Breaking Open in Fargo

I’m still trying to sort out whether Misfit Con broke me or put me back together. Both, I guess.

I had a friend in college who’d broken his nose in a motorcycle accident; it set badly, so weeks later his doctor re-broke it and set it properly. So yeah. Kinda like that. Not the best ad copy: “Misfit Con: it’s like having your nose deliberately broken!” But I had an inkling it might be like that for me, and I went anyway.

Sometimes you need to be broken.


The only time I had a proper full-time, salaried job with benefits and all that stuff was 2001 – 2002. A defense subcontractor outside DC. I was fresh out of college, coming off the high of winning an award for a science fiction short story I’d written. I spent my days running massive amounts of data through analysis tools whose names I’ve long since forgotten.

We were working on software for naval missile systems. I was, at that time, not very far on my pendulum swing from creationist, pro-life, anti-gay Orthodox Presbyterian to queer pacifist Zen pagan yogini; I’d never even heard the phrase “Right Work.” But I knew I didn’t want to make bombs for a living.

It was the highest my annual salary has ever been, not even counting annual bonuses. I had more money than I knew what to do with.

I quit after a year and a half.


A dozen years later, I dread work every day for a different reason. I love the work itself, but I’ve piled it up into a mountain that I hide behind. On the other side of the mountain is my life’s Work. The stories I burn to tell. The people I yearn to connect with.

Always blocked by a Kilimanjaro of code to be debugged, designs to be revised, interfaces to be improved.

And instead of putting on hiking boots, I’ve been sitting at the base of the mountain, scraping at it with a spoon and lamenting how I can’t get to my real Work with this mountain in the way.


Friday morning. No one knows who the speakers will be except the conference organizers and the speakers themselves. I’m eating a mysteriously delicious breakfast sandwich and drinking a mysteriously delicious little bloody mary (made with sake, I later find out). I see Jonathan Fields across the room — aha! he’s going to be speaking! — and I’m astonished at the power of my own reaction. I mean, yeah, Jonathan Fields, cool guy, I’ve been following him for years, but really? It’s not like it’s the Dalia Lama or Judy Dench or  Michael Chabon. Except for me, it is. I experience a flash of knowing that I’m exactly where I need to be.


Less than an hour later, I’m sitting in an increasingly uncomfortable chair, with one hand on my heart, one on my belly, and now tears are streaming down my face. Jonathan Fields is leading 160 people in a meditation to open the conference, and a block of ice in my ribcage is melting.

So this is why they call him Yoda.


Flash forward to Saturday night. Maisie is grooving on the dance floor. She sees me sitting in my sidelines; I’m comfortable on the sidelines. Not happy, but comfortable. And this place ain’t about comfort. She grins, beckons.

I shake my head. No.

She grins and beckons.


Grin. Beckon.

Ahfuckit. I go.


Abuse is a bitch. My body is frozen, usually. Hip sockets welded in place. “Shake your booty” is an abstract concept for me. But this weekend, twice, I find myself dancing. Once, led by a luminous former child solider from Sudan. Once led by a luminous wordsmith from Oregon.

I’m softening like butter.


Don’t let anyone fool you. This weekend was not uninterrupted bliss.

Eric Proulx screened 365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley on Sunday. I sat in the theater and felt my demons stir, awaken, flare their wicked wings. I didn’t want to forgive. I wanted Penn State to suffer, to suffer long and hard. They Let This Happen. The system was to blame; the system needed to suffer. I fought the film, frame by frame, line by line. I wanted to believe that the NCAA sanctions were holy and right, a miracle of justice in a world where systemic abuse is the norm. I’d celebrated with glee, with amazement, with vindication when the sanctions had been imposed. I wanted to believe that victims of abuse had finally been protected in some way, albeit too late. Much too late.

I didn’t want to listen. But I respect Eric, so I listened. I breathed, and wrestled, and listened. And I opened my eyes, just a bit, on the depths of my own rage and hurt and stuckness.

(Two days earlier, his film Lemonade: Detroit had moved me to tears — wtf with all this crying? — and to laughter and to wonder. It lifted me up and turned me inside out.)


There is magic in places, and in groups. This group of people, in this place, created a vortex of energy that I quite honestly don’t understand. It was fun and upbeat and terrifying and disorienting and grounding and painful and joyous.


There’s Work to be done, on the other side of this mountain.

Methinks it’s time to start walking.