Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Convention

It's strange to be rested again, to be awake and alert and engaged. It's a good feeling, and very powerful. It's been a day of sweat and tears (no blood, yet, and the tears were about growth and coming from a man facing sixty years who needed to deal with his own life as it is, not rail against an unfair world). Predators captured (and maybe one learned a little bit about being a man), deputies counseled, loved ones fed. Even when tired and distracted, I do a pretty good job. Today was ...better. Cool.

Once a year, my wife drags me to the Oregon Science Fiction Convention. She writes and paints and organizes and generally gets much done while making people feel very good about themselves. She shines at these events and I love to watch her as she checks her artwork for bids and puts in hours behind the scenes so that the things she runs appear to go off without a hitch, effortlessly.

In the past, my role has always been ornamental- she hangs on my arm and I strive to look good. The last two years, though, she has volunteered me to sit on panels (mostly dealing with violence or crime, my specialties) and teach a martial arts introduction in the morning for the handful of people who wake up early enough.

THE ATMOSPHERE always makes me a bit uncomfortable. There are a lot of Klingons and fairies and pirates, and I don't have a problem with that, but there's an earnest attempt to both be weird and find a group that appreciates the weirdness and is weird in the same way... it always strikes me as a group of iconoclasts who are afraid to be alone. Herd animals who desperately want to believe that they are eagles. There are exceptions of course and I count many of those friends. The professional writers tend to be intelligent, business-like and bitterly sarcastic, which is really fun. There are artists and singers and a few scientists, not as many as there used to be. There are writer wannabes (some of whom are fantasizing and some are working and it's easy to tell the difference). So, obviously all the good stuff happens in the bar.

PANELING: The basic idea is that a handful of experts get in front of a room and talk about a subject and answer questions from the audience. The audience is theoretically composed of a mix of fans who wish to be more informed and wannabe professionals who are trying to learn more information to give their writing or art some substance. Lets just say that the standard for what qualifies as an expert can be pretty low. On one panel we had an MD in the audience who knew more about the subject than all the panelists combined. On the other hand, in other panels we had some people who thought they knew more about the subject than the whole panel combined, yet somehow had failed to master basic hygiene.

1) Sitting on a panel that is about the future possibilities of drugs and medication an author, Steve Perry said, "Wouldn't it be cool if there was a pill that would make you stronger, look better and live longer?" The audience nodded or clapped approval and he cut 'em down, "Well there is. It's called 'eat right and exercise' and most of you aren't taking it."
2) Same panel and one of the audience members started explaining that poor quality food made people stupid, which in turn made them vote for Republicans which caused the problems of the whole world. Hmm. I thought it was watching television and reading fiction. Which I said out loud. To an author.
3) Getting two very brave and untrained women to not only practice infighting but to try it blindfolded. The wild grin when someone realizes how much they already know and can sense is a very precious thing.
4) Discussing bureaucratic lines of information, requirements for effective peaceful resistance, abuses of teaching power, the dynamics of dependent students and so much more with Michael and Asher.
5) Hearing of a long-time friend's early childhood in a famous suicide cult and all the questions it brought on.
6) Fine scotch and good conversation with M&K on everything from bodices to evil to social blindness to... if I'd only drank less, I'd remember more. But I remember the very warm glow of being with a couple that I like and admire very, very much.
7) Watching my daughter make friends with another young woman who was clearly also a high functioning autistic- listening to their careful words and watching precise and rehearsed body language as they expressed their natures through what must at times seem an alien language of etiquette and protocol.
8) CS's first con and her insights and wicked humor.
More- furry tails and Xena costumes and corsets that I am afraid will give me nightmares about being chased and smothered by a pair of vanilla pudding-monsters; and a kind professional author who saw my weariness as I stepped in to watch over an obligation my wife couldn't make and said, "You just relax. We're pros. We know what to do."

THE QUESTIONS: my old Friday student was there. We get together when we can, but we both live well out of town and her business no longer brings her to town so we don't get to work out much or let our brains play off each other like before. I miss that, as much for the questions as for the answers.
1) "If we're all going to die and our students are going to die, what is the point of teaching?" "I have no idea. I thought you had the answer to that one." "Nope." "Oh well."
2) Is an abusive teacher or a cult leader an example of predation or parasitism or symbiosis?
3) If Jim Jones caused the death by suicide of 914 cult members but he led all of them to full enlightenment in the moments before they drank the koolaid, was it a good thing? Still evil? So what?


  1. This post is quite different from your usual fare, obviously, but I really like it. I especially like those "moments". Those are classics!

    I really wish I could attend one of those things someday, but I'd suffer some serious culture shock if I did...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. "If we're all going to die and our students are going to die, what is the point of teaching?"

    The question isn't really about the universal, perhaps futile, nature of mortality. Death comes to us all, but life begins for others, too. Only knee-jerk narcissists forget this. People are born, and will continue to do so for (hopefully) a veeerrrrry long time. Heat death of the universe notwithstanding. People to receive and, in turn, to pass on teaching indefinitely.

    The point IS the teaching - it CAN be the only thing that outlives us, to benefit future students. And if you are teaching/learning something useful, about how to avoid or live thru violent encounters, you (and future students) may not suffer and die as soon.

    Does it really have to be any more profound than that?