18 November 2007

[liff] OryCon 29-The Aftermath

1129. Sunday evening. OryCon 29 has begun to recede into recent history. Now comes the post-con letdown, sort of a post-coventiionum-partum semi-depression–yes, OryCons are usually that good that we regret them ending, and we watch them go with some sadness.

Some cons are cons for the ages. The OryCon edition was one. It wasn't so much because of who I met but what they gave me. The people I met up with (some I'd never met, some I'd known for years) challenged me to go beyond what I'd previously thought of as normal and common for myself.

You see, as someone who fancies themselves an artist (though unpracticed and with no success to speak of), I also fancy myself as someone who has some adeptitude at seeing things through other eyes when the occaision demands. i found out, this weekend, that I have overrated that ability of mine rather wildly–but I'm getting better, I hope.

The panels I attended on Saturday amounted to feeding my need to understand why I'm so frequently uninspired. There was a time, a long time ago, when I had to have a sketch book at hand because I was going to try to draw something (regardless of whether or not I knew I could do it) or write something (at least I'm still writing, but somehow it's different).

At 11:00 Saturday, I was at a panel of five artists (Jeff Fennel, Molly Morrison, Mark Roland, Jeff Sturgeon, and John R Gray III) who were discussing the very subject of insipiration–what keeps them inspired and creating. Each had different inspiration sources, most shared music and nature (one or two of them made the point that the music they used governed the mood of the piece they were producing) and subjects in nature were a grerat source. More than one mentioned being inspired by industrial images, which makes a lot of sense and strikes a chord–living in a large city as I have for many years, I tend to see landscapes in terms of industrial objects sometimes, and there is a sort of austere beauty in industrial areas with thier simultaneous presences of vigor and decay.

I attended a talk on writing instruments. Though I missed the very beginning, I did get a chance to write with actual bird quills (here's a clue–you will realize, if you get to do this, how hard you actually press to make a mark with modern writing pens). And have you ever written with a glass pen? It's quite an experience. A glass pen works more or less the same as any dip pen, the ink being held in the flutes of the nib. We even have an Oregon-based source for them, Ernst Glass Pens; they are beautiful works of art. We spoke of Fred Eager and Lloyd Reynolds and why Palmer method sucks; how said it was that Rapidoliners are receding into the sunset.

There was also a panel on graphic novels and a panel on missed predicitions in SF (we fear that the question of "where's my jet-pack and flying car?" will be evergreen) that both me and The Wife™ enjoyed immensely.

I also attended an panel on volunteering. I have all this desire to do print design and nobody wants to partake as of yet; I'd be thrilled to work on publications. I was hoping they'd give me a chance at the pocket program, but maybe the souvenir program may be in my future. Which ever, just as long as I get the chance at them.

Another must-see stop is the Dealer's Room. This, a perennial Con fixture, is the beating heart of merch, the downtown mall in the Con community; a ready way to part you with your money. And boy, does it ever work. The Wife™ got dice and Celtic Folk music, I got three damn fine and fun shirts. There's books, electonic toys, objects d'arte, SF geek collectables, swords (real blades, people), funky clothing...

There's also the art show, where you can tour and view and look at stuff up close and personal. I love doing that. I remember visiting the Portland Art Museum, which was a peak event; regrettably, I didn't dare get my eyes right down on the works, because I am as interested technically in artwork as I am subjectively. But you can do it here, and the amount of media involved is nothing short of staggering.

The grand prize went to a chess set cleverly including peaks of the Cascades and geography on the dry side of Oregon and Washington, titled Dragons of the World Do Battle on the East Side. Well deserved.

Two people became unintended teachers to me. One I had known, and one we just met.

The name Alexander James Adams will probably not be familiar to readers of this missive. More likely one will recognize the name Heather Alexander. She entertained and endeared herself to audiences here in the Pacific Northwest for a very long time; as a Celtic-styled folk singer her powerful personality and energetic act have wooed people who never would have dreamt they'd ever invest in folk music for thier collections into buying her material. If you've been anywhere near the SCA locally in the last several years, you've heard the rousing "March of Cambreadth"; S.M. Stirling created one of the protagonists of the Emberverse cycle, Juniper Mackenzie, in her image.

At this time last year, it was announced that Heather was retiring from the stage in favor of someone who was at first identified simply as "the Heir". As time developed, it was revealed, bit by bit, that a male persona was to carry forward the heritage of Heather's word. Over the past year, Alec revealed himself and began to perform to an enthusiastically receptive fan base, and by this time, when Alec "came home" (we OryConians have always been a bit posessive of this artist, warranted or not) to OryCon the reception was heartwarming and profoundly moving.

Alec has grown into his new role has heir to the Heatherlands with courageous aplomb. At first, I was unsure–hearing his new voice on one of his new albums (and he has been very busy) was kind of strange. After seeing him in performance, however, and being able to talk him at some length I was completely won over; whatever doubts I had evaporated like the foolishness they were.

My reticence was completely of me, and more than a little unsettling. I have known some amazing people in my so-far-short lifetime, and have fancied myself quite humble in accepting that people don't fit into little boxes or indetifiable niches. Alec taught me differently; after a good long time of watching Heather perform I thought I knew her and I liked her the way she was. I didn't want change, maybe.

My first reaction to Heather's retirement and Alec's was actually one of dismay, I am sincerely abashed to say. So, going into the Sunday morning prerformance which was a mainstay of Heather's OryCon sojourns (and it is to be hoped Alec's) I was apprehensive. I left my pitiful misconceptions and attitudes at the door and settled in to watch Alec perform. He played his set and it was skillful as it always was as Heather, but there was a certain ineffable something, a certain emotional honesty that came from Alec's performance that took the superior performances that Heather put on and broke it through to the next level.

The last bit got the audience in on a singalong–it was a certain beloved tune–and Alec asked the room lights to be brought up. Between the beginning of the set and the end, more people had come in, and the room had filled in the darkness. The feeling of warmth and affection were palpable, and many of the audience were nearly overcome. I think Alec was overcome.

Later on, in the Dealers' Room, me and The Wife™ were able to chat with him at length, as I mentioned. Alec was amazingly generous with his time and his story, and it was only after our chat (and these illustrative photos) did I realize that I was in the presence of a teacher, and I was a student.

The Wife and Alexander James Adams. More emotional intelligence than you can shake a stick at.

What was I learning? At this point, it's hard to put into simple words or a concise homily (which is frustrating, in as much as I've gone on at unbelievable length as it is). But I experienced a variety of epiphanies, including (but not limited to) the distinction between what our outside is and what our inside is; the connection a beloved performer has with thier fan; how we all can connect on a personal level; the generosity of one with a compelling story to tell, that you didn't think you had a right to hear but later realized that it was all a lesson that schooled you toward futher necessary growth...

When the student is ready the master will appear ... or something like that.

No, there's no neat and tidy end to this line of thought. Suffice it to say that, after this, I found the first open terminal in the Intermets Café section of OryCon hospitality and looked up the word atman. Am I at the end of this line of reasoning? Not by a long shot.

You see? Hard to say. Not impossible, but very hard. Finding out Alec's story helped me understand the situation and sort my feelings out about it, though; and if you want to know why Heather/Alec's fans stick, know that this atman obviously sees the fan-performer transaction as more than merely payment for a disc (though we highly recommend paying Alec for his music, so he produces more).

The other person who taught me to see with different eyes actually didn't have eyes. Seriously. Her name is Cherée, and due to a surgical accident very early in life, she literally lost both her eyes–her two eyes are prosthetics. it actually wasn't obvious, which is another amazing thing.

We first espied her in the Subway at 1st and SW Jefferson when The Wife™and myself soujourned for dinner on Saturday. She didn't stand out right away, but eventually I did notice the most gorgeious service dog I've seen in some time patiently awaiting his mistress's command under the table. I needed to use the washroom before we left and I pointed out to Wife that there was a beautiful service animal that she ought to check out. By the time I was back, she was already chatting with Cherée. That's the way The Wife™ just is–she could chat with the Devil without promising her soul. She has a black belt in chat.

As it developed, this was Cherée's first convention–and we met her later on on Sunday. She was carrying, in a box in a bag (OryCon has a strict no-weapons policy) a sword. Now, I have my perceptions of how blind people perceive the world based on a hodge-podge of media stereotypes, talking with blind people I've known, with a sprinking of hard information on. But I was completely schooled by this forthright woman when I realized that she was describing the sword in words that a sighted person would use.

That might seem a little bit of a trite thing to say, but I'm used to thinking that a blind person would naturally describe things by how they felt, rather much like the way the mythical blind men assayed the elephant in the old fable. She didn't appeal to any sense of touch, though. She simply talked about how this thing looked to her, and that it had such an amazing shape that it was something that she simply had to bust the budget to get. She had a visual sense despite lacking a physical sense of vision.

She also gave me the compelling insight that seeing is more than just looking at something. Somehow we had gone to the "what if" she had somehow been given sight (here comes some heavy paraphasing). In her case, having sight would, at least at first, be an enourmous burden to her. Since being blind from a very early age, the world of vision woud essentially be an all-out assault on the senses. What you and I that can see have and she does not, is a lifetime of programming on what is important to pay attention to and what is not. In her view, an inconsequential thing–say, a falling leaf–would have the same importance as a hurtling car.

Her insights turn the idea of visual information on its head for me. By sharing with me the way she approached tactile information, she's shown me that computing visual information can require a sense of grammar that I once thought only applied to language.

I just scanned over this missive. It's rambling, and about the longest entry I've written so far in this blog, and it's funny–OryCon is a science fiction convention. But the best SF has always been about not so much technology and cool spaceships (don't get me wrong here, you still gots to have the cool spaceships) but the human in us all. I got a unique and unexpected dose of the idea of human–our place in a world of information, what we are, what we think we are–and this, all this awkward self-satisfied prose, is maybe the biggest human lesson I've been taught (I don't know if the lesson has been learned yet–I'm still playing with it like a big toy) in ... well, as long as I can remember.

i fancied myself a student of human nature. I got a glimpse of what that really, really means. It makes me feel alive.

Has something challenged your perceptions and assumptions lately, even if you think you're enlightened? Has something rattled you on a base that you thought you were solid on, that you had cold?

I suggest you find some way to let that happen to you.

It might change your life just a little, inspire you a lot, and shake you up in a very necessary human way.

Oh, and keep up with Alec, will you all: his website is going to be at http://www.faerietaleminstrel.com/. It's not up yet, but it will be.

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