Geek on Wheels: CONvergence in Minnesota part 1

Serenity doesn't like when I take trips
Serenity doesn’t like when I take trips

This post is a little long, so I’m splitting it into multiple parts for easier reading and more pictures!

At the beginning of the month, my husband,my best friend, and I did our annual trip to Minnesota for CONvergence, a general science fiction, fantasy, and other geeky thing convention that we’ve been going to (I’ve been going since 2009).  Usually the trip starts with being tourists in Minneapolis, then the four day con, then the last couple days at my parents’ house, but since I’ve seen my parents a few times this year (my wedding plus family vacation), I wanted to go to Duluth to see people from my undergrad years.

Like last year, I flew with my wheelchair and one crutch so I could walk when I wanted/could (flying post will be up in a different post).  We got in late Thursday to Minneapolis, so we pretty much ate dinner at Perkins then checked in at the hotel and fell asleep so we could spend the majority of Wednesday at the Mall of America.  I love getting in on Tuesday because the setup of the con is just starting to ramp up, and it always feels like there is a budding energy building up for the excitement of having thousands of geeks roaming around together.

Star Trek: The Exhibition sign over Barbie pink walls
Star Trek: The Exhibition sign over Barbie pink walls

Before we headed to the MoA, we picked up our badges for the con as there was a really short line (pretty miraculous for a con with almost 7k people!).  Afterward, (because my best friend is a bit of a sushi-fiend), we planned for our usual lunch at Tiger Sushi with some wandering afterward.  As we meandered, my husband found a sign for Star Trek: The Exhibition held in the new exhibit center of the MoA.  It was seriously awesome!  There was a huge timeline of the show universe along with various displays of costuming, props, and signs.  For instance, the iPhone was an idea that came from the tricorder!  Also, the likelihood of transporter technology being feasible is really really small (yes, I’m a geek that likes to learn on vacation!).  I even got a picture on a replica of the TOS bridge (it was barely wheelchair accessible…I took a running start, a big wheelie, and a few hard shoves to get up).

The con officially starts on Thursday afternoon, so I signed up for several badging shifts to get my usual volunteering in.  I decided from the start to use my wheelchair during the day and save my walking spoons for the night as the party rooms have some accessibility issues (some of it is the hotel carpet, some stairs, and some just the mass of people trying to get in and out).  This year was my first time at this con since joining the Royal Manticoran Navy fan organization, so I spent the entire con volunteering in RMN gear & beret.  It was fun seeing people that recognized the beret, and it was even more fun when people recognized what my white beret meant!  I badged off and on until the wee hours of the morning, but that meant I had a really good view of a lot of awesome costumes!  I did make it to one panel that day about going beyond the gender binary in fiction books (with Haddyr Copley-Woods, Elizabeth Bear, Jonathan Palmer, Benny S., Kameron Hurley, and Kimberley Long-Ewing).

Rolling with a croissant balanced on my head and a cup of soda clasped in my mouth
Rolling with a croissant balanced on my head and a cup of soda clasped in my mouth

As I had a late night on Thursday, getting up for a 9:30am panel on Friday morning was a little rough but I made it with the help of ConSuite (a place to get food & caffeine for congoers as a part of the badge price).  Because of my short and round thighs, I don’t have a good place to put things in my lap, so I put my goofy bellydancer talents to work (see the selfie?  I rolled a good distance over thick carpet like that!).

Armed with food for my meds & caffeine for my brain, I headed to a panel about disabled characters in fiction….to find a room that was barely accessible to rolling audience members, but not accessible for panelists because the aisles were too narrow to get to the front of the room.  I posted on Facebook about it, which happened to get the attention of some of my friends that have leadership positions, which helped lead to the formation of an open-to-the-public Facebook group Fans for Accessible Conventions!  The panel was good even though it was pretty small (two panelists, small audience), but that made it feel more like a conversation.

As the rest of my day was peppered with various badging shifts, my husband, friend, and I scheduled lunch together so we could actually see each other.  We had some issues getting to the Dairy Queen as a car was parked in front of the curb cut (although not illegally…for some reason, there was no prohibitory signage).  The restaurant itself wasn’t too bad, although dealing with a counter with a fence for an orderly queue meant I couldn’t actually get past my friend ordering at one of the registers so I could order my own food with the other cashier.  Frustrating, but really normal with usual barely-accessible US establishments.

My husband and I went to a panel about developing magic in urban fantasy settings* afterward.  I had to leave early to get to the top floor for badging, but the panel wasn’t addressing what I was hoping it would (although he stayed and told me the relevant things that popped up at the end).  We met back up to go to an Admiral’s Reception in the RMN party room which meant I got to officially meet a lot of people that I’d been talking to online!  I ended the night with a bit more wandering and a lot more badging until the wee hours.

Part two with Saturday & Sunday coming soon!

*I’m slowly working on my own urban fantasy story.  I think I have one sentence actually written, but it’s something I’ve been chewing on for about nine months.  It’s based on one of my tabletop roleplaying characters that I feel could make an interesting protagonist, but I don’t think I’ve tried to write fiction in fifteen years.  We’ll see what happens, and it might not be good, but I’m going to slowly try

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OOTD: colorful leopard dress with crutch & wheels

Gwynnie Bee dress shown both standing with crutch and using wheelchair
Gwynnie Bee dress shown both standing with crutch and using wheelchair
Same dress, using wheels
Same dress from Gwynnie Bee, using wheels

I apologize if the formatting on this post is funky…Wordpress and I had a disagreement about putting two photos next to each other, and I didn’t have the spoons to combine them into one image.  I even tried to mess with the HTML!

Before the blog moved from Blogspot to WordPress, I had a follower ask me to post more OOTD (outfit of the day) posts with my wheelchair.  Well, I finally had the opportunity to do so (partially because I rejoined Gwynnie Bee), and even got a picture with my crutch to show how the same dress looks both wheeling & standing.

The pic with my crutch is a work bathroom selfie (sorry it’s not cropped…I was trying to blast out a happier followup post to yesterday’s melancholy one), the second is a photo my partner took at the grocery store.  The dress is a multicolored animal print faux wrap dress from Flor (through the Gwynnie Bee plus size clothing service).  I had summer teggings from Re/Dress underneath in eggplant.  The fabric was pretty clingy and a bit heavy, but it was overall a comfy dress with a funky pattern (that wasn’t too wild for my office).  I don’t like how it looks in the wheeling photo, but at least it wasn’t getting caught or rubbing against the tires.

Although money is tight over the summer, I’m glad I restarted my subscription (they gave me a half price discount for two months if I rejoined, which helped).  I’m in pretty desperate need of work clothes as I keep staining my shirts, and Gwynnie Bee lets me try all sorts of things out that I wouldn’t normally (especially because I like to dress up in comfy femme when I’m in a lot of pain)….and they dry clean the clothes when they get returned, so I have one less piece of potentially temperamental clothing to try to keep clean or unwrinkled.

Cyborg Dance Projekt: Fears for the future

2009 CONvergence, photo by Dave Stagner Photography
2009 CONvergence, photo by Dave Stagner Photography

I’ve been avoiding this post for a while.  It started with missing a few classes, which I attributed to a bad combination of working my job plus doing my mentored teaching plus trying (still) to finish my incomplete coursework.  Then the first summer session ended, leaving me with only my job and my coursework, but I was still having trouble making it to classes & troupe rehearsals.  Then my trip to Minnesota for CONvergence at the beginning of July where I realized that my pain problems with flying have little to do with the crappy seats and are related to pressure changes in flight.

I’ve known for a couple months now that my spine is visibly doing worse via the most recent CT scan.  My L4/5 disc (the one above my fusion) is bulging.  I’ve had nerve issues related to that joint since surgery in January 2013 that I really hoped were temporary, but are getting worse.  It wouldn’t surprise me if I was looking at another spinal fusion in a few years.

Because of this, I’m currently trying to sell my spot for ATS® General Skills & the ATS® Homecoming: Return to the Mothership workshops.  It hurts so much to do this as I feel like it’s the first solid nail in the coffin of my return to bellydance.  In the back of my mind I felt like I could somehow outrun these issues, somehow return to the semi-pro level that I used to dance at.  Perhaps I was just hoping that my demise would be happening this quickly, allowing me to go to San Francisco with two of my troupe mates to learn at the Mothership (the FatChanceBellyDance studio where ATS® began and where I began ATS®).

I’m utterly heartbroken and I cry every time I think about not being able to go, but I logically know that there’s no way I could be able to handle the flight, sleep in an unfamiliar bed in a hotel, dance for 6 hours or more a day for about a week straight.  Maybe if I wasn’t a poor grad student with awful medical bills scraping by, maybe I would risk it.  The thing is that ATS® is a group improv format of bellydance, and my spine causing me to sit at the sidelines of a workshop could negatively impact another dancer’s experience (especially in the duet workshop I signed up for).  That’s not fair for whoever would be paired with me.

Despite this, I’m going to keep on bellydancing as much as I can.  I’ll keep on doing ATS® until my troupe mates kick me out for being too broken.  I don’t know what kind of shot clock I’m on (I’ve known that there is a shot clock for a long while…some of the other Projekt posts talk about it), but I’m going to try to make the best of what I have.  I’m constantly fighting between time, money, and spoons to make dancing happen, but I’m trying.  I’m also trying to remind myself that I can still do other forms of dance, and I will be fundraising to get to the annual AXIS Dance summer intensive in August of 2015 (between taking my comps early summer and defending my dissertation proposal in late summer or early fall).

Right now I’m feeling really emotionally raw.  I was hoping to get either my CONvergence 2014 post or my Flying with Wheels post finished before this, but I felt like I needed to make a more public declaration.  Finances willing, I’m going to try to make the most out of regional dance events to make up for not being able to physically handle going back to the Mothership.

As my mom says, “it is what it is.”