There is nothing like spending time with a large number of smart and passionate human beings with similar interests to give one multiple opportunities for significant intellectual stimulation. So once again this year I went to WisCon.
And once again, I was amply rewarded, to the point that my brain has been turned inside out a couple of times and the only way I know for sure what I learned was that I had the good sense to write some of it down.
Of course, some of it is in a notebook and some of it is on my phone and some of it is on my computer and I hope I find all the bits and pieces of it and go forward.
WisCon was very, very good for me/to me this year.
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to present the self defense workshop I’ve been doing – and revising – for many years. This year, I called it No Fear, and focused on what people should and shouldn’t be afraid of, as well as on the five non-fighting skills of self defense and on ways to choose physical self defense or martial arts training.
I drew a small group of attentive and thoughtful people, and learned a great deal in the give and take. One key takeaway was from a person using a wheelchair, who told me that there are movement activists within the disability community who have ideas for addressing physical training for people with disabilities.
I plan to check that out, because while I am sure there are physical things those who use wheelchairs, crutches, or other aids to mobility can do to protect themselves, I don’t have a grasp on how to teach those things. And I want to know that.
I was also fascinated by a bicyclist’s perspective. She rides in a big city and applies urban biking skills, which include claiming an appropriate amount of space. She noted that when she gets off her bike to walk on the sidewalk, she still conveys that presence for a time. Bicycling is another skill to help people project presence and power in the world.
I need to take the urban bicycling class in Oakland, because I am a timid bicyclist. I claim power walking down the sidewalk all the time, but on a bike, I am over-careful.
I walked out of there with my mind full of new thoughts and ways to adapt what I’m doing and went to give a paper on the importance of story in increasing women’s power. I read what I had written, and then we all sat and talked about what I said and related topics. I got ideas about where to take the paper next (I’m working on a longer essay combining it with some earlier work), and found a new set of questions I wanted to pursue.
I had lunch with friends, read some of my daily senryu as part of a poetry reading in the afternoon, and then went to dinner with a friend who is very conversant in economics. Again, she shook up my brain, leaving me with many more ideas to ponder.
Sunday was my day to listen more than talk. Again, my brain got challenged. I went to an academic presentation. Gabiann Marin, an Australian writer and academic, spoke on “The Hidden Goddess: References to and Erasure of the Goddess in DC’s Wonder Woman and Contemporary Superhero Narratives,” pointing out the significant flaws in the Wonder Woman movie that undermined it, both from the perspective of classical mythology and as a feminist statement. Andrea Hairston, one of my favorite authors and a theater professor, spoke on “Women of Wakanda,” making it abundantly clear that Black Panther was not just a superb presentation of Afrofuturism on the screen, but a powerful feminist movie to boot.
Both of them convinced me that my personal reactions to the Wonder Woman and Black Panther movies were dead on. (My reaction to Wonder Woman is here.) But both of them gave the in-depth analysis that showed why Black Panther was astounding while Wonder Woman was deeply disappointing.
The con went on in usual fashion. I heard good readings. I went to a panel on universal basic income. I did a reading with several other Aqueduct Press authors. We called ourselves the Bad Hemingways because of what Ursula K. Le Guin said about that author in one of her essays. It was our way of honoring her memory.
Plus I had a number of other intense conversations in the halls and sitting over drinks, some about martial arts, some about politics, and lots of them about where the world is going in the future and how we should write about it. And, of course, about who’s writing what and which books we should be reading.
In daily life, even if you read good books and have good conversations, life tends to slip into the mundane realities. The mundane necessary realities, like dinner and paying the bills. I know you can’t live on inspiration all the time.
But a good dose of it now and again is what keeps me making the effort to do the things that matter to me.
I tend to think that’s the purpose of life: find the things that matter to you and spend time doing them.
If it’s not the purpose of life – because maybe there isn’t one – it’s still a good way to spend our time.