So, yesterday morning I left home a little before 9:30, arriving in plenty of time to register and browse through the dealers' room before the 11:00 panels. I wasn't much inspired to do any shopping, as my to-read pile is getting large enough to intimidate me. I've seen most of those tables recently anyway.
At 11:00, I went to "Show Me the Funny: Humor in SF&F" - in the writing, as opposed to in fandom, which is what I saw at Arisia. The first funny moment was when each of us walked into the room and realized it was right next door to a loud concert. And these were divided-ballroom rooms. The moderator went to Ops, to see if there was anywhere available to move to, and was told "Sorry. Talk louder." An audience member went next door to ask if they could turn the volume down a little, and was told that they already had. So, it was challenging to hear the panelists. This was a shame, as four of the six were authors who I read or who I've seen on panels before, or both. Nonetheless, it was a good session.
At 12:00, I went to a discussion of Asimov's I, Robot. I'd just re-read the book in preparation for this. It was led by a man who apparently travels the country doing these book talks. Unfortunately, his style does not quite fit my approach to the genre. Saying that he is a literary purist is only one small part of the picture. I did get a fair amount out of the discussion, but I will most likely be avoiding him in the future.
1:00 saw me at "Faith and Belief in Fandom." I've had most of the discussion before, and should probably have gone to the other panel I was interested in for that time slot, but my interest in the subject is such that I couldn't possibly pass it up. Amusing moment: when someone repeated the title, an audience member piped up, "I believe in fandom!" and got a round of applause.
My choice for 2:00 was "Writer Hack Thyself." (medical issues affecting creativity) For this one I was following personalities, not subject - more on this below. One was Dr. Jim Prego, who I've seen at both Philcon and Arisia and find to be an interesting speaker on several subject. The other was Ef Deal, writer, who was the friendly woman who was the only stranger I talked to at Philcon. She remembered me, and was glad to see I'm still around and acclimating. The other two panelists didn't show up, and there were only five of us in the audience, so it became more of a freeform discussion.
At 3:00 I went to "Borrowing the Past" which was about sources for historical fiction and elements thereof. Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series, my favorite historical fiction, was mentioned as a reference. Basically the gist of what they had to say was what any decent research class tells you: get as close to the primary sources as you can. At one point, one of the panelists mentioned that he works with veterans, helping them to write their stories. The eyes of all three women on the panel lit up and they all stared at him avidly. They'd all mentioned having trouble with military and weaponry issues before, so it was obvious to me what they were thinking, but he missed it and looked very confused. Finally Esther Friesner said "You Mina Harker. We Dracula." There was much laughter.
None of the 4:00 options interested me, which was just as well, as by now caffeine and food were making their absence known to me. I went to the consuite and grabbed a Coke and a bagel with peanut butter, and settled by the open window down to eat. A few minutes later, Neil Clarke, the editor and publisher of the Hugo-nominated Clarkesworld Magazine, owner of Wyrm Publishing, clarkesworld here, and a longtime close acquaintance/distant friend of mine, came in. I hadn't seen him in a number of years prior to Philcon, and when I stopped to talk to him there at his table in the dealer's room, we had an awkward, stilted conversation, which I was afraid we were going to repeat. It turns out he had mostly been so surprised to see someone from the piece of his life that I was associated with at a con, that he couldn't quite process it and reconcile the two. This time, he wasn't surprised to see me. He came over and said hello, and asked what was going on with Medfest. Almost two hours later, we finally wound down. I had intended to go to a 5:00 panel, but I'm much happier to have spent the time catching up with Neil.
At 6:00 I went to "Health Issues In Fandom." This was kind of a waste of time for me. However, the only other panel in that slot which interested me was on system vs. setting in role-playing games. I've probably had that conversation often enough that I could probably be a panelist, and argue for either side. So, I went for the health issues... and this was basically a "why we all hate being obese" support group. Meh.
For 7:00, I'd chosen "Short Fiction and Its 9 Lives" featuring Neil Clarke as moderator, as well as a couple of panelists I've seen elsewhere. This actually brought me a fair amount of new information, since I've avoided the publishing/getting published tracks before. Much to the surprise of the panelists, all seven of us in the audience were readers but not writers. So, after winding down on what they'd prepared on the topic, they came up with a fairly long list of sources for short fiction, both in print and online. I was trying to make notes, but couldn't keep up. Neil says he will put the whole list up on his blog, and I will provide a link when he does so. I'm also very proud of myself; I came up with a timely, appropriate question and managed to bring myself to ask it. (Knowing the moderator helps.)
I had planned for the 8:00 hour to be my dinner break, and to go back for panels at 9 and 10. However, my brain had had enough thinking for the day. I don't like eating alone in public. And, I was developing a headache, which I thought at the time was just lack of sufficient food. So, I decided to call it quits. I'd gotten my money's worth, anyway. It was on the drive home that I realised it was an eyestrain/photosensitivity headache brought on by having the sun in my eyes the whole time I talked to Neil. Thus, it was just as well I'd decided to go home, since only sleep seems to help with those.
Some more general thoughts: There were some major scheduling quirks with this con, and not just the concerts next to panel rooms. I understand that they had a Major System Failure and had to do it all by hand at the last minute. Still.
There didn't really seem to be any good place for people-watching, or if there was I didn't find it. This was sad, since I like watching people as much as I like going to panels.
I've been spoiled at the last two events by following hughcasey around, and getting to hang out on the edges of conversations and social groups full of interesting people. It was kind of sad to realize that on my own, I haven't actually improved all that much at the whole talking-to-people thing. I was a bit lonely. It's been too easy to get used to having friends, even if they're only borrowed. I'm now a little worried about Balticon, because a three-day weekend is a long time to spend alone hiding in corners. (Please, somebody, anybody, let me take you with me...)
At the same time, though, my comfort level is definitely improving. I did interact a little with the people around me in the audiences at the various panels. I wore the "Just Shy" t-shirt, and so I was getting comments every time I walked through the hall, even if there weren't real conversations. I'm also getting better at noticing when people are reading my shirt, so I can face them, and, erm, pull it away from the contours, so it's a little easier to read. (Someday, maybe I'll even notice someone observing the contours when my shirt has no writing on it. *sigh* [insert standard rant here])
Both at Lunacon and at Arisia, I've been picking panels to attend based partly on subject matter, but also on the panelists. I recognize enough names now, and am starting to get a sense of who I find interesting, who's dull, who's annoying and so on. At Philcon I didn't know anything about anybody, and chose based purely on subject matter. This afternoon I re-read the Philcon program book. If I were to choose now, I'd choose differently for about 3/4 of the slots. Except, of course, the one that I knew at the time I REALLY should have gone to, and wish even more now that I had, I still wouldn't have gone to because I couldn't have possibly passed up what I did hear in that block. Ah well.
One of these cons, I will manage to be there at the right time/long enough to see Repo. It's apparently the RHPS of the modern geek. The more I hear, the more curious I get. It played Friday night at Arisia, and although we were up there by then, there was just no way after working a full day and driving to Cambridge. Last night, even if I hadn't had the headache, it would've been a bad plan to go to something starting at midnight when I had to drive an hour home afterward. Hopefully at Balticon it won't be Friday night, or maybe I'll just suck it up and go anyway.
Anyway, it was a great way to spend my Saturday.
 Without traffic, it turned out to be just exactly an hour. I really am ideally located for picking up this particular hobby. I consider anything within a two hour drive to be day-trip distance, which includes Philly and New York, and anything within five hours to be a reasonable weekend trip, giving me Boston, Baltimore and DC. In most of the rest of the country, major metropolises aren't so densely packed.
 The delightful and talented Esther Friesner, who I saw at Arisia and had the opportunity to tell how much I appreciate her work. If you've read an anthology of light/comic/humorous fantasy in the last twenty years, then you've almost certainly read something she's written. She's even funnier in person. She also can write seriously, and in fact my favorites of what I've read of hers are labeled as dark fantasy, and I keep them with my general fiction rather than with the SF. Ron Goulart, who's been writing for fifty years and has been in many of the same anthologies. Peter Heck, who's writing the Phule series started by Robert Asprin. And moderator Lawrence Schoen, who I may or may not have read, but certainly have seen on panels before.