Friday, March 3, 2017

Pantheacon 2017, Part 3: Saturday

Even though I rolled into my bed at the Doubletree after Midnight on Friday night, I was still up and at ‘em at 6am on Saturday morning. I was eager to get to my usual spot by the fireplace in the lobby so I could write up my notes on the the super fun FRIDAY.

I never got there.

On my way out to the lobby I peeked into the Carmel/Monterey rooms where I would be giving my Pagan Humor seminar in 3 hours.

And there were 20 chairs in there, all laid out in a perfect oval. Mmmmmm…….that’s not right. Even for a 9am slot I was expecting more people than that, and the kumbaya seating wasn’t going to work either.

Where did my lovely theater seating go?

I looked out in the service hallway, but nobody from Hotel was up and about that time of the morning. What I did find out there was the ‘set up sheet’ for the room, which was set up correctly -
Yep, all correct, except for the everything part.
for the seminar that was
originally supposed to be in this room. But “Reflections in Divinity” cancelled more than a month ago - and nobody at Pantheacon® had bothered to inform the Hotel of the change. Yay!

Well, there was nothing for it. I set my phone for ‘chickens playing circus marches playlist’, cranked up the volume and started lugging stacks of chairs around.

An hour later I had the place in shape - even the panelist tables on the stage turned to my liking. I could have gone on then to the lobby to write, or gone on to cafe Ho-Hum to get a $25.00 breakfast, but I stuck around the room…..

…….because right on cue a nice man from Hotel popped in and immediately started undoing my theater seating. Hold on there, Pardna! I explained the situation, and he was VERY relieved to know that

  1. The night shift hadn’t screwed up last night, and 
  2. He wouldn’t have to rearrange everything.
All better.
After I had shooed him away I went back to my hotel room, changed into my show clothes and grabbed my gig crate and music stand. Having had as little as a half-hour to prepare for a show, I was luxuriating in having a couple of hours to set-up all of my stuff, eat a leisurely breakfast (girl scout cookies - don’t judge), even test out a few angles for the phone camera. Any more time and I would have taken a nap, right there on stage.

Pagan Humor 9: Over THERE

My first attendee showed up at 8:30am - kindred spirit!, followed closely by Mykey, with his video camera, Karen, with her knitting, and Tech, with a microphone. In 9 years of doing these I’ve never had a smoother set-up.

What was truly touching was seeing many of my friends struggling in, still with bed hair and pillow prints on their faces. Jason still had on his pajamas and Ari brought an entire pot of coffee. The
Warming waking up the crowd
struggle is real!

So I made a little speech about how grateful I was that anyone had showed up to see me at this UNGAWDLY hour, and then I plunged right into the show.

Usually a Pagan Humor show is 20,000 words edited down to 11,000 (the amount I can coherently speak in 80 minutes.) This year though I was distilling 15 different blog posts - 37,000 words in total, down to the 11,000 word maximum. It was heartbreaking work, but satisfying in the performance - as it always is. Only using 1/3 of the material means I was just leaping from punchline to punchline, with a few dramatic scenes left intact for contrast.

As always, perfectly calm on stage.
Karen says I made her cry 3 times. So, mission accomplished.

As always, 80 minutes felt like 10 when I am Telling the Tale, and I could feel the crowd wake up with me and then come along, energetically, on my trip to England.

And I sold 10 of the little homemade DVDs of my epic 50th Birthday recital, so that was another plus. Sweet, sweet Commerce! (and truly, the best gift you can ever give any artist - is cash.)

Okay. That’s in the can. Now what?

Afternoon Activities

How about something else that I’ve never done before? My non-profit group, Community Seed, puts on an ‘earth energy walk’ every month, and this year the date happened to overlap Pcon, which is not a big deal, except that this year everyone on the Board was going to ‘Con.

So we did that witchy thing where you bend stuff to your Will, and we came up with the idea to run the walk FROM Pantheacon. We would just walk from the Doubletree to the nearby Guadalupe River Park and get some quiet nature time in there.
Jason and me (with pot of coffee)
and yes, those are batman PJs.

Looked good in theory. Looked good on Google Maps. But after stowing my gig gear back in 558 I went out to my car to get my hoodie. As soon as I was outside I was buffeted by high winds, it was sprinkling, and I could see a big, gloomy goth cloud over in the direction of the walk.

Right. So as the wind spun me around again I just dived back inside, pocketed the car keys and forgot all about this silly ‘Nature’ stuff.

But I was still on the post-show high, and I missed the 11:00am time slot of presentations, so I just wandered around the vendor room and the suites on the 2nd floor. It was one of the nicest times of the entire weekend.

When the drug of performing finally wore off I went back to our room and found Karen already napping. That seemed like a great idea, so I joined her.

I popped awake at 3:15pm, threw on some clothes, and raced down to “Acquisitions Editors Tell All” with the good people from both Llewellyn and Weiser publishing. The first half of this was just a conversation between Elysia and Judika about what they do (Shepherd, Worry and Badger), and what they are looking for in a book proposal (Coherency, Uniqueness and Typos).

The second half was questions from the audience, and these were liberally sprinkled with Incoherency, Done-to-Death, and Shattered Syntax, proving once again that Writers are pretty much the worst Listeners, ever.

The fun was listening to some rambling run-on of ohGodNO and watching the two Editors normally warm smiles get more and more frosty:

  • I’ve been writing this book for 30 years (smiles are locked in stasis)
  • I have tons of notes (smiles are noticeably colder)
  • It’s fiction (Editors have an entire conversation without looking at each other or making a move)
  • It’s about 15% written (Icicles have formed on the smiles)
  • And I think it’s going to be a five volume series (smiles are actively snowing and little tiny reindeer are now visible)
  • Would you be interested in this book? Smiles crack, avalanches of snark cascade silently away, the Editors share one glance that fills 5 volumes, and then they very diplomatically take the kind way out, by saying, almost in unison:  “We don’t do fiction.”
But in the middle of this my tummy was pulling on my sleeve and reminding me that I had somehow
The doors open. View from my music stand.
missed lunch AGAIN.

So a light dinner at Cafe Ho-Hum - do they freeze their salads? This iceberg lettuce is cold enough to have actual icebergs in it. Karen and I were seated next to “Why Am I Single” who sounded like he was actively regurgitating his meal to feed the baby birds in his brain. We moved to another table.

Dancing on the Wildside

Right. Nutritiated (and nauseated), I then went back to the room to prepare for New Thing #2: My first foray into emceeing a dance show. I had prepared as much as I could for this, printing out the dancer’s intros in BIG type, writing some segue jokes, and bringing along a few pages of filler material in case I needed to ‘fill some time’, for whatever reason.

Working the crowd. (photo by Chris Illes.)
But to be honest with you, Dear Constant Reader, I spent as much time on how I looked as what I was going to say. The theme of the show was “Dancing on the Wildside” and the performers would be mimicking various animals. So I got into the spirit by wearing RenFaire boots, leather pants, a pith helmet - and my bullwhip. And yet, there was more room in my gig bag so I tossed in every animal hat I had, from Brandon Belt giraffe ears to a Panda Hat.

My Emcee notes even indicated which hat to wear for each introduction. I keep my silliness organized.

(photo by Chris Illes.)
The set up was chaotic: A cold half hour to rig up a good sound system and corral 15 flighty dancers. I kept my gear close and just kept out of everybody’s way. And honestly, this was a minor skirmish compared to setting up my coven’s 1899 ritual, or the wildest of all, the Feri Tent Revival.

My big moment came right at the beginning, where I got to greet the overflow crowd of 400. I started with an oooold Victor Borge bit where I held up a 3”X5” card and said “Welcome to Dancing on the MILDside.” And then I turned the card ‘right-side-up’ and corrected: “Oh. WILDside. Sorry.”

That got a hearty laugh, so I next asked them if they were in touch with their Wildside. This got a decent roar, so I leaned into the mic and yelled “It’s Saturday night at Pcon, People! ARE YOU IN TOUCH WITH YOUR WILDSIDE!?!” And that got a nice, sustained frenzy.

(photo by Chris Illes.)
And then I got the first dancer up there right away, because this was not my show. The hour smoothed right along, and it was fun to read the introductions without having any idea of who these women were or what they would doing.

The animal interpretations were inspired and the costumes were phenomenal. And I had the best seat in the house.

I only told one joke that fell flat. After a very fine bellydancer was finished (imitating a Koi carp - you had to be there), I told the crowd that my favorite line from Shakespeare was from Hamlet, Act 5, Scene II: “There's a Divinity that shapes our ends.”
Just sayin' (photo by Chris Illes.)


It’s an ASS joke, people! Get your minds back in the gutter.

For the finale I just handed both wireless microphones to Sarah and Didi and they thanked the crowd, the people that put on Pantheacon and the dancers. The DJ then played “Welcome to the Jungle”, the dancers danced right off the the stage and the crowd left their seats and it was Pagan American Bandstand.

I put away the mic stand and cord, packed up my music stand and bag of hats and quietly slipped out of the hall and up to 558.

Finale. (photo by Chris Illes.)
What. Is. Happening. In. There?

Yay! My responsibilities for the weekend were now complete! I had volunteered for the Con, done a good job on my show and helped out friends with their wigglin’ extravaganza and now it was time for my REWARD.

(This is foreshadowing)

9pm. Saturday night at the largest Pagan gathering on the West Coast. Time so prime it was downright primal. The choices were phenomenal, and to choose one would be heartbreaking.

(This is building up of the false hopes)

Libations for Justice! Mythpunk Masquerade! Jailbreaking the Goddess! R.J. Stewart concert! And many more…...all of whom delighted and transformed their audiences with deep magick and timeless wisdom and sent their celebrants into endless rapturous ecstasies -

(Okay. That’s laying it on a little thick. Just get to the trainwreck, K? This post is already 2,000 words long.)
By Saturday we done our usual excellent
job of breaking the elevators.

For some unknown reason - and now we are lying awake nights wondering why - we chose to attend Amduat: The Night Journey of Ra. This became the most talked-about offering of all 209 that were presented that weekend.

But not in a good way.

You couldn’t blame the tech. There were 3 giant screens that showed pictures of goddesses and hieroglyphs, plus a vocal effects processor that gave Ra a basso profundo voice that made Darth Vader sound like Tiny Tim. And all this was set up in a room where I know for certain that 30 people were dancing to Guns ‘n’ Roses not a half-hour before.

You couldn’t blame the costumes. If not museum-worthy they were at least Vegas-worthy.

You couldn’t blame the participatory gimmick. The crowd was accompanying Ra on his nightly journey through the underworld, meaning we were all in the same boat with this God.

So as we passed through each of the 12 hour-gates we were either required to “row” the bark or “tow” it if we were on sand or something. This was accomplished by wooden, foot-long oars for the outer part of each row of seats (the “row”), or by long strings stretching back down the inner half of the seat rows that we all lightly tugged on (the “tow”).

Sound like fun? Far from it!

You couldn’t blame the research, the performances or the audacity to actually use ALL of the Amduat text - a gesture of reverence and respect that would have been well received within the OSOGD community at one of their private functions.

But at 9pm on Saturday night at Pantheacon, all of this hat-in-hand solemnity fell spectacularly flat.

The search engine tells no lies.
Here’s the thing: Look up Amduat or the Journey of Ra through the Underworld or any Ancient Egyptian rite and you’ll will get a summary of the ceremony, an abridged version, or simply a brief overview. The reason for this is that almost no one would ever want to read the whole damned thing.

Or, you know, sit and have grim folks recite it at you.

Here: Imagine hearing a couple hours of THIS.

Translated hieroglyphics and papyrus scrolls sound like the most scholarly of Academic tomes - with every 3rd word removed. It was like listening to an endless tape of a word-substitution code.
  • We listened - to the names of hundreds of minor gods. 
  • We looked at - blurry enlargements of hieroglyphics, each one as stiff and two-dimensional as this ceremony.
  • We rowed and towed every 20 minutes or so. The novelty wore off about 20 minutes in.
  • We lost contact with our asses - as our butts mercifully went to the land of deep sleep.
And since this was a journey of 12 gates and 12 hours (seemingly in real time), every 15 or 20
Karen and Ari, in some suite or 'nother
minutes we would pass through another gate. You could tell this three ways:
  1. The middle screen would flash a gigantic “3” or “4” or whatever
  2. The entire audience would try not to groan out-loud at how endlessly dreary this was getting.
  3. One of our grim reciters would finish whatever arcane gibberish they were monotoning with the phrase “A true remedy”. (“Why?” and “for what?” went unasked and unanswered.)

Paying only half attention to the endless rollcall of dead gods brought some relief (“She with the Hairy Nose” “He who takes the M&M’s from Ba-Souls” ‘The One with the Keys to My Buick”) as did hearing the muffled conversations and then tiptoes as wave after wave of row-and-tow-ers jumped overboard and bailed on this Ship of Fools.

However we were stuck with Ra, because we were in the 3rd row and it would have looked really bad for us to tromp away. Also stuck was the adhoc choir, literally pulled from the line that was waiting to get into this rite, back when the sun shone and there was hope and joy in the world.

The Pretty Hair Twins!
This choir was looking trapped and pathetic as the conductor attempted to synchronize the recitation of even more gods names and the repeated admonishment to “coat your ba-soul in Irish butter and broil for 20 minutes at 350 B.C.” (Or something. They were less than coherent, less than enthused, and I was less than interested.)

Gate #7 flashed on the screen. But we had been enduring this stone-faced litany for 75 minutes now, and so there was a great groaning and then a mass exodus from ancient Egypt.

Me though, I was suddenly enthused. 5 more gates to go! In 15 minutes! Plus whatever ending they had concocted and then the reverse of the grand processional that had brought them all in here.

I had seen presentations ‘go long’ before, but this 90 minute slot was forecast to go on for about 4 hours now - and I knew there was another presentation that was going to be piling into this ballroom to set up in just a few minutes.

The least I could do was stick around for the trainwreck.

But then I felt an urgent tug on my sleeve and I guess we were going to be tacky and walk right out of this mess from the 3rd row.
At one time, this was a great spread of food.

As we left I noted that very few people had even stuck around this long. The Choir of Sad was still bravely sawing away at more and more dead goddess names (“baboon that cuts Ba-souls into julienne fries” “The crocodile that plays upright bass” “Snake with the butt of Tony Franciosa”) the pictures still flashed on the screens and our speakers still stood there like first generation audio-animatronic figures. But this Egyptian Tutanic was about to crash into the iceberg waiting outside.

And that was who met us as we closed the door on Amduat: “She with eyes like Ginsu knives” The Head of Programming for Pantheacon. And she asked me “What. Is. Going. On. In. There?

And I replied “Nothing.” as we fled this particular hell.

And yet, I have to admire the dash and daring of the thing. The cast was doing their best, the tech was top-notch, the costumes beautiful, and the presentation dramatic. But dude! I know that 11,000 words is the most I can speak in 80 minutes without sounding like I’m a chipmunk on meth. And so where I will fault them is in not realizing that they would not get 30,000 god names spoken in the time allotted.

Thorn, Jason and Orion (for $5)
And also, unabridged Egyptian rites are boring as fuck.

Suite Crawl (Part 2 of 3)

Now was no time to be sober. We needed another kind of Spirits after our butt-numbing boat ride through “It’s a dead world after all”.

We assembled the posse and fled for the hospitality suites. Having polished off the 10th floor on Friday night we stayed mostly on the 9th for this one. As always the “Hospitable” part of the name varied widely.

Some rooms warmly welcomed us in and fed us nachos and white lightning.

And others were “record scratch” rooms, where we walked in, conversations stopped, all heads turned our way, and the smiles were as cold as two Acquisition Editors.

Thank yous to Jessica and the fierce ladies of Hanta Yo
  • We really liked all of the couches at the Hexenfest room. And also the refreshing lack of Karaoke.
  • The Woven arts room got high marks for friendliness, food and decor. An oasis of quiet crafts and gentle spirits.
  • The Feri Suite had excellent champagne and a tragic display of used-to-be-food-here.
  • Orion’s suite had a life-size cardboard cutout of Mr. Foxwood. They got bonus points for that. But then we were told that photos with the cutout would cost us 5 dollars. So they got the same number of anti-points.
  • The Hanta Yo people made a con ribbon out of something I said last year, which is like being quoted to the Nth degree. I was very touched.
  • But the winner of the 9th floor was Black Rose witchcraft, who scored high all across the board.
Looks like someone is gonna get it in da butt.
Pro-tip: Your hospitality suite is essentially a time-released party. And a party without music is like telling a publisher that you’ve been writing your book for 30 years and its 15% done - It should never happen. So, make with the tunes! Its an easy way to keep your audience and score easy points with us.

Our party of sturdy suite crawlers waxed and waned, but everywhere we went we overheard people telling other people about this bizarre Egyptian rite they had been to. We began to feel like the Carpathia, sailing the booze-laden seas of the 9th floor, gathering in the survivors of the stunken Tutanic.

After 2am though, the rescuers needed rescuing. So we tottered back to 558, and this epic day, full of the highest highs and the lowest lows finally drew to a close.

And sleep was (as it always is) “A true remedy.”

On to the FINALE of SUNDAY!

Angus McMahan

(Pics attributed to Chris Illes were taken by......wait for it......Chris. Karen took the one of me telling my stories. Ari took the one of Jason tonguing Orion. Everything else is from my iPhone.)