Disclaimer: This post has a fairly high chance of being censored and/or elicit a slew of unconstructive commentary. It’s unavoidably personal and reflects negatively on my experience with LOTE5, which may cause people to draw out their swords in defence. Nevertheless, I believe it is a story worth telling for a few reasons. One, that there is a chance I may never get the opportunity (again) to tell my side of the narrative, which experience has told me is one of the crucial elements in retaining self-respect. Secondly, one of the themes of LOTE5 is failure, so in an ironic way, I’m contributing to this element in a very tangible way. #yolo
TL;DR: I’m not doing a storytelling workshop anymore. LOTE5 is a social pyramid scheme.
First, the chronology:
- On Januari 14th, I was asked over email by @Noemi to do a workshop on Storytelling on the last day of LOTE5.
- This was flattering enough for me to reply the next day (15th) with a very rough outline of what I would do.
- On the 17th, Nadia starts a chat on Facebook with essentially the same question, but subtly different. For some reason, an event is already made in the program, not mentioning me, but I think nothing of it. The chat continues for two days, with all kinds of vaguely related issues.
- On the 19th, I send a full 2 page proposal to Noemi, outlining the workshop in detail. In the post script of the email I mention that I might be able to help out with the outreach, possibly in return for a LOTE5 ticket.
- On the 21st, the workshop is given the OK over email, asking me to give a lot of attention to capturing material (text and video) as outcome of the workshop. (I'm not sure where, but I do agree to this.) Most of the remarks on both Facebook and email seem to be more like demands than anything else, but since I'm getting paid for this, I approach it mostly as a negotiation and reply with what is and isn't possible.
- After this, things get a bit confusing. Event pages have been setup on this website and Facebook, but I'm nowhere mentioned. I'm asked to write an outline on a wiki page, which I do on the 25th. It's not clear what's supposed to happen then.
- The wiki page suddenly attracts all sorts of feedback and response from the community. @Natalia_Skoczylas and I have a very confusing experience as she is under the impression that she'll be co-hosting, while I hadn't heard of that at all until that moment. (Natalia: I do not blame you at all for this, I hope that is clear.) My methodology is also called into question.
- When I push back on this, I get a (long) phone call from @Nadia, which essentially comes down to the statement that "this is how Edgeryders works", namely that every project and/or idea is under the scrutiny of the community. Note that we'd already been going back-and-forth for 11 days with Nadia/Noemi/Kira at that point. I push back (over the phone) and basically say that I want to protect the creative integrity of the workshop, to which Nadia agrees.
- Somewhere in that chaos, I get asked by Nadia to translate text into Dutch and French. It's hard to say exactly what was supposed to be translated or who the target audience was, but it clearly has to do with outreach (getting people to come). I'm also asked to contact people I know in Belgium, connected to care projects. I more or less agree to this (verbally), with a deadline set for February 3rd. Now, the important bit here is that outreach was never part of my workshop proposal, so it basically is under the "work for your ticket" provision.
- Admittedly, I drag my feet a bit on this outreach stuff. There are many reasons for this (bad habits, other stuff going on, not sure if I could even make it to the rest of LOTE5, etc etc).
- Monday evening (1st of February), I get some short Facebook messages from Nadia (noone else is invited to the conversation this time, as with the phone call before). There is low registration on the workshop (3ppl), where she simply suggests to cancel it. I am a bit flabbergasted, but reply I think such a decision is basically up to her, not me. I do not get a response, which leaves me in limbo and very unmotivated to suddenly start translating stuff. Note that my workshop is still not mentioned properly anywhere at this point, the event page keeps saying what's been there all along.
- On Thursday, the Facebook chat with Nadia opens again, basically stating she has no choice but to cancel the workshop. I'm not going to copy the entire conversation, as I can see how that can be used as an argument to censor me, but Nadia's most relevant message is this: "The time is dragging out and seen from here it is neither feasible, nor particularly fun, to push if we do not see signs of commitment? You had committed to doing outreach and recruitment to activist groups etc doing relevant work in Belgium. This was in the exchange for the ticket. The first step was to produce invitation materials in French and Dutch. You asked me to foillow up with you about this, I respected this commitment and wrote to you 3 days ago with no response. This leaves me at a loss for what to do. Suggestions?"
- Quite an angry conversation ensues, as I'm quite let down with the whole experience. Nadia offers all the way at the end for me to "do some video", which I decline.
First off all, emotionally, this was a much rougher experience than I expected. Looking at possible explanations, I think the main thing is that registrations for LOTE5 just weren’t running as well as certain people wished. Most of the talks I’ve looked at have quite low registration numbers, so it definitely wasn’t just a problem with my workshop (which hadn’t been communicated properly anyway). In a way, I understand the drive for last minute outreach, but I was never in a place where I had time to truly pick up responsibility to bridge that gap. (Note that giving a one day workshop is way lower in commitment than chasing people for weeks.)
Secondly, there was an enormous confusion of communication channels, but also methodology. As the workshop was paid for, most of the feedback seemed to be quite hierarchical (customer-supplier style). However, about halfway through the process, it got mixed with community driven “horizontallish” feedback without the direct instructions becoming less in volume and intensity. Looking back, the worst moment were invariably the one-to-one contacts with Nadia, which felt like an angry customer on the line every time. To me, these two approaches (community feedback and direct management) are profoundly incompatible and feel enormously and needlessly stressful. I would also argue that from a project management perspective, community driven efforts should have way more time to sort themselves out. To this point it is still unclear who decides anything in Edgeryders, but from a practical point of view, it was Nadia that made the most crucial decisions by herself it seemed.
Thirdly, and I think this is very clear from Nadia’s message during the cancelling of the workshop, outreach was hard-tied to both obtaining a ticket, but in the end also to the seemingly unrelated professional request for a (paid for) workshop. In a very literal sense, it meant that in order to come to LOTE5 myself and to earn a small amount of money (about 1/2 of my normal rate), I had to bring other people. I’m not sure how many people are being asked to do the same kind of outreach for LOTE5, but I believe that this essentially makes the whole conference a social pyramid scheme. You can’t come unless you bring other people.
Fourthly, and this is my saddest realisation, my run-in with Nadia has the potential of closing the door between me and a lot of people I would have truly enjoyed seeing again at LOTE and later Edgeryders activities. It feels a lot like becoming an outcast, fitting I guess in the spirit of monasteries and the like. So, at least for me, this whole approach is damaging for relationships that are important to me. I’m not sure if it is a good thing that such a decision can lie in the hands of one single person. Realising this, I can only come to the conclusion that I would advise anyone to be incredibly careful in making commitments within Edgeryders, as the commitment does not seem to be with a community or even a company, but with a shadow owner. The top of the pyramid is closer than you think.
That’s it. I’m assuming I’ve broken the netiquette rules enough to be swiftly removed. So be it.