I just got back from four exquisite days of relaxation. I realized as I sat with a book looking out at the ocean that it has been forever since I went on a real vacation. Like a no-work vacation. I even turned my phone off!
So I’m a little behind on blog posts, project reports and picture posting. I also have a few articles to write. Until I get caught up, enjoy the pictures below of my vacation.
Now that I am coming out of my post-cruise fog I can put together some words to describe the awesomeness that occurred at sea. When people ask me what JoCo Cruise Crazy is, I find myself trying to pick the perfect words. The real answer is it is summer camp for adults. It is a group of friends old and new reunited to celebrate common interests, have fun, and play games. Oh, and there are some entertainers and performances. But really, it’s about the people.
I don’t want to sell myself and talent short (hopefully my employers are not reading…) but we are sort of ancillary. The real joy is the community. A game room open 24 hours a day as old friends and new play a plethora of games. The game library was seriously impressive. Wizards of the Coast donated Magic half decks and two copies of Wrath of Ashardalon and Conquest of Nerath board games. (Thanks WotC!) The rest of the library was supplied by Sea Monkeys. (Sea Monkeys is the community-voted name for the JCCC attendees).
There are so many wonderful things that happened on this cruise it’s hard to narrow it down. Let me cover my highlights.
Day 1 (leaving Port)
Hodgman Towel Monkeys. On the cruise, the room steward leaves you towels every night assembled in the form of an animal. Last year John Hodgman pointed out that the towel monkey is particularly creepy — something Paul and Storm highlighted in the fun promotional video we filmed on our site visit.
This year it was decided to pull a prank on Hodgman by filling his room with towel monkeys on the first day of the cruise. Seriously, this is something we had listed in our official memo with Holland America.
Day 2 (Half Moon Cay)
Half Moon Cay is an island owned by Holland America Line (HAL). Last year we had a fabulous time and this year was even better. Since it is HAL’s island, all the food is free and the bars take your key card, just like on board. We were the only ship in port which added to the perfect tropical seclusion.
This year we reserved a section of the beach for our group. Vi Hart led folks in a fun activity of building shapes out of nerds in the ocean. I loved this event because I saw so many smiling faces and so much laughter. As people came out of the water and walked by me, they thanked me for cruise (though it’s not really my cruise). I heard exclamations of “This is the most fun I’ve ever had!” and “This is the BEST vacation ever!” And it’s only day two.
Day 3 (at Sea)
Our first at sea day found the gaming room packed! It was great to see folks taking advantage of the space. We had explained to the HAL folks that this room would be packed and it made sense for us to have a 24-hour room. They did not believe us. It takes a special kind of group to be indoors gaming when there is a sunny Caribbean outside.
Since this was the first day without a port of call, it meant extra events, including a morning Q&A with the performers. At-sea days quickly turned into my crazy days. Solving problems in every corner of the ship and planning for the evening show kept me on my toes. I don’t like to be bored and I love what I do. Despite being extremely busy, I loved (most) every minute of it.
Day 4 (Aruba)
From a Liz sanity perspective, this was the easiest day for me. We had no major shows, only the DJ Flans dance party that night. We pulled into Aruba around 1 p.m. which gave me enough time to get prep work done and then hit the beach. I took a taxi with Scarface (JoCo’s assistant) and Scarfriend (Scarface’s friend) to the resort-area beaches. When we arrived we found many other Sea Monkeys and took over a patch of beach for hanging out, drinking beer, and swimming.
The best part of the Aruba was the “Party Bus” ride back to the ship. This shuttle between the beach and the port is the best way to ride. Filled with Sea Monkeys, the bus took off and cranked up the tunes. Dance music blasted from the speakers as we all danced along, waving arms, grooving to the beat and getting down…as best we could from a seated position. This is definitely one of my favorite memories of the cruise.
Day 5 (Curaçao)
This was the day I was adopted as an honorary Wheaton. I was determined to hit the beach early in the day, but I didn’t want to go it alone. The Wheaton family came to my rescue and invited me along. The goal was to find a good place for snorkeling, and we did. We just didn’t have any snorkel gear. As Anne Wheaton and I explored the beach area for snorkel gear (which was all rented out) we discovered seals, lizards, and other crazy wild life.
I am fortunate to have such wonderful friends all over the world. Of course, this means I don’t get the chance to see them all that often. The cruise is fun for me because I get to see my far-away friends. I get to hang out on a beautiful beach and catch up on what’s going on in their lives. Or just laugh about stupid things. The cruise would not be as fun or fantastic if it wasn’t for my friends.
Day 6 (at Sea)
One of the signature JCCC events is the Paul F. Tompkins Memorial Moustache Formal. This year was the second annual event, with the added wrinkle of Feztravaganza. Appropriately scheduled for a formal dinner night, everyone was wearing their finest attire. Walking out onto the back deck (Sea View Aft) you were greeted with a beautiful sight — hundreds of Sea Monkeys in fancy dress, custom fezzes, and fake (or real) moustaches. The most bizarre cocktail party ever. Even the bartenders and servers were wearing the fake moustaches.
As a side note, I have to say that the staff on the Westerdam was fabulous. It appears that the majority of cruise-goers they encounter have lost their sense of humor, fun, and respect for others. These are the complainers. The staff repeatedly said how much they loved our group. We are a fun, lively bunch who treats the staff and crew with respect and appreciation. Like last year, we were told by a few of the crew that they would be requesting to work on our cruise next year.
A party with moustaches and fezzes. This is the type of event that can only occur with a group of nerds. And when you having it on a cruise ship, it can only be JoCo Cruise Crazy.
Day 7 (at Sea)
The last day at sea is bittersweet. Looking back on the whole week I was excited to get to land (and 3G) and let the world know how much fun I had. Yet, it has to end. There is something magical about that last night. The final concert with Jonathan Coulton was spectacular.
We had a “So Long and Thanks for All the Drinks!” farewell cocktail party. Many thanks were given and I was pulled aside by many for a personal thank you for running such a wonderful event. Group pictures were taken, hugs given, information exchanged. Then we went to pack. Walking the halls that night I encountered Sea Monkeys here and there. I saw a group playing the last few games in the gaming room, a few stargazers out on the back deck, and my personal favorite — an elevator ukulele sing-a-long. As I stepped into the elevator it was explained that this group wanted to play music and sing but needed a quite space where they wouldn’t wake anyone up. At 2 a.m. an empty elevator seemed to be as good a place as any. So I sang along, traveled a few decks and got off at my stop. It was great to see such a happy group easily making their own fun.
From a production stand point, this year was wonderfully successful. Last year was fun and super crazy. I worked hard to keep things on track and ensure everyone was having a good time. I had a few last-minute folks help out, and I felt like I kept most everything under control. But I’ve been told that our crazed state was clear and the Sea Monkeys had a great time, but could tell it was our first cruise.
This year we much more ambitious, adding more events both on the boat and at ports of call. We had a 24-hour gaming room. Did I mention there were twice as many Sea Monkeys? I was much busier this year, but with the help of Scarface and the elite team of volunteers (called Helper Monkeys) we pulled off a nearly flawless cruise. This time I worked my butt off and the feedback I got was that it was smoothly run, well-organized event, and there was no sign of our stress. Success!
I love what I do. Freelancing doesn’t always offer the most stable of work, but I have been able to do some amazing projects. For instance, I was ON A BOAT. Well, ship actually. I just got back from JoCo Cruise Crazy II. If you know nothing about it, just imagine a small con with the community feel of ECCC or PAX on a cruise ship for a week. This year we had about twice as many people as last year bringing three times the energy. I’ll put up a post on it soon but until then, know that I am still walking on sea legs and adjusting to a lack of buffet tables and 24 hour room service.
If you’re looking for a Dammit Liz…
I have more availability for projects if anyone needs an event production manager. There are a few projects I’m working on in the background but I am currently looking for more opportunities over the next few months. Due to scheduling conflicts I am, unfortunately, unable to work on the east coast leg of the Behind the Myths Tour. This has freed up my March and allowed me to work on some special projects of my own.
Editor’s note: Liz Smith (“aka ‘Dammit’ Liz”) is the geeky stage manager for W00tstock. She regularly caters to nerd royalty like Wil Wheaton, Adam Savage, Paul & Storm and Jonathan Coulton. One thing she’s learned is that one-size-fits-all does not apply to the nerdy persuasion.”
Well folks, it’s almost the end of 2011. It has been a crazy and eventful year for me. I met new people, lived across the country, and attended some fantastic conventions. Now it is time to prepare for 2012. I can say that this next year will be epic.
Why so epic? Well, I am starting the year off with a tour,… a Mythbusting tour! I will be working as a Production Coordinator/Assistant Stage Manager on the upcoming Mythebusters Behind the Mythstour with Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. We are hitting the west coast in January and the east coast in March. Check the website to see if we will be coming to a city near you!
Depending on my schedule and how hectic things get, I will attempt to update my blog as we are on the tour. We shall see. I do know that there will be some adventure on this tour. From adventure comes the best stories!
For the next few days I will be in Victoria helping out with Desert Bus for Hope. This is a fun and inspiring event, a charity video game marathon, streaming online and raising money for Child’s Play Charity. Child’s Play is “dedicated to improving the lives of children with toys and games in… over 70 hospitals worldwide”.
This charity has a special place in my heart. Many people know that I play video games, but what most people don’t know is that I starting playing video games when I was eleven years old and in isolation at the Seattle Children’s Hospital. When I was eleven, I had cancer.
I always have to start this story by telling everyone that “I’m fine now.” And it’s true, I am cancer free for nearly twenty years now.
I don’t tell this story often, not because I have an issue with it, but because it’s not really something that comes up in conversation all that often. However, I should note that it’s not an easy story to tell at times. I have strong emotions when it comes to sick kids in hospitals, and I had to pause several times when writing this post as I fought back tears.
With Desert Bus coming up, I thought this would be a good time to tell my story. I realize now that I have so much more to say about this than this one post will allow, so the whole story is something to be told another day.
What I do want to tell you is that from my personal experience, I can confirm that donated toys and games and the work of charities like Child’s Play makes a difference in the quality of life for sick kids.
My treatment lasted about eight months, with six months of chemotherapy and two months of radiation. During this time, if I ever was sick with a fever or had a low white blood cell count I had to go to the hospital, which usually meant being admitted for a week or more. If you have no white blood cells (those are the kickass cells in your blood that fight sickness) you don’t do so well being surrounded by sick patients in a hospital. If I was in the hospital, it meant I was in isolation.
The word ‘isolation’ sounds pretty lonely, and it is. I mean, you get a room, TV, and bathroom to yourself, which is pretty sweet, but it’s still lonely. My family is very supportive, but even they couldn’t be in the hospital all the time. So I spent many hours on my own. I was sick, in pain, and in a hospital (with weird hospital smells). It kind of sucked…a lot.
One day, things went from suck to awesome. A nurse opened my door and wheeled in this large mobile unit with a TV and video game console. I had never really played any video games up to that point, this moment was life changing. You see, someone had donated a TV, a Super Nintendo (SNES) and video
games. I imagine love at first sight, true love and all that is quite similar to the moment I saw that mobile entertainment unit of awesome wheeled into my little room. The smell of overly sterilized walls, linens and food was replaced by the smell of excitement and anticipation. (Everything is WAY more dramatic when you’re a kid with a lot of time on your hands)
I learned how to play Super Mario Bros. sitting in my bed, hooked up to IVs and it changed everything. For a few hours of my day I was no longer sick, bald, and isolated, I was riding an egg laying dinosaur named Yoshi on a mission to save a princess and all of Dinosaur Land from the evil Bowser! I was no longer pale and weak— with a feather I could FLY!
I had access to movies and television, but this was better. This was more than just watching. In this world, I was a part of the story, I was in the story. I was fighting Bowser. It was me who learned to fly using a feather and donning a cape. Many times I would die and have to try again, and after so many attempts, I’d hit that one time where I made it… it was awesome. I had achieved! I had succeeded. I had learned something new. It’s that feeling of accomplishment that is so simple and so meaningful to someone so weak and ill. And that’s the thing. For those hours, I wasn’t sick. I was just a kid, playing video games and having a blast.
If you are looking for a charity to support, a way to help improve a sick child’s life, or to simply be a part of a good cause, I recommend supporting Child’s Play Charity. I will be doing my part the next few days with Desert Bus for Hope. They will be streaming live online 24hrs a day until donations run out. Tune in to donate, participate in the auctions, or just watch us be silly as we entertain for the cause. Log in, say hi, I’ll even do a silly dance for a fee. Don’t worry, I only dance for money if it’s for a good cause. And this certainly is.
There are so many awesome geeky things out there, but I want to tell you about one close to my heart. JourneyQuest. This is a webseries I had the joy of working on. It has a special place in my heart because it was the first non-convention geeky project I worked on. I was on the set the weekend before PAX East 2010, the weekend before I got the name “Dammit Liz”. There is something so special about working on projects like this. JourneyQuest has a story, getting it made was not an easy feat. The original script had many more episodes, many more characters, more locations.
The first week of filming was in Oregon at a state park. I had a day job at the time and I couldn’t take the time off. I contributed what I could, coordinating all the craft services supplies, buying food and additional items at Costco, loading them up in bins. John Moore the Art Director was driving the truck down to Oregon and stopped by my work to pick up the bins I had assembled. It was so great to meet him. In appearance he reminded me of a roadie or metal band bouncer. He was big, long hair, tattooed and a little intimidating…at first. As soon as he spoke you could tell he was as sweet as a teddy bear. His faced lit up as he talked about the plans for the shoot. It was going to be like summer camp. Old and new friends were descending on this state park to make a clever, witty and fun series. As he spoke I saw that passion I have, the passion of working on something you love. It’s a special kind of joy that not everyone can have on a daily basis. It’s that joy that keeps me going when I think working without a steady paycheck is not an easy thing.
I helped John load the truck and he drove off to Oregon for the shoot. Watching the truck drive off I felt both jealous (of the fun in Oregon I was missing) and excited for the filming in Seattle that I would be a part of. I looked forward to working with John and finding out more about how he became involved with this project.
A few days later I got a shocking email. While at the state park, John had a heart attack and died. The details of the event aren’t mine to tell. Just know that it was a sad day on the set and they decided to cancel production. The joy and excitement turned to sadness at the loss of such a wonderful person and valuable part of the team. I wish I had known John better, but I am thankful for that brief interaction I had with him.
JourneyQuest took a break.
I was not hugely involved in the production, just helping out as I could. It was sad to lose someone and at the same time also the project that brought everyone together. What to do in this type of situation? Do you stop? Operating with a tight budget can mean it’s a one shot deal. Do you insist on sticking to a schedule despite such a loss? Emotions run high and if it were me, I’d want to do what’s right by everyone. I assume it’s not an easy decision. I got an email saying that they wanted to try again. The budget was smaller and many adjustments had to be made to make this a go, the scale of the production would be smaller, there would be half the episodes. Reading that email I saw the passion again. This team of people wanted to finish this work, they wanted to create something fun and amazing and dedicate it to John. Even if it couldn’t be exactly as they had originally imagined, it was going to be something wonderful created by friends for the world to enjoy.
And that’s what happened.
I tell you this story because I think it is important to share. I am fortunate enough to work on projects I love and with people I enjoy. A passion for my work is important to me. JourneyQuest is an example of that. Despite the fact that season one of the series was cut short, it is still an entertaining story. I want to see season two as it was intended, a full feature-length season with many more characters and guest appearances. There is a great story here, we just need the resources to get it out there.
If you would like to donate to the cause and help JourneyQuest be the series originally imagined, go to the Kickerstarter page: LINK
Did I ever tell you guys I lived in China? I was there hanging out and teaching English for almost a year. It was an awesome experience and looking back I wish I could have been a little more mature so that I could have truly enjoyed the adventure. It wasn’t the foreignness or my inability to speak the language, but the voice in my head that said I should finish my degree and do something responsible that ended up pushing me to leave.
I hate that voice. Don’t get me wrong. I am very glad I went to school and got my degree. I think education is important, if that is the right path for you. I hate the voice because I have always had a difficult time just enjoying living in the moment. I am the worst about putting too much pressure on myself (just ask my friends), I am always looking to the next thing and how I can do better. Well, that’s the constructive way of saying it. In its not-so-constructive form, I am not happy with the successes I have accomplished; I should always be better, “oh and remember when things were awesome in the past? That was a fun time. Yes”. See that is what is so very, well, dumb. Things were awesome in the past, but I was too busy putting pressure on myself to improve or focusing on what small aspect of things that were not so awesome that I didn’t enjoy the moment. I didn’t enjoy the awesome. It was not until later when I was wishing I had enjoyed it, and spending my time thinking about the past and not enjoying that moment. It’s a little confusing and it took me a few years to figure it out.
So now I know. I have to consciously enjoy the moment. There are awesome memories behind me and future adventures ahead of me. But what’s fantastic is this moment, right now.
So take a slow deep breath. Let it out. Take in the moment and all that’s around you. Life is awesome, and sometimes it’s even awesome-sauce.
Sorry this is a week late, I was sick last week. Better late than never, right?
Two weekends ago I went to Geek Girl Con. A celebration of women and fandom, geek girls (and women) from all around came to cosplay, speak and participate in this first year convention. I have to admit, at first I was a little wary. Whenever any group is highlighted by race, gender or religion there can be an “us vs them” mentality.
As I prepared for the con I wondered, was this going to be a negative anti-male fest? Was this going to be a poorly attended and disorganized first year con that will die out in the first year? I wasn’t alone in my concerns. Folks I talked echoed my concerns. However, I am happy to report that this convention was well-organized with a positive presence celebrating women and pop culture. This convention was just what I would want it to be.
Rather than segregate and stratify women from men in this community of fans, the convention celebrated strong female characters that women and girls can look up to. Looking around in the geeky world of pop culture, women are often portrayed as over-sexed, stripper clad ‘heroes’ or weak damsels in distress. This convention highlighted the characters that represent real women, strong women, and not just strong in the sense of caring a gun, kicking butt and taking names, but strong in character, strong in sense of mind, ability, with control over their surroundings and emotions. These are the characters that I love.
Since we are recognizing strong characters, the guests and panelists were not just women. There were men! Male panelists included authors and writers who have contributed to the new female presence with their creation of strong female characters. This was well discussed in the panel Character Studies: Geek Girls in Popular Culture. Panelist Javier Grillo-Marxuach described it well, he creates interesting characters, the gender is not the key component. It doesn’t matter to him if the characters are male or female. What he wants to create is a character that he finds interesting and has an interesting story to tell. What makes a character strong? Panelist Amy Berg talked about the characters she creates, characters that are empowered rather than have powers. She wants to emphasize their smarts and ability to solve problems with their brains and intellect. These are the type of characters that we can relate to.
I had fantastic time at the convention. After panels and browsing the show floor, I got to hang out with friends and make new friends over dinner and epic karaoke. I discovered that Javier Grillo-Marxuach is spectacular performer and rock a mean “Faith of Heart” (the Star Trek Enterprise theme song).
There was such a wonderfully positive atmosphere at Geek Girl Con. By the end of the convention folks were talking about 2012 and saying, “see you next year.” I for one plan to be there next year. This was a great celebration of women and pop culture, but this was also just a hell of a lot of fun.