Monday, July 23, 2012

Nikki's Slayage Report: The Banquet

The British.

Stalwart and true. A formidable empire. Their accents make them sound more sophisticated than the rest of us. In the Second World War, the enemy (pardon my language) bombed the fuck out of them, and they stood up, dusted themselves off, mourned their losses, built themselves back up again, and rallied on.

Oh, and they also start drinking in utero. That last stereotype is what makes the drunken baby meme so bloody hilarious:

And it is what led to my favourite evening of the Slayage conference. On Friday night, we had 15 minutes from the end of the last panel to get to the banquet, so there was no changing or getting dressed up (luckily the third panel of the day got out really early, so Ian and I had shot over to the residence to switch up bags and I replaced my jeans with a skirt). I walked in to the banquet hall as everyone was arriving, and saw The Brits all convening at one table. I wandered over because I hadn’t had a chance to tell Pateman how much I liked his paper, and I told him that… and then I wanted to chat with Stacey Abbott, so I sat down for a second and ended up staying at the table. And thank goodness I did, because it was definitely the most fun table in the place (no offense to everyone else!)

So, let’s introduce the people at the table, shall we? Let’s start to my right and go around.

See? He's not serious ALL the time

Matthew Pateman: He of the sore legs, frenemy association with me, and always ready with a quick insult when it looks like we might be too friendly in public. That’s our schtick, and we’re schticking to it. (Apparently when Rhonda was trying to put together a dinner on the final night and he couldn’t make it, she emailed him and said everyone would miss him, and added, “Except Nikki. She can’t stand you.” Hahahahaha!!)

From l-r: Lorna, Stacey, Bronwen (during the singalong)

Bronwen Calvert: A professor at the University of Sunderland (in northern England), I hadn’t properly met her until this conference, but had the wonderful opportunity to edit her brilliant piece in Stacey Abbott and David Lavery’s TV Goes to Hell, a book of essays on Supernatural.

Stacey Abbott: The aforementioned editor of that collection of essays, Stacey has given some of the best Whedonverse presentations I’ve ever seen, and is probably the foremost expert on Angel and is a fellow lover of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. She is also one of my favourite people at Slayage, and I will be talking about her more when I get to her paper.

Lorna Jowett: I read Sex and the Slayer before my first Slayage, and it’s a brilliant reading of Buffy, causing me to be a little intimidated by its author Lorna Jowett when I first met her. And then when I met her again. But then I got up the courage to ask her to be a part of the Buffy Rewatch, and she graciously agreed, not only covering off Week 25, Week 32, Week 42, and Week 50 (whew) but she wrote this fantastic piece at the end where she reimagined lines from Buffy written in Scottish slang, and to this day I think of the finale of Buffy as “MacChosen.” ;) She’s absolutely lovely to talk to, and her Scottish brogue is to die for.

Mike and Marcus

Marcus Recht: Another Slayage-goer that I hadn’t gotten to know yet, Marcus single-handedly represents our German contingent and last year published his book on Whedon studies (OK, Nik, get this right): Der Sympathische Vampir: Visualisierungen von M√§nnlichkeiten in der TV-Serie Buffy, which I believe roughly translates to: The Sympathetic Vampire: Visualizations of… um… Men with Kites in the TV Series Buffy? No, that can’t be right. Actually, I think it has something to do with Masculinities, but Marcus, if you’re reading this, please correct me here. ;) Anyway, he did a paper at the last Slayage that I mentioned in the Buffy Rewatch as being one of the most eye-opening papers I’d seen, where he watched Buffy and Angel without sound (really!) just watching how the vampires were depicted versus how the humans were, especially during torture scenes. I really wanted him to write about “Beneath Me” in season 7, but unfortunately he’d just switched schools and was crazy busy. So he remains the one that got away for the Buffy Rewatch. But I got to know him at this Slayage and he was sweet and kind and very funny. And I really hope that book of his gets translated into English because I’m dying to read it (he gave me a copy of it! I was very excited to have it and I’m enjoying looking at the pictures and admiring the umlauts).

Mike Starr: And speaking of men with kites… no wait, that segue didn’t work… Speaking of people I’ve somehow never gotten to know previously, Mike Starr was at both Slayages I’ve been to previously, usually hanging out with Marcus, and he is at the University of Northampton. How best to describe Mike? He’s not what you would typically imagine when you hear the word “academic.” Long blond hair, black attire, Gothic crosses hanging around his neck, I’d peg him as a goth punk by way of hair metal. All he needed was some black nail polish and the look would have been complete (but come on, people, scholars don’t wear black nail polish, right??) I’ll say more about him when I get to his legendary paper on the last day, but he was hilarious and kind (he told me my Once Bitten book was brilliant, so he shot to the top of my favourites list... yes, I'm that ego-driven), and this is a guy who knows how to bring the party.

The incomparable Steve

Steve Halfyard: I FINALLY got the story of how Janet Halfyard became “Steve”: basically as a kid, she and two of her mates wondered why the guys get all the cool names and girls don’t, and so they renamed themselves. She was Steven, and when she went to university she introduced herself that way, and her friends changed it to Steve and it stuck. So professionally she’s Janet Halfyard, but personally she’s Steve. I already mentioned her in conjunction with her paper that I sadly missed, but she was to my immediate left and had me in stitches for most of the night. She is delightful and boisterous and wonderful and insanely talented and I just wanted to take her home with me.

And that was our table. A loud, jolly bunch, ready to party the night away with lots of food, wine, song, and… wait, what was that about the wine?


At the beginning of the meal, one of the liaisons with the university, Sharon Sutherland (who gave that previously mentioned great paper on law in the Whedonverse), grabbed the mike to warn everyone that despite what they’d thought, the banquet hall was actually low on alcohol, and there would be just enough for one bottle of red and one of white for each table. And there wasn’t even the option of buying more alcohol, because they simply didn’t have more.

First, silence. Jaws dropped at our table. People looked around at each other with looks of abject horror… this could not be happening. How could we be stuck here for the next three hours with no wine? (Two bottles of wine = no wine at this particular table.)

Now, I should mention, I don’t drink. Not a drop. Not anything. Not for any real reason in particular other than I just never developed a taste for it, and now I have such little tolerance for it that two sips of beer makes my arms and legs go really warm and I can have a buzz with four sips. So it’s just best I don’t even attempt that.

But not so with the rest of my lovely new friends. It was like the bloody battle of Normandy all over again. What were we going to do? How could we make it with no wine? The rest of the dinner conversation mostly revolved around the fact there was no wine, how we could possibly get more wine, what tactics we could use to finagle more wine, other conferences that had more wine, what they would do if the conference ever came to the UK (hint: LOTS OF WINE), and on and on. I think they all breathed a sigh of relief when they discovered I was drinking water only because it meant slightly more wine for them.

And honestly, you’d think I was the one drinking, because I was in fits of laughter for most of the meal over it. All three of my best friends are British, so I’m well aware of the culture and that’s probably why I naturally gravitated to this table (if you want to be friends with me you’d better show a British passport) and I adored them for it, even if I was hoping against hope that somehow some miracle would happen and the water would turn into wine.

And then… it did. At one point I was chatting with someone when Steve, who’d hopped up to see what she could do, returned to the table and slammed a new bottle of white onto it with such gusto I’m surprised she didn’t smash the bottle. I think my “WHAT?!” probably rang out through the hall, and she was quickly and easily the hero of the night. Apparently she’d gone up to the bar and said we really needed another bottle, and when the bartender apologized and said there wasn’t any she simply said, “But we’re British!!” and without another word, he just handed one over. HAHAHA!!! But, sadly, it still wasn’t enough. The conversation didn’t really turn away, and they continued scheming.

But now it was time for the presentations. As some of you know, the Whedon Studies Association gives out a special award called the Mr. Pointy, named after Buffy’s stake (that Kendra gave to her in S2). Every year they award one to the best paper (the Short Mr. Pointy) and best book (the Long Mr. Pointy). They announce them on the odd-numbered years, and give out the award at the next Slayage along with announcing the winners for that year live at the banquet. This year I was nominated for the Long Mr. Pointy for the Buffy Rewatch, which was nominated as a book-length project (it was so nice of them to extend out the meaning to include us!) I was thrilled. I never for a second thought the Rewatch would get it — not that I didn’t think the Rewatch was fantastic with all those people involved, but I was up against four brilliant books, and one of those was Don Macnaughton’s bibliography of the Whedonverses. I believe it was a 10-year project, and everyone at Slayage probably had an article or book in it somewhere (oh, did I mention it’s not just a bibliography but an annotated bibliography?!) or will in an updated edition. And it’s an invaluable research tool for Whedon scholars that they’ve been waiting for for many years. So I hadn’t even considered what I would say if I got up there, because there was no way the Rewatch, as fun as it was, could even compete in the same league as that. You know how movie stars say, “It was an honour to be nominated” and you think, “Oh bullshit, you WANTED that award”? I won’t think that anymore, because that was truly the case for me in this one.

So they gave out the Mr. Pointys (and yes, the bibliography happily won!) and it was lovely to see so many happy, smiling faces around the room. Not to mention our table had TWO Mr. Pointys on it, so we looked pretty awesome. Now, I should add that during dinner, Matthew kept leaning over and ribbing me saying, “Are you nervous? Just a little anxious? A tiny bit nervous?” because I was doing the introduction to that evening’s keynote banquet speaker. (For the first time in a Slayage I’ve been to, I wasn’t giving the banquet keynote, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who was relieved about that! So when Rhonda asked me to introduce this year’s keynote, I thought, “But people are expecting me to shut up this year! They’ll all go, ‘OH NOT AGAIN’ if I have to make my way up to the podium!”) But anyway, Matthew kept on and on at me, and I kept saying no, you wanker, I’m not anxious, not like YOU would be if YOU had to get up there, heh heh…

And then, after the Mr. Pointys were all given out, Rhonda took the mike and said Matthew Pateman had a few words to say. He leapt up and strode up to the front of the room.

What the…?


Why hadn’t he mentioned to me that he was doing something? I looked around the table almost as if he was showing me up or something, and said, “What is HE doing up there??” Stacey gave an exaggerated shoulder shrug and “I don’t know!” response, and I looked back up. He started off by saying that everyone in the room had spent years studying the works of Joss Whedon, but there was one person whose contribution to Whedon studies preceded all others, who wrote a book on Buffy before anyone else had, who had given so much time to Whedon studies, and I was sitting there straining to hear him (the banquet hall was deadly hot because it wasn’t air-conditioned, it was 32 degrees outside (that’s over 100F), and they had these huge fans going throughout the room) and just as I was starting to think, “Wow, who is this person he’s talking about?” he said, “And she’s done more primary research on the Whedonverse than probably any other person in this room.”

You know that feeling you get when you are completely caught off-guard, when you’re watching something impassively and suddenly you start to think it might be about you? Just that afternoon he’d said something to me about how he thought I’d probably done more primary research than anyone else at Slayage. I waved it off, as I usually do, but now I thought, “Uh… oh god, is he talking about me?” Now, while this might sound implausible to some, I don’t like attention. I was really looking forward to flying under the radar. And here was someone drawing a lot of attention right to me, and I could feel my whole face going red. I glanced back over at Stacey and mouthed, “Is he talking about me??” and she did another exaggerated shrug and mouthed, “I don’t know!” (Hahaha! Turns out, she was completely in on it.) I don’t know what he said next, and I doubt anyone caught any of this on video. I just remember the blood rushing to my head and not knowing what was going on. And then he said something about the Buffy Rewatch bringing people together and how I meant a lot to him in his life and in the lives of other people there, and then said my name, and everyone started clapping. And then they were standing. And I didn’t know WHAT to do. It was a lovely thing for him to say, and it would be so like him to complicate this whole, “I hate you”/ “No, I hate you MORE” relationship that we have, and I didn’t know what to do. Everyone at my table was clapping and I could feel people staring at me and I covered my face and smiled and was overwhelmed and in shock and it was just one of those moments you want to capture and watch over and over and over again in your mind but in the moment you’re dumbfounded. I looked around at my tablemates and said, “What do I do?” and they all kept smiling and clapping, so I just sat there. (Maybe I should have stood up? But I’m shorter than most of the people there so they still wouldn’t have seen me.)

I wasn't lying when I said my face was red.
Anyway, the applause died down and people started sitting, and that’s when I saw that Matthew was still standing at the front, next to Rhonda, who was holding a Mr. Pointy and pointing at me. And that’s when I realized (duh) that there was an AWARD that came with this!!! I thought he was just saying those things! I think I may have squealed like a chipmunk and leapt from my seat. I remember practically sprinting to the front because I couldn’t believe I WAS ACTUALLY GETTING A MR. POINTY AWARD OH MY GOD I NEVER THOUGHT I’D HAVE ONE OF THESE and my heart was pounding and on the inside I was doing backflips and jumping up and down and screaming like I’d just been called to Contestant’s Row on The Price Is Right, but on the outside I think I was smiling and trying to act graceful (god knows if I actually was… it’s all a blur). I had a Mr. Pointy!!!


And then hugs and smiles and photos and then I sat back down. I had to introduce the keynote speaker and it was hotter than Hades in that room and I wanted to keep things going, not to mention the keynote speaker was probably getting a little nervous with everything being drawn out so I didn’t say anything. And in retrospect, I worry that looked extremely ungrateful. I was truly in shock. (I was shaking, and I simply don’t shake. I don’t get nervous very easily, so you can tell when I’ve been caught off-guard.) So, let’s rewind to that moment and insert a speech where I should have said something. (I’ll just edit out the hyperventilating and screaming that would have preceded it, and pretend you don’t notice me hopping up and down like a kid on Christmas morning.) But what I would have said was that four years ago I came to Slayage as a keynote who felt like she didn’t belong in the midst of these great scholars, who listened with awe to the other speakers and wondered if I’d made a wrong decision in not pursuing my PhD, and instead writing a bunch of books about TV shows. But if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have ended up at Slayage. And at that first Slayage in 2008, everyone made me feel like I was one of them and welcomed me and never treated me like an outsider. In fact, they showed a lot of interest in what I did, and talked to me like they would talk to one another. I feel like more of a part of something at Slayage than I do with just about any other group of people in my life, and that’s due to the generosity of all of them.

Me thanking Matthew for his lovely speech. Note how I'm holding
Mr. Pointy in a certain way that I could easily flip it and stab
him in the back, but for once I had no urge to do so. ;) 

And as for the Buffy Rewatch, what I would have loved to do is ask everyone involved directly in contributing to the Rewatch itself to stand up, so everyone could see just how many scholars participated. Then I would have asked everyone who read the Buffy Rewatch and/or commented on it to stand up. And then you’d see it was far from a one-person job. I gave this wonderful group of people the forum and the idea, but they followed through and turned it into something remarkable.

Not that I’m going to share this Mr. Pointy. Oh no. It’s mine. (OK, yeah, there’d be a bit of sniveling greed at the end of my speech. Let’s just edit that part out, too.)

But instead, I sat down, feeling all of those things and saying none of them. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who was behind that Mr. Pointy. I’ve had a lot of fantastic moments at Slayage, and that one tops them all.

But I had no time to bask… it was time to leap back up there and introduce the keynote speaker. Back up I went, and I used the opportunity to try to solicit more wine for our table, explaining to the room that I was making a serious call for wine, that I was sitting with a table of Brits (and one German… and another Canadian who’s been living in the UK for 20 years) and that even if they had a few drops left in their bottles, please come by our table and pour it into someone’s glass. My poor table… they’d been called out and now worried they’d never live it down. Don’t worry guys, I’m sure no one will remember anything that happened that night. It’s not like someone’s going to blog on it for posterity, right?

This is the only pic I have of the two of us
and for the record, I am NOT giving her
rabbit ears; the person behind us
was gesturing. (You can see my hand on
her shoulder!) 
The keynote speaker was Nancy Holder, the NYT-bestselling author of several romance and sci-fi novels, and the woman who not only penned a ton of Buffy and Angel novel tie-ins, but the first couple of Watcher’s Guide books (the official BtVS guides) and the first Angel guide. She’s very outgoing and seemed to enjoy herself a lot at the conference, and I really enjoyed getting to meet her. She got up and gave a great talk (from what I could hear of it, anyway; the fans whirring behind us made it really difficult to hear, and the mike wasn’t very loud at all). From what I could hear of it, she talked about how much the industry has changed, and from a publishing perspective I can absolutely agree. Bricks and mortar stores are dying, people are turning to Amazon, Amazon demands deeper discounts than anyone, and writers are starting to go to Amazon directly and eschewing publishers altogether. (I heard someone at the conference make a public comment about how writers should consider going straight to Amazon and getting a much higher royalty, as if publishers offer absolutely no service whatsoever. Made my blood boil a bit, but I won’t harp on it here.) Can you imagine a world where the only browsing you can do is online? Where there are no bookstores so your children can stand there and flip through many books and decide what to find? Where you can’t go in looking for one book and come out with three others because you saw them there? There’s no “browsing” on Amazon: you go in, get what you want, and leave. And unfortunately, with the way things are going, that’s the future. And once Amazon has buried most of the publishers, that lovely 70% they now give to authors will drop to about 10%. (They don’t mention that they take all sorts of costs off that 70%.)

OK, seriously, NOW I will stop harping. ;)

Back to the fun. They announced the winners of the trivia contest from the reception the night before, and our team was second runner up (and there were enough prizes for us to claim ours!) and THEN the door prize giveaway was based on our banquet ticket, and several people at our table won again (including me!) Here’s a look at the swag on our table by the end of the night. Without doing one lick of research, I will simply claim we were the winningest table at the banquet.

Next up it was the conference tradition of everyone singing the songs in “Once More With Feeling.” It was a lot of fun this time around, with our table belting it out with the best of them. Some photos:

The swag from our table!

No, Mike's not flipping off Marcus in British (his hand is
backwards), he's singing the "Hey I died twice" part of
"I've Got a Theory"

The head table at the singalong: l-r, David Lavery, Nancy Holder (sitting),
Rhonda Wilcox (standing), Tanya Cochran, Heather Porter,
Elizabeth Rambo, and Malgorzata Drewniok

Steve singing better than anyone, with accompanist Neil Lerner

I built a wall of Mr. Pointys and wine bottles (total = 4!) to show how what
the evening at our table was really all about

My favourite moment (he’s probably hoping I don’t mention this): when Mike Starr, at the end of “Rest in Peace,” dropped his face into his hand and said breathlessly, “GOD I love Spike” to the absolute glee of the rest of the table. Scholar-pianist Neil Lerner played each song (doing a brilliant job considering his piano was stuck in a dark corner where he could barely see the music) and our Steve shot up to the front so she could help him turn pages and sing louder than anyone, which is perfect because her voice is stunning. Near the end she was hitting the high Tara notes that no human being should be able to do, and the whole room was in awe.

And then it was done (we skipped the Firefly and Dr. Horrible songs because the room was hotter than a shirtless Spike at this point, and people just wanted to get outside). And aaaaaahhhhhh it was so nice when we did. Then a group of us retired to a pub so Tanya and I could watch them drink (Matthew observed that Tanya and I clinked our glasses of ice water ‘with vigour!’) and then it was back to the dorms.

Right after the banquet, Ensley Guffey walked up to me (you may recall him as the man who masterminded my gorgeous Buffy Rewatch bracelet, as I now call it) and said he knew about the Mr. Pointy, and was really hoping for tears. I think I was too much in shock for tears, but I can assure you they came flooding out once I got back to the room and was getting ready for bed. I had a Mr. Pointy, dammit. An Oscar is peanuts compared to this wonderful, wonderful thing. 


Dusk said...

*Clap* *Clap*

Congrats Nikki. It sounded like a great surprise. I also have had a moment or two where people (not banquet-size but enough to make me nervous to speak), surprise me with something great and I can get out a "Thank you" and want to say something else to show appreciation.

But with my stunned senses I can only think of "Oh, wow, um, this is awesome, er, um, thanks again and goodbye."

You know, I'm surprised nobody at your table used the GPS on there phone to try and order from the nearest dial-a-bottle. ;)

Cynthea said...

Absolutely love your description of winning the Mr. Pointy!!

Unknown said...

Very cool. Way to go, glad to see you're getting the recognition you deserve.

What does the inscription say?

Anonymous said...

So well-deserved, Nikki! I was & am very happy for you! An I love these reports.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Soooo happy for you.

Correction, though. NOTHING is hotter than a shirtless Spike.

Stacey (the Canadian who has been corrupted by the Brits) said...

As a member of the 'We aim to misbehave' table, I just loved your account of the evening. Brings back so many memories. And your dsecription of winning the Mr. Pointy is fantastic. It was well deserved. You are a star.

Steve (aka Janet) said...

I laughed till I cried reading this -weren't we naughty!? but mega-congratulations on your utterly deserved Mr Pointy, madam - lovely acceptance speech!

Dale Guffey said...

"But we're BRITISH!"


And the Pointy was well, well deserved!!

Blam said...

Congratulations again, Nikki! With absolutely no ties to Whedon scholardom, I agree that your Mr. Pointy is well-deserved. And thanks for the play-by-play of the evening... I feel like I was there — except American and sober.