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Rated: 18+ · Non-fiction · Writing.Com · #1139560
My experience at the 2006 Writing.Com Convention in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

Lee Ann Womack, from “I hope you dance”

I went to bed at 10:30 on July 19, 2006, prepared to wake up at 3:30 the next morning to catch a 6:00 flight from Minneapolis to Detroit. Once there, I would take a connecting flight to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, site of the 2006 Writing.Com Convention. I didn’t actually fall asleep until at least 11:30, though, since my mind was filled with a mixture of nervous and excited thoughts about what would transpire over the course of the next four days.

For a long time, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go. I was one of the last people to sign up; only kireimusume and Jaren is Avarielle joined the convention cabal later. I’d heard nothing but good things about other conventions from previous attendees—including my girlfriend, Elisa/Stik: Mask Up! , who attended in 2005—but even that didn’t convince me I’d enjoy myself. You see, I don’t consider myself a writer in the same sense that so many on this site do and figured I wouldn’t fit in. If I fancied myself a writer, I’d be in a nearly perpetual state of writer’s block since inspiration visits me less than once in a blue moon. (What’s a muse? Does it play music?) Not only did I figure I’d be an utter catastrophe in the Creative Sessions, but also on the itinerary was the Creative Auction, where I had to bring “at least one handmade item that is a reflection of a hobby or talent.” Uh…what talent? Writing is my only creative outlet, and there’s usually not a plug in the socket. After sharing my concerns with The StoryMaster , however, he told me not to sweat the Creative Sessions and that the auction item didn’t actually need to be handmade by me; it could be bought. After taking this and other factors into consideration, including the claim that this would be the last Writing.Com Convention ever, I said, “Count me in.”

Up to this point, the only individual I’d met in person after meeting on the site was Elisa/Stik: Mask Up! . Wenston , who lives in Michigan and was on the same flight from Detroit to Bethlehem as I, was about to be the second. We didn’t plan this, merely happening to realize it in the course of conversation before the convention. I was at the gate first, and when she walked up, I didn’t immediately know it was she. However, she had no trouble locating me since I told her about the bright blue outfit I would wear that makes me very easy to find in a crowded place. We talked a little before boarding but didn’t actually sit together on the plane. I didn’t see much of a need to switch seats since I’d have four days to talk to her and the rest of my Writing.Comrades, and this allowed me to hold a conversation with the gal next to me on the plane for nearly the whole duration of the flight.

Wenston and I landed in Bethlehem and called the shuttle to the Best Western. We tried to check in, but the rooms weren’t ready, so we headed down to the convention registration room, where I was instantly recognized. I received a folder featuring my yearbook and some other papers and then got a bag of Writing.Com goodies and another bag with “munchies.” Elisa/Stik: Mask Up! didn’t attend this year but wanted to send some items for the Creative Auction, so I turned in her photographs, “Mystic Spiral” and “Plastic Whores,” along with my own item, “Fowl Play.” As a Minnesotan, I decided to bring some items featuring my state bird, the loon: a pen, and journal, a shot glass, and a figurine. I originally planned to call it “Gone Loony,” but when I found a duck-shaped basket to hold everything, I adjusted the name accordingly.

Registration ended at 4:00, but I got there a few hours earlier, so I had plenty of time to spare. I sat at a table in the lounge, occasionally talking but mostly listening. It was so surreal—yeah, that’s the most appropriate word—to be in this room with people I had known online for years yet had never seen in the flesh. We talked about all sorts of random things, like Head On, that product whose annoying commercial repeats its message three times as though we’re idiots, hard of hearing, or both. A major topic of conversation concerning me was the pronunciation of my username, and I later found out some characters in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest had the same discussion. It may be pronounced CRACK-en or CRAY-ken, and I sometimes treat it as such in the myriad handles I’ve used on the site. However, my default handle is Davy Kraken—my real name is David and it’s a play on Davy Crockett—so I usually use the original pronunciation, from Norwegian mythology, which is CRAW-ken.

Over the course of the next few hours, I tried to check in twice more without luck, but the third time was the charm. I went up to the room, which I would be sharing with auric and The Milkman , the only five-time convention attendees other than catwoman , who is The StoryMistress ’s mother. As I stood in front of my door, retrieving my keycard, I saw The Milkman walking through the hall toward me. At least, I assumed it was he, since it’s not every day that you see a large man carrying a plush cow, which was Bovine Bessie , Writing.Com’s unofficial mascot. Sure enough, I was correct about his identity, and we both walked into the room to drop off our luggage. I also noticed auric’s stuff in there, so he must have walked down to the lounge as I was taking a different route to the room. I looked in my goody bag and found three books that were part of the convention “Book Swap.” The idea was that if we didn’t like the books we got, we could trade them with someone else. I also saw a notice that The StoryMaster and The StoryMistress would hide bonus books throughout the hotel, and whoever found the most bonus books would win a prize.

I returned to the lounge and spent time there until the luau-themed welcome dinner at 6:00, the first scheduled event of the convention. In the corner of the room nearest to me, the deejays set up for the dancing later that night, and I saw one of the bonus books I’d read about, so I snatched it up. I also saw one next to the stage at the front of the room, as well as under my table, so I had already found three. Soon, we ate and our table asked each other some of the ice breaker questions we found in the back of our yearbook. This was followed by a round of mixers, in which our table would receive points for coming up with, or being the first to come up with, a person or group of people who fit certain criteria; for example, finding people at our table whose total shoe size added up to 39. Four tables—all but one—ended up tying for the win. Next came the chaotic and convoluted live campfires, full of alien cows and robots. Don’t ask, because I don’t know what the hell was going on either. The biggest laugh probably came when Jay (away for a while) described the worst, most evil web site ever, and Robert Waltz answered MySpace.Com. With all the talk I’ve heard of Poetry.Com on this site, it was all that came to my mind, so his choice caught me off guard and made the response that much funnier.

After this came the music and…dancing? No one seemed to jump at the chance to dance, least of all me, so someone broke out the limbo stick. (If only Elisa/Stik: Mask Up! had been able to come this year, she could have been a Limbo Stik.) As one who is always game for a game, I got out of my chair and joined in the competition. It had been years since I’d done the limbo, and I was never particularly good at it, so when I, a 6’0” guy, found myself as one of the final three contestants along with The StoryMistress and Melissa is fashionably late! , two women at least half a foot shorter, I was surprised, to say the least. Everybody cheered when I bent my way under each time. The other two didn’t succeed at the lowest height, and neither did I, but because of my height disadvantage, some declared me the unofficial winner.

Some people did end up dancing, including auric, who did the robot. I had an urge to get out there myself but never quite mustered the courage before the luau ended and much of the group migrated to the lounge. I stayed there for about an hour and a half before heading back to my room and retiring for the night.

After breakfast the next morning came the Creative Sessions. I sat down at my assigned table, and The StoryMaster explained the process. Diane had helped to create three scenarios, and for each scenario, we randomly chose a number from a can and ended up writing the scenario in first person from the chosen character’s point of view. The first scenario was “The Bank Robbery,” in which I got to play Betty Taylor, the cashier being robbed. As expected, I didn’t write very much, but at least I got something down, and John~Ashen gave me pointers about my introduction.

In the second scenario, “Labor in the Store,” I got to play—you guessed it—the woman in labor, Stephanie Parker. Being a male who has never even had second-hand experience with childbirth, this was quite a challenge. However, The Milkman told me I did a good job, and I even heard people snickering as they read my character’s point of view. This was probably my favorite scenario of the three. The only problem was that I forgot I had my daughter with me in the store. What a negligent mother I am. And now I’m about to have another child? I need to learn to keep my legs closed.

For the third scenario, “The Car Accident,” I played Trudy Williams, an elderly woman riding with her husband in a car that crashed into the side of a mountain after swerving to avoid a deer. I couldn’t think of much to write for this one—I know Jedi Moose hears me on that, since he wrote even less than I did—but loved John~Ashen ’s role as a firefighter who was more interested in taking the deer home for supper than helping the accident victims, and Jaren is Avarielle as the deer that wrote a letter to its forest friends.

Interestingly, I wrote from a woman’s perspective in all three scenarios. What made this amazing, however, is that the share of characters who were women in each scenario was 40%, 40%, and 10%, respectively. For the less mathematically inclined, I’ll tell you that the chance of a person writing all three scenarios from a woman’s perspective was a mere 1.6%! And with only seven male conventioneers, less than one fourth of the total, the chance of a male writing from a woman’s perspective each time would be under 0.4%.

I made it through the Creative Sessions in one piece and even had a little fun along the way, and now I was free until dinner. Considering the nice, warm weather, I thought I’d take a dip in the pool, so I got my swimming trunks and headed there. Literally seconds after I entered the water came the most distant rumble of thunder imaginable, and it was probably just heat thunder. Nevertheless, this prompted the staff to close the pool for an hour. I left the water, my torso still completely dry, and headed back up to my room. On the way, I saw Diane , Melissa is fashionably late! , and novusfemina in swim gear, and I told them the pool was closed, but when they asked me whether they could still sit by the pool, I said yes. I continued toward my room, but then I thought I should go ahead and join them. We only had to sit for about thirty minutes before the staff felt ridiculous and opened the pool again, prompting the four of us to get in. We mostly just floated around and talked, although Melissa is fashionably late! occasionally broke away to swim laps. novusfemina was very fun to be around the entire convention. She constantly laughed and, in true southern belle style, fanned herself whenever she did so. After spending about an hour and a half in the pool, we got out, and I returned to the lounge until dinner.

After the meal came Open Mic Night, where conventioneers delighted the audience with such entertaining acts as John~Ashen reading "Invalid Item , Sophy making margaritas, novusfemina singing opera, and Tigger thinks of Prancer signing along to Beth Hart’s “LA Song.” However, the highlight of the night for me was Robert Waltz ’s stand-up routine, entitled “A Punday Evening Comedy.” Puns actually played a very minor role, however, and instead we heard about Old Man McGregor, who was mad that out of all the things he’d done in his life, he was known for fucking just one sheep. Also, there was the hunter who kept getting “taken” by a bear, until a park ranger asked, “You’re not here for the hunting, are you?” And then, of course, Robert Waltz suggested using movements involved in household chores as dance moves; for example, repeating the movement involved with pulling the cord to start a lawnmower, or moving your arms from side to side as though swinging a hedge trimmer. As always, you really had to be there to fully appreciate all the jokes, especially the last one. Upon the conclusion of Open Mic Night, we hung around in that room and signed each other’s yearbooks. I got most people’s signatures, but not quite everyone. No worries; I could get them tomorrow, after getting a good night’s rest, of course.

Breakfast started at 9:30 the next morning. I planned to wake up at 8:30, but shut off the alarm and fell right back asleep, ultimately rising at 9:00. I made it to breakfast on time, however, and at 10:00, I wandered over to see the Creative Auction items before the bidding madness began. Up until just before the convention, I thought it was a silent auction, but it was live, and had The StoryMaster not created Writing.Com, I’m sure he would have had a bright future as an auctioneer. There were so many great items at the Auction, especially The StoryMistress ’s photography. Damn, she’s good. Problematic Content bought one of her pictures for $220, the highest bid of the auction, and I’m sure her work accounted for a good portion of the nearly $4,000 raised. An item that brought a lot of laughs was “Little Willy,” a miniature statue of William Shakespeare, which elizm446 bought. This prompted me to tell novusfemina, her roommate, that she’d be getting a little willy in her room that night, which prompted what may have been her heartiest laugh of the entire convention and earned me a high five from Robert Waltz . The laughter was so loud that I was asked to repeat to everyone what I said. Speaking of Robert Waltz , he bought “Fowl Play” for $20. That was actually less than retail price, which disappointed me. But at least I brought something that someone wanted; I know Robert Waltz can’t resist a good pun…or a bad one.

Over the course of the Auction, I passed my yearbook around to those who hadn’t signed, and by the time the Auction was over, I had a signature from everyone except Phyllis . Thank goodness someone set The Critic straight, because she thought I was the “sheep fucker” at first. I retired to my room for a short time, and while reading my newly acquired yearbook signatures, I saw this on Problematic Content ’s page, below his message:

_ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _   _ _ _

A Merit Badge if you solve this one {e:wink}

For those of you unfamiliar with the Writing.Com Scroll, I suppose an explanation is in order. If you click on IM under the Site Navigation pull-down menus in the upper left corner of your screen, you’ll bring up the IM Console, the bottom half of which is known as Scrolling Messages, or more often simply as Scroll. Every member of Writing.Com can see the messages, but only those with at least an Upgraded Membership can post. In addition to messages, people can also post Robot Games, known more commonly as Bots, which offer Gift Points as prizes. One of my claims to fame on this site is that I am the all-time leader in Gift Points earned from Bots and have been accused on more than one occasion of “monopolizing” them. Many people have tried to pass my success off as the result of a lightning-fast Internet connection. But this Bot was on paper, not in cyberspace, and I had no clues. Could I still figure out the message and prove myself? The Badge says it all:

Merit Badge in Problem Solving
[Click For More Info]

Without a doubt, the Botmaster.  He has proven that it's not just bandwidth that puts you on the bot game map.  I bow to his bot prowess and wonder if he should put it to good use on Wheel of Fortune.

In fact, I got it in about three minutes. See whether you can do the same. The answer is at the very end of this item.

After solving the Bot, I went to the lounge with auric to play Scrabble. At some point during the game, John~Ashen claimed he could predict the winner based on the best word on the board, which was a tie between my word “quid,” with a triple word score, and two of auric’s words, parts of which were lined up right next to each other to create more words between them. With help from “maize,” earning a triple letter score on the Z, I went on to win that round. We then had a rematch, which I won by the slim margin of six points.

I returned to the room to don my suit and tie, then made my way to the Masquerade Ball. My mask, of course, was supposed to represent the Kraken, with pipe cleaners hanging from it to act as arms and tentacles. Problematic Content , Mariposa , Midnight Dawn , Tigger thinks of Prancer , novusfemina, and Robert Waltz sat at my table. We were definitely a rambunctious bunch, such as when trying to differentiate the butter from the sour cream and ending up talking about other “creamy white stuff.” During dinner, Melissa is fashionably late! ’s necklace came apart, and she sought my help in putting it back together because of my “thin fingers.” Well, there was that, but I also bet it was because most of the other conventioneers—including all of my tablemates, from what I understand—already had a drink or two and would never have the dexterity to slip one nearly microscopic ring through the space in another nearly microscopic ring. It took me a few minutes to complete the task, but it was worth it, because I ended up becoming Melissa is fashionably late! ’s “convention hero” in the process! The StoryMaster announced Mariposa as the winner of the bonus book challenge; she found twelve. I didn’t acquire any more after the three I found on the first night; I got lazy about that pretty fast. Just as well, I guess, since the prize was a $50 Amazon.Com gift certificate, and I’m not much of a shopper.

Once The StoryMaster and The StoryMistress took several group pictures, the music and dancing began. Again, I didn’t make a move for the dance floor, even though I kept thinking about it. I did manage to get my final yearbook signature from Phyllis , though. Eventually, the deejays played “I Will Survive.” At some point during the song, Robert Waltz joked about going up and doing some of the “dance” moves from his Open Mic routine the previous night. I told myself that if I was going to dance, this was the time, so I said to him, “I’ll go up there and do it if you will!” He agreed, so we both headed to the dance floor and started the lawnmower, trimmed the hedges, raked, shoveled, and more. Everyone loved it. And yes, though it may not have seemed like it at times, I was 100% sober. Some slow dance songs came on later, and Tigger thinks of Prancer and Legerdemain asked to dance with me. Everyone joined in the dancing for the final few songs, and by the end of the night, I was dripping with sweat. Before I left, The StoryMistress talked about Elisa/Stik: Mask Up! ’s dancing skills, and how she wished she could have come to this year’s convention so we could have danced together. I wished for the same thing; her presence is probably the only thing that would have made my time at the convention even more enjoyable. I returned to the room, whipped off my suit, splashed some water on my face, and spent some time in the lounge before going to sleep for my final night in Bethlehem.

The only things scheduled for the next morning were breakfast and lunch. Because lunch started a mere two hours after breakfast ended, the two meals almost seemed to meld into one. Although lunch was scheduled to end at 1:30, most people actually said their goodbyes and left before 1:00, only leaving me, Wenston , Tigger thinks of Prancer , and Verm . The last would be spending another night in Bethlehem and flying out the next day, but the other three of us took the shuttle to the airport together. Wenston and I would be taking the same flight back to Detroit, and we checked in and went through security together, but Tigger thinks of Prancer came about ten minutes later. It turned out that she accidentally booked her flight back to Chicago O’Hare for August 23, so she was on standby for the flight on July 23, the current day.

Neither of our departures were scheduled until after 4:00, so we sat around for a while, talking about the convention. One subject that came up is how so many of the conventioneers didn’t look their age. I’m 23, yet the girl sitting next to me on the flight to Bethlehem was only one of many people who have said I look like a high schooler, and the same could have been said for auric, The StoryMistress , and jsus, even though they are 25, 31, and 33, respectively. In addition to discussing our convention memories, the three of us talked about site issues, such as the proliferation of Interactive Stories about shrinking and growth, a subject which also came up at the convention itself. We tried to do some Campfire Creatives on paper, but worn out from a long weekend, we ended up putting those away and just continued to talk until Wenston and I boarded our plane to Detroit. Once the two of us arrived there, we walked in the same direction for a while, but then the routes to my gate and the baggage claim diverged. Thus my convention experience had come full circle, ending the same way it began, at the Detroit airport with Wenston . Only hours before, I’d been with nearly three dozen friends, but now I was alone, on my way back to Minneapolis. Even though I may not see many of my fellow conventioneers again, at least for a while, I knew we’d all be together once more, in cyberspace, very soon.

Planning a convention is year-round work, and it’s understandable that The StoryMaster and The StoryMistress want a break from doing it every year, but hopefully, they’ll find some compromise between holding a full-fledged convention annually and nothing at all, because it would be a shame for future members of Writing.Com to be denied such an opportunity to congregate with so many of their virtual pals. I arrived in Bethlehem unsure I would have a good time, but I had a great time, and this is coming from an introvert who barely considers himself a writer. I’m so thankful I set aside my fears and attended a Writing.Com Convention. I got the choice to sit it out or dance, and boy, did I ever dance…or whatever the hell you call those wild and random movements of mine.

The Bot solution: YOU CANNOT SOLVE THIS ONE. I actually said “Bot” in place of “one,” but he accepted the answer as it was.

Head On: Apply directly to the forehead.
Head On: Apply directly to the forehead.
Head On: Apply directly to the forehead.

Voiceover from a God-awful commercial
© Copyright 2006 Krakey Mountain High (kraken at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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