Friday, March 2, 2012

Post "Insert Con Here" Update-Part Two

If you missed Part One of the "Insert Con Here" Update, you can find it here.  It's certainly not essential to read Part One before reading Part Two, or to even read Part One at all, but you might like the compare and contrast between festivals.  In a lot of ways going from festival to festival is like "continuing the experience," and other times it's like entering an entirely different reality.  Going from PantheaCon to ConVocation falls somewhere in between.

After getting back to Sunnyvale from PantheaCon (a twelve minute drive I might add), Ari and I immediately went to work on packing for ConVocation.  For me, it means washing the same "festival clothes" and putting them back into the same suitcase.  Ari either has so many clothes that she's got lots of great festival outfits, or (as she claims), she simply dresses like she normally dresses at festivals, so she doesn't need to worry about washing that special pair of spandex infused jeans that hug the butt and (in my case) show off the crotch.  

Packing for ConVocation posed some extra challenges, just because you can't take very much with you when you are flying.  You get your one big suitcase and your carry-on bag, and since flying costs so much already, who wants to pay more for an extra bag?  I had some "extra" stuff to take with to ConVocation, mostly because I was doing different workshops.  A Real History of Tarot Cards lecture meant that I needed to take a few decks of cards with me, and since I was going to Michigan there were jackets and hats to pack.  Gods, I really hate wearing anything other than sandals at this point in my life.  Yay California!

Part of our Michigan trip was spent seeing family.  So after getting into freezing cold Detroit Tuesday night* we spent the next day in our old stomping grounds (Lansing MI), before setting out for Con (me) and to Grand Rapids (Ari-where her family lives).  One of the weirdest things about being back in Lansing, and Michigan in general, was noticing how dirty and small it was.  The roads felt empty, and there was actually green space between strip malls.  Areas of Lansing that I remember as being vibrant and alive seemed dormant, and there was a missing vibrancy to everything that I take for granted out here.  I'm not trying to disparage where I used to live, I'm just commenting on how different it looked (and felt) to me.

So after driving on empty interstate that moved either at, or above, the speed limit I was at ConVocation.  This year's Con was in a new location, unsurprisingly a DoubleTree Hotel.  After getting my room key and noticing that it looked EXACTLY the same as my room key at the DoubleTree in San Jose I had a WTF moment.  I didn't even need to plug a new internet password into the iPad, a win for my frazzled brain.  

ConVocation is about a third of the size of PantheaCon, but 800 people is no number to laugh at.  Every year Con seems to get bigger, and this year they even added more classes to the grid.  I think they said there were nearly 200 workshops this year.  Wow.  The biggest difference between the two festivals is probably at night.  PantheaCon always has lots of concerts (even comedy shows!) in the evening, along with workshops and rituals.  ConVocation tends to just have two or three rituals, and more traditional party fair.  There's a Masquerade Ball Saturday night which is the highlight for a lot of people, and karaoke on Friday night.  No live music, no workshops, so instead of having to pick from 18 things you only really have to pick from three or four.  A lot less room parties too, and no hospitality rooms, though there's usually a group or two with a suite.  Con would probably really benefit from group hospitality rooms, there are enough groups in Michigan that I could see some people doing it.   

During the day though, the festivals are a lot alike.  Some years they tend to feature many of the same workshops too.  I already mentioned Selena Fox, but Amber and Azrael K hit both festivals this year (I would have built a link for them as Amber K's "True Magic" was an early favorite book of mine, but I couldn't find one!), and there might have been one or two others.  So the two festivals tend to have some overlap, especially at the top.  And for both of them, it's wall to wall rituals and workshops during the day.  So there you go, especially those of you who asked about differences between the two.   

Since I pointed out that we were in a new hotel I feel obligated to comment on it.  Con's old hotel was continually bought and sold over the last few years, meaning the service there seemed to be in continual decline.  It was also getting too small for the size of the festival.  I mostly liked the new digs, but it seemed to lack a comfortable "common area."  There is a huge common area at the DoubleTree Detroit, but it's in the middle of the lobby, and since it wasn't an entirely Pagan hotel (they had other guests) it felt sort of weird.  Also, because the hotel was so much bigger, the meeting rooms were more spread out where as before everything was in one pretty central location.  These are not complaints.  The change in hotels was absolutely necessary, and I was happy with most everything, even if some of the new conference rooms were a little on the small size (this becomes important later on).

While I've met a lot of people in California over the years (remember I was visiting for years before we moved out here), I know far more people at ConVocation.  I go back 16 years with some of the people there, so there's a lot of backstory and a lot of mutual growing up together.  Being reunited with those folks is just an emotional thing to begin with, add the energy of a Pagan Festival and it's even more electric.  There's something truly special about hugging folks, making eye contact with all kinds of people, and feeling that closeness.  I also probably know more people at ConVocation because they list me as a "Special Guest."  Along with Kenn Day and Michelle Belanger I've been a consistent "Special Guest" for the past six or seven years, with my name on program materials and my ugly mug sent out in flyers. It's flattering, and a big difference from PantheaCon where I'm just one of a hundred presenters, even though I do tend to get "Rock Star Rooms."

So I always feel like a bigger deal when I'm in Detroit, which can be kind of douchey of me to say, but I always like to share the truth with people.  I do feel more like a rock star in Detroit, which means after reading this all of you out in the Midwest are going to be meaner to me next year, don't blame you.  Since I was a "Special Guest" I had to go to the "Opening Ritual."  I tend to avoid opening rituals as a matter of course, but Con likes to introduce the special guests and big name authors so I headed up there after a cider and an hour of hiding in my hotel room.  I ended up sitting next to Selena Fox where I said to her "I wonder if this will even feel like a Pagan Festival without the tran-gendered/women only ritual debate going?"  

I really like Selena, such a humble woman, and considering all she's done for the Pagan Community the last 30 years, she has no business being humble.  She's also incredibly high-energy, I think I got tired just sitting next to her.  She's just so vibrant and giving.  If you told me I had to pick one person to represent Paganism on a talk show I'd pick Selena.

Post-Opening Ritual I hustled back to my room for a hard cider and my notes and equipment for the premier of my "Bigfoot is Real!" workshop.  I have been threatening to do a Sasquatch-centered workshop for years, but Ari has always put a stop to it.  "No one will ever take anything you do after something like that seriously," was always Ari's argument.  On a whim, and kind of as a joke, I submitted "Bigfoot is Real" to Convocation, and they accepted it!  After they accepted it I even wrote back asking "Why?"  Never in a million years did I expect that thing to get picked up.   

So how did Bigfoot go?  Pretty well I think.  It was an interesting mix of information, slides, and Bigfoot home movies.  A friend of mine, who is usually pretty rational, and was definitely sober, even said that I made her question her skepticism on the topic.  I thought that was pretty cool.  Will I ever do Sasquatch again?  That's a pretty open question.  It's probably not doable at most of the outdoor festivals because it really, really, requires a projector.  There's no way to do it without a slideshow and the videos.  I'm not sure I'd ever submit it to PantheaCon either, it's not as eclectic as Convocation.  (There's a lot more "non-Pagan" stuff at Con.)

One of my goals this year at Convocation was to increase my class sizes.  I take the turn out thing pretty seriously, and I want to present things that people will want to go and see.  (If a festival is going to let me present, I should present things that draw, it's as simple as that.  In addition, if I spend months preparing something I want there to be an audience for it.)  Pantheacon and Convocation have very different audiences.  There are Pagan rituals, workshops, groups, and classes probably happening everyday in the Bay Area.  It's a huge Pagan hotbed, and authors from out of state frequently visit various bookstores and events.  As a result PantheaCon has a lot less "entry level" workshops.  ConVocation always has a great line-up of speakers, but some of the more basic classes tend to draw big there, just because you can't see a lot of this stuff anywhere outside of ConVocation.  As a result some of my more cerebral stuff doesn't attract the same size of audience as it does out West. Deep down I understand how this stuff goes, but I'm a fragile goat, so the workshops I submitted this year to Con reflected a desire to get away from some of the more scholarly rambling I usually do.  The results were positive too, and this change in tactics had the desired effect.  

My second workshop, on Friday, was called "Tarot:  A Real History" and while it certainly wasn't dumbed down, that type of thing tends to be a lot more accessible than me talking about Gerald Gardner for 90 minutes straight.  It was my first time doing that workshop too, and while I did mispronounce a city name, it was also fine.  Lot of smart tarot readers and historians in that room though, which was cool, because they didn't ever really call me out on anything.  In a lot of ways the Tarot workshop was kind of light because there were 80 some odd slides of tarot cards to look at.  The actual history of tarot is no big secret, the cards were originally a game, and the more occult parts were grafted onto that several centuries later, but it's not something most people talk about.

One of these days I'd like to write a long piece on "Eight Things You Don't Have to do to be a Pagan."  One of those eight things would be tarot.  I've read tarot cards in the past, and I love tarot decks as works of art, but card reading is not something I'm particularly drawn to.  What I'm always more interested in are the rather more mundane origins of things (like tarot), and the rather limited time frame these things have been around for.  Easily accessible books on reading the tarot only date from the late 50's and early 60's, but tarot always feels like it's something that has always been around.  This fascinates me, and makes all the reading and research worth it.  I also enjoy tracing the "legendary origins" of things like tarot and figuring out where the crazy rumors like "The tarot was started in Egypt" come from.

It snowed most of Thursday night and Friday at ConVocation, which was fun to look at, but not fun for Ari who had to drive in from Grand Rapids to Detroit (three hours) on Friday.  Most of you are probably wondering what I tend to do between workshops, hang out with friends and drink cider is the easy answer.  Since it's ConVocation, drinking scotch in the Scotch Room is also high on the list.  (Yes, we have a Scotch Room at Con, but you have to have an invite, luckily I know these guys so I do get the invites.)  It was nice to have a non-party room, though the room did become a party room on Saturday night (more on that later).

Due to the jetlag and general tiredness, Ari and I slept in pretty late Saturday, wasting nearly the entire morning and probably some of the afternoon.  That was fine really, I was only really interested in one thing Saturday-beating the shit out of that "Drawing Down the Moon" workshop.  Weirdly it was also scheduled on Saturday, and also near 4:00 pm.  Need a late afternoon workshop?  Apparently Mankey is your man.  I had a lot of people telling me they were looking forward to it (and the reviews from PantheaCon the week before certainly didn't hurt), so I felt a little extra pressure, but no sweat.

It went mostly like it did the first time, but I left some things out, and inserted other things.  I wasn't using the slide show for it, so I probably looked at my notes more than I did the previous week.  The stories though . . . they still inspired that passion in my voice, and nearly brought a tear to my eye.  Making it even more special was that my High Priestess from that first Samhain Ritual was actually there in the room listening to me gush about her, I hope she knows how special she is.  So yeah, pretty awesome.  When I was finally done, I even felt a bit dizzy, almost like I was drunk.  I'm not sure if the dizziness was a good or a bad sign, but as I've previously pointed out, I like to be exhausted and giddy when I'm done presenting, and I achieved that.

The only real downside to the workshop was that I was in a rather small room, and we ran out of space.  There were people who tried to get into the workshop and couldn't because there was no space left.  While that's very flattering, it also kind of sucks for the people who can't get in.  When I first got into the room, ten minutes before my scheduled start time, the room was already pretty full.  Apparently a lot of people knew how small my room was and wanted to make sure they got seats.  I even had a few people sitting on the floor right in front of me, which meant I couldn't move around as much as I usually do.  

When I was done with the workshop I couldn't use the "I sold some books so I know I didn't suck litmus test" because by then I only had one book left to sell.  I was stunned by how much I sold at PantheaCon, so I only had six books left by the time I got to Michigan, and sold all but one of those before the workshop.  Next year, I'll bring more swag.  

Dinner at The Olive Garden followed the workshop, nearly immediately, which meant I was odd buzzy company for dinner.  I really need that decompression time.  Post-dinner Ari and I took a solid one hour nap.  She had been battling a cold since Pcon, and I was starting to feel like my own cold was inevitable.  It's easy to get sick at a Pagan Festival, there's the lack of sleep and the horrible diet, but there's also the dry air of the hotel wrecking havoc with the sinuses.  We still aren't recovered and it's been almost a week.  

Post nap I felt like a million bucks and was ready for drinking and mischief.  Before some of that could truly begin in earnest, there was Mekong to sing.  What is "Mekong?"  It's true that it's a river, and an alcoholic drink, but it's also a song by a band called The Refreshments, and it became something of an anthem while we lived in Michigan.  "Something of an anthem" doesn't do it justice, it was the high point of every social event.  Imagine anywhere between 15 and 80 people forming a large circle and singing an obscure song while toasting each other and going absolutely fucking nuts.  That my friends is Mekong.  It holds such a special place in my heart that I can barely stand to listen to it without a drink in my hand and twenty close friends near by.  So lots of people were looking forward to singing "Mekong" at ConVocation, and a few of them had never even done it before, the song just has that sort of effect.

"As cliche as it may sound, I'd like to raise another round, and if your bottle's empty help yourself to mine, and here's to life!"  No lyric better articulates my philosophy in life.  Hell, Ari and I use "Here's to Life" like "Blessed Be" in ritual.  That's how important the song is.  So anyways, we told people we'd be singing Mekong at 10:00 pm and to be in our room around then.  We didn't actually start singing it until about 10:30 pm, and by that time we must have had 30 people in our hotel room or something like that.  Before "Mekong" we sang along to Journey and other assorted horrible things, all pumped out of the one speaker Ipod player.  A lot of the delay was to make sure that our friends who had been singing it with us since the beginning were there, and they were kind of scattered around the hotel.  At one point Ari looked at me and said "We aren't starting this without Eddie, and I think the only people who are here are the newbies who have never sung it before!"  (That wasn't totally true, but if someone's only been doing it for three or four years, we sometimes see that as barely counting.)

So eventually we blasted the Mekong, and I, of course, did cry.  It had been about a year since I've been able to sing that song with such gusto and passion.  It was amazingly awesome, and if I hadn't presented at ConVocation the whole trip would have been worth it for that one moment.  Realizing that all of us would probably never be standing in that same room all together ever again, I was asked to tell the Dionysus and Cheez-Its story, which I did.  The written version will never compare to a dramatic telling of the tale, and as I was a bit tipsy, the version was especially dramatic, with me crawling on the floor and making up new details and bits that I'd never used before.  The whole thing got caught on film (computer chip?) too, if it ever goes up online maybe I'll link to it.

After all of that, what's the point of doing anything else?  You can't top it can you?  Well, you can't, but you can sing Mekong a second time, and we did, this time at the Masquerade Ball since one of our number had missed the first singing of it because he works on the Con Staff.  I've never done Mekong twice in a night, so it was an interesting experience.  Still enjoyable though.  Post-Mekong there were flirtations and dalliances, but I don't talk about that stuff on this blog.  Safe to say a drunken Jason crawled into bed with his Ari around 3:00 am after running out of parties to go to.

Since our plane left late on Sunday, I even had a chance to do some shopping in the Vendor Room (necklace for Ari!) and attend a workshop by my friend Melissa on Male Moon Gods.  Who knew such things existed!  (Well I did, but not in depth.)  Delightful!  After that it was hugs, goodbyes, and off to the airport.  By Sunday night when we finally landed we were both completely wiped out.  Ari even took Wednesday off from work in an attempt to recuperate.  

So it was a pretty amazing eleven days in all, and we had a blast at both festivals.  I love PantheaCon!  I love ConVocation!  And I especially love everyone I was lucky enough to share a hug or a cider with.  Here's to life!    

*I think it was only 38 out, but at this point in my life, that was plenty horrible.