Thursday: I go to a conference
I was lucky enough this week to have been given funding to attend a local education conference with a colleague. The conference overall was an excellent experience, but not without some quirks. I’m not sure if this is typical of all conferences in general, but it was my first time attending one of these things and it was at times, bizarre. It was at a local hotel, and I decided on Thursday morning that walking would be a good idea, which it totally wasn’t, since the temperature was like minus 12 degrees, or what I like to call “f*cking freezing”, which is a technical term we use in Canada for pretty much anything below minus 5. By the time I arrived at the hotel, I was dying from that insane itchiness you get when you’re out in the cold then you come into someplace warm and your skin feels like it’s being eaten by piranhas. Plus, I was ten minutes late because I have a TERRIBLE sense of how long it takes to get anywhere, and this is not made any better by the strange Torontonian idea of what a “block” actually is. In most towns, a block is the distance between intersections, but in Toronto, the intersections can be at least a kilometre apart, so when someone says, “Oh it’s only three blocks away”, that can mean 40 minutes of what I call “lost walking”, where you walk and walk, the whole time feeling like you must have gone past your destination, and you keep asking people how much further it is, and they just keep saying, “Oh, it’s like one more block”.
At any rate, I was in pain, but happy to be inside, and I made my way to the registration desk. A very cheery woman took my name, gave me a lanyard with ID on it, then told me to hand in my ticket at another table for my “swag bag”. Swag bag?!! Now this was more like it—I was really excited because I know at the Academy Awards, the swag bag has things in it like make-up, and expensive jewelry, and coupons to Pizza Hut. After paying $3.50 to check my coat (I know, right?! What a rip-off), I presented my ticket and was handed a red, plastic bag, like a grocery bag. It felt pretty light, like it was filled with paper. “Is this the swag?” I asked the woman.
“Well, it’s the bag,” she said. “You can use it to put things in.”
This was sounding more and more like when I got my eyes lasered and thought the blue bags everyone was getting must be full of treats, but it was just cheap sunglasses and an eye drop schedule. Which was still one step up from this bag, which was, upon further examination, filled with paper. At least my laser bag had sunglasses in it, even if they weren’t Chanel or Dolce and Gabbana. And I already had a bag to put things in. So I shoved the plastic bag inside my own bag, feeling a little let down by the lack of swag, and went into the conference. Over the next two days, here are some other things that bewildered me, prompting me to ask the following questions:
1) Is it normal and not-rude for people to just walk out of a session while the speaker is still speaking?
The first thing I did that morning was see the keynote speaker, a famous, former football star who now spoke about his previous career and the importance of finishing his education. He was wonderful, very funny, and obviously had worked hard to put this speech together. I was standing at the back because of the lack of available seats, and wishing that someone would leave, so maybe this whole thing was my fault, because after about ten minutes, people just started getting up and walking out. I was happy at first—like a ninja, I quickly and silently slid into a vacant seat. Then it got super-distracting, as people just kept getting up and leaving, you know, with those little apologetic half-smiles as they make their way down the row to reach the aisle then scurry away like no one noticed them. By the time the football player was nearing the end of his speech, which was entertaining, funny, and emotionally moving, so definitely NOT boring, gangs of attendees were fleeing. And when he got to audience questions, people weren’t even QUIET anymore. They acted like it was the end of the movie and the credits were rolling, leisurely sauntering out and discussing where they were going for dinner. I wanted to yell, “Sit the f*ck down!” because I had checked the schedule and there were no other activities for another 45 minutes. Where the hell were they all going? It turns out—NOWHERE. The same people who were scuttling out of the grand hall were just standing around in the mezzanine when the session finally finished.
This happened on more than one occasion over the next two days, when attendees started abandoning the room with about ten minutes to go, causing the poor presenters to have to talk over the noise. Some of them would speed up their presentation, as if talking faster would make people more interested. It was really stressful—you could see the self-doubt on their faces, like “Am I boring?” No, but it’s almost lunchtime, and god forbid the tables in the food court are all taken.
2) Do presenters practice their presentations so they know how much time they’ll need?
The answer to this question is apparently not, as every session I attended finished with “Oh my god—I have so much more material to cover! How much time do I have? 3 minutes? OK, let’s see how many more PowerPoint slides I can whip through—I only have 50 left, but I think we can do this…” It was an unfortunate truth that the main point of each presentation got glossed over in the last few minutes. One poor woman was literally freaking out and exclaiming, “This is SO stressful! I’M SO STRESSED OUT!” I felt like saying, “You’re not the only one.” So, a word to the wise—plan accordingly, and time yourself so that you can end with the ending, not with the middle.
3) Am I really old?
I ask this because I came prepared to each session with a notepad and a pen. I took notes, old school style. Unlike the majority of the people in the room, most of them younger than me. Whenever a PowerPoint would go to the next slide, cell phones and Ipads would quickly rise above the crowd and everyone else would snap a picture of what was on the screen. EVERY screen. Presenters kept saying, “All of this information is on my website,” but it didn’t make any difference. It was like being at a rock concert but instead of screaming and lighters being waved around, it was eerie silence and cameras hovering in the air.
4) Are gluten-free meals the same as vegetarian meals?
Yes. At least at the Sheraton. I went to the keynote breakfast on Friday morning, featuring a marvelous Canadian writer. When I registered electronically, I indicated the gluten-free option for the meal. When the food came, it was an omelette topped with a poached egg, smothered in some kind of sauce. Aside from the overabundance of ovum, I was worried that the sauce might have flour in it, so reminded the waiter that I needed the GF meal. “Can you just bring me one with the omelette and nothing else on top?”
“Oh, don’t worry—we have special meal for you,” he said.
What he brought me was this: a plate of potato wedges, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes (fine), with a bowl of plain, poached eggs swimming in water (absolutely, pukily disgusting). I couldn’t even look at them—it was like the eyes of death staring at me. I should probably clarify at this point that I have an EXTREME aversion to any type of egg where the yolk and the white are not completely blended. Yes, I know it’s weird, but it’s based on childhood trauma. Once, when I was little, I looked into the refrigerator and saw a bowl containing a perfect canned peach half floating in delicious syrup. I didn’t question its existence—I just did what any child would do. I dipped my finger into the syrup then licked my finger. It was NOT a peach. It was an egg. So, blech. I made the waiter take away the eggs and ate the vegetables, which were fine and NOT vomit-inducing. Then I looked around and realized that my meal was apparently the fallback for the vegetarian option, as well as the kosher meal. Now as far as kosher goes, I think it has something to do with how animals are slaughtered, so I guess the eggs were cracked properly? But as for it being vegetarian—I ask again, as I have in previous blog posts (see My Week 60: Facebook Quizzes), since when are eggs vegetables? Just because they don’t have legs now doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have grown up to be actual animals if Farmer Brown hadn’t stolen the mother hen’s babies. I was talking to a guy later that day, and he was like, “Oh yes, I’m a strict vegetarian, although I do sometimes eat things with eggs in them, like cake and stuff.”
5) Am I five years old?
This is the opposite of number three. I ask this because A) in the Exhibitor’s Hall, I was accosted by someone dressed as “Clifford, The Big, Red Dog” in one of those Disney-like animal costumes, and a photographer who wanted to know if I’d like my picture taken with him. Why would I ever want that? I had no small children with me, and I don’t have a “furry” fetish, which is where you want to make out with someone dressed in a fur costume, but trust me—that dog was nowhere near hot enough. Sweaty, yes, but hot, no. B) I arrived at a session and took a seat at a table near the back. “No!” said the presenter. “You can’t sit back there. I need you to sit at this table near the front.”
“But I don’t want to sit there,” I said. I might have sounded a little petulant, but I hate sitting near the front—what if I need to go to the bathroom? Then everyone watches you leave and it’s really embarrassing.
“Well you have to,” she ordered.
It wasn’t long into the session when she showed us a movie trailer which ended with a donkey being hit and killed by a car. “I probably wouldn’t show that to a lower elementary class,” she said.
Really? Maybe because a donkey just got murdered? I didn’t want to see that, let alone exposed small children to it. Then she told us we were going to watch it AGAIN. But I couldn’t even sneak out, because I was sitting NEAR THE FRONT.
6) Is a presentation more enjoyable when there’s a sign language interpreter?
Absolutely! My last session on Friday featured a well-known guru with great ideas, but who spoke in a bit of a monotone. Fortunately, there were two sign language interpreters with her, who more than made up for her lack of style. These women were SO expressive and enthusiastic that I listened to the speaker but watched THEM the whole time. Way more entertaining. I don’t know where they get their training, but the way they were signing, it must have been the Royal Shakespeare Company. There was comedy, betrayal, death, and romance—never has “Developing Non-Fiction Writing Skills” been so exciting. Like Game of Thrones meets the Weather Channel.
Overall, it was a great time, and a wonderful learning experience. As for the swag, I DID get two free books and a USB stick, which was almost as good as a Cartier watch and made the bag completely useful.
Friday Night: Motion detector lights
On Friday night, I came home from Toronto. I went into the walk-in closet to get changed, reached up to pull the chain on the light to turn it on, but couldn’t find it.
Ken: The chain broke this week.
Me: How do I get the light on then?
Ken: I installed a motion detector light bulb.
Me: But I’m IN the closet. Why hasn’t it come on?
Ken: You have to come out of the closet. Now walk to the right, along the side of the bed. Now walk to the left and move towards the bathroom door. Take two steps forward, then hop one step back on kind of an angle.
Ken: You did it wrong that time. Try it again. This time, make it more of a 30 degree angle instead of a 45 degree angle.
Me: Can’t you just get another chain?
Ken: No, this is way better. Oh, by the way, when you’re finished, you have to shut the closet door. If Titus walks past, he triggers the light.
Me: I didn’t realize Titus could do Country Line Dancing.
Ken: You’ll get used to it.
Ken was right. Now, if I want the closet light on, I just hum “Achy, Breaky Heart”, the magic takes over, and it’s all good.