We are pleased to present an essay by operative and forthcoming SPR author David Sklar, about his experiences wearing Berit Ellingsen’s story (Issue Sixteen) last week at Arisia, a popular sci-fi convention held each year in Boston. Enjoy, and feast your eyes:
“Your Message Here: SPR at an SF Con”
by David Sklar
This is the start of my modeling career. Somewhere in America, a talent scout is looking for a graying, overweight forty-something to model baggy pants. This scout will see my spread in Safety Pin Review and draft me into service.
Nah, probably not. But I’ve long had a fondness for exploring the boundaries between literature and other art forms. I’ve experimented with threading poetry into necklaces,
and with cutting names into paper snowflakes.
When I first heard of the Safety Pin Review, I was thrilled with the idea, and immediately began writing twitterfic (and converting old poems into the format) in the hopes that I would get a story onto somebody’s back.
It did not occur to me that they would ask me to model a story. But when the acceptance arrived for my story “Fisherman’s Widow,” editor Simon Jacobs added, “And if you ever have a desire to wear one of our stories around for a week, consider this a standing invitation.”
I was thrilled. I would be part of this kooky experiment, wearing somebody else’s words on my back. I was also kind of nervous. The SPR Web site describes their operatives as “a collective network of punks, thieves and anarchists.” I am none of these. Not lately, anyway. I don’t even own a leather jacket—unless you count a camel-colored suede coat that might no longer fit. Would I look out of place? Would I like the way I look, photographed from behind?
Oh—and I e-mailed Simon to tell him that I sometimes attend science fiction conventions, which might be a good setting for pictures.
Hey, if I can’t look really cool, I might as well let my geek flag fly.
I sent my best guess of a schedule for this year, with the pros and cons of each convention I’m likely to attend. He picked Arisia, which I think is a wonderful choice. Arisia, which is held every January in Boston, was the first convention where I was ever invited to speak, back in 2002, and to this day it remains one of the most fun.
So Arisia set the timing, and the timing determined which story I would wear. And until the story arrived and I saw what it said, I didn’t realize that what I bring to SPR is something ordinary, beautiful, and plain, which—for this particular story—is far more effective than leather and chrome: I’m a dad.
When a college student wears a patch on his or her back about a family that communicates by shouting all the time, well that says one thing. But when you wear it to the playground, or dropping your kids off at school, that’s something else.
My wife and I explored this in the first set of pictures we staged, and Simon shared his thoughts in Issue Sixteen.
Do people think I wrote it? Or that I wear it because I believe it? I don’t know. I’ve seen how readers can see a word on the page and read it completely wrong. Or worse yet, read it right, but get the reason behind it wrong, so that something presented as shameful is seen as glorified or condoned. This seems especially true for darkly humorous pieces like the one I was wearing on my back.
Of course, an artist must take risks for beauty.
And I suppose an “arts operative” takes risks for the beauty of someone else’s work.
In a sense, wearing this story was a penance for me.
Because as a father I do find I yell at my kids more than I believe I ought to. And with this patch on my back I think I was much more likely to think twice before raising my voice.
Nobody stopped me at the schoolyard or the playground to ask what was on my back. The convention was a different story.
People were jostling around in the elevator so they could take turns reading my back. I got comments like, “That’s my family completely.” When I introduced myself at the start of a panel, my listing of places I’ve been published would end with, “And this week, the Safety Pin Review is published on me.”
And I got compliments on the story. When I explained that I couldn’t take credit for it, people complimented me on my choice as an editor. When I explained that that wasn’t me either, they mostly just looked at me blankly.
I didn’t have time to get all the pictures I wanted. Conventions are hectic, and so is parenthood. I got some with people in costume, though I missed out on the most elaborate costumes.
Almost all of the pictures were posed.
Some were downright silly.
I photographed the local fauna, though the patch wasn’t in the shot.
Some of the best moments didn’t make it into the camera.
My panels went well. My readings went better. I don’t have pictures of either, but I think I can say I knocked ‘em dead at a sparsely attended fiction reading scheduled during the Masquerade, and a well attended poetry reading where I was a last-minute addition. (For future reference, fairies on rollerblades geting their wings tattooed will draw an audience, but A drag queen takes over Hell draws a bigger one.) Within minutes after the poetry reading, I’d had work solicited by two journals. But I was there for the rush. For me, the energy I get back from a live reading is one of the great rewards of the craft.
Although it also feels pretty good when someone comes to my signing and buys a book.
Pictured above is Julia Rios, who caught my reading last year and then showed up at my signing to buy one of everything I’d brought. She’s also a writer, though I didn’t realize how good a writer until I caught her reading this year.
So I showed up at the book release party to pick up the book.
And after the party, I helped with the takedown before heading off to bed.
And that was Arisia. Next morning, I drove home exhausted and broke, and looking forward to doing it again next year.