2013 Convention Schedule

First off, if you see this twice in your feeds, I’m sorry. Because it’s relevant in several places, I’m cross posting it to both my author blog and my personal one, but a day apart.

That said, to no one’s surprise, I’m raising a group of geek kids. My wife is the token non-geek, she thinks, but has either developed geeky attributes as she’s adapted to the rest of us, or she’s just letting her inner geek out to play a little more. Either way, we’re a geek family.

And we like cons. Each of us for different reasons, probably, but a lot of those cross over. Cons are fun.

I’ll be attending four conventions this year, with the possibility of yet to be scheduled day trips to a couple more depending on days off and budget at the time. This is on par with last year for me, but with some differences as one of those was World Fantasy which I went to on my own and two were day trips.

But for 2013, we’re looking at this as a minimum:

We (myself and my oldest daughter) will be at Ad Astra April 5-7. This is mostly a lit con with some other stuff thrown in. I’m looking forward to renewing a few real world friendships, conducting some interviews, going to some cool panels, and having a great time with my daughter. Tickets purchased months ago, hotel booked.

On May 24, by request as a birthday present, I’ll be taking the same daughter to Anime North. She’s in love with anime and cosplay and it seems like a natural fit. Again just the two of us. Further, I have agreed to cosplay for the event. We will both be attending as characters from Soul Eater. In her case, the heroine Maka, and in my case Professor Stein. Tickets purchased.

August 22-25, the annual family pilgrimage to the geek mecca known as FanExpo (also, I believe the third biggest con in the world after San Diego and New York comic cons). Four days of everything geek, and I do mean everything. Whatever it is, you can probably find it at FanExpo. Tickets not on sale yet, but vacation time booked.

Finally, there’s a small con starting just down the road from us, Quinte Mini Con in Belleville on November 9 & 10. Shortest drive to a con ever for us. Both daughters are in, son debating, wonderful wife to attend if she’s not working. Tickets not on sale yet, but they’re supposed to be, so probably any second, we hope.

It’s always the Year of the Geek, but it almost seems like 2013 is also the Year of the Con.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Be well, everyone.

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The Annual Family Portrait

Sometime before we had children, although after we started thinking about it, I conceived of the idea of the annual family portrait. Not an original idea, but something that hadn’t been part of my childhood or my wife’s. Probably part of the reason I thought it would be neat.

I pictured a book somewhere with each unfolded page dedicated to the portrait of that year and flipping through that book in my old age to watch the growth of my family. The first came in 1999, a few weeks before my son’s first birthday.

And we kept the tradition going. When my oldest daughter arrived, she was automatically scheduled for the next picture.

Our youngest had to wait a little longer, though, being born early in the year.

When the kids were all smaller, it was sometimes a stressful afternoon. Try getting three little kids to sit still for the same few seconds is not exactly the easiest thing to do, and I remember one or two of the sessions taking forty minutes and a couple of dozen poses to get one good one. The year my youngest was almost four, we got a pretty good pose on the first try and took it just to avoid any of the sitting still issues we knew were coming. They’re a lot better the last couple of years, and it shows in the lack of stress and exhaustion around my wife’s eyes.

From 1999-2011 is thirteen annual portraits, but that book doesn’t exist yet. However, there are five framed photos on the outside wall of the stairs that lead from the first floor to the second and they contain the most recent five pictures, newest at the bottom. I used to joke that you could watch the growth of the kids and the recession of my hairline as you walked down the stairs. That’s still half true. We’re more than five years past the point I started pulling out the clippers every 2-3 weeks. And, since it’s going to be up year round somewhere, we’ve long since gotten over the Christmas background.

But it’s a great tradition, and we’re getting this year’s done today. I expect it to be quick, easy, and stress free. I also expect it to be even better than last year’s photo, and that it will make me sad as it once again rubs my nose in just how big my children are getting.

I’m also trying to convince my parents and sister to do a big one this year. The jury’s still out, but I’m hopeful.

As a side note, maybe someday I’ll get better with a scanner.

4 Levels of Failure

My son and I went to Comic Con Montreal in September. We hit some panels, crisscrossed the convention floor several times, saw William Shatner speak and then at the end of the day went to the William Shatner/Patrick Stewart “Reunion of the Generations”. It was a great father-son experience and the only thing at or around the Con we didn’t do together was early in the day when he went to a Mass Effect 3 panel while I went to see Wil Wheaton speak.

It was a really fun day, marred only by a single, short experience.

This picture has four levels of failure in it and two of them are mine. Combining those four levels together has more or less soured me on the whole Photo Op experience which, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t all that keen on to begin with. I’d rather go and listen to someone speak for an hour, even if it’s at the back of the room, than stand in line for the same hour to get my photograph taken with them. Aside from being far cheaper financially, the time investment feels better spent to me. I really enjoy the presentations and Q&A sessions I go to, though I’ll admit that’s probably a lot because I pick the ones I known I’m going to enjoy.

When I really want that personal touch, I go and get an autograph, something I only recently started to consider as part of my fan experience. The minute or so of small talk while you’re picking your photo and it’s being signed is generally enough to give me that inner thrill. Deliver a quick thank you for the work you’ve enjoyed by that person and another for taking the time to sign for you, and sometimes you come away with a quick fist bump or even a handshake. My autograph experiences have been uniformly positive so far. I won’t go when the line is huge as there’s always too much else to see at the Con, but if you’re paying attention, you can often time things really well except for the super big names.

But, as I was saying, four levels of failure.

1. The Convention

Enamored by the vast, insufficiently tapped geek wallet, some power behind the Con decided that it would shove as many people through the photo ops as possible, which makes the experience measurable by a tiny march of seconds. I know this makes a certain kind of financial sense—more photos = more $$ —but it’s also not treating your customer base with respect. More irritated people is going to equal fewer $$ next year for similar events. Sacrificing the long term for the short is never a good business strategy, but it seems to be the way things work lately. Comic Con fail.

2. The Photographer

Either because s/he had no option due to the over-scheduling or because s/he was just too lazy, the Photographer didn’t have enough pride in his/her work to take the extra second or two with each person that would make a good picture. The words “squeeze in” followed by a shuffle to the right by my son was all that was needed. Photographer fail.

3. I’m too Canadian

I could have complained. I should have complained. Yes, I’m far too polite. Yes, it’s a culture stereotype in the Great White North, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes you need to complain, even if you know it won’t do any good, and I know it wouldn’t have in this case. How do I know? I saw some of the other photos people were picking up. Ours may not be that great, but there were a lot worse on the table and you can be damned sure the Con wasn’t letting people circle back through for another try. The process isn’t set up to allow it. Personal (cultural?) fail.

4. My inner fanboy is a brainless idiot

How much presence of mind would it have taken to grab my son by the shoulder and pull him closer in? Not much, but I wasn’t just getting my picture taken, I was standing a handful of centimeters from Captain Kirk and Captain Picard. Close enough to be able to put a hand on each shoulder. Oh yes, my inner fan boy was running the show and he has no idea what’s going on in the rest of the world. I’d thought myself evolved enough in parenting that this couldn’t happen. I always pay attention to my kids when there’s anything going on. My purpose is always to ensure that they’re having the best time. Always. Only apparently not always. For just long enough to screw up the photo, I let my proximity to a pair of cultural icons suck all of the brains out of my head. This will not happen again, no matter what the experience is. But it happened this time. Parenting fail.

Rectifying any one of these failures would have resulted in a better photo, a real memento to help crystallize the memory of an awesome moment. As it is, I do have the memory of standing with my son next to a pair of bright, shining beacons of Star Trek, the conversation and time we spent in line and moving through the cattle stalls to get there and the excitement of the picture being taken. But I also have the memory of the disappointment in the photographic evidence.

The disappointment is secondary. We were there and we shared the moment, if not as well as I’d like. Given another opportunity, will I shell out for a better photo? Not for myself, but if he wants it, I’ll stand in line far longer and be far more alert while doing it.

For reference, if the picture taken a ¼ second sooner, my son swears he had a giant smile on his face, and I believe that because he was pretty excited, but he was still half hidden behind Sir Patrick.

Also for reference, the picture my girls had done with Rose McGowan at FanExpo in August turned out spectacularly well.

The Girls With Rose McGowan

Each experience on its own terms. Learn and grow and adapt.

Be well, everyone.

The Five Stages of Packing for Camping

Stage 1: The List

Teh List, you needs it. Packing for a camping trip actually requires more than you’ll really want to think about.  My list has 3 components: Food, Clothes, and Stuff.

Food involves a little menu planning so you know how much cooler space you’re going to need and don’t forget that one of your kids doesn’t eat anything that the rest of the family likes.  It would be nice if this turned out to be all stuff you already have, but it won’t work out that way.  Refrigeration technology is so convenient, but at a premium when you’re in the woods.

Clothes involves a list that is mostly the same for each person.  Adults tend to need fewer changes than kids, but we also like to be cleaner so that can adjust things, too.  Things mostly balance.

Stuff contains five sub-lists: Cooking (which also holds the list of things needed to clean up from cooking), Shelter (tents, sleeping bags, and so on), Personal Care (soap, toothpaste, etc), Beach (you can skip this if there’s no beach where you’re going), and Activities (bikes, games and cards if it rains, etc).

Taking enough stuff?

 

Stage 2: Staging

This is the part of the process where your living room becomes a dumping ground for all of the stuff on the List.  Label the piles to more easily get the kids involved in gathering stuff up.  This is also the time when you find out all of the things you don’t have or that don’t work.  Time for a new air mattress, probably.

 

Stage 3: The Supply Run

Armed with the List, items you need to get highlighted to make the trip easier, go to the grocery store, the sports equipment store, and probably a Wal-Mart or Zellers to get everything you don’t have or need to replace.  Allow a few hours for this step.  The day before you’re leaving may or may not be the best time, but it’s usually when I do it.

 

Stage 4: Staging, Round 2

Back to the living room to put all of the stuff you just bought into the appropriate piles.  It seems like this stage should go quickly, but it doesn’t.  Inevitably, you find something you missed, or can’t find something you know you bought, and the kids aren’t going to be a lot of help.  They’re more interested in squeezing in just a little more video game time before they have to live without power and internet for a few days.

 

Stage 5: Loading the Vehicle

Efficient packing?  At first, maybe.  Very quickly, it becomes about just getting everything into the van so you can get moving already.  There’s whining and complaining that it’s early in the morning (even when it isn’t) and how long is it going to take us to get there and just go back in the house and wait until I call you, okay?  This can be minimized a bit by starting the night before if you’re well prepared.  Once you’ve got everything stuffed in so you can’t see out the rear view mirror, you can mount the bike rack (or whatever) on the back, tie everything down that wouldn’t fit inside, and stuff the children into what’s left of the back seat.

There, ready for a fun-filled camping trip?

 

Stage 6: One Last Stop

Did I say five stages?  Stage 6 is the stop on the way out of town for that extra bottle of sunscreen/bug spray/alcohol that you’re absolutely not going to get through the trip without.  And maybe some earplugs or headphones.

Happy camping!

Figuring Out Priorities

I first drafted this post two weeks ago after a hectic couple of weeks where I hadn’t gotten much done.  That’s continued, but since the head cold, it’s mostly been fun stuff with the family and work.  There was a weird schedule for the last week of June and first two of July, a grade 8 graduation (which made me feel proud and old at the same time), a christening, the mentioned head cold, and a handful of other things.  Haven’t had a lot of extra time and energy lately.  I’d planned for this to have audio to go with it, but haven’t managed to record (although I’ve learned a bit more about recording and my next audio blog should sound better when it happens).

All of the stuff I’ve had going on lately, added in my head to the events of the past couple of years, has had me thinking about priorities again.  For some of my commute (aka: quiet time), I’ve been trying to think about how I spend my waking time, things I do every day or only when necessary, things I seek out and things I avoid.  While life is less finite than it used to be, there’s no way to know how long your own personal stretch in the world is going to be.  There may always be fewer days ahead than there are behind.

So on some level, it’s important to prioritize the time you have, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

In uncontested first place: family. This seems obvious, but it’s something that you need to remind yourself of frequently.  Just about every little shiny thing that comes along has the ability to take time from your family.  Yes, there are things that need to be done, but only seen in the light of contributing to the well being of your family or one of its members.  (Example, the, um, spirited discussion I had with my oldest about going to the beach a week or so ago.  Not fun, but needed to happen.  He needed some daylight.)

Second comes career.  Not in and of itself, but as a consequence of Priority #1.  While arguments about being happy in your job or productive in society certainly apply, the main reason this comes second is that it provides for my family. I actually like my job most of the time, but I don’t like how much it takes me away from home.  The equation is pretty simple, though: no paycheque = no food, power, internet, etc.

There’s a huge gap between second and the two items sharing third: Writing and Karate.

Writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but I only really started to take it seriously a few years ago.  I realized a while back that I was getting a bit obsessive about it.  In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing; I think if you want to get good at something, you probably need to be a bit obsessive, but if you get to the point where you’re stealing time from more important things, it’s probably time to reign it in a bit.  I’ve managed to massage my writing schedule to the point I’m mostly writing every day (motivation has been hard the last couple of weeks) but I get very little done on days off.  The second part of that seems counterintuitive until you remember point number one.

Karate. I took up martial arts about two years ago with my son as a shared activity.  He’s taking an extended break from it, but in the meantime my wife and oldest daughter started coming too.  I don’t go by myself very often, but I spend a little time training every day.  Karate satisfies several deep needs in my psyche.

Why are these two things tied?  Well, I spend time on each every day and roughly equally.  I’ve discovered that I’m happy when I’m learning something new or when I’m creating something new, but I’m happiest when some part of my time is spent doing both.  The learning thing is also partly why I’m taking audio Japanese lessons in the car several days each week.

Which brings us to the item in fifth place: dreams.  Dreams are important.  You need things to strive for.  It’s part of what makes the difference between existing and living.  The dream in question here is studying Karate in Japan for a year.  A big dream when you’re taking four people along for the experience.  I’ve got lots of little dreams, too, and a pretty extensive bucket list.  More on those another time.

Priorities.  The final decision is that everything in my life needs to apply to one of those five things, and it’s nice when something can serve multiple causes.

And, if the universe will humour me for a moment, as much of it as possible should be fun.

Be well.