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Nothing lasts forever — DeepWalker Lives

Nothing lasts forever
Deep Walker Lives

       My good friend Richard Gurley used to make fun of people who insisted that if you were big and strong you had to be stupid.  He was a computer programmer who used an over-sized keyboard.  At conventions, when we weren’t involved in a game, we would sit and talk about strategy, tactics, philosophy, the relative value of different kinds of blade, etc.

So many times I saw him acting gruff and laying it on thick to trying keep from bursting out laughing.  He did not always succeed.

If I had not met Richard Gurley back in in 1982 he would’ve been dead by 1984; instead, he helped develop the MRI as their main test subject.  We have been gamer friends since we met at a party Jerry Collins (a local artist) threw.  Not long after we met I took him aside at the party (well, actually, we were talking and went outside) and I told him, “You have acromegaly.  It is a serious health condition.  You need to see a doctor immediately.”

On my prompting, he immediately went to a doctor and was diagnosed with pituitary cancer.  Unlike most cases, his pituitary was fully functional and the size of a golf ball.  Very quickly it was found that his bones were too thick and too dense to use x-rays on him so he got referred to the people who were trying to develop a device which has become known as an MRI.

I remember one time we were at ChattaCon sitting in some chairs near the hotel elevators talking about how great it would be to get to colonize and explore alien planets when some kid came up to us and asked if anyone had a knife.

Richard pulled out a tiny penknife opened it and set it on the table in front of us.

I then pulled out a pocket knife opened it while saying, “That’s not a knife.  This is a knife,” and put it on the table next to the penknife.

Then Richard pulled out a tanto while saying, “THAT’s not a knife.  This is a knife,” and put it on the table next to my pocket knife .

While saying, “THAT’s not a knife.  This is a knife,” I pulled out a Marine survival knife approximately 1 inch longer than the tanto and set it on the table.

All the while, the kid’s eyes just kept getting wider and wider, while a crowd began to gather.

With a hearty, “THAT’s not a knife.  This is a knife,” Richard pulled out a foot long, double bladed knife that I think was a Scottish dirk but in his hands it still looked tiny and delicate, and tossed it down on the table.

At that point I reached into my jacket and pulled out my machete and dropped it on the table with a hearty, “THAT’s not a knife.  This is a knife.”

Just then, the kid started waving his arms back and forth saying, “Wait a minute!”  He reached down and picked one of the knives up, pulled out a string, and cut it.  He then put the knife back down, looked at both of us, and said “thank you” while backing away slowly.

I know what you’re probably thinking, if you’re a con-goer. “What about the weapons policies?”  First off, there were no weapons policies in those days.  They were not needed. Second, both of us were probably staff and on top of that at least one of us was probably security.  I say “probably” because it was a long time ago and I don’t really remember anymore.

For years, Richard and I had each other’s backs.  After his pituitary grew back and he had to have it surgically removed a second time, his bones became so large that his vertebrae locked into each other and he could barely move.  Since that time Richard has not been able to get out so much and I have been struggling and did I have the money or time to spend that much time with my good friend, but we never ceased to be close.

On Facebook, a lot of people have been talking about how important Richard was to them. They have been getting a lot of sympathy.  I can’t really tell you how important Richard was to me and I have not been getting any sympathy.  Richard was one of my two friends who have died in the last four years who I really expected to outlive me for the longest time.  Jimmy Wheeler was the other one.  Most of these people who have been talking about how important Richard was to them and how close they were to him would never have met him if it had not been for me.

The really frustrating part for me is that I had just figured out how to get his legs to uncramp just before he had his initial heart attack.  I was planning to go up and see if I could get him walking again when he had the heart attack.

I remember one time back when he was being treated, Richard was walking across the street from Lenox Mall to the Marta train station when he was hit by a car that ran the light.  I should stop at this point and mentioned the fact that Richard’s femurs by that point were already as big around as my upper arm.  If you don’t know, the femur is the bone in the upper part of your leg.  There was no time for him to get out of the way, so he hopped up an inch off the pavement so the car would not shatter his leg, and he shoved his elbow as hard as he could into the center of the car hood with the momentum created when it hit him.   The result was that he shoved the car hood into the carburetor of the vehicle, totaling it.  He then got up off of the hood when the woman stopped her car.  He growled at the lady in the broken car and walked off into the Marta station while the lady cop who had witnessed the accident stared at him with her mouth open.

Massive destructive power with a twisted, sick sense of humor was in many ways a hallmark of Richard Gurley.  He liked to act gruff and found it funny that a lot of people were afraid of him, but down deep he was a gentle and caring soul so long as you did not try to hurt him or those he cared about.  Like me, you hurt those we care about and, well, ever seen a cat hunt and kill something?

Richard was one of the main forces helping me maintain optimism about humanity.  He always had a sense of humor.  He wanted me to make sure that he was remembered the way he was before he ended up in a wheelchair.  I am glad that I let him know that his memory will be preserved both in the game that I’m designing and in several of my stories.  Richard was always a good friend.

I keep asking myself, “What’s the point of saving people’s lives if you end up watching them die later?”

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Con Survival Guide, Post #16: How to Treat People in Costume Or Excuse Me, Flash, Could You Hurry Up?

Con Survival Guide, Post #16: How to Treat People in Costume

Or

Excuse Me, Flash, Could You Hurry Up?

                People who are dressed in costumes at conventions are quite different from people who dress strangely in public places.  Okay, there are exceptions, like you can generally assume that adult women who dress like Sailor Moon frequently (and by frequently I mean there may be an exception somewhere) take themselves too seriously and at least seem to be somewhat unhinged.

               Con-goers, on average, are more intelligent and more educated than the general population and therefore have more of a sense of humor.  A few years ago, after Star Wars Episode 1: Phantom Menace was released to menace us all, there was a line of Princess Amadilas waiting to be in the costume contest at DragonCon.  By a line I mean somewhere between 50 and 400.  Since I was walking through that section anyway, I was looking at the various costumes, including the one Jango Fett, when I noticed a six-foot-five, burly man with a cigar sticking out of his bushy beard dressed as the Princess.  I immediately burst out laughing while about fifty people around me stepped back, looking scared.  He reached up one meaty hand, pulled the cigar out of his mouth and in a booming voice said to me, “Thank you! I worked hard on this outfit and you’re the first one to laugh!”  The crowd around me let go a huge sigh of relief and several people immediately admitted that they thought it was funny but were afraid to laugh in case he was serious.  He couldn’t believe anyone could think he could possibly be serious with the huge beard and cigar.  After that, everything went much more smoothly and everybody was happy.

                 Most con-goers are sane.  I mean there are the exceptions like Miss Marvel/ Rocker Girl, but even most of those are harmless.  The truth is that fandom is full of people who are just bad with names, so generally speaking it is usually acceptable to call someone by the name of the character they’re dressed as (especially if they’ve done a good job of it) or the name that’s on their badge.  It’s always good form, however, to call someone by their own name once in a while if you can remember it.  The good news is they probably don’t remember your name either.

                 This generally applies as long as they don’t think that you think that they are that fictional character.  In fact, it is generally not acceptable to either believe they are a fictional character, or that you are a fictional character.  While there are some people who are not sane who go to conventions, and they are generally tolerated, and some are genuinely liked, it is not the best way to make friends.  Over the years, some have been viewed kind of like mascots so long as they weren’t causing any trouble.

                 It is generally never acceptable, however, to call an actor by the name of the character they play or act like you think they actually are that character no matter how incredibly cute Kaylee might have been or how hot Ivanova was.  Girls, this also applies to anyone who has played The Doctor or John Barrowman, who played Captain Jack.  While Amy Pond was hotter than a summer day in Georgia, I have to admit that I don’t remember the actress’s name.  Those of us who are bad with names, of course, have strategies for getting around that kind of problem.

                While it is perfectly acceptable to call someone by the name of the character that they are dressed as and compliment them on their costume, interacting with them as the character should be done with some caution.  If you happen to be dressed as another character from the same story, then this can be extended somewhat as long as they’re willing also.

                Costumes can be as subtle as wearing a shirt, a pin, or a hat that identifies you as a part of a particular world to a fully detailed 7-foot tall costume of an alien with or without Sigourney Weaver.  I once wore a sheet over my head with two eye-holes cut in it and a sign on my back that said Ghost Writer to a convention.  Unfortunately, nobody took me up on it.  Some of the subtlest costumes consist of having the name of a particular character as a badge name. Generally, the person’s real name is underneath the badge name in small print.

                A number years ago, there was a big movement for a small number of near-professional level costumers to enter contests with costumes worthy of movie sets, and while I don’t know if this helped any of them ever get a job, it did scare off the amateur costumers.  As a result, there are a lot fewer people in costume these days than there used to be, except at anime conventions. I personally don’t think that these people should be judged in the same category as everyone else, and I honestly have greater respect for a creative or original costume than I do for a well-made knockoff.

                Another sad loss to costuming has been the virtual disappearance of the costumed skit. I and others miss this wonderful aspect of conventions.  Certainly they provide great memories for those of us who were lucky enough to see the Dead Perry Sketch (yes, a Dr. Who/Monty Python crossover) and the Star Trek Red Shirt Zombies.

                You don’t have an automatic right to take someone’s picture and monopolize their time without asking.  Most people are more than thrilled to get their picture taken in the costume with you if you ask, but if they’re trying to get to the bathroom or last call for the costume contest or, God forbid, their diabetes kit because they’re about to have a problem and you’re demanding to take your picture with them and won’t let them go, then don’t be surprised if they have the Hulk throw you off the balcony or security eject you from the convention.

                Now, if you see things differently from them you may feel compelled to go up and make a comment on how you would have done one or two things differently, which is understandable, and goes over much better if it includes a compliment about something they’ve done that you wouldn’t have thought of, but unless they’re a costuming geek who is getting into the conversation, you might want to limit it to that.  Let me just say on their behalf: “Well if you think that you can do so much better of a job, then shut up and go do it yourself.  Did you go around and critique the other kids on Halloween, too?”  In fact, how good your costume is isn’t really the point.  Whether you’re at a Ren Faire or a convention, the real point is to have fun.  Different people have fun in different ways, but ideally we can all have fun together.

                So until next week, have fun.

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Con Survival Guide, Post #15: Dealer Interactions Or Stick to the Plan

Con Survival Guide, Post #15: Dealer Interactions

Or

Stick to the Plan

                Dealers at science fiction and other related conventions are a different breed from other entrepreneurs I have known.   They vary from the convention goer who treats his table as a glorified flea market or garage sale to the obsessively focused businessman, with most falling somewhere in the middle.  An awful lot of convention dealers resemble nothing more or less than characters out of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.  If you have not seen the British mini-series, I highly recommend it.  There is also a book, but this is one of the few cases where I recommend the video first.  They’re both good.  They’re both different.  The video came first.  The book has more background and is a little different.  It is, nevertheless, the video that will truly speak to you in my opinion.  The Floating Market from Neverwhere is kind of like a very well lit Dealer’s Room, and a certain comic book dealer friend of mine, when this is discussed, always comes up before I can mention him.  Everyone agrees that he’s like a cross between Old Bailey and the Marquis De Carabas.

I don’t think the average con-goer actually thinks about the dealers themselves so much as the actual Dealer’s Room, with all of its glittering trinkets from alien worlds and mystic realms.  Unfortunately, theft has become an occasional problem at conventions, particularly Anime conventions.  This goes against the unspoken community code that many of the noobs are unaware of.  Dealers are an integral part of the convention scene, and these people travel long distances and pay money to set up and sell their wares.  Stealing from them can mean the difference between them making and losing money, and whether or not they will ever come back to the convention.  With just the wrong timing, it can cause a dealer to go under entirely or quit the convention scene because it’s not worth it.  Certainly, for those odd people who go to conventions entirely for the Dealer’s Room, this is a disaster, but it is harmful to the rest of us as well.  Dealer doesn’t go to the convention, convention doesn’t get dealer fees, convention loses money.  Voila, no convention.  So, whether you are an old-time convention goer or a newbie, it’s in your best interest to make sure your friends don’t steal and to turn in people you see stealing from dealers.

When you work conventions as a dealer, you quickly learn that there is a rather tight-knit dealer community.  You quickly learn which people are nice, which people are jerks, and which people will always ask, “You’ll owe me a favor?  What kind of favor?”  Dealers talk to each other.  They know more about who is selling knock-off crap and who is selling a good quality product, and they know which conventions make them money and which ones don’t.  A convention that treats its dealers poorly will find that the word gets around very quickly.  And, yes, dealers barter with each other.  But I will not reveal all of their secrets.  It’s a guild thing—I hope you understand.

The best dealers are ones like Aardvark Tees, who concentrate on one job and doing it well without ever losing sight of The Plan.  Most of their t-shirts are original (at least until other people copy them,) they do a quality print job that doesn’t fade when you wash your clothes,  they are nice and friendly, and have been known to leave me feeling like I should have paid them more on occasion.  They use all of their booth space without any elaborate outlay for displays, they do not look like a cluttered flea market junk booth or an alien Zen garden consisting of a table with three items on it and a missing salesman.   On top of that, they have built their reputation over generations.  Some people have booths that just consist of items they have bought elsewhere that they are retailing to you, and that is good because it allows a variety of items that would not be otherwise available.  Other small businesses like Aardvark Tees actually make the majority of their products, and there are people like Wolfhome Adventuring Outfitters who do a little of both.

There are a lot of good guys out there.  J & J won’t sell you a knife or sword unless it’s good quality, and you know which end to point in which direction.  Wes won’t let you get away from him after buying a comic book without telling you a story that’s probably better than the comic book, or at least funnier.  Dave Cain Jewelry is one of the top five chainmail jewelry makers in the world, but he doesn’t charge you like he’s one of the top guys in the world, and he guarantees his work.  There are many others, and of course the landscape is constantly changing, and varies from convention to convention all over the country.  There are people who aren’t good, don’t stand behind what they do, and are jerks.  Fortunately, most of those don’t last very long.

So I keep talking about remembering The Plan.  What is Remembering the Plan, you may ask?  Well, I’m glad I put words in your mouth, and I hope you are, too.  The Plan is to go to a convention and have fun.  That’s what they’re there for.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a guest, a dealer, an attendee, or even a staff member.  You’re there to enjoy the convention.  If you’re not a paying member, but one of these other things, then you’ve gone to a great deal of effort to get yourself to a convention in a way that you can afford.  If, along the way, you forget why you are at the convention, and why we’re all at the convention, spending coveted time around people where you can use your entire vocabulary, and if people don’t know what you’re talking about they are very likely to be interested in hearing about it and becoming converts to your favorite show, and, frankly, even if they make fun of your favorite show, book or whatever, they are unlikely to make fun of you.  If they do without huge provocation, then they don’t deserve to call themselves Fans, Otaku, or a part of Fandom.  They are just not a Fan.  They might be an air conditioner, but most likely they are a sump pump.  But definitely not a Fan.

Personally, I had not heard of calling it, or defining it as, Stick to the Plan until the last convention I was at where the artist Rick Jackson introduced me to it and gave me a badge that said it, but certainly I’ve been talking about this aspect of Fandom for many years.

So in conclusion, remember that while they are trying to make a living, dealers are not just human beings also, they are Fans.  They help make the convention scene work.  So have fun and, until next time, Remember The Plan.

Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III

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Con Survival Guide, Post #12: Behind the scenes at a modern con remembering the past Or A view from the trenches

Con Survival Guide, Post #12: Behind the scenes at a modern con remembering the past

Or

A view from the trenches

               Walking through the con areas last night in the dark before setup I was remembering cons gone by while looking around with a sensation of stumbling upon the remains of a con in a post-apocalyptic word. (Yeah, I think that the rule that all sentences should be 7 words, or 9 words depending on who you talk to is crap)  [There you go, kicking down the fourth wall again.]  {Damnit, Jim, I’m a writer, not an English teacher.}  (And now back to our regularly scheduled program.)  So here I am at ChattaCon, and they’re doing setup. I ran into Brent, Kirsten, and about ten other people while checking in to the Choo Choo. One of the first things I found out was that someone had forgotten to bring the bag of 300 screws to set up the art room, so a couple of guys were on a run to get screws, but they needed more people to help set it up. Now I haven’t officially worked a con in about 20 years, although the last time I was a guest at a convention was last year. Still the old timers all really know that I am part of the con family and in a pinch I am one of the people they will come to.

So, I headed back up to the art room with Robyn, Raven, and Storm. Yeah, I’m aware that they all have the names of superheroes, but those are really their names. Robyn had forgotten his room key, so I went back to get it for him and Cynthia and I ordered pizza for dinner. Walking by Ops, I noticed that they had left a large number of wooden easels outside. The clouds for the soon-to-start freezing rain had already rolled in. I took the time to walk in to Ops and talk to old friends who immediately tried to recruit me for security.  So they are a little short, and I’m working on recruiting them some staff, but as of right now in my story I haven’t decided about myself.  I reminded them of the freezing rain and easels, and they immediately pulled them inside and thanked me for reminding them.  They had gotten distracted, as always at a convention, by conversation.  That’s where Cynthia caught up with me, still talking to the guys in Ops, because my pizza had been delivered and the driver was waiting for me to sign the credit slip.

Now, ChattaCon, at least in the Southeast, is the first con of the year, and it is a SMOF con.  When conventions started reemerging, this is where they got together and started planning their rebirth and recruiting staff.  ChattaCon was, of course, started by Uncle Timmy, who also started LibertyCon and therefore is the guy responsible for two of the best conventions in the Southeast.

Years ago, I started going to conventions as a paid member, but somewhere down the line I got recruited to be staff.  I was DAGR member number 96 back when they were on Memorial Drive in Clarkston.  People ask me if I was part of DAGR when they were at Stone Mountain, and I say “no” because DAGR never was at Stone Mountain.

After a while of running tournaments, I decided to try other parts of the convention, like con suite.  Eventually, I settled into security which I had been working outside of Science Fiction conventions for a decade.  I had already worked things like COMDEX and the great advantage to security is that, unless you get posted in one spot, you see more of the convention, and even if you do get posted in one spot, you get to talk to people more.  Later, of course, I showed up as a dealer all the way from Dallas, TX to Orlando and Pensacola, FL to Baltimore, MD and Rosemont outside of Chicago, IL.

Inside of conventions there are several overlapping but separate communities, which include but are not limited to Fan Community, Staff Community, Pagan Community, Drunk Celt Community, Steampunk Community, Gamer Community, Computer Gamer Community, Martial Artist Community, and the Dealer Community.  Now, the Filker Community is one of the communities most unique to Fandom.  They are devoted to Science Fiction folk songs, or just filkthy folk songs, which is probably why they were Banned from Argo.  The basic Fan Community itself is further broken down by genre and media.

So as soon as the art room was assembled, we all sat down and devoured the pizza we had ordered.  Now, there was staff pizza available for those helping assemble the art room, but it didn’t even go as far as the one we ordered for ourselves and some of us have too many food allergies to eat anything that isn’t special ordered.  As a matter of typical conversation last night  (as of when I was writing this part), we were discussing the fact that one of the uniting features of Fandom is that a majority have not just health problems, but really unusual health problems.  As a matter of fact, an awful lot of the people I know at cons have been written up in text books as, for that matter, have some of my relatives.  Richard Gurley was used to help develop the MRI because his bones are so thick they stop X-Rays.

Now, if you are a con-goer, and you’re having to go too long without going to a con, and you want to get that feeling of having gone to a con, I highly recommend reading Bimbos of the Death Sun, which is a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention.  It has always seemed weird to me that it is in the mystery section because it isn’t actually science fiction.  It is an awesome book.

Friday morning and cold, drizzly, freezing rain has descended on Chattanooga.  A significant number of the security staff are believed will not make it because of iced conditions.  We went to the City Café Diner Restaurant (as it’s called on their menu), where I first dined with the guys from Marietta Publishing a few years ago, for breakfast.  Yes, I know the diner’s name is horribly redundant.  The food is reasonably priced with more than generous proportions and rather good.  A really important feature for us was that they had no trouble accommodating the food allergies of all five of the people at our table.

The guys in Ops were joking about how the guys in computer gaming probably wouldn’t even get up until 3:00 PM when registration starts, and were ignoring stacks of pizza, which they had clearly already had for breakfast.  They were, of course, joking about themselves earlier.  I definitely would not trade my Eggs Benedict made with turkey sausage for their cold pizza, but the pizza was definitely better priced, being free.  I didn’t have any because I was stuffed, mind you.

Later, of course, we got hot pizza in the middle of the night.  To kill some time before a panel on Friday, we went to the con suite, where I got a free massage and picked up some free hard cider instead of the free beer or Coke.  That’s where I managed to hook up with Gregory Nicoll, who is hopefully going to join my writers’ group.  I also talked to Emily Hunter and Harry Coburn, as well as seeing Chloie.  On Saturday, I spent half the day standing in the Dealer’s Room talking to the beautiful and intelligent M.B. Weston, whose new book Out of the Shadows just came out, and Allan Gilbreath.  Then I had a brief conversation with a young lady named Poppy Jackson who has just written a vampire romance trilogy, but she promises they don’t sparkle.  Geoffrey Mandragora, who we talked to about his steampunk novel, The Thunderbolt Affair, that we picked up last year at LibertyCon, and his wife, Lillian Price’s new book which seemed to involve black, carnivorous unicorns.  I also talked to Uncle Timmy about conventions and engineering, and strangely enough the relationship between these two things, as well as talking to a few other people like Paul Cashman.  So, despite the fact that it may look like I was talking business all weekend, and in a sense I suppose I was (that’s certainly how I would answer the IRS if they asked), really we were just hanging out and talking to our friends about whatever, including Grizzly Dan, and Aegis Steampunk.  It may be sad, but we go to the dealer’s room mostly to socialize with the vendors rather than to shop.

Now, of course, there are also the room parties.  Friday night is never a big night for room parties, and there were only three.  Two of them were better than the third, but were not entirely spectacular.  Gary Poole had the party which may well be considered the best, but I didn’t actually make it there.  I meant to go check out the room parties, but I got embroiled in a conversation with Reverend Bob, who is the resident MIB from Steve Jackson Games.  (Steve Jackson was not at the convention this year, but he has been known to attend in the past.)  To be honest, over the last couple of days I’ve missed every panel I was planning to check out and honestly had no interest in making it for the Robot Wars.   Instead, like many con-goers, I reveled in being home with my tribe and being able to use a proper vocabulary without any obfuscation.  Saturday night’s parties are always much better, and more ubiquitous.

The Steampunk Stag Party, having been followed by The Steampunk Wedding, where R2D2 was the ring bearer, and a Dalek was…..a “pretty flower girl”, gave birth to The Steampunk Reception.  The reception had by far the best food including, but not limited to, moving gears made from chocolate covered Rice Crispy Treats that had the various cakes on top.  Unfortunately, I was hungry when I entered this room and, thanks to the peanut butter and chocolate cake, I may have gained a few extra pounds.  They also had real food including chicken with basil rice, chicken enchiladas, beef stroganoff, etc.  We’re talking real food, and clearly homemade with a limited amount of time and budget, but not limited imagination or skill.  The chicken enchiladas were particularly good.  There was the Viking Vs. Pirate party, which involved alcohol but no food.  Someone released a Kraken at that one.  Nevertheless, since it did not have food, it was over-crowded, and the lights were turned down too much, it was generally not that good a party, and it was where people went to get drinks, which is ironic because there were two other parties with more and better alcohol, including The Steampunk Reception.

The JordanCon Party had, as usual, the best selection of alcohol and it had good conversation, though it was drunker than usual, as well as having a Trolling Geordie LaForge.  Don’t ask!  Still, the very best party was a book release party (for and by Gail Z. Martin).  The best conversation by far, plenty of seating, enough people but not too many, and a good cause, with snacks and drinks.  She even had real Coca Cola instead of store-brand swill.

Meanwhile in the gaming room, Robert was having a conversation with someone else about Robert.  Neither of these was Robert’s father Robert, or any of the three MIBs named Robert.  Currently there are too many Roberts.  Other names have gone through this process in the past as well.  Generally speaking, there are many Roberts, Saras, Chrises, Krises, Cindys, Jennifers, etc.  Fortunately, there’s only one Uncle Timmy; or rather, unfortunately.  We could use more Uncle Timmys.  There aren’t enough people voluntarily working conventions, let alone running them, and never have been.

There were 997 guests at the convention, with half the staff and presumably half of the guests not being able to make it from the Nashville side because of weather conditions.  Let it be made clear that some people made it anyway, either coming first or braving the weather conditions.

On the darker side, there was a dweeb with a small Tesla coil on a hard hat on his head with about a two-inch Jacob’s Ladder coming of it, and while that, in and of itself, was kind of cool, he did not seem to understand that this is not an excuse to harass people because they have a phobia.  This is not a method of hitting on someone, but it does have a fair chance of getting you killed or beaten until someone thinks you have acquired some sense.  Despite two additional people telling him it wasn’t cool, he backed her into a corner not far from the balcony door.  If he had gotten any closer, he might well have “jumped” off the balcony.  Fortunately for him, two people got between him and her and he eventually had the sense to back up.  Then he wandered off to look for more alcohol.  I do not know or care what happened to him after that.

Before leaving the hotel, we stopped by and purchased our con memberships for next year.  I always preregister because, very frankly, it’s much cheaper that way, and the lines are shorter.  In fact, it took us maybe five minutes for five people to get their badges when we checked in on Friday because we were slowed down by me not being able to find my ID at first.

After the convention, we went to McKay’s Books in Chattanooga, which is the largest used bookstore I have ever seen.  It is definitely the biggest still existent.  I have occasionally seen ones that had a better stock in the past, but they no longer exist.  After making our purchases, we headed to India Mahal, which has by far the best Malai Kofta I have ever had, and then headed home only to realize that my little cadre of friends were all coming down with Con Crud.  After medicating them with our travel kit, I started the long drive home with my co-pilot passed out at my side.  By the time I stopped for gas, my co-pilot had somewhat revived and I was clearly coming down with the affliction myself.  We traded seats and I took the medicine and passed out.

I hope this gives you a little bit of an idea of what it’s like to go to a convention.  Follow my blog for more of the Convention Survival Guide.

Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III

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Con Survival Guide, Post #11: You Can’t Live Happily Ever After Or How to Enjoy the Life You Have

Con Survival Guide, Post #11: You Can’t Live Happily Ever After

Or

How to Enjoy the Life You Have

            I guess pretty much everybody knows by now that the whole fairy tale of living happily ever after is sort of an ephemeral fiction, but what most people don’t know is that living happily now is not necessarily a fiction.  While the circumstances of our lives are largely determined by the dynamics of society and random circumstance (or, as Dr. McCoy would say, “Or in plain, non-Vulcan English: luck.”)  A large percentage of our situation and outlook are controllable if you have the right information.  There are a number of different types of people that are attracted to fandom and while almost all can be categorized as intelligent, they can be further divided into a number of categories.  Among those categories are the successful on a professional track; unsuccessful on a professional track; handicapped, whether physically, with brain damage, or mentally ill; dysfunctional; spoiled to the point of having become dysfunctional; and women.  These categories are by no means mutually exclusive, nor do they cover all the possibilities.  The only reason that I include women in this list is because they are discriminated against in much the same way the handicapped are.  Note: I differentiate between dysfunctional from privilege and dysfunctional from poverty, even though the results are similar.  I am afraid that dysfunctional from privilege is harder to overcome.  So now let’s discuss how to make our lives a little happier.

We have known for some time now that a person’s outlook can be altered to make them more successful.  The problem is that most people don’t even know this, let alone have any idea how this works, and unfortunately there are many who are busy selling platitudes so that they can get rich off of you without any real value to you.  While a positive attitude can be useful, people have succeeded with a negative attitude and even more people have succeeded with a neutral attitude.  A lot depends on circumstance.  If you look at people who are manic depressive, you will find that they frequently make a fortune during the periods of time when they are extremely happy and lose it all when they are depressed.  People with a neutral (no expectations or attachment) but flexible attitude are more likely to survive POW situations and Nazi death camps, and be placed in charge of Japanese corporations, for example.  People with positive outlooks can be very successful, and it does help with dealing with most people, but those people who were in Nazi death camps or in Vietnam POW camps who expected to be rescued by some certain time did very well until that time passed, even ones who kept resetting the date, were much less likely to survive than their counterparts who had no such expectations.

So we get to the first prerequisite for being successful and changing your situation, and this is a critical state that is ignored by “The Secret” and motivational speakers.  The first requirement is accepting things as they are.  This works best when you learn how to do it without any judgment.  OK, so this is the situation.

The next step is to figure out what you want the situation to be, and the third step is to figure out how to get from A to B, which is to say, “How do I get from the way things are to the way I want them to be?”

This is true whether we’re talking about your weight, your psychological condition, or even your financial portfolio.  This is the stage at which all of that visualizing what you want comes into play.  Its real value is to program your subconscious to help you get what you want.  You have to make your subconscious your ally, and it doesn’t matter whether you use meditation, the Silva method, hypnosis, The Secret, or role playing games.

Now, this next method comes after you’ve used creative visualization or cast a spell or whatever, and it is the most neglected and important step.  This is where you get off your ass and start doing something about what you want.  You need to break it into small steps, each of which takes you towards accomplishing one or more goals.  During this step, you need to forget about the previous steps and just concentrate on getting the job done.  This is not the time to sit around talking about what you’re going to do.  This is the time to do it.

Now, if you’re not happy, you might want to make one of your first goals finding out what will make you happy.  You’re also going to want to make sure you are healthy if at all possible and that means that if your doctor tells you that you can’t get any better, you need to tell him he’s wrong and find the doctor that will help you get better or do it yourself.  I don’t care whether you’re seeing a homeopathic doctor, an MD, an OMD, an Ayurvedic doctor, or a Voodoo witch doctor, if they are not helping you get better they are not doing their job and you should fire them.

In general, you want to take a look at your basic needs such as food, shelter, air, water, security and health and try and satisfy those first.  That does not mean that you cannot launch into a long-term project with a higher set of goals, but it does mean that you can keep an eye on those things that can sabotage your progress.

You want to surround yourself with people who are going to be helpful and have a positive, can-do attitude rather than telling you what you can’t do and cutting you down all the time.

As people as diverse as Dale Carnegie and Gautama Buddha have been pointing out for quite some time, what you dwell upon you become.  Everything you watch, listen to, read, and think about programs your subconscious.  If you watch reality shows about trailer trash losers, you will start to act more like a trailer trash loser.  Your mind is your greatest tool and your greatest asset if you use it properly.

It does not require being a genius to make money in this society.  In fact, three things that can tend to hamper your tendency to make money are being handicapped, being moral, or being really intelligent and not focusing on mundane matters.  Three things that can help you make money are being one-pointed, having friends with common goals who work together, and already having money.

Here’s the thing, though.  Money in and of itself won’t make you happy.  Poverty can make you miserable.  There are few things more miserable than watching your child die because you can’t afford to get them the medical care they need, for example.  A certain amount of money, on the other hand, can make your life more comfortable and facilitate other actions.  The real question is, how do you live happily ever after?

No one can say for sure what will happen tomorrow, so “ever after” is hard to guarantee.  Today, on the other hand, is a lot easier, and if you learn to make each day happy then that adds up to an overall happy existence.

If you rely on people, things, or any kind of “-ism” to make you happy, it’s not going to work.  All of these are attachments which inevitably lead to unhappiness to a certain extent.  You have to give up the idea that, “When I get such-and-such item I will be happy.”  Most likely, you believe that because someone else has told you that that’s what you should want, and if you get it you’re just going to find that you never really wanted it in the first place.  You might want to figure out what you actually want, if you actually want something, even if the only thing you want is to be left alone.

If you’re going to be happy, you need to enjoy each moment of your life.  To that end, it is absolutely essential that you give up worrying.  It serves no purpose other than to dissipate your energy that could be better spent dealing with the situations that you’re worrying about.

While it may be good to find out what you enjoy doing and make that your work, you can choose to enjoy whatever you’re doing right now.  Pretty much any job can be enjoyable.  Yeah, OK, your boss or your co-worker may be an obnoxious so-and-so whom you don’t like to deal with, and wouldn’t it just grind their beans if you’re having a good time and enjoying doing the best possible example of your job?  Who knows?  You may even be able to turn their attitude around.

Sometimes the people I feel sorriest for are the ones that were raised with a credit card and a trust fund.  They never learn the necessary skills for survival, and frequently find themselves struggling for the first time with the problems of an 18 year old during their 40s or 50s, with the maturity of a 12 year old, and by then it’s a lot harder to learn.  Now, I’m not saying that you should reject resources that are available to you.  In fact, that is something I have wished I had for years.  What I’m saying is you have to learn to be self-reliant and not depend on others.

There are lots of techniques I could teach you to help with specific parts of this process, but really it’s your own responsibility.  If this were one of my kung fu classes, I would give you an assignment based on your particular needs.  Really, though, once you have your priorities in order, it’s largely a matter of not dwelling on the past or longing for the future, but living in the present.  Now, by that I don’t mean being short-sighted and hedonistic in the common and improperly used meaning of the word.  I mean that you should learn from the past, plan for the future, and concentrate on the Now.

In order to get my students to get their priorities in order, I tell them to hold their breath for 5 minutes because, growing up with asthma, I found that nothing will make you realize what is really important like not being able to breathe.

When they ask me what time it is, I typically look at my students and say, “It is now.”  So remember, be here now.

Now, a small list of some things that you might find helpful:

So if you want to live happily ever after, you really need to start by living happily right now.  Each year is made up of about 365 days and if each one of them is bad, then the year is bad, but if each one is good, then so is the whole year.

Obviously, it won’t hurt if you continue reading my blog and getting additional tips on making your life better, but I can’t do it for you and neither can anyone else.  If you want to be happy and have a good life, then you’re going to have to do it.  The most miserable people I know are the ones who have had everything done for them, and they think that their problems comes from people not being willing to do things for them.  Don’t blame others.  Take responsibility for your own actions, and that means taking the credit for what you do right and the blame for what you do wrong.

Now, at this point I have to take issue with what I just said, because the whole mindset of blame in our society is rather thoroughly dysfunctional.  Even guilt itself, like any other form of pain, no longer serves a purpose once you realize what you need to change.  Now, if you don’t get up and actually change it, then that’s your own problem.  So if you want to be happy, be happy.  I realize that sounds like an obnoxious platitude, and I can guarantee you I’m against those, but in this case it’s practical advice.

Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III

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Convention Survival Guide, Post # 9 – Politics, Cliques, and Other Childish Games or Three People Can Destroy the Fun for Everyone

Convention Survival Guide, Post #9 –

Politics, Cliques, and Other Childish Games

or Three People Can Destroy the Fun for Everyone

             Most congoers are nerds, geeks, intellectuals, or any one of a half-dozen fringe outcast groups. In fact, at least half of them are more than one of these particular overlapping side groups. A common problem with most of these groups is that their members were excluded from normal cliques in high school. In fact this tends to be a problem with any intelligent person because frankly there tend to be a lack of peers for intelligent people at any given high school. The small number of people who fit into that category may band together but it does not really take the form of a clique. Also, usually they are so busy being intellectually ahead of the game that most of them are somewhat socially behind. This frequently leads to cliques developing at conventions but this separatism is harmful in the long run to conventions themselves.

I have a friend who goes to conventions.  He says that nothing pisses him off more than geeks dissing on geeks. Certainly he has a very valid point. In the Lord of the Rings, you don’t see the elves fighting each other. That is the behavior of orcs.  In Julius Caesar’s war campaigns in Gaul you see the Romans providing a unified front while playing one Gallic tribe against another. To this day you see Neopagan groups fighting with each other and doing the job of their enemies.

From at least the 1970s through the early 1990s, southeastern fandom was a united community. No, not everyone got along with everyone else but we all pulled together. Different conventions were in different cities and headed by different people, but the staff for most conventions were usually the same. If a fan had car trouble, we took up a collection to pay for their repairs. If someone started to cause trouble at the convention the fans took care of it before security ever had to.

In the late 1980s, people started coming in to conventions and forming cliques and they didn’t grow out of it. They continue to act like high school students. At the same time, some of the people running conventions started playing political games. In the early 1990s conventions started competing against each other with the result that almost all of the conventions in the Southeast went away.

While there had always been enough room for all the conventions and average attendance was always between 1000 and 2000 at every convention every month, with the exception of the larger conventions like DragonCon and WorldCon, which had larger draws, membership dwindled to 500 or less for the average con. At the same time, thousands of people left fandom, never to return. That’s right: all the BS drove thousands of people away from going to conventions ever again. Their money, their support and their friendship was lost.

In martial arts we endeavor not to criticize other styles. I must admit that I tend to be a bit critical of martial arts as sport,  Despite having started out with an attitude that martial sports were more justified in the modern world, I have become very traditional. Martial sports get people unnecessarily injured and are of little use if you actually need them for self-defense. Yes, I think of the martial arts styles I practice as the best. However, I can see particular aspects of other arts which are superior. I can also recognize that what works for me may not be the best thing for someone with a different build and temperament. Both my build and temperament have changed over the years and so have my preferred martial arts styles. This could easily be the beginning of another blog and you may be wondering what that has to do with fandom.

Ignoring the fact that one of the special interest groups that overlaps with fandom is martial artists and that there are in fact a very high percentage of congoers who are also martial artists, we get into the real heart of the matter. If we endeavor not to criticize other conventions and genres, we can see what is good and useful in each of these and incorporate them into our own conventions, writing, or what have you.

Promoting your own brand of fandom or even your own particular favorite book, movie or convention does not require criticizing or sabotaging others. Mutual support leads to success for everyone but stabbing others in the back, while it may lead to short-term success, means that you have to watch every other direction for the rest of your life.

It’s all well and good to promote yourself, your products, your convention, your friends and the things you like so long as you’re not actively sabotaging others. If you had, for instance, a list of conventions on your convention website and you went and removed every convention that was not run by your personal friends, then only those conventions will promote yours. If, on the other hand, you promote a variety of conventions in a mutually supportive network, all benefit. A larger convention will not percentagewise benefit as much by providing a connection to smaller conventions as the smaller conventions will from that same connection, but they all add up.

I have seen conventions where the panels were filled with people’s personal friends while cutting out more qualified individuals. By not associating their friends with the more qualified individuals, it failed to promote their friends while making for a duller convention and eventually, when done to the extreme, this has resulted in the death of more than one convention.

Half the fun of going to conventions is making lots of interesting friends, many of whom don’t have the same interests as you. If you isolate yourself in a clique, while you can stroke your ego, the truth of the matter is that a clique is all about ego and does not actually involve making friends that last most of the time. Now having a group of people you hang out with is an entirely different thing. If you’re supporting each other in your endeavors you will all be more successful.

Of course we all know about that group of guys at Princeton who were busily engaged in tearing each other down and became so successful, but have you heard of that small group of guys at Cambridge who were cooperating with each other on a project they called Monty Python’s flying Circus? Oh wait, yeah, it’s the other way around. It’s the guys who mutually support and help each other. They become rich and famous.

If you look into the histories of Apple and Microsoft, you find the same thing: a group of people working together to accomplish a common goal. Even George Lucas’s success could not have been achieved without the advice of his next-door neighbor, Joseph Campbell, and his best friend who rewrote his early scripts, Brian Daily.

There were even people who provided services for the convention and worked who were harassed until they quit coming to conventions by people who just did it because they could.

The possibility of tearing conventions down in this way was made possible by an epidemic among fandom of lack of self-esteem, lack of spine, and a lack of loyalty. While people who had never done anything for fandom tore it apart by attacking one hard-working fan at a time or sabotaging individual conventions, the majority stood by and watched it happen. People were afraid or thought it wasn’t any of their business but it was their business and when you don’t stand up to bullies sooner or later they get to you.

When someone starts a group, “for the group,” and someone else who has done none of the work tries to take credit and make the group for them either the group has to stand up and say bullshit or the group will go away. The person who made the group has to set things up so that political games won’t undermine it. Of course they can always start another one.

Boy, girl games or boy boy, girl girl games for that matter are a bit more complex. The only advice I can give with regards to that is don’t get involved with people who are playing games and trying to manipulate you. If you get into that sort of thing just don’t let it spill over into conventions, work, or other areas that will affect innocent people’s lives.

Of course, generally there tends to be the problem that the bad guys organize beforehand and catch the good guys flat-footed. This is certainly borne up by history. Another problem in this case is that getting fans to work together resembles trying to herd cats.

I once saw an Australian Shepherd trying to herd about 30 feral cats. As they spread in every possible direction, the poor dog was following his instinct and got this look on his face that I can’t even describe. It did, however, remind me of so many staff meetings that I have seen. The better staff meetings I have seen consisted of people who knew their job and did it. Some of the worst staff meetings I’ve seen reminded me of acting auditions where people lie about their qualifications to get the job that they’re not qualified for and make everyone look bad instead of taking the job they’re qualified for and ending up looking better.

Political competition over control of a group or running a convention that does not get resolved quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction with the people who are actually doing the work being in charge consistently results in the dissolution of the group if it persists over any length of time.

Now if the convention is being run by someone who doesn’t do that great a job, the convention will slowly get smaller and smaller but that can be remedied by a change in who is in charge. That happened recently with ChattaCon, which is now being run better and once again improving. Honestly, one of the biggest blows to fandom was when Uncle Timmy decided to retire from ChattaCon. When he stepped back up and started LibertyCon, we got another shining example of what a con should be.

Soaring conclusion: I have to say that people need to grow the fuck up. A little maturity and self-discipline without a stick up your ass can result in having a lot more fun and everyone else having a good time as well. Until next time, “have fun!”

Copyright © 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III

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December 22, 2012 · 7:37 PM

Convention Survival Guide, Post #8 – General Hygiene or Why Does the Convention Give Out Soap With Dice In It?

Convention Survival Guide, Post #8 –

General Hygiene

or Why Does the Convention Give Out Soap With Dice In It?

             There are variety of strategies one can utilize to make sure that you are at least minimally hygienic and socially acceptable for a convention.  While con goers are extremely forgiving and accepting of others, there are limits. The picture I’m about to paint is not a pretty one and hopefully it does not apply to you.

A few years ago at one of the larger Anime cons in America, Anime Central in Rosemont near Chicago, there were a number of fans without rooms who became so pungent that a group of fans got together, rounded them up, and took them to one of their rooms and told them they could come back out once they showered.

Only one of the people rounded up complained.  All the others were extremely appreciative. This started the mystic “got soap” campaign. The convention came on board the next year and it has been a subtheme of that particular convention ever since. They started giving out convention soap. Soap with dice in it has since spread to quite a number of other conventions. Speaking properly, there is only one die in each bar of soap and they’ll usually only give you one per year.

Okay, so if you’ve read my previous blogs such as, “Where to Stay at the Con or Don’t Mind Me, I’ll Sleep in the TARDIS,” then you’ve got some idea of how to plan for a convention. Still, you may be planning to sleep under a table or behind some chairs in the lobby or you might have plans for rooming with other people who back out at the last minute, leaving you without reservations or enough money to get a room. In either case, this can leave you without access to a shower.

If you have friends who have a room, you may be able to get them to let you use the shower, or a lot of hotels have showers in the dressing rooms for the swimming pool. In the winter this is only really useful if the hotel has an indoor pool.

If you have a room, you automatically have a shower.  You just have to make time to use it.

Admittedly, this problem is more prevalent among young males than any other group. Now personally, I tend to shower and use deodorant before I leave for conventions or immediately after checking into the room, and I tend to use Lavilin, which means that generally speaking I need to use deodorant about once every week or two.

At Anime Central, they regularly have a yearly “Got Soap” slogan contest. If you haven’t checked out Anime Central’s website, I would recommend it. It’s also very good convention except that they don’t have a Con Suite. : (

You will actually hear me say some more about hygiene in general on the blog about dating, tentatively called, “Dating – How To or Hi, I’m an Alien; Would You Like to See My Spaceship?” which will be posted soon.

Okay, at least starting the convention with clean clothes, having had a bath, with deodorant, and with your hair combed should be both obvious and easy to accomplish. Okay, yeah, there are some people who hitchhike from one convention to another with just enough money to buy a badge or a plan on how to panhandle for enough. But let’s be honest, there aren’t that many people in this category.

If you’re dirty and you smell bad it is going to adversely affect your social life and most gamers lack the social skills to be subtle in their suggestions that you jump off a cliff into a lake that has a green Dragon sleeping on the bottom. Green Dragons have a chlorine breath weapon.

Hint, if you can smell yourself it’s way too late. If you have a tendency to get into gaming or some other activity and fail to sleep all weekend because you lose track of the time, it might be a good idea to set an alarm to remind you to go back to the room and bathe once in a while.  You might also want to take a nap in between games. If you have a good friend who also has the same problem, you might want to keep an eye out for each other.

Another hint: if you’re wondering why that girl doesn’t want to talk to you, it might be the same reason that that plastic plant next to you just wilted.

Some people at conventions try covering this problem by pouring a bottle of aftershave, perfume, or cologne on themselves, but as some girls have mentioned in front of me, “that shit smells so bad it just compounds the problem.”  Honestly, as a disproportionately high number of con goers have allergies, this approach just adds injury to insult. Furthermore, even though I am one of those people with severe allergies who can smell very little, even I have noticed that half the time you can smell the person over the aftershave, cologne or whatever.

If one of your friends is hopelessly unaware of having this kind of circumstance going on, you might want to hit him over the head with a bar of soap.

Fascinatingly enough, it is never the people dressed like zombies who smell like something dead and rotting. Okay let’s be honest, you have to be clean to put on all that makeup and if you’re oily the adhesive will not stick.

At the very least, you should be able to wash off a little bit in the sink of the restrooms and dry yourself with paper towels or the air blower.

In conclusion, if the other people at the con grab you and throw you in the outdoor pool with a bar of soap in the middle of the winter, you may need to consider bathing. If they throw you in without a bar of soap, you may just be an asshole.

Copyright © 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III

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