Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Nikki's Slayage Report, Part 1: Stairway to Hell

The Rockies. Double-doubles at Tim Hortons. “Deleuzoguattarian.” And the turning of water into wine.

Yes, this year’s addition to the lineage of biennial Slayage conferences was a force to be reckoned with, and I hope you’re ready to sit back and listen to my version of the events, and what I saw. Slayage 5 was a doozy, and more fun than I can remember having in a very long time.

First, for the uninitiated. As many of you who followed the Buffy Rewatch know, the Whedon Studies Association is a group of scholars who study the works of Joss Whedon, presenting and publishing various papers that enrich the understanding of the worlds he has created. In the beginning, it was pretty much Buffy-centric, which then extended to Angel. Now topics include those, plus Firefly, Dr. Horrible, Serenity, Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, the Season 8 and 9 comics… pretty much anything Joss has touched. (Toy Story, The Astonishing X-Men, Runaways… anything he’s worked on is fair game.) Many of the scholars who belong to the WSA were involved directly in our Rewatch, writing about the episodes and helping to guide you through the entirety of the series.

Slayage began as a website devoted to publishing these papers as a journal, and in 2004 the scholars got together for the first conference in Nashville. I was invited to that one, but was 8 months pregnant at the time, so that was out. They gathered again in 2006 in Georgia, and the biennial tradition was born. In 2008 they met in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and I was invited again, this time happily accepting to be the banquet keynote speaker. I was a little nervous (I don’t get nervous about public speaking unless I’m not quite sure who my audience is) because they were academics, and I was but a lowly writer of episode guides and former academic. But they welcomed me with open arms, and made me feel like part of the family. (And for anyone who’s been at academic conferences — and I’ve been at a few others now — the Slayage Conference of the Whedonverses (SCW) has the most welcoming, nurturing environment you can possibly imagine. All young scholars with an interest in Whedon should try it out in the beginning if they want to immediately find mentors that will be with them throughout their careers.) I returned in 2010 in St. Augustine, Florida, for SCW4, where I once again delivered the banquet keynote alongside Matthew Pateman, an esteemed Whedon scholar from the UK who had delivered the opening day keynote in Arkansas and who I’d become friends with in the intervening years. It was like a family reunion, with new faces and friends and memories to leave with. (If you go to the Slayage tag on this blog, you can see all of my writings about the previous two conferences.)

So when I heard SCW5 was finally leaving the South and coming to Canada, I was thrilled!! I immediately posted things all Americans should know about coming to Canada, and happily awaited the joyous event. This year I wasn’t delivering a paper, and could just sit back and enjoy everything. This year I was going to meet new people and generally fly under the radar. Yep. So… that didn’t happen.

There was one other thing that would be different at this Slayage conference: my best friend Sue — and constant Slayage companion — wasn’t able to make it. It was a lonely plane ride, a lonely cab ride, and in almost every panel I was thinking of the conversations we’d have been having after, and I saw countless things throughout the four days that I thought we’d both be doubled over laughing about. I missed you, Suzie!

I arrived in Vancouver on Wednesday morning. I was up just after 5 for an 8am flight, arriving just after 10 in the morning local time in Vancouver. I figured it was going to be a tough go trying to stay up late and switch my body clock over, but I was going to do my best. I hadn’t been to Vancouver in many, many years, and the last time I came was in the evening when it was dark. Flying in from the east during the morning is one of the most extraordinary things you’ll ever experience. I just sat in my seat staring out the window at mountains as far as the eye could see (there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so it was just snow-capped Rockies) and wondered if there may still be places on this earth that remain untouched by humans. Could there be some peaks in there that no one has ever set foot on? And what about those little towns you could see in some of the valleys? How isolated are they? Amazing. Here are some shots I took from my seat window:

Vancouver is nestled between the ocean and the Rockies, so as you’re staring out at this magnificent geography, the pilot begins to descend the plane and you feel like you’re about to land on the mountain range before you realize nope, Vancouver is right there. I defy anyone to go to Vancouver (especially when the weather is perfect) and not have one moment or more where they wish they didn’t have to go home, and begin wondering how they could make it work if they moved there.

I was staying with a group of Slayage people at the Gage Residence at UBC, where the conference was being held, and we were going to be roomies. I was the first to check in (the rest were coming in that evening), and immediately went into the room and was hit with a wall of HOT. The rooms were hot and stuffy, the sun was shining in through every giant window, and I ran around the common areas opening all the windows and trying to cool the place down a bit. Whatever happened to Vancouver being cool and rainy all the time? And not humid? Have all my Vancouver friends been lying to me when they mock me here in Toronto in my 100-degree heat, 120 with humidity?

I caught up on emails and such, and then decided to try to lie down for a bit and see if I could grab a quick nap. Shockingly, I went right to sleep (even in the most tired days after my kids were born, when I hadn’t slept for 1,389 consecutive hours, I could not nap) and woke up about an hour or so later, feeling completely refreshed.

That evening I went downtown (using the transit system, my iPhone’s GPS, and a prayer) and met up with one of my authors for dinner who I hadn’t seen in over a year, and then when I returned to the residence there was a whole heap of Slayage folks standing out front of the place. It was so great to leap out of the car and give (and receive) big hugs from people I hadn’t seen in so long. Ian Klein, who’s been my conference buddy since we met on the shuttle in Arkadelphia, wandered up a few minutes later (yay, more hugs!) and then we went inside where people settled in to their various rooms and Ian and I sat up and chatted until we just couldn’t stay awake anymore.

The view from my room
of the sun rising just before 5
The next morning, there was no official Slayage business until the reception that evening, so I had a free day. I was up just before 5 (even though I hadn’t gotten to bed until 11:30) for a couple of reasons: one, my internal clock still wanted me up early, and two, because the room was so desperately hot I left the curtains open so the air could come through the little window in the room… and my window happened to face east. D’oh. So I grabbed a quick shower, got dressed, and went outside for a walk (however, I stopped at the front desk to ask if I could rent a fan or buy one nearby, and the woman said they had tons of fans and handed me one: hurrah!!). I headed over to Marine Drive because I wanted to get right to the water’s edge. Not sure why this was a particular obsession of mine, but I’d seen the water for a couple of days now, and I wanted to be there. I found a secluded area where I stood for nearly 15 minutes and not a single car drove by (amazing) and just watched the sun as it rose above the mountains and gleamed onto the water. There was near silence, and I just heard the birds and smelled the flowers. Paradise.

It really is as peaceful as it looks. Incredible.

The rose garden, which distracted me (it doesn't take much,
but this would distract anyone)
And then my phone buzzed with a text from Matthew Pateman, saying he had gotten into town the night before and was now up because he couldn’t sleep (he was coming from the UK so his jetlag would be far worse than mine), and was I up yet and did I want to hang out? I hadn’t seen him since the previous Slayage, when the two of us had done the banquet speech where we acted like lunatics (he the ranting jargonistic professor and me the annoyed slangy blogger) and I texted back where I was, and he, too, was on Marine Drive walking in my direction. So I started heading towards him when I could smell roses. And that’s when I saw the rose garden, and jogged up the stairs into it so I could just smell the roses and take in the gorgeous surroundings (we went back on the last day to see it). Since I’m nothing if not easily distracted, I got a call from Matthew a few minutes later asking if I was still heading towards him, and I told him where I was and he said he was about 10 minutes away. So I continued walking towards where I guessed he was and three minutes later (we clearly don’t love the guy for his map-reading skills) we bumped into each other. Hurray for maps!

After hugs and catching up on life, loves, children, work, and current changes, we grabbed lunch at a place on Marine Drive and afterwards, I said I really wanted to find that water. We continued up the road a bit (it was much busier now, and much hotter!) and finally found a sign that said “Trail 6” and I clapped and happily started skipping along the trail, happy to have found my way to the water. It involved stairs. Not just any stairs… about 400 steps down I started thinking, “Oh my god, I have to come back UP these stairs…” And, 5,792 steps later, we found ourselves at the bottom of the stairs… on a clothing optional beach. D’oh.

Now, since then I’ve discovered that apparently the two of us are the only two people on the planet who are not aware there’s a clothing optional beach right next to UBC, but there ya go. I took off my flip-flops and started walking to the water through the sand… which quickly turned into a sprint when I realized how damn hot the sand was! I hit the water and… ahhhh…. And then we stood and looked off at how amazing the mountains looked, and the sparkling of the sun on the water, and the rock inlets, and what a gorgeous day it was. Well… that’s what I was doing. I can’t really attest to what scenery Pateman was checking out. (Ha.)

Of course, it was right around here that I suddenly realized I wasn’t wearing sunscreen of any kind. And I burn instantly. Nice one, Niks. Really nice one. So I went back up the beach to some logs that were under a tree and we sat there for a while as our feet dried. And then I got the bright idea that if we went further down the beach, we could probably find another trail with fewer stairs. Right? Of course I’m right. Off we went. It took less than a minute before Pateman was griping behind me in British, and as the terrain grew rockier, and the rocks got bigger, and the trees blocking our path grew in number, he was convinced I was out of my tree (no, wait, more convinced I was out of my tree) and started muttering something about the trouble with following Canadians and how the British are the ones who lead, or something to that effect. I was determined at this point, and continued skipping along and I said, “Oh, you will SO OWE ME something if I’m right.” He muttered something about giving me something if I was wrong (ha!) and just as I was keeping calm and carrying on and he was doing everything he could to betray his Englishness in that regard… we found the trail!!!! YAY! I WIN! I WAS RIGHT!!!


It had just as many steps as the previous one did. Possibly more. UGH.

Ten minutes, one heart attack, and three hip replacements later, we were at the top, triumphant but exhausted. But mostly triumphant (in my case, anyway). We split off to go check email and whatever, and I grabbed Ian and we all headed back over to first register for the conference (more hugs with people we hadn’t seen yet) and then grabbed dinner at the same place we’d been for lunch, a place called The Grill just off Marine Drive. Great spot with good food, and close to everything we needed to get to.

Ian and I at the reception (I'm wearing my very special
Buffy Rewatch bracelet!) We're laughing because wonderful
Rhonda was trying to take the pic with Ian's phone, but I
think she turned it off, then downloaded his email, and
then surfed the web a bit before we got it. I adore her.
After that it was off to the Slayage reception!! I’d bumped into almost everyone I was looking forward to seeing, but there were some new ones there. David Lavery, one of the founders of Slayage, gave a PowerPoint audience participation game where we had to divide ourselves into teams (on mine was Matthew, Ian, and a first-time Slayage attendee named Jessica who had introduced herself to me earlier and told me she’d followed the Buffy Rewatch all the way through!) and Ian gave us the team name, “Why Dawn?” Heeheeeeee!!! Anyway, the game was a LOT of fun. We had a total of 8 clues, I believe, and in each case you had to guess which person associated with Whedon he was talking about. If you got it on the very first (difficult) clue, you got 10 points. Second clue, 9 points, and so on. My personal favourite was the 10-point clue, “I made John Locke walk on Lost.” David Fury! (I rocked the Lost clues.) Standing next to me was Stacey Abbott, who recently put out a book on Supernatural, and there were a lot of those clues as well so her team (Team Jetlag, which also included Lorna Jowett and Michael Starr) was going head-to-head with our team. The next night it was announced they’d won by a large margin, and we came in third! Woohoo! Go intertextuality! And then we all dispersed and headed back to respective rooms (most of the conference attendees were Team Jetlag at this point) and Ian and I watched Undercover Boss, which I’d never seen before but it was kind of badly awesome. End of the first full day.

Next up: the actual conference begins! For everyone who followed the Great Buffy Rewatch, stay tuned for more stories and appearances by many of the people who were involved in it: Tanya Cochran, Rhonda Wilcox, David Lavery, Ian Klein, Matthew Pateman, Alyson Buckman, Cynthea Masson, K. Dale Koontz (Guffey), Ensley Guffey, Steve Halfyard, Stacey Abbott, Lorna Jowett, Elizabeth Rambo, David Kociemba, Kristen Romanelli, Jennifer K. Stuller, Cynthia Burkhead, and many MANY more who weren’t part of the Rewatch. I hope you enjoy! 


Dusk said...

As revenge, if Pateman ever comes to Ontario, abandon him at Hanlan's Point.

Nikki Stafford said...

LOL! I think after that adventure, he's the one who's probably seeking vengeance. ;)

Marebabe said...

Loving this so far! Um, when will Part 2 be up? :P