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JournalCon, Part 2 – The Narrative

October 23, 2003

In this installment, I natter on seemingly endlessly about what I did before, during, and a little bit after JournalCon. Bear with me. Soon I will be back to nattering on endlessly about other things.

The pre-Con period was devoted to swag. I really did intend to get an early start on it so I wouldn’t have to spend the whole flight down getting crafty like last year. I did start thinking about it a lot sooner this year. I bought fabric I thought I might use for swag when I went to visit Mel at the end of April, with the idea that I’d make quilty magnets again. Not so long after that, I was over at the JournalCon forum asking whether I needed to get permission to use one of the button images (which happily coordinated perfectly with the fabric I’d bought). Then I spent the next five months not doing anything. I sewed, sure I sewed, but not on the swag. By the Saturday before we had to leave for Austin, I had managed to pick a block pattern, choose fabric, and make one prototype.

Thus began Swag-a-thon 2003. I spent pretty much every spare minute from that Saturday to Friday morning before our 7:30 departure for the airport working on the magnets (when I wasn’t having an emotional breakdown from watching the Cubs play, that is). Based on the fact that I made one for every attendee last year and had a lot leftovers to bring home, I decided to make fewer this year despite there being more people registered. Even though I had good data to support the thesis that not every online journaler wants one of my magnets, a part of my brain kept insisting that it would be rude to not bring enough for everyone. I did my best to ignore that part of my brain, because if I’d listened, no one would have gotten magnets because there was no way I could make that many in the time I had. Now, there’s no rule that says I had to bring swag, but I have a vision of quilt-covered refrigerators all across the planet and missing a year of distributing blocks would slow that plan.

By the time we left for the airport, I had about half of the sixty magnets done, and the rest of them only one step from being complete. That meant I only had to spend part of the flight trying not to squirt Tacky Glue all over myself as I finished them off. Here they are, all stacked neatly on my tray table a good hour before landing. I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. The look is a little quieter and more traditional than my usual stuff; there are only three prints plus the graphics on the front, with the fabric I bought in April on the back. Isn’t that just the best thing, a fabric with the state flag and bluebonnets on it for a conference held in Texas?

Mr. Karen and I got into Austin a few minutes ahead of schedule at around 11 a.m. By 11:15, it was clear that I had landed in a place where people are just a little more laid back than I’m used to. Getting the rental car seemed to take forever because the person helping me at the counter, in addition to the normal routine of retyping all information I’d provided when I made the reservation, had to ask “How you doin’ today, m’am?” and chat me up about what brought me to Austin and how the weather was in Detroit and other inconsequential topics like area codes. In case I wasn’t getting enough attention, two of his coworkers interrupted our conversation to ask how I was doin’. I was doin’ much better when I finally got the keys to the car, two more sociable employees and one offer of a bottle of water later.

On the drive to the hotel, we passed some new highway bridges being constructed and noticed that they were themed, with lone stars and iconified longhorns cast right into the concrete supports. I was impressed by the attention to detail and would have taken pictures if I hadn’t been a) driving and b) anxious to get downtown and have lunch. In researching Austin ahead of time, I’d come across descriptions of a restaurant that seemed like it would be a match for my favorite place to eat ever (Spoodles at Walt Disney World) and I really, really wanted to try it. Friday lunch seemed like the best opportunity, since I thought it might be hard to persuade other JournalCon folks to go to a slightly pricey place with a dress code. So we parked the car at the hotel and headed off by ourselves for Louie’s 106, and it was wonderful. They had me at roasted garlic, which was one of about six tastes served with the bread and olive oil. My only regret is that after sharing two appetizers (three cheese ravioli and ahi tuna carpaccio) with Mr. Karen and eating an my own entrĂ©e (swordfish with garlic mashed potatoes that were the yummiest of all the yummy things I put in my mouth that meal; it took a lot of willpower to not lick the plate clean) I was too full for dessert. If we’d been in town on our own, I probably would have had a wine flight, too, but I had enough of a buzz going just from the anticipation of the con without adding multiple alcoholic beverages on top of that.

We spent the time between check-in and the welcoming reception being tourists. The capitol was only a couple blocks away, so we wandered over there and checked it out under the watchful eye of the Department of Public Safety officers. I liked the peppers planted in place of flowers outside the visitor center and thought that maybe there were just a few too many stars in the fence surrounding the grounds. Sure, it’s nice to have a symbol, but it loses some of its impact when used it approximately four thousand times in a small area. Maybe I’m just jealous that Michigan doesn’t have a graphic image to plaster on all our stuff.

Walking back to the hotel, I spotted the most attractive slow child sign ever, complete with a handle to make it easy to pick up and take home (no, I didn’t). Ten seconds after that picture was taken, the smile on my face disappeared when I put the camera back in its case and realized I’d lost my spare SmartMedia card. Damn. And it was one of the big ones, too. Damn. We retraced our steps to all the places I’d taken pictures, but there was no sign of it. Damn. Why had I brought it along? It’s not like I’ve ever filled one of the big cards in a weekend (well, unless there was a quilt show involved). Why hadn’t I put it somewhere safer, like my belt bag? Because I’d never had one fall out of the camera bag before is why, and it seemed like it’d be safer in there than jumbled in my other bag. But it wasn’t safe, was it? No, it was not. Damn. I fretted and stewed and cursed my lack of care, but then I had to shake it off. Yes, it was unfortunate that I lost it and would have to pay thirty or forty or fifty bucks to replace it, but it didn’t need to ruin my afternoon, much less my weekend. (Cubs, please note that the same approach would be good to use the next time a foul ball goes uncaught in regrettable circumstances; it doesn’t need to ruin the inning or the game or the series.)

So, where was I? Ah, yes, back at the hotel for the welcoming reception. As I expected, it was a little overwhelming for my introverted self. I talked to lots of people, even ones I didn’t know and who had no reason to know me (I’m so bold), and only said stupid things to some of them. I think the peak (trough?) of my social ineptitude was when I stuck out my hand at Melissa and said, “Hi, I don’t know you”, despite the fact I do, indeed, know her from The Usual Suspects. Duh. I got to chat briefly with Ryan, who was doing much better on no sleep than I would have been, and M. Giant, who reminded me that we were on a Diarist panel together (fortunately, he was not one of the people who’d gotten on my nerves during that experience). I met Chip and liked him even before I knew he was worthy of intermingling in Jette’s eyes.

As the reception was breaking up, I hitched my wagon to Weetabix’s star and ended up having dinner at a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant with her, Chauffi, Mare, Chiara, and Sundry at one table and TranceJen, Cruel-Irony, ThatGrrrl, Frank, and David at the other (I did get to talk for a little while with that table when I snuck into the opening left when the smokers repaired to the street to indulge). Back before I glommed onto the Weet, I’d invited Meg to join what was then a Cajun dinner expedition, but I missed the fact that she needed to be back at the hotel by 8:15 and by the time we got organized to go she had already had to make other plans. Oh well, Meg, maybe next year? The evening readings were just starting when we came back from dinner, but I wasn’t up for squeezing into a crowded room at the last minute so we elected to skip it and go up to the room. No point in getting overtired the first night when there was so much more socializing on the horizon.

My vision for Saturday morning was to accost people I wanted to at least be able to say I’d said “hello” to and hand them some of my swag. So committed was I to this vision that I had pasted the list of the attendees into an Excel spreadsheet and made notes about who I wanted to swag and why (on the committee, met last year, know online, just really like their journal, etc.) and printed it out to keep in my bag so I could check off the people I’d swagged and avoid the embarrassment of pestering someone twice. Why yes, I am a bit anal retentive; thanks for noticing. This approach did mean I talked to some people I’d missed at the reception on Friday, but it also meant I spent too much time being distracted by deciding who to approach next, so I gave it up and just put the rest of the magnets on the swag table so I could focus on the panels and socializing without a spreadsheet.

The panels were good. The wake up one was a great idea, with several groups of random attendees getting to be panelists; I liked getting a chance to hear people I might not have otherwise. It was here that Mr. Karen cemented his Best Significant Other award by not fussing even a little bit when his name was picked out of the box to serve. The next panel made up in free drinks what it lacked in focus. I got lots of ideas at the design panel, some of which I might even remember because I took notes. I especially liked that panel because I won the door prize, which included a glow in the dark statuette of the patron saint of the internet (Isidore of Seville, if you were wondering), who is looking over me right now from the corner of my docking station.

After the morning panels, Mel and Shawn and I headed out armed with maps to two quilt shops. Our first stop, The Quilt Store, was excellent– lots of fabric lines I like and prints I hadn’t seen before. It was hard to decide which ones to buy given I had to fit whatever I bought into my carryon for the flight home. At lunch we decided we probably wouldn’t like the next quilt shop any better so we headed back into town to a little artists market. There was a lot of great stuff there, candles and jewelry and pottery, but I restrained myself and didn’t buy anything. The rings and necklaces and earrings and bracelets would have been easy to fit into my luggage, true, but I was afraid it was the kind of stuff that I think is so pretty but never wear. On the way back to the car, we stopped in a home decorating store that carried a few things I didn’t know existed, like beaded light bulb covers similar to this one. Now there’s a solution to my bedroom light fixture problem that I hadn’t considered.

After we got back to the hotel, I wandered back to the hospitality room, where the swag table was set up. There was lots of primo stuff this year. As I type this, I’m wearing one of TranceJen’s excellent necklaces (evidently she set up a sweatshop in which her son and mother turned many of these out; why didn’t I think of that?). LisaNH made some beautiful notecards with her garden porn; I really wanted to collect a whole set, but I behaved myself and only took my favorite so other people could have some, too (well, I did snag one of her magnets, too, but that was for Mr. Karen). I also had a hard time deciding which of Stephen’s pins to take; I finally chose “Link Less; Think More” (I promise to start just as soon as I get done with this linkfest of an entry). The bookmarks that Iko did were lovely, too. Angeline made pretty magnets which she packaged in almost impossibly tiny shopping bags.

While I was checking out the swag table to see if I’d missed anything, Petunia arrived with a huge box of fresh cookies. Drawn by the yummy aroma, I planted myself next to the table where she and Pyro were putting them into the bags Petunia had made (which were cool all by themselves) and pitched in. That way, I was in an excellent position to snag any broken ones that might need to be eaten right away. Soon we’d covered one whole quadrant of the swag table with edible goodness and it was time for me to head off for the last panel of the day. (Yes, I did miss the two before that, but that’s how it goes sometimes).

When I went up to the room to change for dinner, I found Mr. Karen was back from his afternoon adventures, which you’ll just have to imagine since I wasn’t there and he doesn’t have a journal. I’d planned ahead to have dinner with some of The Usual Suspects because one of my frustrations last year was not getting to spend more time in person with the people I hung out with online. Of course, there’s still the problem of not being able to talk with everyone if there are a lot of people at the dinner table, but it was better than just hoping to run into some of them sometime. I’d made reservations for twelve people and we ended up with fourteen (ten of which had been part of the original twelve; I love thinking about numbers): me and Mr. Karen, Mel, Shawn, Iko, LisaNH, the Frank she’s married to, my-journal.com Frank, ThatGrrrl (who I always want to give two r’s but who has three), Molly Zero and her husband-type person (whose name I think is Mark but I could be wrong about that because I had stopped taking good notes long before I met him), Lyn Never, Amanda Page (who outdid herself with swag this year, providing not only Aussie goodies but a whole show bag of stuff; I’ve just about got the taste of the musk candy out of my mouth for another year), and Amy D, whom I in no way blame for anything to do with the restaurant, which in any case, was just fine for what we needed. The Telemundo/Univision variety show on the big screen was a nice bonus and gave me another reason to love my husband; when the singer in the spaghetti strap dress with the sheer bodice and the skirt slit up to her hip showed up on the screen, what he commented on was the size of her earrings (and he wasn’t being euphemistic, either).

After dinner most of us headed over to the excellent comedy show the committee had arranged, then it was time for karaoke. Mr. Karen skipped the latter, but I thought I’d go for at least a little while until the smoke got to me. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be open air karaoke in a courtyard in the back of the bar; I ended up staying a lot longer than I’d planned because it was such a dandy venue. Mel, Shawn, Iko, and I shared a table down front with Jason, who disappeared at some point but I don’t think we scared him off. The only drawback to being outside was getting a little cold; I’d dressed for a crowded indoor bar and wished I had a sweater or at least long sleeves once the breeze started picking up. I blame the chill for motivating me to jump up on stage as one of AB’s dozen Pips; I had to move to stay warm. I’d taken my watch off because it didn’t go with my dinner outfit, so I was surprised to see how late (early?) it was when I decided I really should go spend some alone time with Mr. Karen on our 17th wedding anniversary.

We slept in a little bit on Sunday and ended up having breakfast with Mel and ThatGrrrl in the hotel restaurant, where I had the best home fries ever from the buffet. We caught the end of the Texas readings and the last panel and then it was time to head back to the airport. Those perky rental car employees were just as friendly when I turned the car in as they had been when I’d picked it up. Our flight left on time and we made our connection in Memphis with no problem and we were home again. We were tired, so tired, yet we stayed up to watch the Vikings game on tape. The satellite receiver had decided to cooperate this time instead of acting up like it had when we went to Colorado on the opening weekend of the season. (Thanks again, Wendie, for getting us a tape of that game so we could see what we missed!) Now it’s Thursday and it’s hard to believe it took me this long to finally finish recapping the weekend. Except I’m not sure I’m really done; I have some miscellaneous reflections that might need to be an entry of their own. Oh, and it turns out that I took just the right amount of swag; they didn’t run out and leave people disappointed but I also didn’t have a ton of them to bring back. I’ve got three left; e-mail me if you want one. (Since I still have some from 2002, it’s not too late to get a complete set.)

***

A little over a year ago, I was writing about my reproductive organs.

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