Over my years of being on the internet, I’ve learned a thing or two about apologies. It’s mostly been incredibly hard-won knowledge, informed by me giving shitty apologies and then learning the how and why of their shittiness when someone explained why they still felt hurt. Or me giving a shitty non-apology on purpose because I didn’t feel sorry, but wanted someone off my back. (I’ve modified the latter stance now to, “if I don’t actually feel sorry, I’ll do everyone involved the honor of not pretending badly that I am.”) A few of the lessons I’ve learned:
- Shorter is always better.
- If the explanation you feel the need to give implies that the injured party was wrong for being upset, then it’s not really an apology.
- If the explanation you feel the need to give implies that the injured party may have been injured but also behaved badly, then it’s not really an apology.
- If your apology involves passive-aggressive devices, then it’s not really an apology.
- If you make your apology about yourself, it’s not an apology.
I mention these in particular because I just finished reading the extremely long post George R.R. Martin wrote over at File770, which is kind of an apology about the Hugo Losers Party in Dublin in the sense that he admits a couple of times to having made mistakes, but not really.
If you’re not up on this particular WorldCon drama, here’s the Twitter thread I wrote while I was in the middle of it. The summary of it is that I was one of the Hugo Losers who had an invitation to the party. I was in the second bus, which was a double decker, that took a crowd of us over there after the ceremony. I arrived at approximately 23:40. This large load of people were informed by the door person that we would not be allowed into the venue due to the occupancy being at capacity. Which was then modified to thirty of us could be let in, first without our +1s, then with. There were way more than 30 of us standing out in a pretty chilly night. I have joint problems so that standing on cobblestones for any period of time puts me in some serious pain. I decided that rather crowd in and elbow my fellows to try to be one of the 30 allowed in I was going to leave with some of my friends. I was pretty upset about all of this, because invitations had been given out, and when one is invited to a party, one has a reasonably expectation of being allowed into said party.
We all on the same page, here? Good. There are a few things in particular I’d like to respond to in George’s epic non-apology.
I do not know that anything I can say will appease those who did not get into the party… but I can at least explain what happened, and why.
We’re writers. Words and word choice matter, and we’re not going to pretend otherwise. I do not need to be appeased like a tantrummy child, and I don’t appreciate the implication. I wanted an apology for those of us left out in the cold.
I actually do appreciate the explanation of the communication issues, of how things got so messy. The party is a large undertaking. It’s also George’s party, and as I have stated before, he can invite who he bloody well pleases. I also do appreciate this:
We knew the capacity of the floor we were renting well in advance, and worried whether the 450 limit would be a problem for us. The possibility was there, we all saw that. But there was no easy answer, so in the end we decided to go ahead as planned in the hopes that things would work out. The final decision was mine. It was the wrong decision.
Which is then rather deflated by:
A number of the louder Twitterers have stated SOMETIMES IN SCREAMING CAPS that it is simplicity itself to calculate the number of attendees at a party. That makes me suspect that none of them have ever organized one, at least not one as big as the Hugo Losers Party.
Feel free to name me if you have a problem with me. I certainly used screaming caps because I was, I would hope understandably, upset. And you’re right; I’ve never organized a party as big as the Loser’s Party. I just did my own wedding, which was more than big enough. And the number one piece of advice that every party etiquette book will give you, the solid bedrock of planning, is that you don’t give out more invitations than you have space or food for. You assume that everyone will show up–because the minute you don’t do so, invariably they will. So yes, George has my sincere sympathies that it is not easy to figure out how many people will show up. It is actually an emotionally wracking thing to be a party host and decide who to invite and who to not, because you want everyone to have food and fun and feel welcomed.
But in the aftermath of messing up? Taking time out to tell us how hard everything is really does just make this about you and your feelings, and not the people left out in the cold.
And then there’s this moment of what-aboutism that’s particularly egregious:
(I do find it curious that, with all this Twitter talk about people being “turned away” from the Hugo Losers Party, no one is mentioning the far larger number of people turned away from the Hugos themselves. I’ve been attending Worldcons since 1971, and in all those years all you ever needed to get into the Hugos was a con badge… but this year, that was not enough. You also needed to queue up and get a wristband. As it happens, some people did not get that message, and others were unable or unwilling to queue).
Apparently I ought not complain about being turned away from a party I was invited to, because other people didn’t get into the Hugos themselves… with the Hugos notably not being an event that involves an invitation. This is another statement that serves to minimize any hurt myself or those in my position might have felt. It’s a pattern that continues on as the post progresses.
I don’t doubt that the people on the door said, “You can’t go in” or some variant thereof. That was, in fact, the case. I doubt very much that this was all they said, however. I would hope that they also added the word “now” and explained the reasons. “You can’t go in now, we are at capacity, but as soon as some people leave, you will be welcome to enter.” That’s what should have been said. With such a large number of people descending on them all at once demanding entrance, however, it is possible that the fans on the door felt overwhelmed and defensive. If any of them were rude or dismissive, that should not have happened, and I am deeply sorry for it. By the same token, however, I would hope that the new arrivals were patient and understanding, once the situation had been explained to them, and that they treated the folks on the door with courtesy. None of this was the fault of the fans who had agreed to man the door. They were doing what they had to, to prevent the party from being shut down. They were obeying what we were told was the law.
I will state in fairness that I have no idea what was said to the Door Dragon once I left, so maybe the implication that those left waiting were rude or nasty is true. I can only speak for when I was there. (And I have been a Door Dragon myself in the past for parties that are not in this series. I know it’s not fun.) What I can say is that we were not initially told that we’d be let in if we waited. My imperfect recall of the night says that eventually, that did get communicated–but with the fair caveat that no one had any idea how much waiting would be involved. However, while I was there many of us were not happy, but no one was taking it out on the poor person left guarding the door. I’ve certainly done my time in customer service; I know what it’s like to face an irate person and have no power to help them.
So again, maybe things got mean after I left. Knowing who was waiting there, I find that difficult to believe, but I also have no idea who showed up after me. But since the entire paragraph is so speculative (“I would hope that the new arrivals were patient and understanding…”) this ends up feeling like it’s being implied that we were being entitled dick bags about the whole thing. Something else I certainly do not appreciate.
At least one person decided the world needed to hear of this outrage and began to tweet furiously from the parking lot.
The finalist who had first started blasting us on Twitter, angry that he was denied entrance, seemed to become even angrier when the door admitted thirty people… on the grounds that more than thirty were waiting, and somehow this was ‘playing Hunger Games.’
You want to know why we felt that way? Because in a large group of people, we were told 30 of us could come in. Which 30? Up to us. There was an absolute crush at the door. It was going to be first come, first serve, which meant that if you wanted in, you were basically in competition with the other people who had been left waiting. Personally, I had no interest in elbowing my way through a crowd in the hopes of getting in the door. A slightly dramatic statement? I’ll cop to it. Does it deserve to be so sarcastically dismissed? No.
And here’s the important thing, the crucial fact that none of the Twitter reports seem to mention: eventually everyone who waited got in. They had to wait, yes, and I am sorry for that, and it should not have happened, and a number of mistakes were made, most by me. But my minions and the Kiwis, and even the Guinness folk, did everything they possibly could under the circumstances, and sometime between 12:30 and 12:45, they cleared that parking area. Yes, a certain percentage of those denied entry had left, some departing with a shrug and others with a snarl, but those who simply waited were all admitted eventually and were able to enjoy the last hour and a quarter of the party.
If everyone was let in by 12:45, that means, for example, I would have had to stand out in the chill, on cobblestones, for an hour. That is not something I can physically do. I know I’m not the only one who was in that boat. So, this is a particularly unhelpful for your guests who may have disabilities or health problems that prevent them from standing for lengthy periods of time. “You should have just waited.” Well, I can’t. Sorry.
I’ve known Joe and Gay Haldeman since my first con in 1971. They arrived, could not get in, and chose to head back to their hotel. The next day they joked with me about it; no anger, no recriminations, they had seen overcrowded parties before.
Ah, the classic, “other people didn’t mind, so obviously if you minded, you were wrong.”
But the same thing happens every weekend at nightclubs all across the country.
Funny enough, when the waiting game at the door started, I actually did say to those with me that it felt like being barred entry at a nightclub. And I have never particularly wanted to go to a nightclub. But the difference is this: when I go to a nightclub, I know that’s what I’m going to get. I come with the expectation that I might have to wait in line, and so on. Because maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I’ve never actually received an invitation to go to a nightclub. The difference here is, when one gets an invitation to an event, the invitation itself comes with the expectation that you are a guest, it’s known you’ll be showing up, and thus there will be space and food and drink for you. Because you were invited.
If you want to avoid this in the future, another easy fix might be to put on the invitation: “Space is limited and entry not guaranteed.” Set the right expectations, and there’ll be a lot fewer complaints.
We provided free transportation… and CoNZealand provided a lot more of same. My minions worked for months planning the event, and even harder on the night. So did the Kiwis. To see them being pilloried on Twitter just confirms the sad fact that no good deed goes unpunished. They deserve some thanks instead.
We were, indeed, provided free transportation that dumped us at the venue and then refused to return use to the convention center; thankfully, the smaller bus eventually returned and that’s how I got out of there. Other people got taxis. But the bigger point here is that, while I understand how much it sucks to feel unappreciated, it’s a bit much to expect appreciation from people who didn’t get into your “successful” party because of the planning problems. I’m also not going to thank a chef for the glorious meal they prepared if I was not allowed to even be in the same room as it.
The Hugo Losers Party is not intended to honor or celebrate the current year’s cop of Hugo finalists or exalt them above all others.
If Hugo Losers aren’t welcomed into the party named “The Hugo Losers Party,” maybe it’s time to name it something else. I will also note that I don’t expect to be “exalted.” This is another implication I do not appreciate; add this to some other phrasing–because we can agree we are writers and we understand that words have meaning–and it is a beautifully subtle attempt to cast those of us who did not get in and were grumpy about it as entitled assholes who are childishly sullen that something wasn’t all about us. It’s a beautiful piece of utterly nasty writing, and I guess at this point, I do feel a bit charmed to have been insulted by a master.
But I will say this: None of those left in the cold that I spoke to expected this party to be entirely about us. None of us went there thinking we were the only people allowed in. We were all excited to be joining the larger club of Hugo losers. And when you’ve started off your night losing an award, it’s truly the cherry on the shit sundae to get told that you can’t even join the other losers. Too much of a loser, I guess.
In a wider emotional context, perhaps consider this: Most of us writer types grew up as the excluded, introverted nerds. I think it’s understandable that we have particular feelings about, in our glorious nerd convention, being excluded from the party where all the cool kids are. I’m not claiming that’s rational, but the whole point about emotions is they aren’t. And maybe it’s worth considering why this whole thing has felt so entirely hurtful instead of minimizing it or telling people who lack your fame and reach, “No, you’re the meanies here.”
Also, whereas in the past categories like fanzine and semiprozines only had one editor, and therefore one nominee (Andy Porter for ALGOL, DIck Geis for ALIEN CRITIC, Charlie Brown for LOCUS, Mike Glyer for FILE 770, etc.), now most of them seem to be edited by four, five, or seven people, all of whom expect rockets and nominee invitations.
“Expect” rockets. Expect. As if they shouldn’t for being part of a team that did good work and got an award.
What a thing to say.
Regarding the future parties, I don’t think I have a dog in that fight because I sincerely doubt I will be getting nominated for another Hugo any time soon–or due to my daring to squeak in capslock on Twitter, get invited again. It’s George’s party, and he can invite who he bloody well pleases. I just sincerely hope in the future, he’ll manage expectations a bit better; honestly, just putting on the invitation that admission is not guranteed, is first-come, first-serve, etc, would have headed off a lot of the hurt feelings from this year. If you want to run the place like a nightclub, say it up front. We can save troubling discussions about social status and popularity contests for another time.
Now that I’ve written all this out, let me tell you what I’m definitely not looking forward to: The commentariat who will doubtless frame my response as “chiding” or “lashing out.” I know how this works, and me calling it out in advance won’t change anything. But as I’ve said multiple times in this post, words matter. Watch how things are framed. In this moment, I’m a grown-ass adult having a disagreement with another grown-ass adult about how he ran his party and has chosen to not-apologize. I am not a child attempting to school a parent. George’s experience, fame, and money make him a lot of things, but those are neither “someone too exalted for me to disagree with” nor “my dad.”