conventions

Kiel on Day Two of the Trip

Reading German road signs, menus, etc is making me silly happy. It is fun to recognize a word in the middle and figure out the rest. Sometimes the word I recognize is in the middle of a sentence, other times it is in the middle of a word. It is like the world around me is filled with clever word puzzles and the only clues I have are decades old education I have to dredge from memory. (and google. Sometimes I google.) It has been interesting to travel with Howard here in Germany where I have familiarity with the local language and he doesn’t. When we’re in a romance based country (All the prior international travel has been to places where he was more expert than I was.) He’s asking questions and I’m surprised at how many I’m able to answer. I carry a fair amount of remembered vocabulary, more than I’d expected. On the other hand, I’m afraid I have now taught Howard enough German that he has wortrauchenfruede (Word smushing joy.)

As usual, it is a comfort to me when I open up my computer to discover that my usual internet haunts are the same whether I’m accessing them from Utah or Germany. However even online little things come to my attention. This morning I was on facebook and noticed that the little notification globe looked different somehow. Then I realized that the globe is centering Germany rather than the US. And it made me happy, because of course it does that.

A similar moment came when I heard the sound of emergency vehicles outside my window and they had the siren sound which I’ve heard before in movies, but which isn’t the same siren used in the states. I hear the noise and a piece of my brain laughs at me because I’m surprised to hear that sound outside of a movie.

The flight from Paris was uneventful. I even got a glimpse of the Eiffel tower. I promise that in the middle of this photo, lost in the haze is a tiny Eiffel tower. I was able to see it, but my camera has insufficent resolution to differentiate the haze.

It was a tiny, terrible view of so significant a landmark, but it made me so happy to get to glimpse the structure at all. I didn’t think I would get to.

On the shuttle bus from Hamburg to Kiel I had ninety minutes to watch out the window while German landscape passed by. I’ve seen forests and fields in the US, but not usually in so close proximity. Old growth forest surrounded most of the fields and the forest itself has a different feel than the forests I’ve been in on either East or West coast of the US. I realized that I was staring at the forest that was the origin of many European fairytales. The forests I saw made sense out of those tales of deep, magical woods full of peril. I spent some time thinking about how landscape changes the cultures that grow up in them. I didn’t have brain to get much further than that thought though. Jet lag muddled most of the thoughts.

Related note: staff meetings when all the staff are jet lagged become rambly and amusing affairs.

Our hotel is lovely. I have a view of the port outside my window.

Tomorrow morning my ship will dock there and I’ll get on board. Today is full of jet lag recovery and pre-cruise organization and orientation. The students have already begun to gather.

Traveling to Europe

Day after tomorrow my calendar has an appointment named “flight to Paris.” I’m not actually going to stay in Paris long, just touch down long enough to clear customs and get on another plane. Yet part of my brain sings “I’m going to Paris.”

I first dreamed of a trip to Europe when I was sixteen years old. I’d heard of some summer-long teen ambassador program which pitched itself as a hugely educational connection between teens from other countries. I dragged my dad with me to a meeting, where he worried about supervision and I was discouraged by the hefty price tag. Life intervened, I didn’t have the resources to come up with that money, so I didn’t go. (Though I did get to do a week-long school trip to Washington DC a year later for a much smaller price tag and supervised by people who were familiar to us.)

I next made plans to go to Europe as a sophomore in college. There were semester abroad programs. I researched and intended to take out a loan to go. Ultimately I chose fiscal responsibility over an exciting trip. Which turned out to be a good thing because shortly after that I met Howard. We got engaged during the semester I would have been gone.

My third moment when Europe seemed possible was brief. Howard and I were discussing plans for our honeymoon. He pointed out that he had enough money for us to pick Europe if we wanted. Except I knew that money needed to carry through the rest of my schooling. It was the fund we planned to use to allow Howard to pursue a creative career instead of being tied to a job. We chose the long-haul dream over the fantastic trip. We picked the dream of family and stability over travel. At the moment of that decision, I knew I might be giving up Europe forever. I knew that we wanted kids and that having kids limited travel options. I knew that my life was changing, but I chose to set aside the idea of seeing Europe.

Fast forward twenty three years from those decisions made so long ago that they might as well have been made by another person. I don’t regret them. Yet somehow the musician I married turned into a cartoonist. And this small podcast he was invited to join got bigger than anyone expected. And then the podcast started hosting retreats and paying for instructors to come. And then one of those retreats was planned as a cruise tour of the Baltic sea. So instead of me making Europe happen out of determination and force of will, it has come to me of it’s own accord. And it has come in a way that I can afford without jeopardizing and of my longer-term, more-important dreams.

I get to fly to Paris, then Hamburg. I get to shuttle to Kiel where I’ll board a ship that stops in Copenhagen (Denmark), Stockholm (Sweden), Tallinn (Estonia), and St. Petersburg (Russia). Then I fly home, touching down briefly to change planes in Amsterdam. At the end of ten days I’ll have added seven countries to the “places I’ve been” list. I’ll get to see their art, hear their languages, and tour both a viking ship and a Russian cold war submarine. I’m going to fill my head with new experiences, and then I get to return home to all my favorite dreams.

Excited isn’t quit the right word for how I feel about this trip. I’m too calm inside for “excited.” I feel anticipation, peace, curiosity, anxiety, and happiness. I get to go with the flow of a trip with scheduled travel and guided tours. For ten days I don’t have to be in charge of everything, I get to be a passenger. I get to make choices based on my feelings of the moment instead of the requirements of my responsibilities. And I get to be on a ship. I’m surprised at how much I long to be on a ship again.

Tomorrow is the day of last minute preparations, Wednesday I depart.

Books Arrived, Time to Do All the Things

The big shipment of Planet Mercenary books arrived today. That means it is time to switch gears and start sending packages out the door. My thoughts have been running a mile a minute since the moment I pulled up at Hypernode Headquarters and realized that I wasn’t going to have to sit around waiting for the truck, it was waiting for me. Cue flurry of me rapidly shifting the last few boxes so that pallets could take up that floor space. Thirty out-of-breath minutes later the delivery was done and the truck drove off.

Since then I’ve been making lists and scrambling to get things done. These are things I am tracking right now:

Preparations for the first shipping day: including finishing the errata document, getting 800 books triple signed, ordering the necessary shipping supplies, and mentally pre-organizing the backers into batches.

Preparations for ongoing shipping: I’m going to have to do many shipping days across several weeks. My kids are going to get tired of working and so I may need to hire neighborhood teens and organize that. I don’t know what will be needed. I’ll have to figure it out as I go.

Combining Deluxe Handbrain screen orders with Planet Mercenary orders: The first rush of emails is done, but responses are still coming in. At least now I have a practiced system for handling them so nothing gets lost. (Creating that system was a source of some stress as I used my brain as a bridge between three incompatible systems.)

Fulfilling on the last Planet Mercenary Kickstarter items: The Planet Mercenary backers will be getting their packages soon, which only leaves the Game Chief Secrets PDF which we promised. So I’ll be trying to squeeze in writing and editing time around the shipments. If anything slides it will be finishing up this, but I’d really like to end July with having delivered everything. I want August to be fully focused on the big events scheduled there. And in September I’d really like to shift gears into doing something new.

Fulfilling on the Handbrain Screen Kickstarter: The pressing of the screens themselves has been scheduled. I’ll need to approve them, pay the bill, and then wait for a truck. Then a second wave of shipping hits. Also there is the Adventure PDF that needs to be written and sent out.

Preparing for GenCon: This one is made so much easier by the crew I have in Indianapolis. They’re such amazing people and make running the booth possible. However much of my work for GenCon happens before we even get to the event. I’ve already done the hotel booking, flight purchasing, insurance purchasing, and arranged for electricity at the booth. Our official convention schedules are done thanks to the amazing folks at the GenCon writer’s symposium. Yet to do: make a new banner that features Planet Mercenary, ship Planet Mercenary books so we can sell them at the booth, double check on-site inventory and ship to fill any gaps, prep the cash register with new products, get the GenCon adventure ready for players, assist in lining up GCs to run games at GenCon, communicate with booth partners to make sure they have everything they need, prepare two solo presentations to give at the convention, and make up flyers and other promotional materials for the show. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. There is always something.

Preparing for the Writing Excuses Cruise:
It is in Europe this year. I’ve never been to Europe. There are packing preparations to make, power adapters to buy, flights to fret over, and planning for the adult kids who will be staying with the teen kids. The actual planning for this is not that hard, but the emotional footprint is big. Particularly since it has to be squeezed in between all of the other things.

Completing the next Schlock Mercenary book:
It can’t fall through the cracks. I really want to send it to print by early September so that I can have books on sale for Christmas. This means I have to finish writing the bonus story ASAP. I have to work with an artist to get the bonus story drawn. I have to get an introduction written. And Howard needs to do the cover and marginalia. Howard also needs to get way ahead on the buffer because of the upcoming travel.

Household stuff:
Apparently we’re out of groceries and this is a problem.

Thing I am really looking forward to: being able to complete things in the list above and not have to worry about them anymore. I’ve been pre-planning the Planet Mercenary shipping for the last eighteen months and I finally get to do the thing.

A Twelve Day Update

The short version of the past twelve days goes like this: Convention, convention, convention, visit with friend and drive her to airport, head cold with shipping, head cold with editing, head cold with editing, head cold with an array of neglected household and parent stuff, feeling a bit better with editing, mostly better with shipping, editing, and taking a child to buy her first snake pet, today.

The slightly more expanded version:

LTUE is our home convention. It is the one that feels like a family reunion because it is full of people that I like and I only get to see once per year. On top of that, I get to sit down with smart people and have discussions of interesting topics. These discussions happen both as part of public panels, but also in more casual groups. Writer people are my people.

Kiki didn’t come up this year. She needed a calm semester where she didn’t have to scramble to prepare for a convention where she needed to present herself professionally. I used her absence as an opportunity to do an art yard sale of her old work. (With her permission of course.) She had art left over from high school and early college which was no longer representative of her best work. Rather than let it continue to take up space in her life, we sold it at a big discount to turn art into grocery money. Almost everything we offered sold.

Usually Kiki is the one who helps me run the table, this year two women from my neighborhood volunteered to help. It was really fun. They were good company. They got free badges to attend and the three of us traded off who would be at the table and who would go to classes or events. I loved knowing that everybody got things they wanted out of the deal. Win win is the best kind of deal.

Usually the Sunday after LTUE is a collapse and relax day. It sort of was this year. Only I did my collapsing and relaxing with a couple of friends who had also been at the show and were also collapse relaxing.

Monday I began to be sick. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were all something of a fog. Mostly I camped on the couch looking pitiful and trying to get editing work done. The plan for the week had been to split my days between editing and shipping. I wasn’t well enough to be on my feet for shipping. Editing took longer than I wanted it to, but at least I could do it laying down. I couldn’t take days off because Planet Mercenary is on a crazy tight schedule. We need to go to print by April 1st. There has to be a month of time for indexing before going to print. And there is still layout to do. In an ideal world, all the writing would be complete before editing began. Then all the editing would be done before layout began. Then all the layout would be done before indexing began. Instead different sections of the book are in different parts of the process.

The good news is that I’ve finally finished the portions of the book which have lots of mechanics and numbers. The numbers are set. I only have a little bit of formatting to do before sending all of that to layout. The remainder of the book is all fun world building stuff. I won’t have to meticulously cross check everything to make sure it is good. I also won’t have to spend time worrying that I’ve accidentally created an item that is far more expensive (or cheap) than it should be for the benefit it provides. Approximating a functional economy is hard.

Once I was feeling enough better to be ambulatory, it was time to get back on track with shipping out Defaced Seventy Maxims books. I’d wanted all of them out the door by the end of February. Instead it is more likely to be by March 6 or 7. A week later than I want. Because I’ve been jumping between editing and shipping and planning new merchandise, I simply haven’t had the time or emotional energy to put together a big shipping event. Shipping is me grabbing 2-3 of my teenagers and spending 2-3 hours sending out 150-200 packages. I’ve got about 500 more US packages and about 200 international ones left. International takes longer to process and pack because of the necessary customs forms.

During LTUE I tweeted about my 16 year old who texted me to ask what chores she could do. She has been putting in 1-2 hours of work per day for the last month because she wanted to earn enough money to buy a snake and all the supplies to take care of it. The original plan had her and her brother cooperating to buy a snake. In the end only my daughter put in the hours and earned the money. She hit the money goal after helping me with shipping on Saturday. So we went to our local pet store (the small one, not the giant chain one) and came home with a little snowy corn snake. Now that the snake actually exists in the house, my son is far more motivated to earn money to buy his own snake. So we’re likely to end up with two of them. Which is fine. The snake is name Cecil and he’s adorable.

Today is Sunday wherein I theoretically rest. Tomorrow work begins anew.

LTUE Symposium

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I’ll be at LTUE. You can find details at ltue.net. It is a really amazing place for creators of science fiction and fantasy to come and learn how to improve their craft. There are tracks for gaming, writing, literature, and art. Plus this year there is a track about staying well and balanced as part of a creative life.

I highly recommend the show. If you’re there, feel free to find me and say hello. I’ll spend much of my time in the vendor hall, but I’ll also be doing some panels and on Saturday I have an entire presentation about the Power of Picture books.

Surrey International Writer’s Conference

View of Surrey from the hotel window
View of Surrey from the hotel window

I spent my weekend at Surrey International Writer’s Conference in Surrey British Columbia. I had never before been to either that portion of Canada or to that particular conference. I found both to be a lovely experience. While at SiWC, I got to present The Power of Picture Books and Design Principles for Book Covers. Both presentations had fantastic audiences who asked really smart questions and shared pieces of information which added to the discussion.

The remainder of my teaching time was spent on Blue Pencil sessions where attendees would bring me a few pages of their writing and I would read it on the spot so I could give a quick critique. Each blue pencil appointment was fifteen minutes and a session was five of these in a row. It was mentally tiring, but also really invigorating. I love sitting with another writer and helping them find pieces they need to make their work closer to what they want it to be.

One thing I loved about SiWC was the breadth of genres that the conference embraced. They had teachers for romance, science fiction, fantasy, memoir, narrative nonfiction, picture books, middle grade, YA, non fiction, etc. Most of the writing events I attend have a heavy Sci Fi and Fantasy emphasis. This makes much of what I write tangential to the focus of the conference. It was lovely to attend an event where I specifically invited for expertise that other events don’t want.

Another thing that was different about SiWC was that the meal times were wrapped into the conference experience and made to serve as a time for writers to connect with each other. There were banquet style lunches and dinners with round tables and open seating. For each meal I got to sit with a different group of people. This was sometimes a little bit tiring for an introvert like me, but then the conversations started. We talked writing, the classes we’d been to, things from our lives, and about the conference itself. These meals were a chance for friendships to form. It was a beautiful thing.

On my evaluation form, the conference asked me about my best moment during the show. I’d have to say it was watching people who’d come into a class by themselves leaving the class in groups who were talking to each other and sharing contact information. I was so happy to be a part of that, because we all succeed better when we connect with and help each other. SiWC is a conference where being welcoming to new people is written right into their goals for a successful conference. It certainly worked with me. I was never left standing outside some in-joke where long timers were laughing and I didn’t know why. They brought me inside, invited me to laugh with them, and I did.

If you’re looking for a writer’s conference to attend in 2017, you should consider SiWC. It is worth both the time and money. I know I would be delighted to be able to go back again.

Things I Learned While Cruising

Dolphins have a series of sounds that they always use when approaching another dolphin. Each dolphin has a unique set of sounds. This means that dolphins name themselves and routinely introduce themselves by name.

If you place two Tayler kids at adjoining tables, they will create little fortresses and villages out of sugar packets.
sugar-forts

Different ships have different social structures between staff and guests. This one felt more stratified than the last ship. I kept trying to put my waiter and my room attendant at ease and was never able to quite do it.

The world is full of amazingly kind people. Many of them were our attendees and teachers for this event.

Having a larger ship does not mean I’ll feel the ocean less. Because the ship was so tall and the underwater portion shallow in comparison, I felt the motion of the ship most of the time. I never felt sick with it except on the one night where I was in the highest lounge of the ship while the ship was skirting the edge of a storm.

I do not like it when they make the dining hall staff dance to music. I’d much rather be having conversations. They danced four times during the week. It was a lot.

Sometimes the light strikes the water in a way that makes crepuscular rays reflecting down into the water. This is hard to catch on film, but I tried.
reflection-crepuscular

There were lots of knowledge gaps in my children’s experiences of travel. Howard and I were frequently explaining things and demonstrating things. They had to be shown how to navigate an airport, how to order room service on a ship, how to share elevators with lots of other people, how to be polite in all the small ways that are necessary in crowds.

Bringing kids onto a crowded ship with fourteen decks, then making them stay for a week, is an effective way to exterminate elevator anxiety.

While some of my kids dove in, did their own research, and ran off to do things, I had to be cruise director for some of the other ones. I had to book tickets to shows then require them to actually attend those shows, which they then enjoyed.

Nassau has iguanas everywhere. This delighted all Taylers.

Dusk while pulling away from port is beautiful.
island-dusk-2

Standing on a balcony and watching water flow by is a huge destressor. Riding a smaller boat with wind in my face is also a destressor while simultaneously being invigorating.

Dan Wells will let his assistant paint his nails if the polish is glow in the dark with tiny bats.

If we leave the room set up and the mics hot, apparently attendees will host a spontaneous Writing Excuses episode with various people playing the part of the cast members.

Swimming with dolphins will make my daughter vibrate with joy.

Other people genuinely like my kids and find them charming. This is nice to know because I often worry that their various intensities will make them bothersome in public.

Old Heidelberg is a marvelous restaurant and I should eat all the potato pancakes.

When there is a fire at an airport, security will completely empty the terminal and we’ll get to stand in a long line waiting to get into the building. Once inside I could smell that it had been a bread fire, it smelled exactly like scorched toast. Then I thought about it and realized that the evacuation was not an over reaction. A small fire could be a staged distraction and they had to rule that out before allowing travelers back into the building.

If you let Gleek loose with a free afternoon and a pool area populated with little lizards, she will become so expert at catch and release that she can practically just walk up to them and pick them up. Also, she will manage to tame them so that they’ll just sit on her hands and shoulders.

Those photos with water and hair flips are a lot harder to pull off than you would think. Water up the nose is a serious issue. Also if you have long hair, it requires serious back muscles to move the weight of the hair and water.
splash

Given the opportunity, a conference of writers will claim space in a lounge and gradually all the other people will leave because we’re talking about weird stuff.

While on a cruise, strangers will use the elevator ride to divulge random details about their lives. Sometimes this is delightful, other times it’s just weird.

If you put siblings into tiny cabins for a week, all the latent rivalries and tensions will come to the surface.

Day three is when kids melt down and want to go home. Day five is when they really settle in to the rhythms of ship life.

An autistic adult who is removed from most of his familiar routines, will need someone to be with him pretty constantly so that he doesn’t retract inward into loneliness and sadness. Also the newness of things means he can’t fully enjoy them. They have to repeat and become familiar before he can evaluate if he actually likes them.

When we are willing to be vulnerable with each other, a powerful connection can be formed in a very short span of time. Also a single sentence can tell a powerful story. I witnessed nine people take painful personal stories and distill them into a single sentence as part of an exercise. It was amazing.

My camera has settings that let me catch moon on water (If a bit dark and blurry). You can also see the constellation Orion if you look right of the moon.
moon-water

I need my trips to have spaces of unscheduled time so that I can process the experiences I’m having. I’m home now and life is moving onward. Some of those thoughts are going to be lost or buried unexamined.

I love writer people. (This isn’t a new thing I learned, but it is a thing I’ve been reminded of.)

Royal Caribbean has an entire Autism program. I knew that before embarking, but I thought it was kid focused so I didn’t tap into it on the ship. After disembarking I learned that they’re trained to help autistic adults as well. If I’d engaged with guest services we would have had a different week. But since every single hard thing opened up new knowledge and realizations for all of us, I’m not sure I’d trade away the week I had. If there is another time with my son along, I’ll have a conversation with guest services.

Sand and water are good for hours of entertainment, even when the kids are all grown up.
wave-and-sand

Sometimes when I make my kid go along on an excursion that he really doesn’t want to do, he will discover that he loves part of it. Same was true for dinners and shows. I need to make him do more things that make him uncomfortable so that his world can become larger.
snorkling

Sometimes it only takes small things to create happiness.

There are people who can understand what I’m dealing with and will give me hugs when stuff is hard.

The WXR staff is amazing. We watch out for each other and tell each other when to take time off or to nap. When an emergency comes up, everyone steps in and helps so that the conference proceeds smoothly while the emergency is managed. And happily the emergency was minor and resolved without any long term consequences.

Ships on the ocean leaves trails in the water, much like airplanes leave contrails in the sky.
water-trails

All of that, and I’ve only begun to mention the things I’ve learned in the last ten days. I wish I had the funds to travel more with my kids. I wish I had the time to travel more. I’m looking forward to next year’s WXR cruise in Europe.

I had a marvelous, wonderous, complicated, challenging, stressful, joyful, beautiful trip.

Home from WXR2016

sunset-reflection

I have spent the last ten days away from my house with all of my children. We traversed the country via shuttle and airplane. Then we got on a ship to sail for seven days. Today we returned home. I have so many thoughts about all of it.

The event was the Writing Excuses Workshop that for the past two years has taken place on a cruise ship. I wrote about it last year. This year was also magical, but also more exhausting because I was pulled in more directions. My children had never taken a trip like this one before and they needed help learning how to manage themselves and navigate the cruise experience. I did not have many down times where I got to emotionally process the experiences. I was often up until 2 or 3am, either because I was finally getting a chance to sit and have a lovely conversation or because one of my kids hit meltdown at midnight and it took that long to help them sort it.

The entire thing pinged between marvelous and exhausting. I had joyous moments with my family. I also had moments which made me cry because I don’t have fixes for hard things in their lives. Pretty much all the sibling conflicts busted open at one point or another. The kids finally said to each other some of the things that they’ve only been willing to say to me. Their world is a different place post-cruise. We’ll see what changes that makes in the patterns of our lives back at home. I would like for some things to be different.

There is real power in taking a family, pulling them all outside their comfort zone, and then trapping them there for a week because we simply can’t abort the experience until the ship gets back to port. I flat out couldn’t solve some of the problems, which meant the kids had to face the problems and deal with them. It was hard on them sometimes. Mostly it was hard on Link, who is a creature of patterns and habits. The family had to take turns helping him get through. Gleek loved the teen program and ran her own schedule. Kiki loved being staff for the conference. Patch had an abundance of time to read and enjoyed being at the adult tables for dinner. Link discovered he loves snorkeling.

And all of that doesn’t begin to touch the conference aspects of the cruise. I renewed friendship with people who have attended prior events. I made new friends. I got to meet in person some people that I’d only known online. It was very difficult to be pulled away from conference classes and conversations to check on kids, manage kids, require kids to try things they didn’t want to try (which they then loved). I wanted to spend all my time in classes, in conversations, in helping manage the event, in sitting down to get my own work done.

I got no work done other than staying on top of email. Work was one of the pieces that simply didn’t fit. I don’t know what that means for work this week. Howard had trouble clearing space to be working as well. If we had not had the kids, I think we would have gotten much more done.

I have many thoughts about cruises, about kids on cruises, about cruises and special needs people, about the social environments on the ship, about the shows on the cruise (which I would not have seen except that I needed to pull kids into activities,) about the size of the ship itself and whether it is wise to make a ship that large. Our ship was one of the largest in the world. I hadn’t really wrapped my head around that fact until I got off the ship at Nassau and saw this:
size-comparison

One guess which was our ship. Gleek got off the ship onto the pier and looked up to the top of the ship beside us. “They’re like mountains!” she said then she turned to look up at our ship “Whoa, ours is even bigger.” I’m glad to have sailed on a giant ship once, but I preferred the smaller ship last year.

I have even more thoughts about the emotional experiences of this event. I need some quiet processing time before I can frame those thoughts. But I will say this, every time an emotional thing was hard, I was able to see exactly why it was an important experience to have. Not fun, but definitely important.

On the other hand, anytime things felt hard, I could step out onto my balcony and watch the water flow by. Within moments my spirit would quiet and calm would flow over me. I really need a door in my house which opens up to a balcony like that.

I’m exhausted both physically and mentally. I want to bounce right back into work, into helping the kids get their schoolwork made up, into being effective in regular life. But I have some sleeping and processing to do. Emotional processing is important work and it requires a free space of time for it to happen. Right now, bed.

wake

Thoughts on GenCon 2016

Conventions always contain a mix of emotions for me. Each one contains highs and lows. The fact that GenCon is by far the most expensive event of the year only amplifies some of those emotions. Some years the financial expense is offset by a large financial inflow, this year not so much. The combination of booth placement and the fact that we didn’t have very much new product meant that it wasn’t a particularly profitable year when viewed from a strict financial standpoint. We knew that going in. We’ve schooled our thoughts to think of this as a placeholder year financially. Next year we’ll have a game, the 70 maxims book, a new Schlock book, and we’ll put a lot of preparatory effort into ancillary merchandise. Next year should be really good. Yet I still had moments when I mentally ran through the math on this show and felt deeply discouraged.

The show has many important high lights. One of my favorite events every year is the crew dinner. We have a little GenCon family around our booth. It is always lovely to sit down for dinner with them and recognize how very different all our jobs are at the booth. Yet all the jobs are essential and we all are co-conspirators in making this thing possible. My attendance at the event both last year and this year have allowed me to build connections with the crew that I simply didn’t have when I was managing things at a distance.

I got to give two presentations this year, which triggered a series of emotions. Gratitude that the programming chair would trust me to deliver solid materials for two hours of his limited programming space. Then worry that what I have to offer isn’t what the writing symposium attendees would be interested in. That fear is naturally combined with anxiety that they will be interested in the topics, but disappointed with my delivery or expertise on the subjects. I’ve given enough presentations to know that once the event begins, I will fall into a flow of talking and it will all be fine.

There is a magic in giving a presentation to a receptive audience. It is far more interactive than the audience may be aware that it is. I look around the room. I see where they nod or write a note. That information feeds back into my subconscious and leads me to expand or elaborate on one point while letting go of another. My favorite moments are the ones where I say something and I see the face of an audience member change. There is electricity in that moment because I know that something I said connected with something in their mind. It happens more often in the Q&A section because people are bringing up concerns that are directly related to them. I love the part where audience asks questions. I have learned so much about my own thoughts by trying to give good answers. Sometimes a question causes a change in my head and opens up a new set of thoughts and connections. Then I get to say those new connections. This sometimes makes me look like a fount of knowledge, but really I’m just making connections between the current conversation and things that I’ve read, thought, or had conversations about before.

There were some really good thoughts that surfaced during these presentations. Those thoughts will be folded into my ongoing thinking and will inform presentations that I do in the future. The same is true of conversations which continued after we walked out of the classroom. I know that technically I’m the teacher in the situation, but I learn so much from these experiences. I learn from just sitting around and talking with other writers. I learn from not talking and listening while others talk. These interpersonal connections are a huge part of why coming to an event like this is worthwhile.

The connections with other people also feed into some of the hard emotions of the show. For every conversation where I feel connected and valued to the people in the conversational circle, there is a matching conversation where I wonder if I belong or if I’m interloping. My self doubts can eat at me during these events. I know how to short circuit those thoughts. I know how to stare at them, see them, and not let them stop me from joining in conversations. I also know that it is exceedingly unlikely that everyone is just putting up with me rather than actually wanting to be around me. Yet the more tired I become, the more plausible all of these self doubts begin to sound.

There were moments during this show when I just wanted to lay down and cry. Some of it is the self doubt. Some the mental math on finances. Some is overstimulation from being around thousands of people all the time and from my brain having to process all sorts of new input. Some is physical exhaustion caused by more walking than I’m used to, hauling heavy things, and sleeping less than is optimal. The down moments can loom large in my memory. I think this is one of the reasons that people post and tweet pictures of the shiny moments from conventions. There is a need to cement and document those good spots in memory because otherwise the good things get lost in the bleaker moments. Yet neither is a true representation of the entire experience.

High lights and happy moments are easy to gush about publicly. The lows mostly get acknowledged after they’re over. I was pondering on why I do my best to not let the low moments show on my face or in my actions. Some of it is because people are kind and they will want to fix it. They will want to do or say a thing to make it better. This is particularly true for people close to me because they’ll have an added twinge of guilt that they should have prevented the low. The thing is that the lows have far more to do with brain chemistry than with anything external. The real fix is a break to rest and reset.

One of the things I love about our booth team is that we all get this. We’re able to see the lows and call them out for each other. We send each other for breaks. And we speak reassuring words, not to try to bring someone out of a low, but just to counteract the negative thoughts that we know accompany a natural ebb in energy.

GenCon was amazing, hard, exhausting, surprising, fun, exciting, heart warming, lovely, brilliant, discouraging, important, enjoyable, and a dozen other things that slip out of my thoughts because my brain is very tired right now. Over the next week people will ask me “How was your trip?” and all of it will swirl in my brain. I have a hundred small stories about things that happened while I was gone. All of that will get summarized into a polite and brief answer of “good. I had a good trip.” Because to really dig in to how it was would take hours of sorting by talking.

For now I need to rest, and then I need to pick up the threads of life here at home. I was in the middle of many things and I must remember what they are. I’ll leave you a few pictures of the event.
Assasin

Steve

Crew dinner

At the booth

Observations at Salt Lake Gaming Con

This is an event that is obviously created out of love and enthusiasm. I can feel that when I walk in the hall. I can also feel that it is a new show, only two years old. It hasn’t yet settled into what it will become. My personal hope is that it will keep it’s emphasis on actually playing games rather than getting distracted bringing in celebrities. For this year the focus is right. There are areas for people to hit each other with foam swords or shoot each other with Nerf darts. There is an extensive board game library where attendees can try out games. Then there are the rows upon rows of computers set up for LAN gaming and console gaming. Everywhere I went I heard “Would you like to play?”

I did an informal count, and the attendee population was definitely skewed male, at least 3 to 1 maybe 5 to 1. Yet when my daughter sat down to play Super Smash Bros with eight guys, none of them reacted to her gender, just to how she played the game. This is the side of gaming that isn’t as apparent online. The vast majority of people who love playing games are kind and well adjusted. They have excellent social skills and a welcoming attitude. I would love to see this event grow and foster that community even more.

My attendance at the convention was low key. I was mostly serving as transportation for my kids. I brought work and sat at a table alternately working and observing. My kids had a really good time. The show floor had lots of energy, but was never overly crowded. There was plenty of parking. I imagine that it looks and feels much like the early days of GenCon before it became so beloved and crowded. There is one more day of the show. If you’re local and you like games, it is probably worth your time to stop by. saltlakegamingcon.com