’ve seen gamers at big gaming cons bring a sleeping bag and find a secluded spot and rock the homeless experience.
Anyway, my point is that there are billions of ways to attend an event if you really want to – too many people only see the obvious – “I can’t afford a hotel room to myself and the entry fee, so therefore I can’t go”.
The other refrain I hear a lot is “I really want to go to that event. I will go next year!”
This makes an erroneous assumption: people tend to assume that, unless otherwise blatantly stated, all events are annual. The truth is, I’ve seen many events die because they couldn’t get enough attendance in their first year. As much as it might seem to make sense to stay home and hear stories about how it went before deciding to go, people like owners of campgrounds/convention centers, staff, presenters, etc are willing to take a risk on a first-time event. However, if the first year tanks, few of them will listen to the cries of “Oh, but 8,000 people on the Internet said they’d come next year!”
The biggest wound of the first-year flop goes to the organizer. They’ve taken a dream from raw thought to fruition, likely with a ton of support from Internet people who really want to see the thought become a real thing. They ride on the enthusiasm and spend a ton of money on things you’d never notice unless they weren’t there – nametags, copies of the program, a moving van to get all the decorations/furniture, etc – and they sign a bunch of contracts. Many take out bank loans. They stress all of their close friends and lovers, usually conscripting them into non-consensual service when they realize the job is too big for one person.
And the biggest secret of all: Very few, if any, come into the black when the day is done. Most count themselves lucky if they break even. If they wanted to make a profit, they’d have to raise the ticket price; thus, less people would come and they’d still be in the weeds.
The other song and dance about events that I’m pretty tired of? I wish someone would come to East Bumblefuck and do something like this there! It makes me shake my head for many reasons:
1. Do you know for certain that if such an event came to the Bumblefuckians, the attendee list would have more than one name (you)? Do you have a grasp on whether or not the other Bumblefuckians (From South Bumblefuck) would find out Honeycomb Hideout (wherever you’d want to host the event) and beat us up, burn us, bring the media, tell the hotel we’re hosting secret gay bdsm orgies?
2. Have you thought about asking the person who is running the event in a well-considered, centrally located, metropolitan location with access to worldwide transport, to come to East Bumblefuck and run the event there? Since it was your idea, you do understand that means the organizer will likely have tapped out all of their funds running the first one, so the implication is that you will foot at least part of the bill?
3. Because it is very unlikely that the organizer lives within a reasonable distance of Bumblefuck, do you know someone who is able to find and secure a venue, and take care of the bigger picture logistics?
Now, I could go on, but there’s really a summation coming, so I’m jumping ahead.
8,264. Or you could just ask the organizer if it is cool with them if you organize a similar event in Bumblefuck, and whether it would be officially recognized as connected to the first con or a rogue event with an understated agreement?
Here’s the thing: In the communities I inhabit, I am seeing a trend. Many of the gung-ho event organizers are reaching their mid-40s or early 50s, which, according to Merriam Webster, is “too fucking old for this shit.” Lacking serious, committed younger members who seem not only interested but capable of taking the mantel, the events make the only other choice available to them – to stop.
Here’s a micro-example of what I’m seeing:
Etinmoot is a small gathering at Cauldron Farm. It is an ritual event for person who worship and work for the Jotun-blooded Gods of the Northern Tradition. It has been running since 2007. Part of the reason the event is in limbo is because the people who planned and executed most of the rituals, were also in charge of running the event logistics. After this year’s event, the gythia (Priestess) stepped down so she could work on other projects. If no one steps up in the next few weeks, the event dies.
Part of the reason the event dies is because it is an awful lot of work to plan and execute, and the people who have run it in the past don’t have the energy or drive to keep going. One thing that will kill an organizer’s enthusiasm needed to push through all the stress and work to get an event off the ground is apathy. People aren’t excited enough to tell their friends about it. They make FB posts that say, “I don’t really know if I want to go CockCon this year…” People don’t get involved in the pre-event chit chat or planning. They may not even look at the online schedule to see what awesome classes there were and when (so they could make a mini Google calender to remind you where you want to be…or is that only me?) And of course, the big honker, is a) they just don’t come at all, or b) they cancel at the last minute and demand a refund.
So now that I’ve gotten my bitchiness off of my chest, let’s talk about positives – ways you can encourage event organizers to start or keep running events that matter to you, how you can support events even if you can’t attend, and stuff like that:
1. Just effing go. Even if you pick one event every year, instead of going to the same one all the time, try going to a fledgling event instead. Don’t let strange people or uncomfortable circumstances get in the way. Remember, your life is made up of stories you leave behind, and “They stayed at home and watched “My Strange Addiction” all weekend.”
2. Be creative about the money. Some events have scholarship funds, and few advertise them so they don’t get every cheap-o asking for handouts. Come up with a brief, honest paragraph on why you want or need to attend this event; follow it with what you are willing to offer in exchange for entry. It should be noted that sometimes the event can’t scholarship someone, but an attendee might out of the goodness of their heart. Ask the attendees if they would like a service person/assistant, luggage lugger, personal chaffeur, companion/date, gopher, or whatever other service you have to barter. (Currently, I could really use the services of a graphic artist…) And if you really can’t go, maybe you can toss $20 to someone who needs help- and ask them to write up a report/make a presentation when they get home.
3. Don’t assume all events are annual. Especially these days; the market is a little glutted with adult retreats in general (at least on the Eastern Seaboard of the US), so it takes a lot for a first-time event to stand out and get the kind of attendance that will make it abundantly clear that the event needs to be repeated. It’s actually a better bet to assume all events are one-time-only; that way, you’re sure to have the experience you want. If it turns out to repeat itself, then you can decide leisurely if you want to go a second time.
4.The least you can do is tell your friends. It doesn’t cost you a thing to make some posts on social media talking about how cool the event is. You may even find a gaggle of friends/chosen family to get together and donate towards a ticket or two, and then have a blind drawing to see who gets them. But at the very least, if you support the event, there’s a better chance it will be back next year.