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Sep. 14th, 2009 @ 06:16 am introverts en masse
I guess I should write about my day, huh.

(Even though it's over, and a new one has already begun. Stupid off-kilter unemployed sleep cycle.)

The Brooklyn Book Festival was pretty neat! I guess I was expecting something like a trade show or a convention, what with Brooklyn having a huge and storied literary scene, but it turns out it was both bigger and more laid-back than I expected. (And free! And almost completely outdoor!) I've never been to an event this big and this crowded with this chill of an atmosphere. Lots of tents set up over folding tables in the plaza outside the courthouse, which is pretty small by New York standards, with a couple eight-wheeler trucks opening up into stages for invited authors to talk about their books, and maybe half a dozen hot dog stands patrolling the perimeter. It felt like a county fair crossed with a library.

Hello, sir! Would you like a copy of our new self-printed alternative literary magazine? (Watch the staples, they're sharp.) Our editor is sitting right over there, next to that little lady with the ice cream cone and the baby carriage...

It was kind of reassuring to discover that novelists can be pretty boring people. I got there late so I missed all of the big-name panels (Jonathan Lethem! Jonathan Safran Foer! Paul Auster! The guest list reads like my bookshelf!), but the rest of the writers would bore you to death if you hadn't read their books. One of them was responding to a question on why so many of her books took place in New York with a long, rambling monologue about brownstones and pizza parlors and how she felt about living in the city, and another three were talking to each other about how the iPod takes something away from the experience of listening to music because unlike a boom box it doesn't project a sense of space. It felt like the International Blogger Symposium on the Deliciousness of Cheese Sandwiches. Perhaps these details would please their fans, and reveal insights about the context of their novels, but I always thought the purpose of a panel was to come away enlightened about a subject, or take away a new perspective, and I don't see how these panels achieved that. I'm sure these people could have come up with something witty, intelligent, and interesting if they had prepared something ahead of time, but I guess that just because people are eloquent on the page doesn't mean they're eloquent in real life. I mean...look at me. :(

(p.s. i would totally write an entry about how cheese sandwiches are delicious)

Otherwise, the festival pretty much belonged to industry folks. Big publishers, little publishers, workshops, fledgling trade associations (I didn't know poets had a union!), bookstores...The Strand was there, as was Forbidden Planet, but most of their catalog looked like discount inventory they were just trying to get rid of...

Incongruously set in the meadow of bookstores, literary magazines, and independent publishers was a small section devoted to the New York Comic-Con, at which TopatoCo had a table. I confess that despite my literary aspirations this was the main reason why I went. I got to meet Jonathan Rosenberg, who draws Goats, and Jeffrey Rowland, who draws Wigu and Overcompensating. As these three webcomics have been part of my daily routine for quite a few years now, it was a pleasure to meet the people who make them. Jon is pretty much what you'd expect--he looks like any random New York barfly, which makes sense considering how much of Goats takes place in bars--and, well, I've read Overcompensating and I used to hang out on Dumbrella, so I kind of knew what to expect from Jeff the Cowboy Poet. Jeff recognized my nick from the Dumbrella forums! And he gave me a random high-five on the way back to the subway. I did not think J. Rowland could get any more awesome but oh snap he totally did. And I think Chris Hastings was there, too, but I'd never recognize him without the ninja mask and the doctor's coat.

There is always a profound awkwardness to first meeting someone you know online, but have never met.

Halfway through my time at the fair, I heard a snatch of song I thought was a little familiar, and naturally I brushed it away as a coincidence. But as I got closer to the courtroom--wait! Is that--no--it can't be--yes! It was Jonathan Coulton! Performing "IKEA!" It turns out he lives in Brooklyn! It's funny, I've been listening to his stuff for so long (before he did that ending song to Portal) and I never even knew that he lived around here, much less gone to a live show. It was a lot like the live performances I've seen of him on YouTube, except...three-dimensional.

...Yeah, I need to get out of the house more often.

Considering that I was there with maybe a thousand people who like the same books, read the same webcomics, and listen to Jonathan Coulton, some of whom looked like they were in the same cohort, it's kind of sad that I didn't meet anyone besides a handful of minor web celebrities. Then again, I guess the thing about people like me is that they're...like me. That dude, curled up with a book in the corner, or surfing the web, invisible.

also, i held a picnic for most of my neighborhood friends in prospect park and no one came.
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Date:September 14th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
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Man, I totally wanted to go to the Brooklyn Book Festival. Yesterday was Moving Hell, though, and I spent 12 hours either getting lost, driving a truck, or carrying boxes. (Yaaay.)

It sounds like similar experiences I've had doing Cool Things in New York. You feel like you should meet someone, and I guess once in a while you do - but it's so hard (for me at least) to shift gears from "I live in New York and I have my game face on do not fuck with me" to "Hello! I'm friendly and personable, yet not necessarily flirtatious, and I am emotionally open to the possibility of hanging out with people I don't know, and the challenge of describing myself in 20 words or less!" Oh well. I guess the more things you/me/we all go to, the more chances you/me/we all have to get used to the gearshift.

Also, that sucks about the picnic. But group plans work best, I think, if you call a bunch of people, get them all in on an idea, and then you decide together when to do it. That way everyone's counting on it happening, and can factor on things (travel time, grassproof clothing, picnic baskets) that need to be factored in. Otherwise, it tends to slip people's minds - and everyone always underestimates how busy they'll be during the weekend.
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Date:September 14th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
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I'm all too familiar with that kind of twelve-hour nightmare, and that's why I generally get rid of as much stuff as possible well before I move. Ugh. Never again...

You're right about the shifting gears thing. It's a little discouraging how easy it is to piss off strangers by being the wrong person at the wrong time. Sometimes when I greet strangers about something they like or something they're doing they give me this "wait why the fuck are you talking to me" look--women in particular almost always assume I'm being sleazy or hitting on them, no matter how harmless, platonic, unintrusive, and non-threatening I try to be. On the other hand sometimes people do the same thing to me, and I'm so caught off guard that they misinterpret "agh! you wandered into my monkeysphere!" as "fuck off," and I lose an opportunity to have a friendly conversation. Even when such an encounter goes well it usually lasts only a couple seconds--I've lost track of how many two-sentence conversations I've had. Like this:

(at Forbidden Planet)
Me: Dude, Iron Man is so badass in that trade.
Stranger: I know, right?
(both walk away)

At an anime convention or at college, that would be the opener to a friendly conversation. In real life, not so much. People are too busy to chat with strangers...

There's also this thing with groups, where they're so close-knit that if you do as much as wander into their shared space they all give you this look as if they want to say, "excuse me, but do we know you?" At concerts, especially...I don't want to be that sketchy stranger that groups of people smirk and trade snide comments about on the way home.

I think I will have to try again with the picnic thing, taking your advice into account.
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Date:September 14th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
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Also, this is every party I've ever been to:

Dude: It's sad how video games focus so much on power fantasies, yeah? You're always playing the big, macho warrior dude, or the studly groupie-bait bishie.
Lady: Yeah? Pandering to the male gaze and stuff?
Dude: Absolutely. And when you're playing the spindly little guy he's always the David to someone else's Goliath...like Gordon Freeman, or some humble proletariat working class plumber like Mario. The princess is in another castle. The male is always there to rescue, dominate, and give meaning to the female. Susan Sontag would be appalled. It's not fair.
Lady: That's so fascinating! It's very...Susan Sontag. I should look into that for my next paper.
Me: Isn't it? It's even been the subject of critique within the medium itself.
Dude: Really.
Lady: Seriously?
Me: Yeah! In Metal Gear Solid 3, where you play this Jack Bauer, Tom Clancy style badass who can move like a whisper and kill a bajillion guys with an AK-47 without batting an eye, there is a scene where you're captured by the bad guys and a hood is thrown over your head so you can't see anything. The screen is all black except for your lifebar and your weapons display, and you can cycle through your weapons but you don't have any, and you can push the buttons all you want but it won't do you any good. All you can hear is the supervillain guy taunting and threatening you. Every so often he'll punch you, and your lifebar will go down a little, and there's nothing you can do about it.
Lady: Wow.
Dude: Uh...cool.
Me: For the first time your badass hero, power fantasy that he is, master of his own destiny, is completely and absolutely powerless. You can still move the analog sticks and push the buttons, and do all the stuff you normally could, but you're tied up--it doesn't make a difference. All you can do is slowly take damage as your lifebar goes down, futilely and desperately trying to find a way to avoid a humiliating, inevitable end. Every time you take a hit, the controller vibrates. It's painful to play through.
Lady: What's this game called again?
Dude: Metal Gear Solid 3. I've played it. I can show you sometime...
Me: Great game, isn't it? Hideo Kojima is a genius.
Lady: Wow...
Me: Well...uh...see you guys around.
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Date:September 15th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC)
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At least one person told me they didn't get your invite until the last minute, and that's why they weren't at your picnic. :(

Man. Books! Awesome.

So uh I'm moving to NYC this weekend and will be basically unemployed at first (I KNOW I KNOW WHAT AM I THINKING), so if you ever want to meet up with somebody and hang out someplace with wi-fi to write or whatever, let me know.
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Date:September 15th, 2009 05:47 am (UTC)
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Awesome! I look forward to seeing you. Hit me up when you get here.