XO marks the spot

A friend told me about the XOXO conference and festival in Portland. The festival portion is “an experimental festival celebrating independently produced art and technology,” and the conference is “two days of talks from independent creators using the Internet to make a living doing what they love, and the challenges they face in the process.”

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Yes, please! I carry three business cards and run out of each at an equal pace. Writer, freelance designer, and SomaFM jack-of-all-trades. I don’t even remember what that tax form is you get when you work for a company full time as I haven’t seen one for years. Not by choice, but speaker Amit Gupta displayed a great quote from Joseph Campbell during his talk: “You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”

I don’t know if this was the life that was waiting for me–as that sounds kind of ominous and inevitable–but it is the life that is happening to me right now and though it is a little nerve-wracking, it is also pretty interesting. And, yes, I know that other quote about interesting times.

I managed to “win” a ticket in the lottery, and despite the fact that the schedule was unpublished, bought the ticket and committed.

Very glad I did.

I was nervous when I walked into the opening party (on the lawn of a 1920’s high school now converted to offices and an event space) but thank god, beer was free so everyone had a pint in hand. The woman in front of me (in the beer line of course) introduced herself and her companion whom she’d just met, and I felt much better. It was THIS kind of place. A place where you could be friendly and expect friendliness in return.

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I met so many nice people over the course of the weekend. Not like “networking” interactions, but more like we were old friends or coworkers catching up. I butted into conversations, joined board games in progress, followed people I’d just met across town to a food truck park that was supposed to have beer but didn’t, and chatted with speakers who’d just stepped off the stage.

I got the feeling that most of the speakers and attendees understand that in the internet era, your 15 minutes of fame are broken into one-minute chunks. One day you are in the New York Times, the next you are barely employed. You’ve got fans but no funds. Your career is derailed due to age, an animated gif, or illness. We all have dreams and we all have bills to pay. How does it work? We try to do what we love and keep our heads above water.

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It is so important to me to be able to compress the space between two-dimensional people (those we only see on the internet) and three-dimensional people. Between perceptions and reality. Between what we imagine and where we are now.

I don’t want to get too sentimental but XOXO was, for me, one long pep talk, because no one tells you that doing what you love can be freaking tedious at times.

My “yes, and…” (beyond telling the people I met yes, you are awesome, and I admire you, and hope I am half as successful as you, and I’ll have another beer) happened when I went into Powell’s Books. Ginormous bookstore in case you haven’t heard of it. This greeted me when I walked in:

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I thought it was a general, power to the author type thing, then I found out they had a print on demand book machine onsite!!

I rushed back to the hotel and reformatted my e-pub version of The Perfect Specimen (which actually took a few hours), emailed it to Powell’s, and a few hours later, held print versions of my novella in my hand.

perfectbindingI wasn’t supposed to be excited. I am supposed to be cool with digital only versions of my text BUT I WAS SO HAPPY. And even better, so was everyone at XOXO. I pulled a copy out of my backpack at the slightest provocation and everyone got it. They got that we put so much effort into our “internet” things and those things are real and reach so many people but sometimes we need a weekend where we can page through one of the eight hard copies of someone’s book and eat pizza and drink beer and play the first edition of a Jane Austen-themed card game and accept a sweatshirt from a stranger late at night when we are cold because creating is sometimes a lonely business and we need to know we are part of a community even if we are hundreds of miles apart.

Thank you to Andy, the other Andy, and the Other Other Andy for putting this on. It worked. : )

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Fireboat on the opening day of the Tilikum Crossing bridge in Portland.