The King of TAFFland's Bent Sprog

A TAFF Report by Randy Byers

Chapter 1: Why I Ran For TAFF

It's all about the 'boo. But the 'boo begins to resemble a Nordic wyrd, or weregild. Soon you are transformed through lust for the 'boo into a sacrificial goat, and set with limbs bound on the steaming, blood-stained altar of fandom. Now it is no longer "gosh, that was great!" but always "are you saying my piece is crap?" It's all about calling in favors, analyzing constituencies, defending policy, taking a hit for the team. Transcendent beings in the upper fannispheres heave into view. They begin to Pay Attention. They begin, quite naturally, to Make Demands. (Something about a gene-mod, and final edit on the lettercol.)

And then I woke up.

*****

I have been tremendously impressed by the useful institutional information regarding TAFF to be found at the TransAtlantic Fan Fund archive site. A lot of very smart and experienced people have put down what they know about the history and administration of the fund. It's very calming to read what they've written, because it gives me a sense of the community that surrounds and supports the ritual exchange of ambassadors and drunks that is TAFF. It makes me want to do something useful for the cause, dang it, and so I'm going to offer some thoughts on the reasons I ran for TAFF. Maybe my tale will help someone in the future with their own decision on why and whether to run.

I had to be talked into running for TAFF, although I did some of the talking myself. In fact, I talked about it behind my own back.

I had already formulated reasons why I didn't want to run for TAFF, so I must have given the matter at least that much attention in the past. The reasons? The Usual: I was too shy to handle the attention or to put on an entertaining performance for expectant hosts; I was leery of the controversy and back-biting that too frequently hits TAFF delegates; and I didn't want to put up with the demands of fund administration and attendant fund-raising. All in all, TAFF just seemed like more of a headache than it was worth. If I wanted to visit my British friends in the UK -- and I did -- I'd just do it on my own dime like a civilized person.

Then at Corflu Valentine in Annapolis in February 2002, a small group of dead dogs tricked me into agreeing to run for TAFF. I wrote it up in my conreport in Floss! 2, making it the final episode and ending with a denial of any agreement to run. "I will not!" I avowed. When I saw the conreport in print, I realized that I had sent myself a message. If I were truly uninterested in running for TAFF, I would have left the whole silly exchange out of the conreport. Clearly I was pleased by the invitation to run and had to make sure everybody knew about it. It was good egoboo.

That much was apparently transparent. At Jack Bell and Anita Rowland's wedding on the first Saturday of October, Luke McGuff said, "You wouldn't have told that TAFF story in your Corflu report if you didn't want to run."

"You're right," I said. "There's a part of me that wants to run."

"Well, why don't you?"

I explained my qualms.

"You could do like Victor and have a team to handle the various jobs," Luke said. "Jane could handle the money, Andy could do the fund-raising, and I could absorb all the controversy."

"Now we just need somebody to appear on the panels at Eastercon," I said. "Maybe Jae would agree to it. But who would write the trip report?"

"How about Jerry?" said Luke.

He almost made it sound like it could be fun, but the race had been announced two weeks earlier and I had already, in response to encouraging noises from Jae Leslie Adams and Claire Brialey, made a strong statement on an online forum that I would not stand for TAFF, for all the usual reasons. Surely it was too late to retract, even if I could overcome my doubts about the wisdom of running. Yet now that I could admit that there was a part of me that wanted to run, I began to wonder whether I had made the right decision. Perhaps I needed to think about it further.

A week or so later, Andy Hooper dropped by the house for a putatively social visit. The subject of TAFF came up, and I confessed that I was thinking about running despite my reservations. Andy spent the next half an hour exhorting me to run. He argued that my chances of winning were fair to good, since I had made friends in the UK at the last three Corflus and through online activity and publishing in fanzines, was well enough known and liked in West Coast fandom through years of con attendance and general hobnobbing, and, as a co-editor of a high-profile new zine, was in a good position to attract attention amongst other TAFF voters as well. As for my reservations, there would be people to help me out with the tough jobs. Andy volunteered to help with fund-raising, and no doubt others would also lend a hand. I wouldn't have to shoulder the whole burden alone. At that point, Colin Hinz was the only one who had made his intent to run known, and Andy gave me a rousing TAFF-! needs-you speech. If we couldn't find a second candidate, there would be no race. [*]

I said I'd think about it.

I've described my doubts about running for TAFF, but I haven't described my reasons for wanting to run. Well, I've talked about the first reason, which is probably the least admirable, but possibly the most powerful: I enjoyed the egoboo of being considered a legitimate contender. That was the message hidden in plain sight in my Corflu report, and now to have online friends and Luke and Andy telling me I should run only fed the warm and fuzzy feelings of worthiness. I was finally getting the attention I had always craved from fans I admired.

The second reason was a little more practical: I wanted to visit my friends in the UK. I had been promising to go to a Novacon since the 2000 Corflu in Seattle, but other expenses and priorities kept getting in the way. As soon as I got back from draining my savings account on a three month stay in Micronesia in the spring of 2002, Yvonne Rowse began to pester me about coming to "her" Eastercon in 2003. I wasn't too hopeful about that, but maybe the Novacon after that. Then I remembered that my siblings and I had promised to go to France with Mom in the summer of 2003 for her 70th birthday. So much for other travel plans. Maybe TAFF was the only way to get over there after all.

Finally, I had begun to think more seriously about something that Andy wrote in an online forum -- something that we published in a modified form in the second issue of Chunga. In it, Andy made the point that TAFF is a form of service as much as, or more than, it is an honor to the winner. The aspects of TAFF that everybody is reluctant to take on -- the "headaches," as I described them earlier -- are a way of paying fandom back, not only for the trip and consequent recognition, but for all the pleasures and communal benefits that fandom confers on its participants. Ghu knows whether it is simply part of the aging process, or whether my late involvement in the fanzine sector has given me new insight into the work that goes into making fandom a good place to hang out, but this message of service has begun to strike home with me.

All of these reasons combined to ultimately outweigh my old doubts, and so I finally decided, with much continuing trepidation, to run.

*****

My knowledge of TAFF has been dominated for a long time by a sense of the controversy, scandal, and debate that swirls around it. The Topic A bloodbath in the mid-'80s was the most extreme and horrific fan feud I've ever personally observed. Abi Frost's misappropriation of funds was another low point, and I've also witnessed too many discussions and even panels on the topic of whether TAFF was dead or otherwise worthy of being buried. Add to that the mean-spirited gossip and sniping about TAFF candidates and winners of the recent past, and it wasn't hard for me to develop an extremely negative impression of the fund and its purposes.

That's part of the reason why I was surprised to discover that I wanted to run for TAFF, and why I was doubtful about my sanity when I finally decided to go for it. Had the egoboo gone to my head? The question still hasn't been fully settled. Yet one of the other surprises of the process was how much fun I had in the race -- even before I won -- and, best of all, how much I learned about myself and about fandom.

It helps that the other candidates -- Colin Hinz, Michael Lowrey, and Curt Phillips -- are all such strong, interesting, and friendly characters. True fensch (to coin an awful word), all three. There's a natural inclination to compare oneself to the other candidates, and this led me to learn more about them. So now I know that Colin published the important and graphically inventive zine Novoid in the '90s and likes to tinker with arcane gadgetry, that Orange Mike publishes Vojo de Vivo and is heartily engaged in the running (or at least the promotion) of the premier feminist SF convention, WisCon, and that Curt not only participates in Civil War re-enactments but also pursues a deep interest in pulp magazines, not to mention old fanzines. The four of us represented a nice cross-section of modern North American fandom, geographically as well as fannishly -- although not, unfortunately, gender-wise.

I also learned that I've got friends all over the place in fandom. That probably should have been more obvious than it was, but I had never really stopped to think about it. The first step in this discovery was the process of soliciting nominations and having a hard time narrowing the list down to the five I ultimately asked: Jae Leslie Adams, Eve Harvey, Robert Lichtman, Yvonne Rowse, and Ted White. (Thanks again, you lot!) Then, when the race had been announced, old fannish friends popped out of the woodwork to ask whether I had lost my mind and whether I needed any help making sure it got left on the other side of the Atlantic, never to be found again. It was good to be reminded that all these years of dead dog parties had been a waste only of brain cells, not of time. Closer to home, it was very heartening to get so much support from the local fannish crowd, from everyone who voted for me (at least if I can believe them), to folks like Luke, who took on the fanciful r! ole of campaign Prügelknaben[**] and also organized a TAFF sushi outing; carl juarez, who volunteered to design the collection of fanwriting I put out to promote myself; and Jerry Kaufman, who wrote a lovely platform for me that I could not use without looking like a swollen-headed megalomaniac who was trying to squeeze in a sixth nominator.

I'm still digesting what I've learned about fandom. As I mentioned at the beginning, I was deeply impressed by the TAFF website and the legacy of information and moral support provided there by past generations of fen. Many of my preconceptions about the general negativity and fearsomeness of TAFF were shattered by that website. I've also found myself paying closer attention to some of the subtler manifestations of fannish maintenance of the fund, such as the people who volunteer to distribute ballots and the people who offer a little extra at the auctions. All the griping, the sniping, the arguments for reform, and the concern that TAFF is going to hell in a handbasket are indications that a lot of fans care deeply about the institution. The fact that it has survived for fifty years, through many different eras of fandom, says something about how important TAFF has been to a lot of different people.

It's still too early to say what the longterm effects of my engagement with TAFF will be. But during the race, at least, I felt charged up and transformed. At the very least, my niche within the community changed because of it -- or perhaps it was that my community got larger. It's partly a result of co-editing Chunga, too, but more people are aware of me now, and I am aware of more of them. More of you. I also feel a hell of a lot less flippant about TAFF than I used to, and feel a lot more gratitude toward the people who support it and toward the people who have served time for it even at the cost of becoming bitter ex-TAFF administrators. You all have done an amazing thing, keeping this ball rolling for fifty years.

So make sure you vote every year -- for whichever candidate or for No Preference or even Hold Over Funds, if that's how you feel. Send a few bucks to the fund. Think about running yourself next time. Let's keep it rolling for another fifty years.

Now, where did that blood-stained altar get to?


* Suzle Tomkins later told me that Andy had given her a similar working over. She thanked me for sparing her the ordeal of actually sacrificing herself to this particular fannish cause a second time. Don't think you're off the hook that easily, Suzle! Whoever wins this time should knock on your door next time.

** Roughly: "whipping boy".