Thursday, May 12, 2016

Adulting and Slayage

The semester is over. Papers have been marked, grades have been submitted, “Pomp &  Circumstance” has been played, and tassels have been moved. Despite the heat and the backless aluminum benches, I’m enough of a sap to enjoy graduation. Many of our students have worked uphill against the odds to put on that cheap polyester robe (in more than a few cases, you might be pardoned for saying that they’ve “done the impossible and that makes [them] mighty”) and they should be celebrated for sticking with it and seeing it through. Which brings me to my point. As a child, I thought being an adult was going to be all about doing what I wanted, when I wanted. I’d stay up late, eat whatever I wanted, and no one could tell me to clean my room. Oh, sweet and innocent child - how far away you seem some days.

My first Slayage
Slayage, the international academic conference devoted to the study of Joss Whedon’s work (presented by the Whedon Studies Association), began in 2004. I missed that one - didn’t even know about it, for I did not know that popular culture could be studied academically. I thought of my love for Buffy and Angel as an every-so-slightly shameful dark secret. In late 2005, I discovered Serenity then backtracked fiercely to Firefly. (When I say “fiercely,” I mean it. There’s a probably-awful fanfic novel I wrote in five weeks tucked away in a cabinet.) Then in 2006, as I’ve related before, a colleague and incredibly generous friend told be about a call for papers (I didn’t even know what a “CFP” was then - my academic work had never been pointed to presentation and publishing and then I went to law school, which can hone your mind while simultaneously draining you of ideals. It doesn’t HAVE to, but it can) for a Whedon panel at the (then named) PCA-SW/TX conference.

Sometimes when life strikes us, we chime like a bell.

New Mexico
Since that first conference (hey, Alyson! This is also where I first met Asim. And Brita - how’s your Bill to my Ted?), I’ve been a fixture at Whedon conferences. I attended my first Slayage in Barnesville, GA with my dear friend and mentor, Barbara Taylor, who has since passed on. Neither of us presented at that one; we found out about it too late, so we were content to go and gaze. I have to admit that I was more than a bit star-struck around these bright, vibrant people who chattered like polysyllabic birds and traded lines from episodes whip-fast. I screwed up my courage and spoke to a few people (impostor syndrome is real, people!) and stayed in touch.

At that very first conference, I approached Beth Cox at the McFarland table, because she had foolishly invited the conversation by putting out a sign saying “Tell us about your book idea!” So I did, following up with a hastily handwritten (!) one-page pitch. (I had to do it that way, or I would have lost my nerve.) A lot of work followed and, with the help of several good friends and much red ink, Faith & Choice in the Works of Joss Whedon eventually resulted in early 2008. That same year, I presented at the Hendersonville, Arkansas Slayage as a featured speaker and had a seat on the "Buffy Bookers" panel and did my best to repay those who had cleared the brush for my path by sharing my experience and e-mail address. I had just begun to be courted by the gracious, funny, and Whedon-loving Ensley and I called him one night from the motel parking lot and talkedandtalked until I finally apologized for not letting him get a word in edgewise and he said, "I like hearing you soar." Reader, I married him.

Much Ado
Two months after our wedding was the St. Augustine Slayage, at which I served as the only American keynote speaker and I had the thrilling pleasure of hearing my husband make his first Slayage appearance (Hello, Amazing Wilsons!) and we discovered a "Slay-age" was three incredible days followed by two years. Slayage conferences continued - Vancouver, Sacramento - to be a shining spot in my professional and personal lives. I met so many incredible people and deepened so many amazing relationships that I will not attempt to list them all here, for fear of leaving someone out and bruising feelings that ought to never be marred.

Then in late 2014 (a few months after the squirrel-ridden Sacramento conference), I was blindsided by a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ. Junior auxiliary breast cancer, if you will. I was scared, nervous, and apprehensive, but mostly scared. Slayage friends rallied around me and the support did a great deal to carry me through some dark months with good cheer and optimism. In response to that, I decided that my paper for the 2016 Kingston conference would center on collaboration in Whedon's work - both onscreen portrayals and offscreen production work. I hoped to touch on both positive depictions of collaboration (Scoobies!) and not-so-much (think Vichy France).


It's not going to happen. While my surgery and subsequent radiation treatments were wildly successful, they were also quite expensive, even with insurance. (I know my Canadian and European friends don't quite get this part, but - trust me - the American health care system is responsible for nearly two-thirds of all personal bankruptcies in this country - and three-quarters of those are WITH insurance!) The financial meltdown of 2008 affected colleges and universities across the country and, in North Carolina, we handed the reins of government to a legislature who cut and cut and cut the educational budget to a ridiculous degree - think of a giddy Sweeney Todd. My college hadn't been contributing to my Slayage journeys since 2010 and it was made discreetly clear to me that asking for international travel expenses under current conditions would be met with a swift, albeit regretful, "no."

Ensley and I tried hard to soldier on - we even made our reservation at a lovely, in-walking-distance flat near the conference site. But the more we looked at things, the more our hearts sank. To go to this conference would involve going deeper into debt at a time when we just can't. And we would have to be on strict austerity measures instead of me getting to show Greater London (with just maybe a trip to Hadrian's Wall for my Roman-loving husband) off to my husband, who's never been there.

I hate being a grown-up.

Ooohhhh, meta!
After I wailed and gnashed my teeth, I squared my shoulders and contacted the executive council - as an officer, I am trying to work out Skype details to attend any necessary meetings. (Ironically, this broke scholar is also treasurer of the Whedon Studies Association, a post I'm proud to hold.) Everyone has been, as always, kind and supportive, which both feels wonderful and terrible.

I will miss this gathering more than I can say and I will be eagerly refreshing my Twitter feed and scanning the internet for conference pictures and comments. Have fun, be clever, rant, compliment, disagree, and support!

Slayage Forever!

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