Dancing Queen

The weekdays have brought work, of course, plus a visit with my therapist to do some quality venting about wedding planning and a trip to the mall to buy shampoo from Lush. I haven’t used it yet, but I will tomorrow. I’m so excited just to try a new coconut shampoo that it’s pretty dumb, actually. But hey, it’s the little things.

And then Prince died. My parents, brother, and I have a group text thread we use for general family communication, and my mom actually told us in that. When David Bowie died, I was convinced it was a hoax at first, but this time, coming from my mom, I knew it was real. I also knew she’d be in serious mourning–anyone who knows my mom knows she loves Snoopy, Stevie Nicks, and Prince. More than once in the few days since now, she’s mentioned how she still remembers sitting on the beach with her best friend talking about how they couldn’t wait to go see Purple Rain. This one hasn’t hit me the way David Bowie did, but it’s still sad. I used to joke that I knew Prince lyrics without ever remembering having heard the songs because I grew up with them. It was like one day, I realized I knew every word to “When Doves Cry” and I didn’t know how it happened.

So I wore a purple shirt and purple shoes to work last Friday.

Now, our favorite disco/funk cover band, Dancing Queen, was in town down at the casino just minutes from my apartment. We first saw them at a fundraiser for a fire hall where Terra and her mom volunteered, and it’s become something of a tradition now to go. I missed this past one–it’s every January, and it got rescheduled this year due to a snow storm. It was rescheduled for March, but it was the same day that I had tickets to see Jukebox the Ghost and went to look at our wedding venue, so I had to miss it. But my mom went with her Aunt Elaine and a friend of hers, and when they found out Dancing Queen was gonna be out here and for free, they were all about that.

So I came home from my Saturday shift, hung out a little, and changed into appropriate dancing attire. As it turns out, I found the perfect shirt from one of the many boxes Terra gave me before she moved. And appropriately, it was purple.

In fact, when I got to the casino, the stage area in the back was lit purple, and in the hour before the band started, they played all Prince music. Before Prince started, they had a moment of silence in his memory.

We ordered some food and gambled a little and lost, but most of the night was just dancing. That’s why we have so much fun going to see them. I do enjoy a lot of the songs they play–and they even played Prince’s “Kiss”–but it’s just so fun to go out and dance like that. It’s just music and a good time in the most basic of ways, and everyone is having fun.

It was great. I loved it. It was unifying and cathartic. It’s what music is about. There’s just something about a dance floor packed full of people, especially in the middle of a messy election year. Nothing else mattered for those few hours. Everyone just had fun. It’s something everyone should experience in some way, just something that lifts them out of everyday life and bonds them with other people, even if it’s temporary.

The catch is I’m out of shape. Sure, Paul and I have been walking regularly now that the weather’s warm, but we’re talking like half-hour walks on warm weeknights. Not almost a full three hours of dancing. Fortunately, I didn’t pay for it too horrible the next day, but I was definitely feeling it. I was achey. My mom even texted me and said, “My ass is draggin’.”

And for the rest of the weekend, we pretty much just stayed in. We’d gone out and done stuff the past couple weeks, and Paul, true to his introvert self, wanted a more low-key weekend at home. Worked for me. I danced too much.

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While I was still getting over my cold, Paul and I made a trip out to the history/art museum. They’re having a special dinosaur exhibit until May, and while he’d never be like, “Oh, we have to go!” I knew he wouldn’t object if I suggested it. I was right.

I’d wanted to have breakfast at the crepe place in Oakland, then go to the museum when they opened at noon, but Paul was really hungry and concerned crepes weren’t gonna be filling, plus the line was long. So we went to a bagel place instead, which was good but kind of a letdown when I had my heart set on crepes.

Paul actually wanted to go over to the museum early, which I thought was unnecessary, and then he teased me about it when we ended up having to stand in a short line to get in.

The museum is fun, but at least for me, it’s not too exciting to go if there’s not a special exhibit–it’s just the same ol’ stuff. But the temporary exhibits were pretty neat, and we did have a good time. I was pretty worn out just by going through the history section, but Paul wanted to tackle the art section, too, although I know we didn’t see all of it. It’s a lot to do in one trip.

In the meantime, I took a couple sick days, recovered, and worked.

Last Friday was my college’s annual alumni night as part of their writer’s festival, and I always like to go because they usually get a good crop of well-known alumni writers. This time, it was also a night of readings from senior capstone students, who now get their own little chapbooks that they sell as part of the festival, which is a really cool thing I wish would’ve been around when I was there. But I’m glad to see the program is able to do things like that, especially if Paul’s sister Emily ends up going and majoring in writing.

I’d told my professor I was interested in possibly reading, but then I found out it was also a book launch for an alumni anthology that I was not part of on account of, you know, barely publishing anything. So basically, I freaked out, feeling like I had no place reading with this group of people and like I wasn’t good enough, basically.

Alumni readings tend to be informal. I scrapped my original piece I was gonna read in favor of something much shorter, in part because I still had the sniffles, and went with something much shorter but also stronger, in my opinion. Honestly, I wasn’t really set on reading. I was fully prepared to sort of bail. But Paul wasn’t having it, and of course my professor asked me to read, and in the end I was essentially volunteered and put on the list. It was nice to have the push, but it was still terrifying to actually get up and do it. Yet it’s also cool to put myself out there like that.

The reading went well. Everyone else, at least, was super talented, and even though I had to work the next morning, we went out for the usual drink at Headkeepers. Last time we went, we hung out and talked to other writers for quite a while, but our deal this time was one drink and then we go. But it was still cool and fun to do, and one of the other writers told me my piece was “pretty fucked up,” which is true–it was about a high-school teacher of mine sending sexual messages to girls after graduation. So I took his comment as a compliment, and it launched into a good but sad conversation about things like inappropriate student/teacher relationships in the news at a nearby high school, as well as the famous Penn State scandal.

So all things considered, terror and feelings of inferiority aside, it went well and I’m glad I did it.

Saturday 9: Little Red Corvette

This one hurts.
Saturday 9: Little Red Corvette
From the archives.
In memory of Prince (1958-2016)

1) The subject of this song is frankly sexual. Do you blush easily? Not at all. In fact, I’m usually trying to make other people blush, usually my dad.

2) Prince was his real first name (Prince Rogers, to be exact). Growing up, his relatives called him “Skipper.” Do you have any nicknames within your family? My mom’s called me Nellie Sue my whole life–obviously, there’s Nellie Sue Olsen from Little House on the Prairie, but it was like a shortened form of my first name, Janelle, and my middle name, Susan. It used to be a more common nickname with extended family than it is now, though, and I think she’s still the only one who calls me that regularly. And of course, Little Janelle is still common.

3) Prince said he was “obsessed” with Mozart and read whatever he can find about the composer. What’s the last book you read? The last one I finished was A Wrinkle in Time, but the last one I picked up and make progress on was Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers.

4) Between Prince and The Beach Boys, the Corvette is a much sung-about car. Tell us about your vehicle. It’s a silver 2005 Toyota Corolla that my grandma bought not too long after my grandfather died–they drove a Buick and she wanted something smaller. After she died, my family needed another car, so my mom bought out my aunt and uncle’s share and my dad drove it for a while. When I graduated from college and started working and was still living at home and driving over an hour to work every day, my dad bought a small used Yaris and the Corolla got passed down to me. It’s got nearly 130,000 miles on it, and I intend to drive it until I can’t anymore.

5) In the 1980s, when Prince was popular, MTV could turn a song into a hit. In 2016, where do you hear new music? Occasionally, the radio–I do listen to it on my way to and from work, and sometimes if I pop over to a current station, something will get my attention. But I’d say the bulk of it is going to see live bands and getting interested in the opening acts, plus my love of using Spotify’s social aspects to basically creep on my friends and see what they’re listening to. I don’t listen to every single thing they do, but if something comes up that I’ve heard of and want to check out, I listen. I also use the “new releases” feature.

6) In 1982, when “Little Red Corvette” ruled the airwaves, Braniff Airways shocked the travel industry and threw passengers into chaos by declaring bankruptcy. When did you last fly? Did your trip go smoothly? It was last summer, when my brother graduated from boot camp. Very smooth and pretty short flight.

7) 1982 is also the year Disney opened Epcot. Have you ever been to a Disney park? Yes, and it still remains probably one of the top five most fun times of my life. My senior year of high school, we went to Orlando and sang with the school Chamber Ensemble. We performed like once, but we got to spend a few days down there visiting the Disney parks. It was the best.

8) 1982 is the year Cheers premiered. The sitcom was set in a bar where “everybody knows your name.” Tell us about your favorite local bar or restaurant. Honestly, there’s this cool new place right on Main St. called The President’s Pub that I really liked–the atmosphere was neat, they had interesting cocktails, and the food was really good. But we’ve only been there once. I’d say our favorites in town are the Greek place, Mr. Gyro’s, and the Lebanese place, Markook, where the owner knows us since we went like the first week they opened.

9) The 1980s were considered a highpoint in professional tennis, with Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe dominating the sport. Do you play tennis? Nope.

Friday 5: Happy Birthday to the Upstart Crow

  1. If brevity is the soul of wit, how witty are you? I think I’m pretty witty, actually.
  2. When did you last play fast and loose with the truth? Eh, dishonesty isn’t my thing. But I will say Paul and I aren’t particularly forthcoming with his mom about wedding plans–she’s thought this whole time a Catholic wedding was the only option, when in reality, we weren’t sure about it.
  3. When did the green-eyed monster last rear its head? I get a twinge of it whenever my writing peers have work published. Despite my own successes, it’s like it’s never enough and I’m always a little jealous when I see it happen for other people.
  4. What has often required you to screw your courage to the sticking placeWriting, I think.
  5. What’s a custom that you have found more honor’d in the breach than the observanceThis is a tough one–I legitimately don’t know.

Saturday 9: You’re Beautiful

Saturday 9: You’re Beautiful (2005)
Unfamiliar with this week’s tune? Hear it here.

1) The first line is of this song is, “My life is brilliant.” Using one word, describe your life. Evolving.

2)  This is about a chance encounter between strangers in a crowd,specifically the subway. What “crowded place” were you most recently in? I don’t think work counts as much of a crowd. Proper crowd would be Steel City Con.

3) Near the very end of this song, James Blunt sings, “It’s time to face the truth.” Do you believe you face things head on? Or do you tend to deny or put off the unpleasant? Some sort of middle ground–I’m honest with myself about how I feel about things, but I have a hard time addressing them with most people. My fiancé is a huge exception, strangely, where I was never afraid to bring something up or be honest about something, which I guess is a really good thing. And I am getting better with being up front about things when necessary, but it’s a work in progress.

4) James Blunt went to an all-boys school. Some educators recommend single-sex classrooms because they maintain girls just naturally approach subjects like math and science differently than boys do. Do you agree? I’d have to look at the studies to make a full decision because to be honest, especially with the issues with women in STEM fields, it sounds a little sexist. That said, I do thin there’s something to be said for differences between genders.

5) Blunt put his father in charge of his finances. Income taxes are top of mind for many of us this time of year. Do you do your own taxes? Or do you go to an accountant or tax preparation service? My mom does my taxes, but my mom is an accountant. Saying “my mom does my taxes” feels so juvenile, but she’s a CPA, so why not have her do my taxes? She does it for my aunts and uncles and cousins, too, but “my aunt does my taxes” doesn’t sound nearly as bad.

6)  In 2005, the year this song was a hit, the sitcom How I Met Your Motherwas also popular.  Do you know how your parents met? They met when they were both working in a Sears store, which is hilarious considering my mom has been a long-term Sears boycott.

7) 2005 is also the year Tom Cruise famously jumped on a sofa. Do you remember where he did this? Oprah!

8) 2005 was also the year YouTube really took off. What’s the last video you watched? There were two, both shown to me by Paul by Extra Credits. Both were about gaming. The first was about how to combat the problem of harassment in the community, the second was an open letter to EA about poor marketing decisions.

9) Random question … Which of these high profile jobs would you enjoy more: head of General Motors, CEO of Apple or president of the New York Yankees? CEO of Apple. It’s the most interesting to me.

The Steel City Con Debacle

My mom and I have a lot in common–one of the traits we share is our love of a good, old-fashioned boycott. We dislike your business practices or you screw us over, we’ll drop you without a second thought and never come back. I mean, my mom hasn’t shopped at Sears for well over a decade over something that has to do with our furnace breaking in the middle of winter and something about space heaters. I was a kid at the time and I can never remember the details of it, but the point is Sears wasn’t very good to my mom in the process and she’s looked upon the company with disdain ever since. As for me, I do my best to avoid companies whose moral compass doesn’t align with my own, and most recently, I blogged about what pushed me to stop buying from an Etsy shop I loved. I decided not to name them at the time, but fuck it, it’s Nerds with Vaginas.

Anyone who’s read this blog or has seen my various social-media posts in April, August, or December knows I always spend a weekend at Steel City Con in Monroeville. I’ve been going with my dad and brother since they first found out about it a few years ago, and in those years, my brother and I have taken friends and fiancees.

I bought a three-day pass this time around, mostly out of convenience rather than an actual desire to go all three days. The online sale on the passes was really good, which was great, considering prices have regularly been increasing and I was starting to think it was getting to be too much money for what the event offered. A three-day pass was $30–the same price as full-price Saturday passes–and because we’ve had issues in the past with traffic or wanting to see something one evening and ending up not having time to walk around, I figured it was worth it. That way, if something came up, we weren’t stuck with passes only good for one day that we couldn’t take full advantage of.

I had to work Saturday and figured I’d just go Sunday. My dad and brother went Saturday, and my dad happened to text me and mention that the show was sold out and that people were having to wait until someone else left before they could get in. It sounded chaotic but not horrible, as the Saturday shows usually are, although I’d never heard of one selling out before. I made a note to my fiancé that we ought to make it a point to get up early so we could get there and get in and not worry about lines. And as three-day passholders, we were able to get in a half-hour early. Bam. Done.

So I was perusing Twitter on Saturday night, like I do, and I saw this tweet from Sci-Fi Valley Con mentioning a Pittsburgh convention. And I thought, “Oh, shit, I hope it’s not Steel City Con,” and it was.

You can read the whole story for yourself here and here, and I recommend you do, especially if you have attended or plan to attend Steel City Con. But in short, the convention sold out and didn’t post anything about it on their social media–and people were checking, lest they drive all the way out and end up not being able to get it. People in line were told the venue was at capacity, but people who preordered their tickets were able to get in no problem. No explanation was offered by convention staff, and it got to the point that people starting asking other people who were leaving to buy their wristbands off of them so they could get in, which was apparently done in front of staff and security, who let it happen. Now, I realize it’s not the greatest, but honestly, if it were me in either position, I’d probably do the same thing, especially if people made it a point to check for a sell-out and saw nothing. People posting to the convention’s Facebook page about tickets selling out started seeing their posts deleted and found that they’d been banned from interaction with the page, and I saw this happen myself when I visited the page and saw a woman had posted about another interaction, only to find it gone a few minutes later. That interaction was a woman posting about having been banned from the page, followed by the page commenting on her post calling her a liar and a thief for buying someone else’s wristband, which is extremely unprofessional.

I actually thought initially that some of the issues were miscommunication–I was hearing somewhat conflicting stories, and it sounded like maybe organizers didn’t communicate something well to staff or staff didn’t communicate something well to patrons. Some people said if you waited long enough, you could get in, others said the line didn’t move and resorted to less-than-honest means of getting in. Now, though, it looks more like organizers were actively deceiving people wanting to get in.

I was really put off by the whole thing, and honestly, even now, if the convention were to un-ban everyone and issue an apology, I’d feel better. I even told Paul Saturday night that had we not bought tickets in advance, I’d consider not even going because I hate it when my money benefits assholes.

And then I started to think about it a little more, and I felt bad that there’d be vendors I really like and support regularly whose business would be hurt, albeit by a fraction, if I didn’t go. And to be honest, when we went Sunday, we had a great time, and I bought some awesome stuff. Ironically, it’s probably the most amount of money I’ve spent on a single trip there ever. The guest list for the next convention is pretty good, too, so I left Sunday with a bit of a change of heart and decided, somewhat begrudgingly, to keep going but maybe more sporadically, like only when a celebrity I want to see is going as opposed to every single show.

In the meantime, I’d been popping on Facebook here and there to keep an eye on how that how mess was progressing. Earlier in the morning, I’d done the same thing and screencapped some negative posts, thinking it might be a good idea in the midst of this mass ban-and-delete fest. I’d even commented on a few, explaining to some people who seemed confused just what had happened and that I found the con’s behavior to be really unprofessional–anyone with the tiniest bit of PR knowledge knows that you don’t respond to complaints by calling people liars. You say something like, “We’re so sorry you had this negative experience, and we’ll do our best to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” and maybe you offer free or discounted stuff. And people are usually okay with that. I mean, like I said, I’m pretty forgiving, and you issue a standard apology and I’m mostly willing to let it go.

But when I went to see how things were progressing, I found that I, too, had been banned. Couldn’t access the visitor posts I’d wanted to see, couldn’t comment on posts, couldn’t like posts, couldn’t do anything but share–and all I’d done was basically say, “They’ve been deleting posts and banning people, and it’s extremely unprofessional.” It was like anything remotely negative had to be silenced, like they had to keep up appearances and make it look like it was a much better, much smoother convention than it really had been. And really, keeping up appearances is all it is, because a lot of people are really unhappy and I saw more than one post (which have been deleted since) saying that the poster didn’t intend to return to the convention after all this, and now, I find myself in that same position. I was a longtime attendee and three-day passholder who was willing to give them a second chance, but I don’t appreciate the utter refusal to take any criticism and the censorship of anyone who speaks out.

My only complaints in the past have been crowding and high prices, as well as some sketchiness with middle-aged men taking pictures of underage girls without their knowledge or consent–some time after a con, my dad mentioned having seen this to my brother and I and asked if he should’ve reported it, to which we said yes, and I sent a respectful e-mail explaining what my dad saw and just expressing that it might be something they want to keep an eye on. I never received a response back, but as it never seemed to be an issue again, I let it go. But as it turns out, the convention has been building a bad reputation, mostly among vendors. I’d noticed some of the vendors I loved the most only attended once or twice, never to be seen again, and now I can’t help but wonder if this is why. Then there are posts like this, detailing some of the issues vendors have had.

So after reading the posts and my own negative experience, Paul and I have decided this past Steel City Con was our last, unless ownership changes hands or apologies are issued or something. Instead, we’ll be looking for alternatives. We’re considering the new, upcoming 3 Rivers Comicon, but as we have a wedding to go to that weekend, we might not make it. But we’re also looking at November’s Wizard World, as well as Altoona convention Sci-Fi Valley Con, whose initial tweet caught my eye. If Paul and I can get the time off work, we’ll be taking a long weekend to visit that then head over to State College. If we do, I intend to eat my way across Happy Valley.

So good riddance, Steel City Con. We had a good run. I hope you learn from your mistakes.

Now, I still feel like all of this is unfair to the vendors, and there are some great ones. So with the hope of driving some more business over to them, I’ve decided to list below as many of my favorite go-tos as I can remember. It’s definitely not comprehensive, as I’ve lost some business cards over the years, but they’re great and they deserve your business.

Friday Five: The Middle

  1. What’s something you’re in the middle of? Looking for a new job, trying to build up my writing career even more, planning a wedding.
  2. What’s in the middle of you? A banana and some blood-orange beer. Organs. A mad case of Imposter Syndrome, with a side of wedding-related frustration with my future mother-in-law and a little anxiety, but that’s unrelated.
  3. What is your residence in the middle of? Downtown Washington, PA. My building is kind of between other buildings, plus it has a main road on one side with a little courtyard on the other. The complex itself is made up of a bunch of little buildings, and the property is situated on a corner. So there’s a Methodist church on one end and a Catholic church on the other.
  4. What’s a great food that features something in its middle? Basically anything with cheese in it. Or, like, tacos or filled crepes. I’m also a big fan of stuffed peppers, which I eat just about weekly.
  5. What’s the nearest you’ve been to the middle of nowhere? Brandon’s fiancee’s parents live in the depths of our home county, where you start to wander away from the main roads and chain restaurants into farms and woods. But the truest middle-of-nowhere isolation I’ve felt is probably up at camp with Terra, in Cook’s Forest. No cell service unless you go into town, and I use that word loosely. The grocery store is a family-owned general store that’s basically just a big room that sells the basics.

As always–and as I always forget to mention–this comes from Friday 5.