Holy heck with a wooden spoon.
It’s been a busy couple of months.
In the last 6 weeks I’ve attended 4 conferences/conventions (henceforth referred to as cons). I presented at one of them, moderated at another and learned a ton at all of them.
The first con was back in September. One of my all time favorite conferences – Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers – Colorado Gold conference.
This was the first year that I did not submit pages to be critiqued or pitch a book to an agent – in the past those two features were the main reasons I attended. This year though, I was presenting 3 workshops including one 4 hour master class on social media for authors.
I also taught my Sex in Young Adult lit class and a new Feminism in Young Adult lit class.
Over all it was an awesome con. I’ve come to expect greatness from this group, and I haven’t been disappointed yet. I got to see lots of old friends, mingle with new friends and help the great Mario Acevedo bar tend in the hospitality suite. Because I wasn’t pitching or being critiqued, I had a little more free time – and free brain power – so, of course, I started writing a new middle grade children’s book while I was there. It’s a story that has been percolating for about a year, but this year one of the workshops I attended, taught by the fabulous Angie Hodapp, drew it out of me and got the ink flowing. I’m excited – BUT…
Before I could get too far into it, the con was over and I went home to unpack, do laundry, re-pack and board a plane for the 2nd con.
This was Catalyst Con – a sex-geeky con held out in California (and again on the East Coast in the spring).
I was attending as part of my new career path into sexual health education.
I was able to attend a full day sex educator boot camp taught by none other than Tristan Taormino herself! I took pages and pages of notes, made some good connections, exchanged a bajillion business cards and then… the actual con started!
The next two days were filled with lessons on inclusivity, teaching consent, reaching audiences who are less sex-positive than the #ccon crowd – how to talk to people who think that “sex-positive” means “sluts who have ALL the sex” instead of “people who believe sex is a natural, normal part of human existence and that all people deserve to be educated about it so they can make healthy choices that add pleasure to their lives.”
I learned about teaching gender creative youth, LGBTQ issues, feminism in porn (from both sides – the side that creates feminist porn AND the side that says there’s no such thing!)
I attended panels about talking to youth about sex and sexuality and panels on branding and marketing.
There was rarely a moment that I didn’t wish that I could be in two (sometimes three) sessions at once – but because of the brilliant planning of the #ccon crew – and the engagement and participation of the con attendees, each panel had its own active twitter hashtag and so often I would be live tweeting my panel while interacting with the other panel(s) that I was “missing” on twitter. I could also go back through the streams to see what I had missed after the fact.
I worked on my non-fiction book and my children’s picture book on the flight home, sketching out new chapter ideas for the non-fiction and working to add more inclusive language to the picture book I finished recently.
Then, I had a couple of weeks at home. They were filled with kids and the hubby and after school classes and a trip to meet the Myth Busters and I don’t remember what all else, just that they were still busy and full.
Next came Mile Hi Con – my favorite geek fest. 3 days of sci-fi, fantasy, cosplay, and general geekery. This year, for the first time, I brought my family. I’ve been wanting to bring them since my first year, but it hasn’t worked out before.
This time, we had no choice. My munchkins were serving on their very first panel! They were scheduled to talk about middle grade sci-fi and fantasy to a room of interested parents and writers.
I was also slated to speak – I was moderating the panel on ending sexism in geek culture.
Mile Hi Con is a different box of frogs when you attend with children. I had always seen the kiddos running around during previous years, and noticed the kid friendly activities scheduled throughout the daylight hours. I had assumed because of that, that MHC was relatively family and child friendly.
I have to say – in reality, it was pretty hit or miss. Some of the youth track facilitators were more than happy to let me drop off my kids – as long as my kids knew where I was going to be and how to find me – which they always did, and as long as I assured them that I was not asking them to babysit, which I wasn’t. My kids, in case you don’t know – rock. We took them on a tour of the con area, made sure they knew where everything was, tested them, and made sure they were comfortable before we even broached the idea of having them attend panels without either myself or the hubby with me. And then, they knew they had to stick together.
I realize that not everyone is aware that children like this exist, so I tried to be understanding of the people who were presenting youth track activities and really did not want there to be any youth in attendance… But, ultimately my sympathy failed when one of the presenters tried to lie about con policy to me. Because, it turns out – I’m literate and the policy was in the brochure I’d been given. Still – I got the message, my kids were not welcome with her. So, we left. No biggie.
It was fun to see my husband get his geek on. And to see my girls getting to hang out with so many readers and writers.
When that con ended we all went home and then, midway through the next week, I took off again for the last con of the season.
This one was hosted by Colorado Youth Matter and it’s called Raising the Bar. It was my first year attending this con as well – and is also part of my transition to my new career in sexuality education.
This was a short two day con with only 3 sessions and some key notes every day. Which was good – I was semi-brain dead by the time I got there, trying to hold the pieces of the other cons in my mind and keep them straight so that once I really got home for good I’d be able to process (that’d be this) and assimilate (still in progress) and take the knowledge gained forward.
Raising the Bar was a great con in lots of ways – it was small (intimate), focused – it covered topics around teaching healthy sexuality to adolescents, and data heavy, providing lots of good talking points for when I take my fights to the policy makers.
That said, it was (to my mind) lacking something – and that was… diversity. Cory Silverberg, one of the keynotes, describes diversity as representation. And that is the way I mean it. The whole conference felt like a bunch of people preaching to the choir. I wanted some diversity in the positions of the attendees – and perhaps even the presenters. It would have been nice to hear from a superintendent on how hard it is to institute comprehensive sex education, despite laws in support of it, despite the fact that 80% of parents want it and 90% of teens ask for it. What’s the hurdle? I’d like to know.
What was most interesting to me about the conference, was how much fear and nervousness there still was in talking about these topics.
Perhaps it was because I had just come from Catalyst Con which has the feel of a celebration, Raising the Bar felt like we had to whisper in case someone overheard us talking about teaching health to youth and decided to rap our knuckles with a ruler for our audacity.
One of the panels I attended on preventing sexual violence had a preamble/warning statement that lasted over 10 minutes! Many of the other sessions had similarly long introductions filled with cautionary statements, qualifiers, hesitation… It was almost as if the presenters thought they were standing in front of hostile hoards instead of chatting with like-minded educators and advocates.
That said – next time, I hope there are more muggles at the con. I would love to see school board members, superintendents, law makers and policy wonks. Heck, I’d love to see members of the press show up so they would have actual facts to report instead of shock and awe fear mongering. Perhaps then we could sway political opinion enough to drive actual action and get those 80% of parents pushing for real, inclusive, comprehensive sexuality education in schools like they claim to want…
The personal good that came from this con was a new direction for my business – which came from the realization that I’ve been doing it all wrong – but that’s it’s okay because there’s a better, easier, more fun way to do it right.
Also, I got some great encouragement to finish my picture book from Cory Silverberg, one of the keynote speakers and author of perhaps the best book on baby-making for young children that I’ve ever read.
So, once I get my inbox cleaned out (which I hoped to accomplish today, but after two months of neglect it turns out it’s at least a 2 day project) I’ll be rebuilding my website, retooling my promotional materials and reaching out to new audiences with my workshops and presentations.
Not to mention finishing that picture book, building the proposal package for my non-fiction book, and continuing my Middle Grade novel. Somewhere in there, I might even find time to finish revising the Young Adult novel I wrote two years ago…
In the meantime, I’ve got got a smooching debt that needs to be settled with my kids and hubby.
Not to mention a bed that’s been missing me…