The Creative Struggle #1: Yearning For Community in A Toxic World & How It Can Be Used Against You (Inspiration Updated Due to Universal #FanCon Fallout)
So…let’s just be very real.
It can be hard as fuck to be a working creative on any level — part-time or full-time, making next to nothing or balling out.
You’re not only usually engaging in a craft folks think should be a hobby (usually dismissed as a “little thing you do” no matter how passionate you’re about it), but in lines of work that usually doesn’t guarantee economic stability in a brutally capitalistic world.
And the kick in the teeth is that while said work provides something that individuals and societies crave to keep day to day goings in civilization remotely tolerable — art — it very rarely given the proper due with being taken seriously, as either a simple commodity OR basic necessity of life.
Let’s say you work smart and hard and you get to doing relatively OK as a creative. You get known for what you do in your particular communities. Folk get to knowing you’re about your business. People you might not even know around your way might start getting familiar with your brand due to recommendations.
You start getting booked at least semi-regularly in the specialty you love doing for a decent amount of work and hell, might even break even sometimes monetarily (and if lucky actually make enough ends to pay some of these bills, have “fun money” that can actually be used for fun, etc.).
Sometimes it might happen relatively quickly. Sometimes this type of endeavor can take years. But if you’re remotely successful, your reputation gets built to where your art — and the community built around it emotionally, physically and economically — has importance not just to yourself, but to others.
If you win & are a decent individual, EVERYONE wins.
And that in itself can be either a bag to carry that’s a bit of a pain sometimes (since we’re all human, go through things and need breaks occasionally) or a burden to bear that can be too heavy depending on how one carries that responsibility.
Your word AND work is your bond.
I had stopped writing this piece after the part you just read a few weeks ago due to life getting hectic on 9 to 5, creative business and other ends.
During that break, I pondered what direction to go in with particular writeup.
One angle was a more straight laced joint about creative laborers having to get their collective sh*t together for respect (with culture checks and bank balances).
The other one was more on an emotional angle concerning how the yearning for community & respect can sometimes get creatives taken advantage of and metaphorically kicked in the ass with doing business — ether on your own or in conjunction with others who might not have your best interests at hart — and how to deal with either scenario.
And here we are with door #2.
Now in life, shit happens with and to all of us.
Events fail, even the best planned ones.
People make mistakes and can fuck up due to lack of knowledge, being driven by passion more than logic and/or ego.
We’ve ALL taken losses on that end in business and life at large — some of us when younger and before the social media age and some perhaps afterwards.
Hell, my ass certainly did as a naive Hip-Hop head dipping my toe into aspects of the music business in my late teens and had to learn some REALLY hard lessons on who I could trust with certain things and who to stick out my neck, face and rep for (answer: not terribly many — young or old, “conscious” or “regular”, established organizations with budgets or new peoples doing it “for the love”; all of these have screwed me and some I allowed to due to a mix of ignorance, a need to be wanted by the wrong heads and straight foolish hubris at the time).
The errors were not a lot, too huge & with terribly huge amount of money (thankfully) but they were more than enough to jack up my young, thin-ass pockets of paper trying to do right when sponsors and investors went ghost for paying people and venues.
I also had to get some harsh talking down to from individuals who didn’t give a solitary damn that so-and-so from [insert organization] in the crew was supposed to handle a check being cut, relay schedule changes or promotional designs — I was the face that got them in the mix with this bullshit in the first place.
It is not a good feeling to mess up with best laid (or half-assed, if you’re being honest when looking back) plans — especially when it comes to peoples’ time, work, space and money.
You deal and you learn man.
You accept that you were a dumbass.
You don’t repeat your screw ups and get more diligent with who & what you cosign. You do things within your means so that overreach don’t reach out and punch you in the ego after you unnecessarily disappoint heads with delusions of grandeur that end up being delectable as cold grits in reality.
You try to do right by who you’ve done wrong at least with some sincerity (at bare minimum a straight up apology, a max whatever folks might have lost monetarily and whatnot as much as one can — even in installments) and move forward to shenanigans won’t shock you or anyone else again.
You accept that you don’t know everything and sometimes need help.
And lastly, you take the L.
Fry it up, put in on a plate, swallow it, get indigestion, whatever. But you got to take that damned loss to truly be able to grow and not just move on, but move FORWARD to winning in the future with plans and execution of activities on all fronts (which can also include shedding the dead weight that got your ass in trouble in the first place with people you worked with along with the foolishness that was in your head).
Taking the L isn’t always easy and doesn’t mean everyone with who dealt with your mess (or at least your being mess adjacent) are going to dig you again or work in conjunction with you in the future. Y’all might not ever have the same relationship ever again.
But at least on some level, you might be able to regain their respect and others who may have been disappointed in you by taking responsibility the actions you were in the mix with. You might even get second chances when heads see that you’ve learned and grew into more responsibility with your business life and others.
Or well…you can at least not be a repeat fuck up offender.
That’s wild important too.
This is not a a total “WELL, WHAT I WOULD HAVE DONE” piece on a technical business end with Universal FanCon— there are plenty of those I’m sure out here on the Broadband Highway now via event planners, PR peoples, lawyers, reporters, regular folks, etc. with that kind of expertise way beyond my forte.
This is partially a bit of simple advice to those folks about what one should do when things do go horribly, hellaciously wrong before getting into how these sort of occurrences hurts creatives beyond money when handled callously.
* inhales, sips bottle of water, pauses *
To be very harsh and blunt for my FanCan Corporate Higher Ups, for fucks sake when things like that go down where folks have now possibly wasted peoples time & money, ADMIT IT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AND IN DETAIL.
One has to give people the chance to know what happened so they CAN perhaps get to the first steps of even remotely forgiving you. No matter what, when things go wrong there is going to be a certain amount of people who are naturally going to be in their feelings and it’s better to not let those feelings simmer and boil over due to lack of communication and knowledge.
Along with taking the proverbial L combined with a sincere apology, straight up details on how things fell apart (no matter how you may feel it makes you and your crew look stupid) and trying to make things right via words and beyond is going to help folks way more than what’s been on the ‘net lately — a bunch of heads with titles going ghost when feces hit the fan, constantly changing statements and positions of responsibility (from co-executive positions to “volunteers” who knows nothing or sees nothing ala Sargent Schultz…nah B) and more.
Since, as I said earlier — most of us have screwed up in life with money, business and poor life choices.
But y’all have at bare minimum tens of thousands of dollars (from Kickstarter, ticket sales, vendor sales, sponsorships and such)that seem to have disappeared like a fart in the wind, jacked up travel and hotel plans for fans due to wholesale cancellations, EXTREMELY POOR COMMUNICATION from jump (non-BCC:-ed e-mails to only certain people, some of the most tone deaf social media messaging in the 2010s from the organization and individuals, etc.), panelists, entertainers & graphic artists caught high and dry and more.
The fact folks even have to cajole people in charge— grown ass adults in their 30s and beyond, some of whom have brands of their own AS CREATIVES so we can’t even chalk this up to youthful indiscretion & stupidity — to be real is a goddamned shame.
And lastly, real talk, everyone in the squad — especially if you’re not the main screw up — doesn’t deserve unnecessary omerta-esque protection and shit.
Ultimately “Honor Amongst Thieves” (or basic crew repping) only has meaning when you’re dealing with honorable thieves (or if this is just an epic disaster, individuals).
I hate to say it, when things go super wrong a lot of folks will try to save their ass and throw you out to the wolves as an appetizer, no matter how deep you were in the muck (if at ALL). If they’re trying to fuck you over and your rep — ESPECIALLY if you weren’t on the bullshit - well, the snitch train might need to leave the station along with your apologies for even being a foolery proximate.
So, anyway….yeah. Get it right. Learn from it. Own up to things. And grow.
The crazy thing about Universal FanCon at this juncture is not even the event falling apart itself.
Trust, that scenario is obviously not cool happening literally a week before it was supposed to roll or looking like it’s anywhere being remotely resolved as of this writeup.
That makes this scenario simply egregious is complete lack of respect, communication and true accountability for things to its audience that has been affected by the cancellation — the fans and creative workers who are usually not given big platform (much less a focused and respected one) at popular culture conventions: women, the LGBTQ community, the autistic community, the differently abled and People of Color.
Universal FanCon instead of being a temporary escape from the world where you get disrespected for your existence more often than one cares for (either directly or as “The Other” folks treat odd due to not fitting into the box of society’s acceptance no matter how on point you are with living your life) became just another reflection harsh reality where damned near anyone will do you dirty via a hustle because you just want a place & community to be comfortable in.
This was an event which promoted as a place of respite, healing and just being able to chill for over 2 years was pulled under people’s feet with literally no real reason as to why as of today.
And it was done by a group of folks who are also The Other in the real wold. Those we would label “our peoples” whether we know them or nah since…well…we’re The Other, nah mean?
Currently, it’s looking like “our peoples” —those who at promoted having some idea of what the struggle is like — disappointed us at best via incompetence & ego at best and at worst completely screwed folks over with getting the bag in Joanne The Scammer mode while telling folks “fuck your feelings” with their actions.
“Our Peoples” who know what it is like to bust your ass to build up the basic ass courage to be “outside the box” period with just LIVING, much less as a working creative on any level or one who likes creative things did...this.
The vendors selling graphic art who saved up for prints, books and other materials to be sold to individuals they knew would respect their craft more than certain people, the cosplayers who aren’t “perfect”, the people who are about causes for their communities even when the TV cameras aren’t on & it’s not a Top 10 Twitter Topic, the happy fans of all types of shows & comics who get looked at as odd mainstream society for being excited about anything beyond getting by, actors who struggled to rep for themselves & fellow Others, musicians who already have a hard ass time actually performing for truly open eyes & ears (much less coins), people who due to physical or mental health issues beyond their control who literally can’t go everywhere and more, indie media wanting to give folks who don’t get heard some love, people who just wanted a damned break…all sacrificed for this event.
They sacrificed not just time, money and days off (since hell, let’s not act like paid days off come easy with everybody with a 9 to 5; some of the stories I’ve seen are heartbreaking) but faith.
Faith in something beyond local meetups, Internet communications (social media, podcasts, etc.) and such to connect with similar folks.
Faith in finally being able to be amongst a mass of real people who are like minded in a comfortable environment to just let go. To not be “the Black one that actually likes anime”, “that Latina cosplayer”, “our LGBTQ representative”, “they do so much with their…condition”, “they do really nice drawings….I’m sorry graphic ART”, “it’s cute you still do…that” and whatnot.
The faith that just for a few days, you can just be a person who likes things sans snark amongst others who also like things. To not be in a box and respected for being you and what you do. To talk and be heard. To possibly be seen as just you and not a preconceived notion of you. To not be crazy with the way you want to refresh yourself to get back into a harsh world for a small period of time.
And then, the event went away. And the silence (and later nondescript B.S. cover your ass online messaging shenanigans) began while the mystery of the event’s planning, execution, eventual recognizing of money issues (now being said noticed anywhere from February — April 2018), cancellation, money and such deepened.
That’s definitely a huge part of why this has hit so many people hard beyond the surface.
This is about more than just a blown weekend in Baltimore and assorted angry geeks.
It’s about people being fucking exhausted with not being able to be them at ALL without being disrespected, from the outside or their own.
And the utter insanity of all of this — no one wanted Universal FanCon to fail. No one. Not even people who had past beefs with some of the organizers. They saw the vision and dug it.
So many folks wanted to see things succeed with the event and even when they didn’t, just wanted to know why and some basic resolutions — rescheduling, refunds, etc. People just wanted to know what’s what so that they could hopefully get in the mode to forgive, learn from things, see those involved with the event learn from things, possibly forgive in time sooner than later and move forward build to something else.
And “our peoples” so far have dipped, tried to pull Toxic Relationship/Community Argument 101 “you’re asking me questions after I did wrong, so that makes YOU the enemy” moves on their own for via proxies, thrown internet pity parties under the guise of leadership, tossed out affiliates who had jackshit to do with financial issues to be attacked or tried to lean on their various levels of popularity to shield themselves.
They spit in the face of individuals who already are only accepted on a limited level. They kicked dirt in the eyes of those who saved time and tender to be with their peoples. They assaulted the time that can’t be refunded of those creatives whose could have done their craft and made money that weekend who decided to support a new event that was for their community instead.
They chose to not have any principles at all.
That shit is beyond disgusting and cowardly. A masterclass of what NOT to do when things go wrong. And that’s a damned shame.
Life as a creative — not just working but in general, can be fucking hard.
If you’re not amongst those who respect you on that end often, it can also be terribly lonely to the point of heartbreaking on quieter days.
All creatives don’t have big family or friend groups to lean on or access when things get rough. All creatives aren’t in healthy long term significant other relationships where your boo just gets it. All aren’t in vibrant arts communities or big cities where fellow creative folks are around the corner to chop it up on what you’re doing and not be stared at like you have 5 eyes.
So when you get the chance to get into a community…a remotely real one…you reach for it.
I don’t want Universal FanCon to not have people keep reaching.
Even the disaster of that event has brought about hope with various indie community folks pulling together to execute all kinds of events and gatherings in Baltimore next weekend (including WiComicCon that was pulled together in literally 2 days) to salvage what may have looked like a blown weekend for those who can’t get refunds on travel, rooms, etc. and to make up as much as possible for lost funds.
The outpouring of folks who give a damn when you can easily get jaded in “welp, here goes more shenanigans” is inspiring. However, we should not have to depend on the “shenanigans then sweetness afterwards” cycle — for no other reason, we don’t need that extra stress.
A strong creative community is still a thing that is and can be beyond more than a yearning for us all over the world.
We just have to be careful of who we let in our circles and check folks when they stumble or screw the hell up (but give leeway to those want to work for forgiveness via actions and words when things go wrong).
We have to sometimes kick people out who aren’t about stepping up when things go bad in your collective with responsibility taking and good works ASAP. It can hurt like hell, but if nothing changes…welp, skinfolk ain’t always kinfolk plus sometimes you got to pull out a dirty splinter before your limb gets gangrene ya know? And some folks have to learn from their errors via exile before getting welcomed back into the fold after getting themselves right.
We have to own up to the times where we let folks get away with constant toxic bullshit with their behaviors because “they’re like us…but SO popular” that ends up stifling the creative community due to fear and thirst to be just like them than helping it grow.
We have to accept that sometimes growth is slower than what we may want it to be — but it’s better to do things right than wrong (or worse, not at all).
And ultimately, we have to believe that things can get better with hard work and belief — since if we don’t have either for ourselves, this mess ain’t going to improve.
And no one wants that.
So…let’s go, grow and take as little Ls (small and large) as possible.