Good day, gentle readers! Today I’m finally bringing you my long overdue recap of the wonderful NerdCon; Stories 2015. This post is long and a bit ramble-y, so most I’ll sum it up at the top by saying that this was one of the best conventions I’ve ever been to, all of the presenters were amazing, and driving 3000 miles can give you a pinched nerve in your shoulder.
The first few days are road trip related, skip to the middle if you just want to read about NerdCon.
Day 1: ATX to Tulsa
Anyone who knows me knows I love a good road trip. When I was younger, I made the Dallas to Austin drive (about 200 miles) every weekend for about a year. I’ve driven from Austin to Laughlin, and I’m planning to drive up to New England one year to watch the leaves change. So, when I realized that MN was almost a straight shot up I-35, Siobhan and I decided to take a few extra days off and rack a few more miles on the Prius.
The first day we stopped for dinner at Barley & Board in Denton, where I had the best plate of ribs I’ve had in years.
I fully intended to take a picture of the ribs pre devouring, but I looked down and this was all that remained. The meat just melted off the bones (and into my mouth). I needed a cup of coffee just to make it through the rest of the drive. Totally worth it.
To go through Tulsa we took a detour along I-44.
Turns out that’s a toll road.
Turns out Oklahoma toll roads don’t take TexTag, or credit cards, or explanations why you don’t carry cash.
Fortunately, they do take Hello Kitty personal checks. Phew. We made it to the hotel without being forever trapped in a turnpike.
Day 2: Tulsa to Excelsior Springs
Day two was all about feeling the burn.
First off, it was the only day I managed to make it to the gym, which really should be mandatory when you drive for eight or more hours a day.
The major burn of the day came from lunch. We stopped in Kansas City at a place called Grinder’s. As a side note, the last few trips I’ve taken have been to Ireland, so I’d gotten a little cocky about my tolerance for hot wings. Grinder’s had a sauce called ‘Death Nectar’ that peaked my interest, but an inexplicable bit of self preservation kicked in and I only ordered six of the ‘Near Death’ wings.
I’m not going to say that was a mistake. I will say it was an experience. My lips went numb on the first bite. By the time I finished the first wing, my face was numb. Halfway through, I stopped trying to recover between each wing and just powered through the last three. I’m not going to say that was a mistake. I did spend the next ten minutes trying to convince myself I wasn’t going throw up.
Eventually we made it back into the car, and I somehow drove us the rest of t
he to Excelsior Springs. Eventually I recovered enough from the pain fugue to tour The Elms, the neat little haunted hotel that my wife found for us.
I’m not sure if we didn’t encounter any ghosts that night or if I just couldn’t see anything through my haze of incredible pain.
Day 3: Excelsior Springs to Minneapolis
I still felt terrible when we started our last day on the road to NerdCon. I vaguely remember eating breakfast, driving through some absolutely picturesque scenery, and stopping in Des Moines to have Miso Mac & Cheese at Krunkwich.
Seriously, if you’re ever in Des Moines, eat the Miso Mac & Cheese at Krunkwich. Do it. You’ll be glad you did.
Day 4: NerdCon Day 1 !
And now we get to the meat of why it took me so long to write this recap. Honestly, I don’t know how to encapsulate this into mere words.
Here’s Hank Green’s opening speech. This was the first thing any of us heard. This was the moment that some (most? all?) of us decided we’d be back next year. And it only got better.
The Friday morning main stage was bookended by nerd comedy musical legends Paul and Storm telling us why stories matter. There were word games and video games and a stage full of strange wonderful people.
After the main stage ended, we broke into groups. Each time slot had three main events, with some of the small theaters filling up quite quickly, but the main auditorium always had room for the most popular events.
My first panel was “So You Wanna Change the World: Activism & Narrative” with Desiree Burch, Jackson Bird, Maria Davis, Rosianna Halse Rojas, and Mara Wilson. I went in expecting a rousing battle cry, but instead we heard stories from the front lines of people who were fighting to make the world a better place. Mara Wilson’s frank discussion of mental health and the importance of reducing the stigma struck hit close to home. I came out a bit better person than I went in.
That was a running them with this convention. Sure, in the second panel I went to “Honing Your Craft: Embittering Your Word-Doing”, I came out a bit better writer.
The afternoon main stage started with Sarah Mackey telling us why stories matter. We watched a rousing game of “What’s in my mouth?” and then we got to the Juvenilia. Juvenilia being a wonderful name for the terrible stuff you write as you get started. I hope, someday, to be reading some of the early stuff on this blog for the amusement of others. I feel that either Matt de la Pena misunderstood the challenge or has just been writing wonderful, moving prose his entire life, but Holly Black had us rolling in the aisles with her fantasy epic, Mara Wilson gave everyone (just me?) a case of the sympathy cringe giggles, and Dave Nadelberg serenaded us with a poetic ode to Mr Pips, the bag piper. The MainStage wrapped up with more from Hank Green and Ben Lillie, and then a performance from Harry & the Potters.
If you’ve never head Harry & the Potters, give them a listen. I think my favorite part of the show was watching the ASL translator masterfully translate her way through a saxophone solo. Major props.
That evening, people gathered in a storytelling circle downstairs. Close to a hundred people showed up to either spend six minutes telling a story, a true story about a first in their life, or to listen to the stories of others.
It looked like the circle might continue into the night, but I slipped back upstairs for a different storytelling circle, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Prompted by Pat Rothfuss, a crew of storytellers took on the personas of aristocracy telling tales from a bygone era (1800s-ish?).
Each storyteller started with a prompt from the person on the left “Tell me about the amazing time you …” and proceeded to come up with some of the wildest improv I’ve heard in a while. Mary Robinette Kowal (armed with flask and fan) joined Katherine the Great and Anubis (and a lubed scepter), we heard the tale of Hank Green’s marriage to a Spanish Puppy Fart, Maureen Johnson parking a horse on the London Tower, Joseph Fink’s quest within a quest within a quest, and Paul Sabourin convincing the King of England to start the second war with the moon. It was an amazing way to end the night.
Day 5 : Nerdcon Day 2!
John Green opened Day 2 with an impassioned speech on why stories matter, as an escape and control when you feel lost and… well, he does the words thing better than I do. The rapid fire Q&A included a giant squid. There was a musical performance by Steven Brust, poetry from Kevin R Free, Jeffrey Cranor, and Dessa Darling. The main stage wrapped up with Dylan Marron giving a poignant presentation on representation in media.
I saw panels on writing once you’ve succeeded, story telling through song, and the responsibility of the storyteller.
That evening I watched a group of brave people perform at the Open Mic, and I realized just how much I’m going to need to step up my game if I want to get up there next year. Dessa was a great MC, pumping up the crowd. Even the tech guy got a standing ovation and signed a few autographs.
The final show of the night was put on by the NY Neofuturists. They had been generously sprinkled throughout the panels (especially since there was a great amount of crossover between them and the Welcome to NightVale crew, who were probably the biggest rockstars of the con, except for the legit rock stars, of course).
The show was Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. It is their ever changing attempt to perform thirty play in sixty minutes, chosen in a random order by the audience. The plays were thought-provoking, irreverent, political, moving, hilarious. It was the perfect way to end an amazing con.
Day 5: MN to STL
Except, of course, for the drive home. Let’s condense it a bit, shall we?
Drive drive drive, St. Louis. Shitty pizza. Sleep.
Day 6: STL to ATX
Bacon cheddar french toast for breakfast.
St. Louis blood fountains.
Drive. Drive. Drive. Oklahoma backwoods to try to avoid toll.
Rattle Rattle Rumble. Get back on toll road. Pay with Hello Kitty check.
Drive drive drive. Eat dinner in a scary Burger King outside of a casino on the Oklahoma border. The bathroom was full of flies. There may have been a body in there.
Drive drive drive. Dallas, Waco, Temple, Austin. Sleep. Home.
Content. Inspired. Amazed.
Planning my trip for next year.