Hell-bent, Bound and Determined

There are a few words in the English dictionary that I’m drawn to like gum to a shoe, or bugs to a windscreen, or women to Benedict Cumberbatch. Words that bring me joy, like Holiday, Free, and #BenedictCumberbatch. And there are words I crave that I want to see used to describe me, like Winsome, Adept, and ‘Admired by Benedict Cumberbatch.’

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There is one word that I can safely say I would pin upon myself like a nametag to a kindergartener:

PERSEVERANT.

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It has served me well for the time I’ve spent thus far in this world, although it is not an easy pageant sash to keep securely in place draped across from shoulder to hip, and the damn crown is forever attempting to slip off sideways if not topple from my head at every challenging bend in the road. Which is why you need an extra dose of perseverance to maintain a perseverant attitude. A bit of a Catch 22.

A couple of days ago, I returned from “Family Weekend” at my daughter’s university. I’d been invited to attend a lecture on campus the evening before the official weekend began, and thought it just might be possible to back up my eleven hour drive and make it there in time. Plus, the lecture was on a topic I knew nothing about, but was fascinated with. To top it all off, my daughter would be sitting a mid-term exam, so I’d be going it alone, and would hopefully be coming out of the experience with fresh, new and exciting science to dazzle her with.

Starting off a car journey at 3 am is somehow furtive and exhilarating—you’re leaving the house in the middle of the night, rolling down the long, dark driveway and hoping you’ve left all the other living, breathing creatures still tucked snugly in their beds.

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Somewhere about 6 am, furtive and exhilarating fly out the window as you’re imagining for the one hundredth time all the other living, breathing creatures at home still tucked snugly in the their beds.

By noon, the rain is no longer a gentle, soothing patter on my windshield, but a ragged dermabrasion effort by Mother Nature who apparently does not like the olive green paint on my car and is hoping something else lies beneath it.

I reach my hotel a few hours later and have just enough time to dash into the shower to untangle a few long-journey knots that have left my spinal cord resembling a larger version of my iPhone earbud’s cord.

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With my newest and now most coveted app—Google Maps—ready in my hand to direct me to the lecture hall—an easy 1.2 mile walk away—I head out of the hotel lobby and immediately note that it’s still raining. I sprint to my car and grab my umbrella. Off we go.

Google Maps tells me to turn right on Third Street. I love how the sweet little app also vibrates the smartphone in your hand to let you know that new directions have been given, so you don’t have to stare into your phone whilst walking.

Clever Google Maps.

I admire the neighborhood’s historic architecture, looking up at some of the snug brick homes and their heavy-lidded windows. My tiny umbrella is suddenly pulled from my hands—a gusty updraft—and I snatch at it just before it leaps into the air, but not without seeing it turn inside out.

An everted umbrella has got to be one of the most side-splitting images to come across as you’re walking down the street. Holding an everted umbrella is definitely one of the most humiliating ordeals. Seeing an individual, or being the individual who is in custody of an umbrella that repeatedly turns itself inside and out is to realize that your rain gear is possessed.

I search for a Catholic church along my route, hoping for a quick exorcism before I reach the lecture hall.

No such luck. I will have to purchase another ticket for the demonic banshee and hope he will be still during the power point presentation.

The rain pelts down, and cascades in cold rivulets along the undersides of the brolly. It flows down the spindly handle, over my hand and puddles at the tip of my elbow, soaking the arm of my raincoat, sweater and skin. It waterfalls onto my head and finds all available avenues to sneak beneath my collar. The wind batters at me from every direction, leading passersby to believe I am holding on to the legs of a massive black crow, flapping and thrashing, determined to take flight.

I am the antithesis of Mary Poppins.

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Google Map’s app vibrates, and threw squinting, rain pummeled eyes, I follow its directions to turn left. I walk and clutch at the edges of the umbrella waiting for the next buzz. Several blocks later, it comes, and directs me straight into the concrete barricades of impenetrable road works. There is no way around them. I must backtrack.

I am fully saturated at this point, with only my sense of humor remaining dry. I am positive the universe is sending me the message that I am not welcome here. Perhaps it knows something I do not? That the lecture will be disappointing? That the reception will be dull? That the entire auditorium has been swallowed up in a massive burp of earthly indigestion?

Perhaps it’s just that there’s a rerun of Sherlock playing on the television back in my hotel room, and wouldn’t I prefer sharp and caustic Sherlockology to abstruse and befuddling scholarship?

Well …

NO! I say to myself. I carry on. We carry on. Me, my bedeviled umbrella, and my Google Map app, which at this point is now shrugging rather than vibrating, communicating that despite all of the advancements in technology and space to earth communication, the elements have won, and I am on my own.

I shove my phone down my shirt and inside my bra, hoping this, at least, is not as underwater as the rest of me, and toss the bewitched brolly into the bushes. I stop a student, scurrying from class and look pleadingly into her eyes.

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“Where is the Koch Institute Auditorium?”

She casually points across the street.

Sure enough. There it is. Right behind the shuttle with the name of my hotel on it.

~Shelley

PS – Next week: I do actually get to the lecture!

PSS — This is the last week for ordering a Gotta Have a Gott calendar. The deadline is December 12 and Rob has TWO LEFT!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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How to Get Found by Losing Your Way.

Orientation is a concept I spent a lot of time thinking about this last weekend as I helped move my daughter into her new digs at university. From the moment I put the key into the ignition and the car into drive until I parked my automobile snugly into the garage returning home, I was in a constant state of getting my bearings.

As a writer, one is schooled to continually practice the art of noticing.

The teenager sitting beside me rarely noticed anything that wasn’t coming into view on the flat screen of her smart phone.

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There is a vast difference between us. We orient ourselves in completely different ways.

We both learn about the world using our eyes, but mine make grand sweeping gestures east to west and north to south, taking in trees and buildings, street signs and faces, while hers make a minuscule movement barely left and right of center—just enough to absorb the bazillion articles on Reddit that tell everyone reading what’s happening in the world today.

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But at least we know what’s unfolding around us.

We both use our ears to scope out sound. As we sit in a lecture hall, in front of a panel of teachers, advisors, administrators and staff, I soak up the voices and what they say: the chief of campus police—serious and dour, the dean of students—confident and erudite, the chair of the physics department—stumped by all the befuddled faces, the university healthcare representative—thoroughly weary from repeatedly answering the same question, just posed in a different accent.  The incoming freshman I’ve placed in the seat next to mine has used her ears as a holder for two pieces of electronics and plastic in order to block out the ambient voices and welcome in somebody else’s streaming from iTunes.

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I look at the distance we need to maneuver from one end of campus to the other and pull out a map; she hears the phrase lovely walk and clicks on an app to hail a cab.

We pass by groups of kids and I scan the clusters of faces from all ends of the earth and say, “It’s going to be wonderful getting to know so many new people from places you’ve never been.” She replies, “I already know most of them. We’ve all met on Facebook.”

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The list of activities–the get to know you parties–are poles apart from what would ease me into my new surroundings had I been the newcomer on campus.

Come build a rollercoaster!

Edible LEGO bricks. Let’s eat our architecture!

100 somewhat illegal uses for all your tech gadgets—shhh.

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Yeah, my university mixers were more of the sort that announced: We’re having a pizza party in the Student Union. Come meet your mascot.

I watched a kid zoom by on a ten speed bike powered by a chain saw. I heard music coming out of a speaker that looked like a small Oreo. I saw someone typing words onto a screen, which would have been fine apart from the fact that there was no keyboard beneath her fingers.

I was now completely disoriented.

By the end of the day I had amassed a file full of papers—everything from phone numbers to calendars, lecture notes to course requirements. I turned to my teen, “I’ve got spares for you too because I noticed you weren’t taking any.”

She waved her phone at me. “Got it all right here.”

Smart phone. A helluva lot smarter than me.

We bring the last of her gear up to her dorm room. “Do you want me to remind you how to do your laundry?”

“Nope. I’ll YouTube it.”

“Shall I walk you to the university’s clinic and campus police?”

“Already Google-Mapped it, Mother.”

“How bout I—”

Smart phone is waved in my face.

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It is clear I have been replaced by an app. By copper and wiring and eye tracking and satellites. This is her world not mine. It is fast, it is immediate, it is clever and it is made for a group of brains that do not see the world as I see it.

I collected my things and we walked to my car. I looked at my daughter and thought about our positions in the universe, how I would find my way back home, how I would go back to what was familiar and well-worn, and how I’d be recalibrating life and adjusting to the “new normal.”

So much of the weekend was, in truth, an orientation meant for me. I watched this young woman and all her peers around us utilize unfamiliar signs, and oftentimes unreadable directions, leading them confidently down their new path.

There really was nothing left to do apart from stand aside and lovingly snip the last threads of that invisible umbilical cord between us. I let her go … wireless.

~Shelley

August Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for August!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Unconventional conventions

Convention in session, Chicago  (LOC)

Convention in session, Chicago (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

I would assume that many of you have, at some point in your life, attended a conference. Most of us have visited more than one. Some of us have registered at several each year. And there’s a chunk of the population who make it a weekly habit to show up at the gathering of any crowd bringing in more than a dozen people—whether it’s the opening of a seminar, a movie, or even a paper bag. Something exciting must be happening, right? Except I’m not entirely sure how they make a living in order to financially skip around from place to place and meeting to meeting. I’m guessing it has something to do with the ability to subsist on free coffee from Starbucks, ample soap in the washrooms and the talent to sleep beneath one of the long, cloth-draped banquet tables in Ballroom C.

As a little kid, I was dragged to countless music conferences. These were meetings where, in place of your regular instructor telling you that you were holding the violin bow incorrectly, someone roughly the same size, but with a different hairstyle and an accent did it instead. We paid a lot of money to hear those assessments.

Bart Simpson oversized statue

Bart Simpson oversized statue (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Following that, there were a few times when I realized I had to make money to pay rent and would agree to work with a couple of friends at the convention centers. We never got the fun jobs of Hopsitality Hero Ambassadors, handing out bumper stickers, wrist bands and key chains—the stuff everybody truly wanted–but instead were pressed into service dressing up as mascots for whatever “themed” group booked the convention center for the weekend. Our jobs—mine in particular—usually involved wearing a multi-layered, polyester costume with a giant head that required several extra pairs of hands using excessive force to shove it through a doorway. Why folks from auto shows or handicraft fairs wanted to have their photos taken with Simpson characters was a total mystery to me. Nickelodeon was like fairy dust. Everyone wanted a handful.

Hannibal1 (800x672)For a while, I’d occasionally tag along with my husband to medical conventions, but those symposiums were dry and serious. None of the booths offered any interesting toys. Pharmaceutical companies refused to hand out samples. Medical device companies had big slogans that involved words like insert, slice, and strip away.Hannibal2 (800x738) And all the lectures showed slides of pink organs, green organs or spurting wounds. I usually fought the urge to raise my hand and ask the presenter to repeat the last fifteen minutes because he lost me somewhere around the phrase uncontrolled colonic cell growth.

Still with me? *snap*snap* Yeah, let’s move on.

Having  just attended a multi-day book festival in my town for the umpteenth year in a row, there is one thing I’ve come to realize that holds true as a sort of “golden rule:”

As diverse as the vast population is in the “outside” world, there is a fistful of personalities that exists only within a convention center.

1. The person who stakes out a seat—front and center—and shows up to do so 45 minutes before a speaker’s presentation. Apparently, they believe the lecture might involve magic—some sort of sleight of hand rather than the usual umm … I don’t know … lecturing.First (800x678)

2. The person in the back of the room who, without fail, and within the first ten seconds of a session, will stand up and shout, “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” I bet there’s an audio/visual guy who’s sitting three chairs down from that fellow who’d love to clock him one and scream back, “GIVE ME A FRICKIN’ CHANCE, DUDE!”

3. The person presenting who has never seen a microphone, never talked to a crowd and believes she’s just sitting up on a platform, sharing a glass of cold water with a few colleagues entirely bemused as to why there’s a guy in the back of the room who keeps shouting at her.

4. The person who, when Q & A time comes, and after being politely asked not to by the moderator, stands and asks a three point question with follow-ups. Who are you? Helen Thomas? Did I walk into a presidential press conference?

5. The person who, after receiving the nod from the moderator to ask a question, flips to the front of their notepad and begins to strip away all credibility of our panelists by throwing in head-spinning phrases like statistics illustrate that, and in consonance with Google analytics, and according to four out of five dentists surveyed. I think you get my point. No one likes you. Please sit down. You’re way too important to be here anyway.Statistics (643x800)

And finally:

6. The person who is obviously following you around. And sitting next to you. And wants to share. And do lunch. And decided to come to the conference because she simply had to “get out of the house.” Huh? Coming to a lecture about writing for technology and publishing digitally was really a better option for you than laundry? I would have chosen laundry. It’s a good thing she was there, though, because she let me copy all her notes after I fell asleep on her shoulder ten minutes into the talk.

Yes, there’s a lot out there in the world to discover. And going to a convention is a great way to get out of your office chair and learn something that hasn’t been turned into a TED Talk yet. Plus, it’s probably a heck of a lot better for your social life than simply conversing with like-minded folks on Twitter.

Let’s not forget the biggest perk. There’s a good chance you may get a photo op with Bart Simpson.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.