The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to comprehend just how exhausted one will be after a convention. However, now is that particular, fleeting window of time when one’s mind is still brimming and buzzing with all the excitement and all the immediate memories in their appropriate context before time softens and blurs them into a morass of “experience” so do forgive me as I try to relate just what occurred this weekend.
I had the absolute pleasure of being flown out, driven through standstill LA traffic, and set up in colourful San Pedro where I hosted the Livestream of the HP Lovecraft Film Festival. I announced programs, interviewed authors and artists, and at the very end, got to put on my live show and take questions for a very friendly if somewhat sleepy Sunday morning crowd. People I’ve known for years through the glow of my laptop monitor stepped out and shook my hand in the flesh. Bleary-eyed breakfasts at the Happy Diner were paired with late night discussions of punk bands and just what went wrong with Nightmare On Elm Street 5 from one of its writers. I had an especially wonderful time getting to hang out with Lee Joyner who sculpted and gifted me with that magnificent bust at the top of the page.
It was a blast and a half and I really appreciate everyone who brought me out but it was also a learning experience as I explore just what it is I do and what my role is in this strange world of conventions, festivals, and all around gatherings within the realms of horror and weird fiction.
Since 2013, I have been having to adjust to the idea of being someone who is invited to conventions. This time last year, I wrote about how I reached that bracing level where I no longer feel like a fraud waiting to be discovered and sent back home or like I need to apologize for what I do which is a liberating if also frightening achievement. To go from feeling like a glorified busker to a sought after asset who adds real value is wonderful but it brings with it some daunting responsibilities.
One of those responsibilities is money. When getting started, it is justifiable to want to put oneself out there and take some losses on the chin as a matter of course but I am here to say that the sooner you start practically valuing what you do and the time you spend doing it, the better off you’ll be. As performers, we decorate time. I take people’s spare time, or downtime, or stolen time and I hang a big old painting on it called Ask Lovecraft. Now, as Henry Rollins has told us in countless memes with white font on a black background, those times don’t exist; there is only lifetime which means that when folks let me decorate that, I need to take it seriously.
Money can be an embarrassment in the art world. Often we are told that money corrupts, that those who are in this for more than the simple love of art are missing the point, and are sacrificing their art for base ideals, and that impulse to ask for compensation should be flogged out of the temple of our mind like so many money changers. Here’s the thing though, we deserve to be paid. We deserve to have our efforts and our talents and our imaginations rewarded especially when we share them with folks who truly appreciate them.
Merchandise can help but getting to a place where you feel comfortable asking early and often and in writing for compensation for your time and for the value you add is rewarding on several levels. The part where they actually give you money is nice but more than that is the feeling of respect and being taken seriously. This isn’t just a hobby or “silly little thing” you do but something that you care about and others care about and a check goes a long way towards folks proving just how much they care. It also helps justify the chunks of your lifetime you spend at these pursuits both to spouses left at home with insomniac toddlers and to yourself. Finally, it acts as a signal to others that you are a responsible agent who values yourself and takes yourself seriously which makes them much more likely to want to make use of you.
Exposure can be a step but far too often it’s an empty bag or leads only to further exposure. Get paid and pay for the art you value yourself. You owe no-one favours with your time and if you choose to gift it, make sure it’s a genuine choice and not you settling or being bullied into it. In this world, we’re all rooting for each other and want to see good art thrive and all our time decorated as best as it can be. A big part of that is learning how to see yourself as part of that magnificent tapestry and demand to be taken seriously for it.
San Pedro was a truly wonderful experience and proved quite an education as all good experiences do. I look forward to seeing what other lessons I learn out on the road.