SXSW – on a Mission from Dog

The puppy what nuzzled my knee at SXSW 2010

I was given a marvelous opportunity recently, namely representing DogWalkBlog at SXSW. Jumped on that offer immediately, because who wouldn’t??

I was also given a few tasks to accomplish while I was there, mostly along the line of “see if you can find Chris Brogan, aka @chrisbrogan, and say “hi” to him. Some of these I completed with great success. Others, not so much.

Chris Brogan I saw before I was even registered. I had been in the registration area barely five minutes, when I looked up, and there he was. I really thought that finding everyone else on my meet and greet list would be a piece of cake. Silly me.

SXSW is simply packed with people. Masses and super-mases, moving, standing, talking on cell phones, tweeting on cell phone, sitting in chairs or on the floor and typing away like mad things (more or less as I am at this very minute). Through it all there is the constant buzz of thousands of people talking.

There are two ways to approach SXSW, maybe a third if you mix the first two together. Last year, I mostly socialized. I went to parties, and parties in between the other parties. I talked myself hoarse and tried not to drink too much (mostly because I had been hit and badly mashed by a big-rig truck the month before).

This year, I was determined to attend as many presentations, panel discussions and core conversations as humanly possible. Some have been fabulous, some a little ho-hum, and a one was disappointing, but on the whole, it was a great time for me.

What follows are my impressions of what I have seen so far, touching on those presentations that most impacted me.

Day 1:
The highpoint of my first day, aside from meeting Chris Brogan, was a panel discussion on “Eight Ways to Deal with Bastards.” The content the panel presented and discussed was actually useful, concentrating on the four contexts in which most of us meet the bastards with whom we much deal, and good ways to diffuse otherwise potentially explosive situations.

The panelist who simply blew me away was a lady named Jane Waldron, aka @Chookooloonks. Lovely to look at, delightful speaking voice, and intentionally hysterically funny. She told me later that she was from Trinidad. You would never know it to hear her speak, although, just for giggles she lapsed into a very Trinidadian patois for me, and after scraping my jaw up off the ground, I wanted to vote her in as Queen of the Universe for Life. She’s the type of person you’d gladly follow into battle even knowing that you wouldn’t be coming out of the fray alive.

Day 2:
My apex presentation this day was about “How to Bulletproof Your Finances.” It was really intended for people much younger than I (by 20 to 30 years), but the beauty of it was that I took a ton of good information away with me, information that I wish I had had available when I was 20 or 30 years younger, but that I can still apply to my life today. That one was with Ramit Sethi, aka @ramit (who has written a book, as it seems everyone at SXSW has, the difference being that I might actually buy this book).

Midday, I embarked upon my second meet and greet mission. This time for Julia Roy, aka @juliaroy, manning a booth for @imagespacemedia. I had a lovely conversation with her, and managed to score a free lunch in the process. If there is a God, may he/she eternally bless these folks for providing real non-candy solid food for the masses. (I pulled off the free lunch trick again on Day 3 … amazing, right?)

The disappointment of the day was a panel discussion called “Engaging Your Queer Audience.” It wasn’t disappointing because the panel was not interesting or didn’t present well, and to be entirely fair, it was probably only a disappointment for me. That was because, based on the catalog, I expected it to be about how straight people could open dialogs with and market to the gay community. Turns out it was more of a discussion by and for gay blog writers on the unique problems facing gay blog writers. I’ll cop to expressing my frustration at the end of the discussion, and I ended up having a much more informative discussion with some of the participants after the program was finished.

Informative, and yet still frustrating; this was because I wanted to find out how a straight transactional (business/estate planning) attorney goes about marketing to the GLBT community without pandering to them or misleading them into thinking I am gay, or downright insulting them? The answer I received was surprising, in essence it was “I know plenty of gay attorneys, so I would never hire a straight attorney” and “How many of the attorneys in your firm are gay?” Since I don’t understand how sexual orientation makes a person a better or worse attorney, and since it would never occur to me to ask someone about their sexual orientation in a work context (and isn’t that sort of thing flying in the face of Federal Anti-Discrimination laws?), I began to see a serious communication disconnect.

The conversation was pleasant and interesting, and I liked the people I was talking with, but I found myself wondering how the gay community can complain about the straight world not accepting (or ignoring) their sexual orientation when they are not willing or able to accept or ignore ours? Doesn’t the good of the human community as a whole mean that both groups have to give a little?

Day 3:
The time change didn’t help things much, but when I had driven half way into Austin before realizing that I had left my SXSW badge at home, I think I should have taken that as a hint that this was a day I should have stayed in bed. Drove home, grabbed badge and missed half of what I’d be willing to bet was a fantastic presentation called “Perfectly Irrational: Who Put the Monkey in the Driver’s Seat?” by Dan Ariely, aka @danariely. The little bit that I saw was well worth the drive and meant that two other books were going on my wish list.

Midday (while trying to find a dog to photograph), I felt what I can only describe as a large and cold finger poking me at knee level at the Daskeyboard booth. How lovely, you think “I want to find a dog to photograph at SXSW” and one magically appears! Yet another of my quests completed.

By the time I went to the panel discussion “From Trolls to Stars: The Commenter Ecosystem,” I was dragging. I went by the trade show floor one more time to see if I could find Hugh MacLeod aka @gapingvoid to tell him that all the mutts at the Walk loved his work and his book “Ignore Everybody.” That done, and having picked up enough free t-shirts to dress a small army of large or extra-large people (so shoot me, I like my t-shirts on the baggy side), I had decided that, parties or no parties, I was going home for the day.

As I headed for the exit in the Austin Convention Center, someone behind me stepped on my heels. Who ever it was apologized, and as I turned to acknowledge the apology, someone who must have been moving very fast slammed into to me so hard that they actually spun me around. I never did see who this human equivalent of a Mack truck was, or which way they went, but with the next step I took, I realized that my big toe on my right foot was broken. In this case, I should say “broken yet again” because this particular toe has been broken at least five times in the past 40 years.

I took this to be the universe’s way of telling me that my complete disregard of the hint provided to me this morning had left me open for the follow-up baseball bat to the head. Not as subtle as the hint, but certainly effective.

So, here I sit, staying off my foot as much as possible, downing the occasional Vicodin, and thinking that I met a lot of really nice people, ate some great hotdogs, learned so much, and generally had a great time (notwithstanding the whole broken toe thingie).

Would I go again? You bet!
Even if I had to pay for my own ticket? Hell yes!

Do, I owe @dogwalkblog a huge debt of gratitude? More than he will ever know.

This is Ricky Maveety @rickymaveety reporting for @dogwalkblog from (or at least within 45 miles of) SXSW.

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