Category Archives: Miscellaneous

CONvergence 2017

I haven’t blogged about CONvergence in a couple of years, even though I’ve been attending consistently. It’s still held around July 4—it was July 6-9 this year—but I’ve been easily distracted from writing it up.

This year, I was able to stay in the main con hotel, and it made a world of difference. In 2015 and 2016, I stayed in overflow hotels. CONvergence has outgrown the hotel it started in, but moving to the Minneapolis Convention Center has more drawbacks than advantages. So the con is based at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington and most of the programming is held there. The Dealers Room, Artists Alley, and some panels are at the Sheraton Bloomington across the street. While the programming fits in two hotels, the attendees do not. The con runs 24 hours a day once it gets going and finding a parking space is a major challenge, so there’s lots of incentive to stay in a hotel instead of commuting from home. But thanks to an inconveniently-placed pair of highways and the general sprawl of the suburbs, most of the overflow hotels are an unwalkable distance away. Given the circumstances, they’re doing a fine job of managing the situation—they run free shuttles between all the overflow hotels and the parking lots—but it’s just not the same as staying close to the con itself.

This year, though, I made it back into the DoubleTree.  I didn’t have to take shelter in the Sensory Break Room, because if things got to be too much, I could retreat to my room. I didn’t have to obsess over how much stuff I was carrying because if my bag was too heavy, I could run upstairs and drop stuff off in my room. If I left something behind in my room that I needed, it was an easy trip upstairs to retrieve it. Note the theme here of “my room” and “nearby.”

By the way, as an indication of…well, something: I was on the 18th floor, overlooking the pool/cabana area on the 1st and 2nd floors where the parties are held. At night, I could hear the general roar of the parties in my room—through my closed windows, through the roof of the pool/cabana area, with approximately fourteen floors of open space between us. Whoa.

I didn’t see a dominant fandom in the costumes this year. I bet there would’ve been a lot more Wonder Woman outfits if the movie hadn’t opened so close to the con. I was surprised to see as many Sailor Moon outfits as I did (yay!). Each year, I see more costumes I don’t recognize, and I don’t know if that’s because they come from shows I’m not familiar with or if more people are coming up with original outfits. I continue to be That Person Who Freezes While Everyone Else Is Comfortable or Too Hot. I was almost laughing at how I’d be bundled up in a capelet or sweatshirt, while the people around me were fanning themselves. If there’s a fresh air vent, I have an instinct for sitting directly under it.

Panels and programming are what I focus on when I’m at a con. This year’s panels were pretty good, and I regret not going to more of them. I missed several of them because there were so many good panels that if I’d gone to all of them, I’d never have had time to visit the Dealers Room or the Art Show, I wouldn’t have had much time to spend with friends, nor would I have had any down time except first thing in the morning. (To be a morning person at a con is to be a rarity.) Still, I made it to several, including:

  • “It’s Been Written Before” spelled out for me the difference between a trope and a cliché.
  • “From Fan Fiction to Professional Writing” was one of those panels where I sat back, knitted, and listened to writers talking about their real-life experiences.
  • “Creating a Story with Tarot Cards” was a good idea in the wrong room: without a projector, even those of us in the front row couldn’t see what the panelists were doing. They tried to describe it, but I was relying on my knowledge of tarot to carry me through and I don’t know how enjoyable the panel was to those who don’t know much about tarot.
  • “Aro/Ace Relationships”: somewhat informative, but mostly a great feeling of camaraderie.
  • “Of a Certain Age” explored the dearth of older protagonists in fantasy and science fiction and left me wanting a longer, deeper discussion of the topic.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 20th Anniversary Panel”: I will merely mutter, “What do you mean it’s been 20 years?” and focus on my knitting.

I was restrained in the Dealers Room. I was happy to see my favorite dealers and left some money with them in exchange for Nice Things. Having the Dealers Room in another hotel did cut down on my casual visits. With some items, it was “Do I want this badly enough to hike all the way over there to get it?” and usually the answer was “No.” Which is probably not what the dealers want to hear. Yet the old situation, with the dealers all crammed into a room too tiny for people to move in freely—or breathe—wasn’t much fun either. It’s hard to buy something when you have to struggle to get anywhere near it.

Membership badge with pronoun sticker.

Pronoun sticker!

The con continues to emphasize diversity and openness. Each meeting room had space marked out on the floor for people in wheelchairs to use. Sign language interpretation was available. There were several panels with diversity-related themes, enough that some ended up scheduled at the same time and I had to choose (sob!). Like last year, there were pronoun stickers available for people to stick on their badges, both preprinted ones and blank ones for people who use less common pronouns. Panel moderators were encouraged to call on people without using gendered terms: “You in the back in the purple shirt” rather than “The woman in the back in the purple shirt.” The Sensory Break Room has finally been placed in a semi-quiet part of the hotel (total silence is probably impossible). I didn’t go to the parties, but I passed the party rooms frequently on my way to Consuite and was impressed that there was a sign outside each room that listed what partygoers might want to know before entering: alcohol? strobe lights? loud noise? gluten-free snacks? kid-friendly? And as in past years, there were designated safe spaces for people to go if they were being harassed.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary. I haven’t registered yet—no rush: the rates don’t go up until January. I’m curious to see how they’ll commemorate it. Ten years ago, the con went from three days to four. They’re definitely not going to five days, so what else might they try?

Novum lingua

If the title to this post is incorrect, it’s Google Translate’s fault. I freely admit I don’t know what I’m doing. But this will change: I am studying Latin this year.

The desire has been building for a while. (Quite a while: my high school offered Latin, but I couldn’t fit it into my schedule.) Every now and then, something I’m interested in will involve Latin, or at least Rome.

  • I’ve had a lifelong interest in Greek mythology, and they always mention that the Greek gods and goddesses had Roman equivalents.
  • I minored in linguistics in college, and I was especially interested in how languages change and develop. Latin was the ancestor to two languages I’ve already studied: Spanish and French.
  • For years, I’ve enjoyed a mystery series set in Rome, and while I certainly didn’t need to know Latin to read it, it piqued my interest in Roman culture.
  • My recent interest in Stoicism has led me to read some of Seneca’s works. My library carries the Loeb Classical Library editions, which have the original Latin on the left page and the English translation on the right. I’d start cross-checking the English with the Latin, trying to guess which was equivalent to what, and would lose sight of what Seneca was actually discussing. Oops.
  • One of the kinds of music I like is modern renditions of older songs. Some of those songs are old enough to have been written in Latin. I’d like to know what the lyrics mean without having to search for translations on the Internet.
Latin inscription on a well in the UK.

Someday, I will understand this.

But I’ve been reading these books and listening to this music for years, so why study Latin now? I think the impulse was triggered about a year ago by finding a copy of Complete Latin by Gavin Betts at a used book store. It insisted on coming home with me, then hung around on a bookshelf the way so many of my purchases do, waiting for the right moment in which to be read. Meanwhile, it exerted a small gravitational pull. By now I’ve got a DVD set, an instruction book, two quick study guides, and a grammar summary. My growing Latin section has probably reached critical mass.

I have made it through the first lesson. It starts gently, with a short history of Latin followed by basic pronunciation. I expected my Spanish and French would be useful for this. And they’re not useless: I’m well aware that English vowels are not like the vowels of other European languages. But oddly enough, it helps to have studied Japanese, even though Japanese has no linguistic relationship to Latin at all. But when I read, “Ideally, repeated consonants, as in pellō (pel-lō), reddō (red-dō), should both be pronounced, but this is difficult for us as it only occurs in English in compounds such as book-keeper,” I remember that repeated consonants are fairly common in Japanese and that I’ve practiced them. At least I don’t have to learn a new writing system for Latin.

My immediate goal: learning to say my alma mater’s motto correctly. (It’s not a pun if I use a common Latin phrase there, is it?) Apparently one does not pronounce the last two words of Natura et revelatio coeli gemini as “seely gemini.” I wonder if they told me that when I was there.

Photo credit: andrew_j_w via photopin cc

Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow

This week’s photo challenge is timely. It’s been cloudy here for most of December, and while I’m not finding it depressing, a splash of bright color is welcome. That yellow is my favorite color is a bonus.

And because yellow is my favorite color, it pops up throughout my home:

Yellow coats.

“The better to see you with, my dear.” Especially at a bus stop at night.

Pegasus tree ornament

A favorite ornament.

Yellow pens.

I rarely have two of the same pen, but…yellow.

Set of 3 mixing bowls.

Yes, I bought the set for the yellow bowl. But I love the three of them together too.

iPad and cover.

Of course I made my iPad cover out of yellow yarn.

And when friends learned I was blogging yellow, they volunteered yellow things of their own:

Yellow orchids.

ClaireDaLoon’s orchids. Flowers in winter!

Drop spindle and rolag.

Suncat’s golden spinning.

(Daily Post—Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow)

Things not to say to the ophthalmology nurse

Having finally decided to commit to cataract surgery, I made an appointment with the ophthalmologist to set it up. Perhaps to encourage me to stay committed, they presented me with the consent form—although nothing is making me show up, it’s much harder to think of changing my mind now that I’ve signed the paperwork. Consent forms are the sort of thing I make myself read through even at the best of times, which a Mercury retrograde period is not, so I plunged in. There were no real surprises in the form, not counting the one reference to hysterectomies.* I acknowledged that the doctor isn’t guaranteeing good results, that he discussed the risks with me, and so on. They swear they’ll ask me my name before the surgery begins, which is reassuring, although I hope they also ask me which eye the cataract is in.

Amongst all these disclaimers and promises, the form stated that any tissues or organs removed in the course of surgery “will be disposed of in a respectful manner.” Until I read that, I’d never given that issue any thought. But that phrase conjured up images of a tiny coffin—dark wood, lined in pink satin, and about the size of a sugar cube—in which my cataracted lens would be laid to rest. It would be marked with a wee gravestone, commemorating my lens’s lifespan. A chip of marble would do nicely, perhaps a scrap from a full-sized gravestone.


Like this, only smaller. Lots smaller. (photo credit: Mike Schaffner via photopin cc)

My only explanation for what happened next was my growing nervousness. As the reality of what I was doing sank in (omg, i’m really going through with this? eye surgery? how soon? ack!), I started to ramble out loud. The poor nurse got to hear about the micro-coffin. He looked up from his computer and I could see him mentally reviewing my last sentence or two. And then there was that second where he must have decided that no, I really wasn’t making sense.

He stared.

I shrugged, smiled tightly, and flipped over the next page of the consent form to continue reading.

(Note to self: be really, really mundane when at medical appointments.)


*How many of you went back to the first sentence to verify that I’d said “cataract surgery”?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic

The Ford Building in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This is the Ford Building in St. Paul, Minnesota—”Ford” as in Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. The short version of its history is that it was built in 1913 (1916?) as an assembly plant, was quickly converted into a sales center, and was eventually taken over by the State of Minnesota for office space.

The Ford Building is currently in limbo, which is a possibility for a relic, but not a satisfying one. It’s all neat and crisp when seen from the front, but look along the side. That vertical striping and the ripply effect come from the wire fencing attached to the exterior wall to keep pieces of it from falling on people’s heads. The building is too historically significant to demolish on a whim, but it’s not really usable as is and bringing it up to modern standards would be expensive. So it…sits there.

(Daily Post—Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic)

CONvergence 2014

Another 4th of July weekend, another CONvergence. Not that the 4th of July was completely overlooked. I had a room on the 19th floor of the hotel this year, which allowed me to watch the fireworks displays of at least 6 different cities and suburbs in peace, quiet, and air conditioning.

I haven’t seen final registration figures for this year yet, but let’s assume it was over 7,000 people. Despite the fact that there probably were at least another thousand people there above last year’s total, somehow it all worked better logistically. The major registration backup that was last year’s defining moment was eradicated this year. I took a chance and showed up late in the afternoon instead of first thing in the morning, and it worked out: 2 minutes to check in at the hotel, 5 minutes to pick up my con registration…and 20 minutes waiting in line for an elevator to get to my room. (That last bit was not entirely unexpected after 16+ years of attending conventions at this hotel.)

The official theme of this year’s con was A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. I hereby dub “diversity” as an unofficial theme. It’s not like diversity suddenly popped up out of nowhere—the con has been actively pursuing it for years now—but it seemed to have really established itself in the programming this year. I saw panels for getting beyond the gender binary in SF/F, Asperger Syndrome, dissecting “aliens vs. white guys,” disabled people in fiction, asexuality, and coming out as atheist. Plus, of course, the “standard” panels on urban fantasy, dystopias, this year’s crops of SF/F movies and TV shows, writing, parenting, crafting, and so on. Coolness.

I always expect to take photos and fail to do so, but this year, I had a decent cell phone camera, so I figured I really would take photos. And I did…just not of the con. I took photos of the generic hotel painting in my room and of the equally generic flowers used in every public and commercial planting around here:Generic painting in a hotel room.DQyellowlilies

I got pictures of Sunday morning’s storm: Storm seen from a hotel room window. CONvergence2014storm2

But basically only one photo was con-centered, and it’s pretty much indistinguishable from con photos from any year:

CONvergence panel.

I think this was Saturday’s “The Hobbit: That Wasn’t in the Book!” panel, but I’m not going to swear to that.

I give up.

Guess what? Read half a library’s worth of writing books and suddenly people aren’t saying all that much that’s new at the writing panels. I still went to several of them, though. There’s a world of difference between the neat and clinical stuff in the books and writing as actual human beings practice it, and I like listening to what writers have to say on the matter. (Plus, it’s great knitting time. I got the better part of two sleeves knitted this weekend as well as another inch or so on the Pink Thing.)

I talked to one person that I knew once during the entire con, but I kept catching glimpses of someone I hadn’t seen in 30 years throughout the weekend. I bet there’s some sort of science of how you run into people at huge events that explains this.

And at the absolutely trivial level, I admire how this year’s purple badge goes so nicely with my purple lanyard and the generally pink/purple shades of my wardrobe. Coordination is everything.CONvergence 2014 adult badge.

Little squiggles and dots

We all have strange relationships with punctuation — do you overuse exclamation marks? Do you avoid semicolons like the plague? What type of punctuation could you never live without? Tell us all about your punctuation quirks!The Daily Post

punctuation My favorite punctuation marks—favorite in the sense of having a favorite color: something you like and take pleasure from—are two symbols that I almost never get to use: the inverted question mark and exclamation point in Spanish. They’re so wonderfully practical, letting you know ASAP that you’re heading into a question or an excited declaration. Sure, question words like “who” or “how” can clue you in, but they can be misleading, What was his name? and How are you? are obviously questions, but What a disaster! or How rude! aren’t. (Luckily, English-speakers get other clues to help.) But beyond their usefulness, I like their appearance: familiar, yet unexpected. If I read Spanish more often, I’d probably get used to them and not notice them any longer, but for now they’re rare enough to still be special.

As for English, the language I do use, I don’t have a favorite-like-a-favorite-color punctuation mark. But you’ll find some of them in my writing more than others. I lean towards too many parentheses. I’ve finally learned to let them pop up naturally as I write and then thin them out while editing, because else I tie myself in knots trying to work around them. I’m trying to use the em dash more as a substitute, but I don’t think I’m fooling anyone. Hey, they say it’s a good thing to find your writing voice, and I have. It happens to be a voice with a lot of parenthetical asides. I use quite a few ellipses as well. I was happy to discover that there’s an ellipses character. Perhaps you’re thinking, You find it difficult to type three periods in a row?. No, but when a computer considers the ellipses a single character, it doesn’t break it up at the end of a line. The single-character ellipses also saves me two characters in Twitter. See? Useful.

Other than that, my punctuation uses are pretty mainstream. Oxford comma? Yes. Semicolons? A tad formal for everyday writing, but I find uses for them. Just because something is a bit stiff doesn’t make it wrong. Apostrophes? Little land mines, each and every one of them, but worth the effort. Periods? A basic staple, and probably not appreciated nearly as much as they deserve. I mostly obsess over them when writing one-sentence photo captions. Use them? Don’t use them? Yes, I think about things like this.

Any place but here

Where do you produce your best writing — at your desk, on your phone, at a noisy café? Tell us how the environment affects your creativity.The Daily Post

I wouldn’t say the environment has that much to do with the quality of my writing. My eagerness to get out of my home to write has more to do with getting myself to write at all. Writing at home is an iffy proposition. I’d love to feel comfortable writing at my desk—the convenience! the immediacy! the savings on lattes!—but often I’m not. I blame this on grad school. I associate writing at my desk with every paper I had to write for my degree, most of them spewed out the night before the deadline, written in a mixture of near-panic and overwhelming sleepiness. Now, maybe the way to erase that association would be to write lots of fun things at my desk, but getting past that initial reluctance is a bit of a challenge.

(That said, I’m writing this post at home, because sometimes a writing expedition just isn’t feasible. But if you’re reading this, I want you to know the writing conditions were less than ideal. As we approach July 4, my neighbors have decided to start the fireworks early. Reassuring myself that they’re not about to set my building on fire is distracting me. Remember: always blame others for your writing difficulties!)

Cup of tea and writer's journal

photo credit: Raheel Shahid

My preferred writing environment is a café, though I prefer my cafés to be on the quiet side. Introvert though I am, I apparently do need some level of noise around me to write. So there I am, plunked down in a corner by myself, but surrounded by other people’s conversations while music that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself pours out of the speakers. These are apparently the conditions that the Muse enjoys, because at some point, suddenly a sentence drifts through my head, another one follows it, and I abruptly lose interest in all the distractions on my computer and start writing. I don’t know why this is, although my current hypothesis is that the environment is just unfamiliar enough (conversations between strangers, music that I didn’t choose, chairs and tables that aren’t quite the right height) that it knocks me out of the known and into creativity.

Or maybe my Muse simply loves chai lattes. 😀


Three songs

Write about the three most important songs in your life—what do they mean to you?

“More Than a Feeling” (Boston)

Maybe not quite the music of Generation X—it was a little early for that. And even after listening to it a million times, the lyrics mean nothing to me. Sitting here writing this, I don’t even remember them, although if I played it, I would be able to sing along nearly perfectly. It isn’t the lyrics I love, but the music. There’s the bit just before the chorus starts—I love it, I’ve always loved it, but how do I describe it in words? And it’s that bit that’s made it one of my favorite songs ever.

“Wouldn’t It Be Good?” (Nik Kershaw)

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song so full of self-pity, and when I was in high school, this was perfect for my bouts of “nobody understands me.” Thirty years later, I still use it for emotional comfort, although it’s a bit different now. The narrator is so over-the-top with feeling sorry for himself that no matter how low I feel when I start listening, by the end of the song I’m smiling, if not actually laughing.

St Paul’s Suite (Gustav Holst)

Once upon a time in the other life I had as a high school student—yeah, I seem to have found all my important music back in high school—I played the viola. In our orchestra, anyway, that meant performing St. Paul’s Suite at least twice that I remember. Oddly, I still like it as an adult, which is hardly true of any other music I played in high school. Well, except for Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Cello and bass players probably all hate that one, because of how boring it is for them, but if you play violin or viola, you get the melody. And violin players are probably used to getting the melody, but that’s kind of unusual for violas, so I relished it. In St. Paul’s Suite, there’s a viola solo, which absolutely terrified me, but I managed to like the piece anyway (except when we performed it in public). But at least I could find recordings of Pachelbel’s Canon. Holst is more famous for The Planets, and for years, that was all I could find. Maybe professional orchestras don’t want to bother with pieces suitable for high school students, but I really wanted to hear it performed by people who knew what they were doing. I did eventually track down a recording, and now you can find it just by typing the name into Google—oh, the miracles of the modern world.