Here is the story of my trip to the World Fantasy Convention in Washington, DC. It is not the entire story, not even a significant piece of the story, but it is the story inside the story, and the one I need to tell.
This story begins more than eleven years ago because everything is connected, right?
I was sitting in the home I shared with Prez, doing whatever it was I was doing back then. Possibly making a protein shake, getting ready to go to the gym, or scrapbooking; it could have been any of those. The phone rang.
“You have to come over here!” It was Prez. He was next door, at the Roney’s, helping prep their main bathroom for the crew that was coming in to renovate it later that week. He sounded giddy.
I hurried over, through the front door, up the stairs, and into our neighbours’ washroom.
“Put these on,” Prez said and handed me a set of safety goggles. Then, he passed me a sledgehammer. He was grinning.
He urged me into the bathtub and told me to “swing away” at the tile on the walls.
I swung the sledgehammer. Hard. The tile exploded into shards with a sharp CRASH. The jagged pieces flew around me and landed in the ceramic tub. A light flared in my brain. A diamond of euphoria burst in my chest. I grinned. I looked at Prez. He grinned. We grinned together—a shared secret.
Smashing was fun.
I smashed more tiles, laughing like a kid who’d just discovered where Mom and Dad hid the Halloween candies. When I was done, when I passed the sledgehammer back to Prez, I felt lighter, stress-free, peaceful. This surprised me.
I am a creator. My pleasure had always come from imagining things into the world, not tearing down the creations of others. Sure, I’d broken things on set—every stunt person does—but that was deliberate, the breaking was designed as part of the creation, it was fake. This bathtub, these tiles, these were real things, things not meant to be smashed. And somehow that made their destruction satisfying.
Since that day I have done quite a lot of demolition. It is the part of any renovation or construction job to which I genuinely look forward. I need that smashing. I crave destruction. Tearing down is release.
Creation is work. Creation is struggle and doubt and heavy lifting. Ultimately joyous and fulfilling, yes, but work.
Professionals who attend science fiction and fantasy conventions are creators. Fans who attend conventions are appreciators of those creations. Both groups tend to be a little nerdy, a little different, a little misunderstood. Many were/are likely victims of some form of bullying or harassment in the “real” world. Because of this and other reasons related to gender and sexual orientation there has been a big push to ensure these conventions are safe spaces. This is good. When we come together in our collective oddness, this is a time of celebration. No one should feel threatened. We need a safe space.
As a woman, I’m no stranger to harassment. As a feminist, I applaud the efforts of con organizers to create a safe place for me and others.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you?
We also need smash spaces. We need a place to tear down the walls of propriety. Creation and destruction are conjoined twins. How could you explain light if you had never seen darkness?
As much as I appreciate the safe space of a con, as much as I strive (in all facets of my life) to be the best me possible and choose to live in places and move among people who exhibit the most noble elements of humanity, part of me craves the release of All The Bad Things. I need a smash space. I think we all do.
In 2013, at my first SF/F con, I somehow stumbled into such a place. I found myself, over breakfast, in the company of three writers—Griffin Barber, Andy Rogers, and Alistair Kimble aka “Gerry”—with whom smashing was welcomed. No, scratch that. Smashing was encouraged. We dubbed ourselves Breakfast Squad and spent every morning together, in the hotel restaurant, in various states of hung-overness or exhaustion.
This year, at World Fantasy Con, there was no question how I would be spending my mornings. We four form the core of Breakfast squad, though we also welcome guests and honourary members. We aren’t difficult to spot. Generally, we are the ones doubled over, tears rolling from our eyes, the occasional snort (mine) rolling through the room, laughing until it hurts.
The rules of Breakfast Squad are simple: there are none. We will talk about whatever we damn well please. Nothing is sacred. How bad are we? Well, this year we found a way to violate manatees so…
SMASH! SMASH! SMASH! SMASH!
Of all the many wonderful experiences I enjoyed at World Fantasy Con, I choose to share this one with you because I worry that as the pendulum of political correctness gains momentum we will forget the importance of smash space.
To smash is to open a conduit to the worst of ourselves, to be uncomfortable, to acknowledge we are both darkness and light.
If I cannot go to the places that make me uncomfortable, I will fail as a writer. Truth seldom lives in comfort. Truth lives in the dark spaces, in humiliating memories, in the stickiness of sex and the chill of death.
I go to Breakfast Squad, eyes looking like two cherries in a glass of milk, the scent of stale gin lingering on my skin, hiding beneath my baseball cap, and I sit down with my friends. With all the grace of ten-year-old boys on a sugar high, we raise our sledgehammers and swing away. Profound or profane, we speak uncensored and I am liberated.
We are savages. We revel in the low hanging fruit. We turn on our own.
When we are done, I put my Politically Correct Kristene face back on. I become the carefully crafted person the rest of the world has come to know–no less genuine, simply more constricted. I go up to my room, take off the ball cap, shower, douse my eyes in Visine, and rejoin the convention.
I walk away from Breakfast Squad Kristene but I walk away lighter, stress-free, peaceful… back into the world of safety.