A quiet, simple life with dollops of insanity

me, by mike monteiro A few months ago, I had occasion to take an unusual and particularly interesting inventory of my life.

I say "unusual" because as a chronic self-dev-junkie-(slash)-overthinker, my default setting is "taking inventory." Taking Inventory is a sort of state of being, an always-on operation that provides a constant, low-level background hum.1 (Which, given this hearing loss I seem to have sustained from a particularly fabulous but surprisingly loud record-release party last fall, is actually a boon.)

I say "particularly interesting" because while any reasonably thoughtful inventory can yield some pretty wowser data, the circumstances surrounding this one changed both the way I approached the inventory and, I'm guessing, the quality of the results.

In this case, I had a really limited window to get very, very clear on my priorities, with probably no further at-bats. So the thing had to be vast and done fast, and the stakes were much higher than usual. This created an uncharacteristic mix of thoroughness and detachment in my execution, and a startling clarity in the results: quietude and simplicity are more important to me than, well, a lot.

They are more important than money, for sure. This is non-news, I've walked away from a lucrative position (with benefits! and opportunity for advancement!) because while I very much liked the stuff, I did not like the nonsense demanded as payment. Even more insanely, perhaps, I walked away from a consultancy I'd just started developing because it felt overly complex and "noisy." I get that there are very few true "mailcart guy" jobs, but I'm still prepared to scale back even more and take a dumb-ass day job that supports a simple life rather than push through noise and complexity for money. Comfort isn't comforting if you're using it as chaos management.

What the inventory made clear (and which is still hard to wrap my head around) is that quietude and simplicity are more important than being liked, or in some cases, loved.2 I have always had a deeply-felt need to please and to serve. I still do, but I've finally ceded my physical limits: there is neither enough time nor enough me to go around; what's more, I have some faulty factory-installed parts that shut down operations if I don't handle them gingerly.

* * *

So why the hell would someone who likes to keep it quiet and simple go to something like SXSWi, a now-22,000-person-strong (by some estimates) clusterfuck in a town barely able to accommodate half that, an "educational" conference whose programming is legendarily spotty (and getting worse), and whose noise and activity levels drain the lifeblood of even normal, hardy extraverts with youth on their side?

At first, back in 2006, I went out of curiosity and a need to be game. My then-boyfriend wanted to go, and I have learned that leaping has its rewards. So I leapt, and it was good, except for the burning out, which was bad. I learned about what makes a good (and a bad) talk. I learned actual stuff about podcasting and design. I saw movies, which was reason enough to go.3 I was really grateful I went, and grateful to him for encouraging (i.e., pushing) me to go.

When I leapt again in 2008, it was because I'd met a bunch of people online and wanted to meet them in real life, and while I was still uncomfortable with the practice, I recognized that the only way to it is through it. 2009 and 2010 became more and more about connecting with my now-friends, while slowly expanding my circle.

This year, quite frankly, I went because I had gone before. I went because I was afraid if I didn't, I might be missing something. While that's true, I actually would have missed a number of terrific chance encounters and planned meetups, going "just because" is no longer adequate as a sole reason to do something.4 And the drawbacks inherent in a massive, out-of-town conference, where it's impossible to get true downtime, where the panels are so many and so spread apart it's literally impossible to get to some of them on time, where the crowds are so thick and the control of them so absent a small person feels unsafe, mean this was probably my last South-by. It would take extraordinary circumstances to get me back, and a lot of ingenuity in the personal engineering of it. I like my insanity as much as the next guy, but I can only like it in micro-doses.

* * *

I had a short spasm of semi-coherent debriefing in the Wave with my friend Dave. I vented my frustration, my feelings of overwhelm, my nostalgic longing for the Good Old Days when it was a "tiny" conference of less than 10,000 people. He reminded me that even then, way back in 2006, there was an old guard complaining about how SXSWi had tipped, how it had been taken over by non-makers, how it had been "ruined" by this next wave of people discovering the web as a publishing tool, a means of connection. And he was right. And I am right. And SXSWi is right (if a conference can be right): it is a living thing, there to serve the people of the web in the time that they are using it. I greatly enjoyed my five visits, and I'm fine with handing it over to whomever is moving into this ever-changing, always amazing space.

May you enjoy your glorious new thing, and may I find my new dollops of insanity easily and joyfully, and may we all leave the world a better place in our own particular way.

xxx c

1What I mean by this is that I am constantly analyzing where I'm at and examining ways in which I might be resisting not moving further. Kind of like relentless self-development. There are obvious actions like being part of a growth-directed mastermind group, psychotherapy, and reading a great deal of self-development books and other materials on how other people tackle change. There are less-obvious actions like simply turning my attention (constantly, consistently) to whatever thing I've identified that I want to change, noticing envy, for instance, and going through a sort of on-site inspection/analysis/implementation process. If you have questions about this, please do ask them in the comments, or, if they're super-private (and I totally get how they might be) feel free to email me.

2The "loved" part I still don't have a handle on. I'd like to believe there's a way to be me and be in a primary relationship, if only for the seemingly contraindicated reason that primary relationships are the world's greatest self-development labs. Also, division of labor is a great time-saver. Also, footrubs!

3Although strangely enough I preferred the tech-y stuff and the meeting people. Mostly, I treated the movies, once we were inside, and over the stress of the lines and the "will this Gold Badge actually get us in and decent seats?", as a way to be quiet and shore up needed energy for more mixing it up.

4I did also go because it's still a cost-efficient way to see a number of people at once. The problem is that there's a cap on the number, say, 30, and that's on the outside. Over four days, given my capacity, I have the ability to have meaningful meetups with about 30 people. Hugs in the hallway are awesome, and it's always nice to make a quick connection to someone in real life which you can then continue later, online and off. But meals, drinks and hangouts? You're talking 30, maybe 40. 50 if you don't need the insane amount of disco-nappage that I do these days.

UPDATE 4/7/11: Many writers have posted pieces, chiefly grumpy, about how SXSW has finally jumped the shark. Or that maybe it did last year. Or two years ago. Or 10. My favorite take on the hoo-ha is one written by my pal John Gruber. (And it should be noted that John and I "met" via Twitter, then met a few years ago at...SXSWi! After it had jumped the shark and everything, according to the old hands.) John's take is, as per usually with John's writing, straightforward, thoughtful, and succinct. You should probably read it, if you're interested in that kind of stuff.

But for sheer charm, you should treat yourself to my friend Alissa Walker's SXSW writeup. Because no one touches Alissa Walker for sheer charm. Especially with photodocumentation!

Photo of yours truly in a rare SXSW moment of relative quiet by Mike Monteiro, used under a Creative Commons license.

Finding your circle of awesome (a lesson from SXSW)

Weird, one-off disclaimer: Apologies if this gets nerdier in places than our regular program. I'm still processing the events and information of the past week, and via sleep-deprived filters. Which means that given my own standards, I probably should wait to post about it here, but given my iffy memory, I thought it best to strike while things were still relatively vivid in my mind.

Rumor has it that last year, attendance at SXSWi, that's the Interactive (or "nerd") portion of the Austin-based South by Southwest festival, increased by 40%.

And that this year, it increased by 40% again, making it bigger than either the Film or Music portions of SXSW, both of which have been around far longer.

Even if the numbers aren't quite as staggering, it hardly matters: the reality was more so. On this, my fourth trip to SXSWi in five years (I skipped what would have been Year #2), there were more people here/there/everywhere than even last year, which was crazy-packed. And I'm not even talking about parties, which, save one quickly-corrected exception, I've learned to avoid altogether in favor of the mix of planned meetups and small, impromptu gatherings of friends (usually with a ratio of one old friend to two new, to keep expanding The Circle of Awesome).

At (impromptu) drinks on Sunday night1, a couple of old-timers were telling tales of South-bys past, specifically, of the first particular South-by they passed in the hallways, rather than the sessions.2

It's no news that some of the best stuff that goes down at any conference is of the decidedly unofficial variety; that's the whole reason behind BarCamp and its fancier forebear, Foo Camp. But hearing it confirmed by two now-established pillars of the design community made me wonder why other longtime members of Camp We Were Here First are so angry about the growth of the conference in recent years. Didn't they first find each other in the sessions of the conference in the halls, and move it to the halls themselves? And weren't we all here now, together: a bunch of old- and medium-timers, who met the same, weird way, through a crazy-quilt of Internet sites, social media hubs and real-life hallways, fueled by a mix of intention and openness?

Why the fuck is everyone so goddamn angry?

Of course, it's not everyone; it's not even all the oldsters. It may be just a vocal minority who's ticked off, amplified by the echo chamber of the social web. It may even be me drawn to some icky-but-human, lowest-common-denominator gossip. I get dark when I get tired.

But I'd have to have been far denser than I am not to detect the noticeably rising tide of hatred toward newcomers, who were being labeled either clueless tech n00bs or opportunist douchebags (or both), but were definitely charged with interfering with the "real" reason for the conference.

Okay. So what is the real reason for a conference? Education for all? High-level exchanges with peers? As someone wisely suggested3 on a recent post lamenting the dumbing-down and up-sizing of SXSWi, if you want to make it more about the focused exchange of knowledge and less about lazy, liteâ„¢ and/or dig-me sessions (not to mention booth babes, sponsored parties and other corporo-effluvia) move that shit to Rochester, NY in the middle of winter: you can enjoy all the high-level conversation you want, unmolested.

I had a rather different experience with content at SXSW 2010: I attended more panels this year than I had in the previous two put together, including one excellent core conversation on interviewing best practices. And in case it's not obvious from the context I've tried to establish here (hey, I'm fuzzy!), there would have been no conversation on interviewing best practices had SXSW not grown in size to include the bloggers, podcasters, videobloggers, and yes, mainstream journalists who are now drawn to South-by.

(And speaking of mainstream journalism, thank God-or-whom/whatever that the tent is big enough now to include them. I, for one, would like to see journalism survive into the next century, and that's not going to happen unless people on the other side of the tech divide, the "right" side, the one that's been coming to South-by since the beginning, the NEW side, extends a hand and helps them over.)

I get that change is hard. I get that everyone's default reaction to it, mine included, tends to be fear (sometimes expressed as anger or sorrow). But everything was new sometime, just as everyone knew nothing and no one at one point. Are you still only friends with the people you knew when you were seven? Do you still watch only The Brady Bunch and/or Matlock? If so, please, please work on expanding your own Circle of Awesome, wherever you choose to start your search. Even if you start with Netflix.

My own Circle of Awesome has grown to include all kinds of people: the ones who have been there a long time and the ones who showed up for the first time this year; the freaks and the other freaks who are scared of those freaks and the freaks who don't even realize they're freaks. People who eat meat and people who won't even eat their vegetables cooked. People whose eye for design dazzles mine and people whose use modal windows makes my heart sieze up.

It's less a circle than it is a busy, constantly growing series of circles that overlaps like a Venn diagram with a z-axis. Yours might look different. Yours must look different. You might have to look harder to find Your People in some places than others. You might decide that some places are best avoided altogether (especially when you're running low on tolerance and/or capacity).

Does this take time and energy to manage? You betcha. Do my worlds sometimes collide in a way that is nervous-making and even uncomfortable? Uh, yes. Yes, they do.

But I've been surprised and delighted at how my life grows richer the more I expand my definitions of what works for me to include the generically excellent, love, tolerance, humor, playfulness, and leave behind the old cues I used to rely on: what "looks" right, what sounds familiar, etc. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to find the good in everyone, much less that I'll bring us all together in one room to sing "Kumbaya," but that probably has more to do with me and my insecurities than them not being able to find their own areas of overlap.

It is a process of looking for the positive rather than the negative, and of moving, not stopping.

Except to rest, of course. Which is a process I will be heavily involved with over the next 48 hours...


1Okay, technically Monday morning. What? It's South-by, Jake...

2That's a term old-timers use, by the way, "South-by." So now you can pretend to be an old-timer. Until they change the secret handshake again.

3Alas, I cannot find it now, but I'm fairly sure it's embedded in the lively comments section of this post by long-timer Jolie O'Dell. I'll add here that if I'd been groped in public (or private, without my permission), it would have colored my perceptions, too. I have a healthy fear of crowds that stems from a Who-concert-like experience with a line for the city bus during my high school years that has me steer clear of any situation where crowds are likely to gather.

Terrifying yourself on a regular basis (a lesson from SXSW)

the author in the green room at sxsw

Each of the four years I've been coming to SXSW, I've learned a little something different.

The first time, it was about the value of coming to a conference, period. The next time, about learning to take the time I needed, regardless of the enticing hoopla happening around me (and also about not skipping a year, if you can avoid it). Last year, my Stuart Smalley year, apparently, it was about being myself, no matter how uncool I suspected that was (something that an intervening year has only confirmed).

This year, it was about terrifying myself. Not pushing my boundaries, not stretching just to or slightly beyond the limits of my comfort zone, but hurtling myself in harm's way and seeing what happens next. Specifically, pushing my way onto the most terrifying panel I could imagine: a two-minute, on-the-spot presentation improvised to 10 slides I had never seen before in my life and which had been prepared with the intent of maximizing audience laughter and enjoyment, not of making my job easier. A tradition sometimes known as "PowerPointâ„¢ Karaoke," and which a friend here dubbed "business improv." (Which sounds like the world's most horrible anything, but hey, I'm biased.)

Anyway. It was the opposite of rolling off a log (which I gather is easy, if not exactly fun), yet I managed to enjoy it. Especially the part when it was over. Okay, I exaggerate, as is my wont and prerogative. But really, now that I have made a fool of myself in front of 600 people, I can move on to  bigger and scarier challenges: making a fool of myself in front of 1,200 people! Or on national television!

Terrifying yourself is like building up muscle, as it has been told to me that muscles are built: you push things hard enough so that you are uncomfortable and the muscle tears a little; scar tissue builds up; the muscle gets bigger; you get stronger! Lather, rinse, repeat. (The act of terrifying yourself, of course, not that last action you used to do it.)

Also, if at all possible, I suggest the diving-in-straightaway-and-getting-it-over-with timing strategy. Gretchen Rubin (who ripped it up on the book stage) and I were both congratulating ourselves on having our respective moments of terror over with on Friday, so we were left free to enjoy the rest of our SXSW weekends.

Oh, and speaking of rest, one final note: there must be blissful (if brief) periods of rest in between the daredevil acts of muscle-building. Rest that includes things like hanging out with friends, taking in other people's feats of derring-do, and permission to write short blog posts.

See? You really can learn something at SXSW...


Photo ©2010 Jeffrey Zeldman via Flickr.

Lessons from SXSW, Part 2: You be you be you


I'm reading a wonderful book right now: Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love.

Well, I was reading it anyway. I got through "Eat" on the outbound flight to Austin, and most of "Pray" on the return flight to LAX, but I was sobbing so hard during the "Pray" part, I felt like I was so alarming my seatmate, a man drawn more to the Airport Potboiler type of tome (not that there's anything wrong with that), that the only kind thing to do was stop. Besides, you try blowing your nose on a stack of those starchy airline cocktail napkins.

There are many things I expect I will be discussing from my experience reading Ms. Gilbert's wonderful book, along with many more things about SXSW, the mind-and-heart-splitting festival I see fit to subject my poor, battered body to every year, but right now, I need to discuss themes. She discusses themes in her wonderful book: specifically, she talks about the word that sums up each city or person, according to her Roman language-sparring buddy, Giulio. For example, according to Giulio (who apparently has given all of this a great deal of thought), Rome's word is "SEX" while the Vatican's is "POWER." After giving it some thought Gilbert (she of the brilliant "Olé!") settles on "ACHIEVE" for NYC, and her Swedish friend Sofie decides that Stockholm is "CONFORM," which depresses both of them and probably everyone else who picks up the book, Swedes inclusive.

I think that events might have words, too. I'd probably go for RIPE or ELECTRIC or JUICY for SXSW. But I also think that people bring their ideas along with their ironic tees and handheld computing devices and PowerPoint slides, and the main idea I caught in the air this year was this:

"Be the best you, not the second-best someone else."

At least, that's what I'd been rolling around in my brain since I left town on Monday, and what I responded with when someone asked me on one of the social networks I spend way too much time frequenting.

To be fair, it may not have been the Theme of the Hour. But lately, it seems to be the Theme of Colleen, which not only rhymes in a most auspicious manner, but means that's how my antennae are cocked (or half-cocked), so that's what I'm pulling down. I heard it in a panel with Merlin and Gruber, and I heard it about three other places I can't recall anymore because I forgot to take notes and a whole buncha stuff went down in a way-tiny space of time. And besides, it's not only a Central Truth for the Ages, but something of note in crazy times like these, when fear starts curling around people's ankles and pulling them back toward the Dark Place.

I have to turn in a resume? I'd better do it right, like the candidate they want to hire, rather than show them me and my crazy edges.

I have to choose a path? I'd better pick something that's tried-and-true (for, uh, someone else) instead of veering off in that crazy-ass direction that hint of a whiff of a central urge is pointing me towards.

As someone who, from the ripe old age of consciousness, spent a considerable amount of time sussing out what other people wanted me to be, and exerted a similar amount of effort to suppress whatever wacko tendencies wanted to float to the surface, I get it; I do. And hey, I just have me and my single, non-debt-carrying, rent-controlled-apartment-dwelling, devil-may-care old carcass to maintain. If I go off the rails, no big whoop. If any of the hundreds of moms or dads in my life, The BF included, do that, we're talking some serious consequences. That kind of fear is 1984-rat-in-the-face-cage compelling.

My thought on that would be this: if you need to knuckle under and dig some ditches, so be it. But if you can, carve out a little time and space, fifteen minutes in the bathroom before anyone wakes up, even, to let you be you be you. Or it is too easy for you, and the days, and your life to slip away.

Or for the word for your life to be SMALL, or FRAUGHT, or worst of all, UNLIVED...


Image of me being the only goddamn me I'm capable of at this point (and a surprisingly tan-looking Lydia Mann), by permission of and ©2009 Jeffrey Zeldman, my new and excellent friend, via Flickr, whose community is managed in part at the hand of the amazing Heather Champ, whom I also finally met at SXSW. Good gods, people, need ye any more reasons to hie thee to the greatest festival in all the land?

Lessons from SXSW: Why I go, and why I keep coming back


Some people come for the panels and others come for the unprecedented opportunity to party with fellow nerds, but I come to SXSW to have my head and heart split open.

This year didn't disappoint. To the contrary, it was easily the best South-by conference yet. Not just because I got to reconnect with now-longtime friends, or to meet-live-and-in-person so many wonderful people I've known only online thus far, or because those people proved to be exactly as I expected them to be in real life, but because I spent the entire time being myself, and feel like at this point, it would be almost impossible not to be.

Don't get me wrong: "hard" opportunities abound in Austin for that five-day stretch (as I assume they must for film and music types during their respective stretches). I'm sure there were deals being sealed right, left, top, bottom, in- and (Buffalo-gals-go-around-the-)out side. Having danced this waltz thrice so far, though, I can tell you that the real beauty in all that stuff coalescing in one small slice of space and time is the unprecedented opportunity it offers towards leaps in growth. At least, for hard-working introverts of a nerdly nature.

Consider that most of us introverted nerds work at our own stations, in front of our own computers, on our own stuff, alone. It takes real effort to mesh with other nerds, when that's even possible locally. Yes, there are co-working spaces, great ones like BLANKSPACES here in L.A. and Office Nomads up in Seattle. (I saw Co-chief Nomad Jacob Sayles again in Austin, which was fun and random.) Yes, there are great groups like Biznik (come to the L.A.-flavored events I'm hosting, if you're around!) and KERNSPIRACY (ditto on Spencer Cross's events, if you're a designer and around) who encourage real-live mixing and mingling, and yes, great stuff comes out of it. There's something about that once-yearly thing though...maybe it's nothing more than scarcity, but really, so much good stuff flows in those four or five short days, it's pretty amazing.*

I've been catapulted forward by stuff where there was no human participation at all, too, and plenty more of it where the human contribution happened without any intention or awareness on their part. These are epiphanies and they're a whole nuther story. Several stories, in fact, which one human at SXSW this year told me in no uncertain terms that I need to start telling. (More on that later.)

What I got from being around Gretchen and Pam and the endless, delicious onslaught of excellent person after excellent person in the flesh was juice. The energy to keep me going, the alchemy that happens when ideas connect with encouragement.

I have so many things to tell you, I could burst. But I will tell them slowly, and with a lot of napping in between.

SXSW giveth, and SXSW most definitely taketh away...


Image is a SHITTY photo of the way-excellent 2009 deconstruction of my biz card by one Marty Whitmore. He is cute as a button and weird as Austin. Also, talented.

*Liz Strauss's SOBCon ("School for Bloggers!") ran a close second for overall meetup-happiness last year; I had quality time with a host of Internet-made-real and just randomly awesome people. If you're a blogger wanting some camaraderie and encouragement around your blogging, you should check out this year's event. Plus Chicago in May = totally awesome!

Countdown to SXSWi: It's Austin, Jake...


Okay, first? Don't sweat it; let it go.

As with any endeavor that demands time, attention and energy of you, after preparation, the most important thing is to get your head in the right place. No matter how many of the things I mentioned in Weeks 1 & 2 that you ignored, and hey, if it's any consolation, I ignored some of them, too, there are a few things you can do to see that your days in Austin are as excellent as possible. Ready?

Rest up. Seriously.

Even extroverts get tuckered out at SXSW. That's why they describe the benefits of the Disco Nap at the SXSW for n00bz panel on the first day of the conference.

Rather than running around trying to get everything done just before you go (like I did, last year), just go. Open yourself up to possibilities and random encounters. And while you're still here, take your vitamins, eat right and get plenty of sleep. Forego the coffee and nap on the plane, if that works for you.

Basically, arrive with a full tank. It opens up far more in the field of possibilities.

Ask. Ask. Ask.

Last year, I invited myself to dinner, to drinks (several times) and to events. "Where are you going?" and "What looks good to you?" are perfectly acceptable queries. Strike up conversations with people in line for movies or coffee; close your laptop (if you even bring a laptop) and talk to the person next to you. Trust me: the relationships are more important than the information.

Rarely did I get shot down. The worst that happens is that you end up having a nice, albeit brief, conversation, and move on to the next thing.

Plug in.

Right now: go to Twitter search and look for #sxsw; see who comes up. See who rings your bells. Follow them. If it gets too distracting, you can unfollow some other people and switch it all back when you're home again.

You want to be able to know what's going on. Unless something freaky goes down, my guess is that you'll know what's going on via the Twitter. (Or through those people you're meeting in lines, at panels, in the halls, walking to the Convention Center, etc.)

Some other random things to remember:

  • your refillable water container (please remember to drink EXTRA water; hydration is important!)
  • hand sanitizer (you think I'm kidding? I don't wanna get a cold for my welcome home present)
  • earplugs (motel rooms are noisy; sleep, priceless)
  • program your friends' mobile numbers into your phone along with their names NOW (for calling, but also for texting: critical!)
  • your wedding wasn't perfect, either (seriously, it's JUST a conference, even if it is a big one)
  • have fun (or what's the point)

I'm @communicatrix on Twitter (and everywhere else); in person, I'm the tiny, bepectacled, slightly-plump-about-the-midsection lady who will probably have bleary, bloodshot eyes (curse of air travel for me) and either a cup of coffee, (eco-friendly) bottle of water or cocktail in her hand. Say "hello," wouldja?

It's high time we met up...


P.S. If you missed them and are interested, here are Parts 1 and 2.

Image by who knows, dammit, it was late at a party via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Countdown to SXSWi: 2 weeks out, heeeeere we go!


This is Part 2 of a three-part series on prepping for South by Southwest (interactive flavor). You can read Part 1 here.

Hopefully, you've already tackled some of the bigger to-dos on your list that we talked about in Part 1, like making your reservations and buying a damned cell phone and getting some kind of cards to hand out. (Your regular-usual biz cards will do in a pinch; the main thing is to have something to hand people so they can get in touch with you.)

This week, you'll want to start getting your ducks in a row. They will, of course, scatter to the four winds as soon as you touch ground, and this is part of the delight of SXSW. To make a spin on the old adage, you'll want to have strong plans held loosely to squeeze the most life from South-by. But because we aim to be helpful here at communicatrix-dot-com, a few suggestions...

That thing about signing up for My.SXSW? I wasn't kidding

Okay, if you're a big privacy freak, DON'T sign up for my.sxsw. I get that; I do. But if you're not a freak for privacy, or willing to waive a bit of it on a one-time basis, the site does offer conveniences, like connectivity with your fellow nerds and being able to add events to your calendar automagically. If you're not into that, opt out. Don't tell me which things you're attending.

Just make sure your photo is uploaded to your account so that you don't have to belabor what can already be a lengthy check-in process. Cool?

Firm up plans with people you absolutely must see

I know, I know, this is in direct opposition to what I've said above. But the time flies while you're there, and if you leave things to chance, chances are they won't happen. Other tremendously delightful things will happen, but those things you were counting on in sort of a Kismet way? No. Not those things.

You can order it any way you'd like, but my suggestion is this: give first priority to the people you know you want to see or meet and whom you know you will likely not meet in the course of the next 12 months if not in Austin. If there are groups of you, by all means, set up some group activities. You don't need to pick the venues for these breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks, etc, you'll find places soon enough, and those kinds of plans you can keep flexible. (Although if you're looking at going somewhere out of walking range of downtown, to get you some bona fide TX BBQ, f'rinstance, you might want to arrange that.)

So maybe don't lock it up tight, but get it in the chute. The last thing you want is to make that big, long trip and leave without so much as a "Howdy-do!"

Set your (loose) panels schedule

After two visits to SXSW, I'm tempted to say ditch the panels entirely and just meet people. But really, you'll do fine if you treat them like you do the above plans for socializing: get your "musts" in the calendar, and make note of other "maybes."

By "in the calendar" I mean make use of the great WebDav-blah-bitty-blah-amazing technology that is iCal and GCal. If you're a Mac-head, it's dead simple, you just subscribe to the SXSW calendar (click "add this to my calendar" from any particular panel or event in your

Read up on the people you do want to meet

I don't mean to cram for SXSW like it's an exam. But if there are some panels you're interested in going to because you want to meet one of the panelists, maybe do a quick bit of research on the other panelists. At the very least, you'll have better questions to ask during the Q&A, and if you do end up talking to the person, you'll be much more comfortable. (This falls under the general rubric of "be prepared!" that I talked about in my newsletter issue devoted to SXSW and networking. It's of special interest to fellow introverts, I think, because it reduces some of the drag that socializing has on us in general.)

Prune/plump your Twitter

This was the single greatest piece of advice my friend, Heathervescent, gave me before my last SXSW (there was no Twitter at my first one). It's less of an issue now that there are iPhone apps to filter your feed and reduce noise, but if you have focus issues like I did, you might want to dump some of the chattier non-attendees at the same time as you add other people who you'll want to be following. After taking a few deep, calming breaths, I re-added my friends Chris Brogan and Laura Fitton (@chrisbrogan and @pistachio, respectively) because they're the kind of prolific, plugged-in types who will be all over the happs (which is why I had to reluctantly give up on following them before). You may want to add them now, too, or just subscribe/click over to their stream for the next week or so.

You can also go through the list of speakers and people from your my.sxsw (are you getting why I like it?) who are going to be there and add them, as well. Twitter was made for SXSW. (I mean, hey, it basically made its bones there two years ag0.)

At some point, people will settle on a hashtag for SXSW tweets (#sxsw or #sxsw09) and you'll want to note that. In the meantime, you may want to go to Twitter search, create a search for "SXSW" and subscribe to that RSS feed. Or, if you use a Twitter management tool like TweetDeck, set up a search within that.

The point is to get your feet wet with that now, before things get too crazy. Which they will. It's inevitable.

It's part of the fun of it all...


Photo of Colleen Wainwright and 2009 SXSW speaker David Eckoff by Becky McCray or Chris Brogan (I think) via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons. No, we did not coordinate outfits beforehand. Yes, we look related. SXSW is nutty like that!

Countdown to SXSWi: 3 weeks out, heeeeere we go!

communicatrix, deconstructed by Hugh MacLeod

In a way, getting ready for the annual South by Southwest extravaganza mirrors the experience of SXSW itself: myriad possibilities, a bubbly feeling of excitement, lots to do and a creeping feeling of panic.

So the first thing one needs to do in the Planning for SXSW process is this: BREATHE.

I've been twice now, in 2008 and 2006, and I'm here to say there's no way you can do it all, nor is there any reason you'd really want to. Some of the most fun things about SXSW are the random events that fall in your lap. The best way to prepare, therefore, is to plan a schedule with plenty of room for unscheduled events.

There are some things that will make your stay infinitely more comfortable, however, and these are worth planning a bit more meticulously, or at least, considering before you toss them aside. (I'm assuming you've already gotten your plane tickets, accommodations and SXSW conference pass, but if you haven't, definitely do that before you do anything else.)

Get a personal, SXSW-only card

People do bring and use their regular business cards, especially freelancers, solopreneurs and entrepreneurial types whose name and Internet contact info is front-and-center on it. But there are compelling reasons to get a second card made up, and printing has never been cheaper and easier. If you work for Mr. Big Corporo-Megolopoly, or even Ms. Tiny Start-Up-Where-Your-Name-Ain't-on-the-Door, you may want to get a separate card printed up with your name, your contact info and your web presence (or whatever private thingy you want to promote) on it. Some resources:

Order any hardware, software or other-ware you might want to have handy

These are the things you think about getting a week before and that then drive you batshit crazy as you run around trying to find them and figure out how to use them and break them in before you hop on a plane to head out. You may not need all of them, but most of them are things I've either missed because I haven't had them.

  • Working mobile device Critical. If you're going to replace your aging mobile, now is the time, not three days before, which is what I did the first year. You'll also want to make sure you have a good-sized text package for your time in Austin (I went to "unlimited" for one month), so consider that at sign-up.
  • Powerstrip and/or cubetap Outlets are at a premium in the Convention Center and, surprise!, in your hotel room. I mooched off The BF's the first year and depended on the kindness of strangers the second year. Not again.
  • Extra juice My iPhone is never far from a charger in my usual life, but during SXSW, all bets are off. I kind of hate to buy an extra gadget, but I'd hate no power even more, so I'm researching battery backup options for the 3G now. (If you have a strong preference, please let me know in the comments.)
  • A camera that you know how to use Sounds dumb, but it's really fun and useful to have. And I borrowed my sister's last year, which was great of her, but I didn't RTFM first and...well, let's just say there were a few moments of frustration
  • Good walking shoes I bring two pair, in case rain ganks up one. What can I say? I hate wet feet.

Bookmark pages, make a calendar, hook up with your peeps

Social media keeps making it easier and easier to plot out your stay.

  • Make a folder for your browser toolbar Store any URLs you're going to want access to re: SXSW here. You can delete the whole shebang when the gig is over, or move it into your general bookmarks. (You can also use Evernote, delicious or whatever else you want to hold your bookmarks and info in. I'm also creating a Things project, but I like redundancy, because I'm kind of a re-dunce.
  • Start a text file or paper list of stuff to do I mean, my lists are great, but you need your own, right? Method of choice, here.
  • Log onto SXSW and set up your profile They've got a greatly improved "My SXSW" site this year with some social networking components. Can't tell yet whether people will use that or just old-school (ha!) Twitter-plus-hashtag system to connect, but it's at least a lot prettier and easier to upload your badge photo and info, which you should do, now.
  • Bookmark the Panel Picker Available for SXSWi here. You can start looking it over to get a feel for what's there and which panels you absolutely want to attend. For example, there are a few people whom I'll grab any opportunity to see because they're so compelling, and a few friends I'd like to support. After two trips to SXSW, though, I can definitely say that the main reason to go is the people, not the panels, so don't spend too much time plotting out every little thing.
  • If you're not already, get familiar with Twitter It was the social networking platform of choice last year (and basically was born the year before). If you're new, don't overwhelm yourself; just pick a username, set up an account, and try to follow along for a few days. When you're ready, you may want to consider using a tool like TweetDeck to follow Twitter from, as it lets you organize your Twitter universe (which can get messy, fast) and Set up a search for #sxsw09 in Twitter You're

Some great to-do/checklist-type SXSW posts

Questions? Comments? Concerns?

Fellow previous-SXSWers, what did I miss? (For four weeks out, we'll get to the other stuff as we get closer.) Newbies, what kinds of questions do you have? I wish I'd known more about what to expect my first year, so I really don't mind entertaining even ridiculous questions. In fact, if they're truly ridiculous, they'll be truly entertaining, so let 'er rip!


Of possible interest:

Image of my 2008 SXSWi blog card, deconstructed © 2008 Hugh MacLeod at the SXSWi BlogHaus.

UPDATE 2/25: The author suffered severe brain cramp as she wrote this; the date was really 3 weeks out. That bodes well, doesn't it?!

SXSW 2008: The music happens between the notes

communicatrix, deconstructed by Hugh MacLeod

While I'm still a relative newcomer to this conference stuff, I learned a lot during my first South by Southwest festival in '06, and a lot more than that since then.

Stuff like...come alone! And with an open mind, the better to let old stuff drizzle out and new stuff pour in. Make plans, but be prepared to toss them out the window. Set goals, but don't be surprised if your ultimate takeaway is breathtakingly, stupendously, maddeningly different.

There are also some technical things to consider, like not showing up tired. Learning to listen to your body's "no" over your head's (or heart's) yes. We may be energetic beings with bodies, but the bodies are no less real for that, and will punish you mightily if you choose to ignore them too long.

So took a page from my own book and carved out quiet time here & there. Like giving myself the unspeakable (for me) luxury of coming in the day before even the "soft start" of the festival on Friday. One extra night of ramping up and sleeping in, plus one delicious morning of quiet, leisurely breakfasting with an old SXSW friend from Germany. (Bonus extra: super-short line for getting my attendee badge.)

Also, compared to all but the dead, I took it relatively easy with the parties. I am not built for loud and crowded places; my vocal cords were shredded after that first night of shouting over amplified music blasting two feet from my ears. Three more nights of same didn't help. And while we're at it, it's a bit on the noisy side in the old conference center.

Also-also, I slept in and opted out more. I probably averaged two panels per day, which is far, far less than I did two years ago, when I guess I equated sitting in panels and keynotes with getting my money's worth. As my friend, Eric, pointed out, all the panels are available as podcasts after the fact, but never again will you get so many nerds happening in one place at one time. Well, not until next year, anyway.

What did I do with my time? I hung. In the halls of the conference center. In this hotbed of A-list bloggery (I know, I know) dubbed the BlogHaus. In bars, a deux or trois or maybe neuf. Over breakfast and lunch. At my first BarCamp. At a movie. On the 'dillo. At the Whole Foods. On Twitter (yes, it can be a little scary hanging out there, too.)

Basically, I let my gut be my guide. And when it got overly nervous, I talked it down and walked through whatever imaginary fire it was edging away from. All in all, a pretty good five-day stretch for a hopeless introvert.

I did, however, eat crap. Worse, I drank beer: about as far as you can get from an SCD-legal beverage. I enjoyed BBQ (excellent pulled pork at Stubb's, no matter what the cranks say), and I enjoyed it with two acquaintances freshly made just minutes before. (Thank you, lovely Rebecca! thank you, charming Steve! You guys were so gracious, I forgot what a fifth wheel I probably was that night.) I enjoyed fucking Rolos, for chrissakes, almost every day. Not sure what's up with that, or the repeated trips to the lobby Starbucks one night for dark chocolate, shortbread cookies and a lemon bar. Even before I got sick, I wasn't much of a bar-cookie type.

We'll have to see if I get to skate on the gut infractions. There have been some nervous-making stabbing pains in the past 36 hours, never a good sign. I'm hoping it's me being overtired, and that a weekend of sleep (and a few weeks of fanatical adherence) will get me back on track.

If not, well, I'll deal with that, too. Life is too short for a whole lot of worry. Keep it loose. Keep it weird.

Oh, and for the record? It wasn't Quentin Tarantino. Not unless he's managed to replicate himself or teleport a white-haired version of himself 2000 miles.

Does that take away from the fantabulousness of me walking up to someone I've never met, someone I thought directed one of my 20 all-time favorite films, sticking out a hand, and telling him to quit following me around?

No. No, it does not.

Here's me, dorky as ever. But maybe, thanks to SXSW, just a little bit braver...


UPDATE 03/15/08: I also posted about SXSWi more from a general networking perspective on The Marketing Mix blog. Included there are some links to other summaries of this year's SXSWi, and a great comment from Kathy Sierra, who was a (terrific!) speaker at this year's event.

Image of my blog card deconstructed © 2008 Hugh MacLeod.

Why and how I'm going to SXSW

SXSW podcast pickle I'm not a developer. (Oh, boy, am I not, more on that later.)

I'm not a gamer, animator, early adopter, Mac fanboy, social network guru, internet celebrity or famous author/change agent/superstah with a new book to shill.

But here's the dirty little secret of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival: you don't have to be a Real Geek to love it.

I didn't know what to expect at my first SXSW, two years ago. And, outside of creating some schmancy new blog cards (upon which I neglected to place my phone number, on purpose!), I didn't do much in the way of preparation. I went with an open mind, the better for the cosmos to stick a wedge in there and crack it the fuck open.

It turned out to be a very good plan, the not-planning. In fact, it worked out so well, I'm doing it again, with a few minor adjustments:

1. This time, I'm going solo.

No BF, no SXSW Gold Pass. It's interactive only, and one big, fat, glorious, piggy king-sized bed.

Don't get me wrong, I love traveling with The BF, and by "traveling," I mean exploring the turf, sharing experiences and having sex in motel rooms.

But I will be forced to get out there more and mingle. Having the Gold Pass (i.e., access to all the offerings of the SXSW Film Fest) and having a movie-freak companion meant I missed out on a lot of the schmoozing and boozing I hear tell happens outside the panels themselves.

Plus, communicatrix was pretty new to the internets a couple of years ago, and social media hadn't really taken off yet. I knew one or two people going in, and met one or two more. This time, I'm excited to meet up with a whole slew (for me) of people, including Chris, Michael, Becky, Adam, Merlin, Alissa, Eric, Sean, Scott (who took this most excellent shot of the terrifying Podcast Pickle) and (your name here*).

2. I'm also planning...a little.

My natural tendency is to schedule myself down to the pee break, so I like to use vacation, which I characterize as me not doing my normal routine at home, not me sitting on a beach with a fruity drink, to mix things up.

I've made some oh-so tentative plans with a few people, and put their mobile numbers in my phone. I am also planning to be a total weinerdoodle and hole up in my hotel room alone with the cable TV on Thursday night. Because I know how tiring SXSW can be, and I want to experience as much as I can.

But other than that, the planning, as such, includes only one other thing:

3. An exciting and long-delayed image overhaul.

Watch this space, is all I'm saying...

xxx c

*I'm serious, people, if you read this, and you're going, for chrissakes, contact me! Who knows when we'll get this chance again?

Image of the Famed Podcast Pickle by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

SXSW: All your Interactive are belong to us

SXSW baggie I know what you're thinking: she went to all of those movies; no way could she have hit up a bunch of geek panels, too.


Overall, the interactive panels/presentations portion of SXSW was a mixed bag. There was far less actionable information than I'd hoped for, but since I was mainly interested in how you turn something hopelessly unmarketable (i.e., this blog) into something that might bring you a comfortable living, a national forum and self-actualization, I was pretty prepared for finding my hopes unaligned with reality.

Unfortunately, after the first panel we attended, Podcasting 2.0, at my insistence, both The BF and I were ready to forego the interactive part of the proposition and slum at the film fest, where we at least stood a chance at being entertained. The entire proceedings felt thin, weak and hastily thrown together, which, it turned out, was the truth: the panel was a last-minute addition to the schedule, most likely because someone at SXSW realized (or had pointed out to them) that in the age of the podcast explosion, there was zero podcasting presence at this supposedly forward-thinking conference itself.

In stark contrast to the podcasting panel was the Daniel Gilbert Presentation: How to Do Precisely the Right Thing at All Possible Times. Desperate for the schwag, an advance copy of Gilbert's forthcoming book, Stumbling On Happiness, to the first 100 attendees, I dragged the insanely tolerant BF to the next conference room. Like a scene from a movie starring ME, I made a beeline to the schwag girl, watching her hand off book after book from her dwindling supply, a sea of smug recipients peeling off to either side of me. When she handed me the 100th copy, I was certain that this presentation would be a winner; I was not disappointed. Gilbert, a Harvard professor and grampa when he is not giving presentations and writing books, is a smart, funny, engaging speaker who has honed his presentation to a fine edge. But in addition to the interest factor Gilbert for me, pundit-in-training, his material, an exploration of the evolutionary roots of decision making and its effect on the happiness of modern decisionmakers, was fascinating and compelling. I suspect this talk will not show up on the SXSW podcast page, but if you get the chance to hear Gilbert speak, I highly recommend it.

So I'm figuring that the dealio (for me, anyway) is to hit the solo presentations and skip the panels. With that in mind, I trucked on over to the James Surowiecki Presentation: The Wisdom of Crowds, the New Yorker writer's live presentation of his book's content, which was...disappointing. Curses! And so much for my ingenious ferreting out system. Granted, some of the difficulty stemmed from the presentation being held in a large, high-ceilinged ballroom with dreadful acoustics, which itself was adjacent to another ballroom serving as a band's daystage, but Surowiecki himself was clearly at a stage where he's more comfortable as a writer than a presenter, and having no slides or other media to distract from his slight awkwardness didn't help. This is one case where I'd rather have read the book, and to be fair, because the talk's content was pretty interesting, I just might.

I had no idea what to expect with Sunday's Keynote Conversation: Heather Armstrong / Jason Kottke, except for a very large crowd in attendance. Since I've a mild obsession with both dooce (a mommyblogger who went nationwide!) and (I became a micropatron after only being a short-time reader), I made sure The BF and I got there early. We met a charming young localblogger who was a freak for dooce and fought over the 12" (PowerBook) until the show started. Again, no real actionable information, but I was there to hear about how they blogged and how blogging affected them and they didn't disappoint. Even The BF enjoyed this one. Podcast available for download here.

Immediately following in the same room was one of the liveliest panels I attended, DIY Now More Than Ever. I'm a huge fan of Gina Trapani from Lifehacker, and she's just as sunny and energetic in person as she comes across on her sites. And humble. Humility was sort of the watchword here: every one of the panelists seemed genuinely grateful that s/he had achieved whatever quantifiable measure of success s/he had. Again, not huge amounts of actionable information, but since I'm not really looking to start a web business or sell a piece of software, I doubt I would have found much more than inspiration and encouragement, which the panel provided in spades.

Personality was my main reason for attending Cluetrain: Seven Years Later, as well. I stepped on the internest bandwagon rather late (not counting my early obsession with epinions), so most of these rockstars don't register for me. I'd heard of Doc Searls, though, and was curious. He's a cool dude, is Doc, laid back and just into doing his own thing. Which, by the way, was my biggest takeaway from SXSWi: do your own thing and whatever will follow, but at least you'll be doing your own thing, which presumably should be reward enough.

DL Byron ran my favorite panel at the conference, Does Your Blog Have a Business? He took his role as moderater seriously and had excellent questions prepared. Not that I have any information to share, I was basically there to see CSS god Jeffrey Zeldman, and wasn't planning to take any notes. I am pretty shy and felt extra shy at my first SXSW, so I didn't actually meet any of these superstars. I did run into DL at the Austin airport, though, and was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his panel. He, in turn, gave me a sample of his new product, clip-n-seal. Damned thing is simple as hell and works like a charm (that's me in the photo above, holding up the new communicatrix cards I had printed up for SXSW, in a clip-n-seal). I hope he makes a bazillion dollars and can quit all his day jobs.

The last two panels I attended were about vlogging, although no one seems to call it that: How to Add Video to Your Blog and Video Blog Business Models. I was astounded at how many people crowded their way into the first panel...and how sparsely attended the second was, by comparison. Especially since, as Michael Verdi from FreeVlog put it, there's an online tutorial that explains the entire thing in detail...for free! There was some useful information, mainly along the lines of length (keep it under 3 minutes), choosing the right medium for the message (blogging vs. podcasting vs. vlogging) and what makes for good subject matter (your hilarious, quirky family members, from the looks of things), but really, the first panel was just fun to listen to. I mean, hell, they're good at presenting live, right?

My takeaway on videoblogging business models echoes my takeaway from SXSW, period: you will most likely get paid because of your presence on the internet rather than because of it. None of the people I saw speak at SXSW, not one of them, started blogging or podcasting or vlogging to make money. Well, I suspect one person who kept cropping up on panel after panel did, but he's the anomaly, and so fucking annoying and full of himself I cannot believe anyone listens to his podcasts, much less that he gets paid for them.

The other great takeaway info I got was this: if you want to do something on the web, see who's doing it now and figure out how you can 'kill' them. Time and time again, I saw that it wasn't necessarily the first person to get there, but the one who did it best. In that way, I suppose all this geeky internutty stuff is like writing (all the stories have been told, you're just telling them a new way) or acting (no one can do Hamlet like you do Hamlet) or anything else (build a better mousetrap, etc).

I guess I went to the oracle expecting something, and the oracle told me I should look first in my own back yard.

Actually, I told myself that...

xxx c

SXSW: Movies! Movies! Movies!

alamo drafthouse Outside of plain old good times, the chief feature of SXSW seems to be overwhelm. There are more great films crammed into a ten-square-block area than I could possibly hope to see in 30 days, much less four. (The 2006 SXSW Film Festival stretches from March 10 to the 17th, but The BF and I were only there for the part that overlapped with SXSW Interactive.)

Then there's the waiting time that eats into your movie consumption. Some of the theaters are tiny, and even with the magic badge that grants you first access, you need to queue up at least an hour in advance to gain entry. (Film passes, at $65 each, get you into a separate queue that gains admission after the Badge People enter; individual tickets put you at the very back of the bus.) The weather was lovely for the festival this year, unseasonably warm for the first three days, and we met some terrific people waiting in line, but still: every minute you're standing in line is a minute you're missing another panel or meetup or film.

Which brings me back to one of the Real Things I Learned at SXSW: a festival, much like money or alchohol, brings out the truth in people. My particular truth? I lack the easygoing gene. I'm not particularly good at going with the flow, and when faced with the possibility that one of my plans might fall through, I react with a mix of anxiety and crushing disappointment. I do not know why I didn't learn this particular truth about myself 10 years ago when I would break out in hives everytime I had to improvise at a Groundlings Sunday Show performance, oh, wait...yes, I do. I am an uptight control-freak asshole.

Anyway, what was fascinating to me about the film part of the SXSW equation was that it was my first experience with buzz, or the first time I was able to watch buzz play out in almost real time, because of the compacted time frame the festival provides.

Example: we were fairly interested in seeing Darkon, the feature documentary on a Baltimore-based live action role playing group, when we first looked at the schedule. (Well, The BF was, anyway. He's got better film-dar than I.) But after two days of hearing people talk up Darkon, we put it on our must-see list. It did not disappoint. The filmmakers, who spent a year filming the players on and off the battlefields of Darkon, winning their trust and gaining access to some pretty intimate details of the players' lives. As a result, the film offers a fascinating look both on the nature of the outsider (live action role playing is hardly a mainstream pursuit) and the basic human need for drama, connection and expression. There's a sideshow factor, too, of course, it's hard for most of us to relate to a group of grownups spending their weeks duct-taping their plywood and styrofoam shields for a weekend of ye olde combat and a chance at grabbing an imaginary slice of land in an imaginary realm. On the other hand, it's no weirder than scrapbooking, shopping or, let's face it, blogging as sport, so maybe I should lay off.

There was more fine, outsider action at The Last Western, a feature documentary about the rise and fall of a small "Western" town on the edge of the Mojave desert. Pioneertown was a fully-functioning Western movie set built by the Hollywood studios to facilitate filming. It was abandoned by the studios with the falling fortunes of the B-Western, but a number of inhabitants stayed on, creating a sort of Western Island of Misfit Toys. While a bit incohesive as a film, The Last Western does a fantastic job telling the stories of the individual dreamers, outcasts and iconoclasts who populate Pioneertown.

The residents of Small Town Gay Bar are outsiders for a different reason. Choosing to remain in their small, Bible Belt towns for whatever reason (this is never really explored or explained in the film), these gay men and women are (barely) tolerated at best, persecuted or killed at worst, and severely isolated at all times. Small Town Gay Bar is a fascinating look at the need for community and how it will out (no pun intended). The filmmakers do an incredibly thorough job interviewing the various denizens of small town Bible Best gay bars past and present, as well as showing the pressures they face from the community at large and a few especially vocal, intolerant entities in particular.

There are mainstream outsiders, too, of course. In the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, they were called "Democrats", and they struggled mightily to find their collective voice and make it heard. Al Franken: God Spoke documents the plight of American liberal Al Franken, as he worked to save the American people from four more years of tyranny, lies and land-grabbing by the administration in power. I won't lie to you: while often outright hilarious, Al Franken: God Spoke was the most depressing movie I saw at SXSW by a long shot, and I saw movies about gay men in the Bible Belt and transgender males in prison.

Oh, yes, what's more fun than being a liberal in new millenial America? Being an enroute, transgender male in the U.S. penal (!) system. Cruel and Unusual is a look at the special degradation and horror the pre-surgical transgender male undergoes in prison. Aside from the obvious nightmare of having to be some bad man's girlfriend, incarcerated transgenders are routinely denied treatment for their medically-recognized condition, suffering physical withdrawal and severe depression as a result of going off their hormone meds cold turkey. For its important message, I wish I could give Cruel and Unusual the unqualified thumbs up. Unfortunately, I came away feeling that while the subject matter is compelling, the film itself didn't have a point of view other than "this is really awful." I hope it finds life on public television as a special, where its mere reportage quality would serve the community, but I can't really recommend it as a film.

I can, on the other hand, heartily recommend The Life of Reilly, a filmed version of actor/teacher extraordinaire Charles Nelson Reilly's electrifying one-man stage show. Most of us of a certain age know Reilly as a mainstay of 70's crap TV. (Most of the rest of you don't know Reilly at all, which a funny montage in the movie takes pains to point out.) But Charles Nelson Reilly had a major career as an off-Broadway and Broadway actor before his TV years, and an active life during and after as one of America's preeminent acting teachers (he took over Uta Hagen's class when she died). Reilly is smart and funny and a consummate performer; while there are a few awkward "openings up" in The Life of Reilly, for the most part it is a hilarious, breathtaking telling of a fascinating life and a great insight into what makes performers tick.

kustom karMy chief issue with Tales of the Rat Fink, the story of kar kulture icon Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, has to do with the opening up of its story. Director Ron Mann is known for his iconoclastic takes on documentary subjects, but there were so many crazy elements in Tales, animation, talking cars, strange interstitial bits, the end result felt a little disjointed. According to Mann, there was virtually no archival footage of Roth; when Roth died shortly after Mann started the project (it was shelved for some time), the director had to come up with some alternate way of telling the story. To be fair, the cut we saw on opening night had been rushed through to make the premiere, but I think there are structural issues beyond tightening up a few odd editing gaps. To be even more fair, I am on my third Toyota Corolla, which is to say I am so not a kar person. If you like kars, or cool illustration, which Ed Roth is also known for, you'll probably love it.

The only narrative film we saw during our entire SXSW trip was The Notorious Bettie Page. We were mainly interested in seeing films that we weren't sure would get distribution, and Bettie is scheduled for release in April. But we thought it would be fun to see at least one biggie before the general public, since that's part of the thrill of the festival. For a thrill, and a fairly risque, fairly thrilling subject, The Notorious Bettie Page was pretty disappointing. The acting was solid and the cinematography was gorgeous (at least, I thought so, The BF was less impressed). But the script was pretty lame, lots of bad dialogue and a cringe-inducing first fifteen minutes, and the whole thing came off as more of a made-for-TV biopic than a great narrative film.

The BF saw another picture or two without me while I was geeking out at the SXSW Interactive panels, but no big recommendations, so we'll let them lie. I may post some mini-reviews from our new Austinite unicyling friend, Steve Wiswell, if he grants permission. And if you're into it, there are more great mini-reviews on some of the pictures I didn't see at SXSW by Andrew O'Hehir at

Of course, you can always just go to Technorati and hit the SXSW and film tags. SXSW is the nexus of all things arty and geeky.

I miss it already...

xxx c

PHOTOS of the exterior of the fabulous Alamo Draft House and a kustom kar outside the Rat Fink premiere taken by me and The BF with my spiffy new Razr.

A preliminary and rather alarmingly woo-woo perspective on SXSW

I'm still wiped out from my five-day sojourn at SXSW, and I seem to be in good weenie company. It was a notable experience in many ways: my first trip to Austin; my first trip to a real conference; my first trip when I've been on the precipice of a Crohn's flare. But the most notable thing about my trip was that I went without an agenda. Yes, I've long wanted to see Austin, and yes, I was interested in seeing what a big festival was like and sure, it's always nice to do those things in a tax-deductible fashion, but trust me, it's always hard to plunk down a serious amount of hard-earned cash with no guarantee of tangible benefits in return. I'd looked over the list of offerings beforehand, and didn't see that panel or presentation which was going to give me answers to the big questions that consume me nowadays: How do I find that thing that feeds me and the world at the same time? How do I keep body and soul together while I do it? Or maybe, after I find it?

I'm planning to post more about the panels and films I attended later, but my major takeaway I can get to right now:

I will probably not make money with any of my online ventures, present or planned. And I'm okay with that.

I'm okay because I no longer need stuff so much as I need happiness. (Recognition is still attractive to me, but I figure by the time I get any, I won't care much about that, either.)

I'm okay because I saw people up on those daises (which looks a lot like daisies, doesn't it?) who were making money and people who might never and the only thing that I found compelling in either was the passion that drove them.

I'm okay because I found out that for the most part, the people up there on those pretty daisies weren't receiving outrageous renumeration, but maybe a small perquisite in exchange for sharing their time and knowledge.

I'm okay because for five days, I saw passionate, well-crafted films that took years of people's lives to make about topics so obscure and unmarketable the filmmakers couldn't possibly expect to receive adequate renumeration.

And I'm okay because for five days, I was immersed in an atmosphere of nurturing and tolerance and possibility that I'd started to think couldn't exist in this scaredy-ass, me-first world anymore.

More later. Much, much more...

xxx c