The lobby of the Radisson Hotel in Salt Lake is so familiar that it feels like the living room of a good friend. This is not surprising since I’ve attended CONduit at this same hotel for at least 5 years. Many conversations with many friends have taken place there.
On Saturday evening there were only seven of us, Bob Defendi, Dan Willis, Eric Swedin, Mette Harrison, Julie Wright, Jessica Day George, and me. Other people drifted in and out during the course of the evening, Including my daughter Kiki. Prior to dinner the same space had held a different mix of people. In past years the group gathering in this space gets so large that we moved the lobby furniture. Then the hotel staff came by and we had to put it all back. But for the larger part of Saturday evening it was the seven of us who planted ourselves in chairs. None of us had any intention of moving until it was time to go home.
I have known and loved all of these people for years. We always manage to fill our time together with fascinating conversations. This time the conversation turned to family histories and childhoods. The breadth of experience was a bit staggering. Three people had been through medical traumas sufficient to kill a person, stories were told of depression, family strife, mental instability, alcoholic parents, neglect, cancer, and abandonment. After the conversation moved on and fragmented into smaller pieces, Eric Swedin and I spoke about how interesting it was to learn all this new information about people we have known for so long. As Eric said, “It’s always interesting to learn the back story.”
I have to agree. People are the reason I return to CONduit year after year. I love the gradual unfolding of friendships. I love that each year my group of acquaintances expands as more people become friends. It simply is not possible for me to spend time with everyone that I would like to in one short weekend.
Reading that back story list in print makes it seem that the conversation was deep and heavy, but it really was not. Everyone spoke cheerfully about their experiences, while still acknowledging they were hard. I thought about it afterward and was once again amazed by these people whom I have claimed as friends. They have been through some very dark places and you would never know it to look at them. They all seem bright, brilliant, healthy, and whole. The experiences give them a well of sympathy and understanding without weighing them down.
I’m sure they feel burdened at times. I know that I do. But that was not what I saw. I saw survivors who took their hard experiences and made them useful. These are people I can aspire to emulate.
Julie Wright and I had a short conversation about when we first met. She told me how early in our friendship she felt so cool because I invited her out to lunch during a convention. I laughed because I spent that whole convention amazed that someone as awesome as Julie would want to spend time with me. We laughed together about how internal experiences are often far divergent from what is apparent to others. In those early years we both felt out of place while assuming that the other belonged.
It was particularly interesting to me this year to be attending CONduit without Howard. We usually attend together and tag-team to cover events and run a table. Howard was greatly missed and frequently asked after. What was heart warming to me was that not once was I dismissed as unimportant without Howard in attendance. Cavan did make a joke saying, “You mean you exist when Howard isn’t here?”
“Apparently.” I smiled back. But the truth is that for years I felt like my professional acceptance at conventions was only because I trailed in Howard’s wake. People came to know me because I was Howard’s wife, part of the Schlock Mercenary team. Over the years I’ve earned the respect I was given, but my internal perception remained the same. I know this because I keep being surprised when professional respect is shown to me in Howard’s absence.
Revan and Malak came to request an interview for Dungeon Crawler’s Radio. I assumed they were attempting to schedule Howard, but they already knew he was elsewhere. It was me that they were seeking out. For fifteen recorded minutes we had a wonderful conversation, in which very few of the questions focused on my role in supporting Schlock Mercenary and XDM. I’d assumed those would be their primary interest. I did talk about them some, because those things are a big part of my life, but I also got to talk about mixing marriage and business, my Hold on to Your Horses book, and my book of essays.
Mette Ivie Harrison and I shared a reading. Just the fact that I had one made me glad. Mette and I arrived together to an empty room. We joked about how we could just read to each other. Fortunately a few more people came. Mette went first and read from one of her many books. She was so calm and competent reading from her bound book, when all I had were sheets printed from my computer. After the reading was over, Mette confessed that it was her first reading and she worried that she should have brought something new rather than reading from a published book. She’s been a published author for years, I’d assumed she was reading from a wealth of experience.
Thoughts about external perception, internal experience, and amazing people continue to percolate in my brain even though the convention is done. I looked around my church meeting this morning and realized that it too is filled with amazing people whom I admire. These people have also lived through dark times and survived them. Some of them are probably going through a dark time right now.
The people at church have no idea how amazing they are. Just as my friends at the convention do not see in themselves what I see. Just as I doubt myself and others see something different. I need to remember this when I feel like nothing I do matters. I need to remember to step confidently, smile brightly, and work to transform my hard experiences into something useful. I need to take my own insecurities and self doubt, then look around me. Others feel the same. Just as the words of others are gifts that teach me to believe in myself, I need to find ways to give out similar gifts.
I also need to use the connective powers of the internet to help me meet up with my friends more often than once per year.