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Intervention 2011, or, All Things Must Pass (Except, Apparently, Fake Trees)

Jeffrey Channing Wells

Learning to Fly

Intervention 2011, or, All Things Must Pass (Except, Apparently, Fake Trees)

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Learning to Fly
I am sitting in the well-supplied business center of the Hilton in Rockville, Maryland. Outside the door is a high and remarkable atrium with glass elevators at either corner, and in the atrium well is a clean, modern-looking bar with an open seating area, surprisingly hushed and free of echo for the vast space above it. It also contains trees, strung with rows and rows of tiny white lights.

The trees appear to be dying.

Stress, by the way, on the word "appear". These trees cannot die -- strictly speaking, they have never been alive at all. (At least, as trees -- plastic and polymer were once living things as well, of course.) But despite the fact that they cannot die, wither, or age, the trees have been created as though they are just starting to color for Autumn, which is only pretty when you know they are artificial. The fact that there is a sun-lit atrium above confuses the issue, makes you wonder for a moment if they thought they could actually maintain living trees with the sunlight seeping in from high above. I had to assure myself of their artificiality to be able to feel good about it at all.

The convention is over. There are no lingering remnants, no dogged after-after-parties. The hotel is busily doing what hotels do, which is to pretend that we never were there. So as always, all I've got is memories.

They're quite good memories, if frantic. I took the Amtrak to Washington D.C., by way of explanation, and all the trains were just slightly late. I had hoped to see and write about the beauty of both Union Stations, in Chicago and here in D.C., but I had no time to see either. I was ferried so quickly through Chicago that all I saw was the vast and bellowing rail-nexus beneath the building, and by the time I actually got to D.C., there was no time to waste, as I was uncomfortably close to missing my first panel. I was greeted by a harried-looking James Harknell, a hard-working con organizer, and Mookie Terracciano of Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire, who had also just arrived. But we were late, as I said, and we hurried to the subway platform to try to make our way from D.C. up to Rockville and Mr. Terraccino slipped onto a waiting subway car just seconds before the door closed and he was whisked away as we looked at each other through the windows. Luckily, he had been to D.C. before. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had been in his place and had been separated from James.

There was no time to break or eat. I had neglected to eat properly on the train, counting on a quick lunch before my con obligations began, but it was not to be -- I hurried straight from the subway platform directly to my first panel, dropping my luggage in the corner, and then everything got kind of blurry for awhile. I met my Skin Horse collaborator, Shaenon Garrity, and things were better. Shaenon and I alternated panels for a bit and then got our very own panel at five and I still hadn't eaten and so when our panels were finally over Shaenon and I caught up over supper and even after a full dinner, I basically spent the rest of the night eating to try and get my blood sugar back up to normal levels, until eventually crashing with my con roommate, the surprisingly multitalented Chris Baldwin of Bruno, Little Dee and now, Spacetrawler. And you can hardly believe that three such disparate webcomics could have come from the same man's pen.

Saturday was panel-less for me. It was a long day in the dealers' room, talking about our comic. I met Bill Holbrook of the monumental Kevin and Kell and talked and talked and talked, and then Shaenon cut out to spend the rest of the evening with her East Coast family, who get to see her only marginally more frequently than I do. The important thing: I got to meet her mother at last, the real-life inspiration for Helen Alpha of Narbonic. Mrs. Garrity is the kind of woman who throws herself passionately into endeavors, and despite the fact that this was her first geek convention, she was soon sitting behind the table and signing Narbonic books like an old pro, and she was just tickled as all hell to be asked to autograph things. It was infectiously great to see her having a good time.

Anyway, they all left, eventually, and the dealers' room closed. My con obligations over, I blew the rest of the evening getting lost in geekdom, playing the new Kinect version of "Fruit Ninja" and "Dead Island", and then having my heart destroyed by a Steampunk Glow Rave, which was like a carnival midway with more scantily-clad women. I am particularly haunted by a pink-haired gossamer-winged fae-girl, clad in fishnets, spike heels, and a halter-top which was studded in the same sort of pure white lights which now only adorn the pretend half-dead trees outside. And as the DJ spun up Corvus Corax's "Filli Neidhardi", that song's terrifying bass cudgeling at my innards, she danced, effortlessly, to the high and minor bagpipes in the melody line and she became something achingly powerful. I cannot shake the image of her, all motion and sex and light. It is a hurt I can only salve by writing about her someday.

Then it was evening and it was morning and it was Sunday. This morning. The endless talking and selling was punctuated by my Improv panel -- I had not done improv in years, and I was rusty, but I managed it. I did veiled jokes on necrophilia and was turned into a werewolf on stage by my scene partner, a scene to which I submitted because that is the name of the game in Improv -- the scene is your master. My partner will likely never know what thoughts come into my mind from his offhand decision.

Shaenon took ill. I handled the table while she was gone, and tried to not feel like a second-class citizen, tried to not feel as though everyone who talked to me was really hoping to see the wonderful Shaenon Garrity instead. In the midst of these thoughts, a young man named Kendall came up to me and said:

"Are you Jeffrey Channing Wells?"

"Yes!" I replied.

"You're awesome."

Kendall, whoever you may be and wherever you are now, thank you so much.

And then, Pete Abrams stopped by. I read Sluggy Freelance religiously for years, but it has since fallen off my increasingly short short-list of "read comics". I had frankly been avoiding his table and his gaze all weekend for this very reason, but when he forced my hand by actually coming up and being friendly to me, I told him the truth: that it was great to meet one of the gods of webcomicking. And that's okay, because I don't think he is a fan of my strip either, but golly, his brother is, and he wanted to buy copies of the anthologies. So that's my level of webcomic fame: I am not read and enjoyed by famous professionals of the industry, but I am read and enjoyed by the brothers of famous professionals of the industry. He had really wanted to catch up with Shaenon, but it was not to be -- we managed to arrange a way for him to get dual-signed copies for his brother, though, and that's a good thing.

And then... it was over. Shaenon was still not feeling well, so I went out for a late lunch / early dinner with the rest of the Garrity clan. Shaenon and I said our goodbyes -- she's flying out at an ungodly early hour tomorrow. And that brings me to now, and the convention has evaporated around me. There are no people in costume, no game rooms to work off my excess energy, no people left to even interact with. There is just me, in this staid computer lab. It is frightening how quickly it has all vanished.

This convention, or the idea of it, has been a dream in my mind for years. When I began Skin Horse, I wanted the strip to eventually become popular enough that a convention would want both Shaenon and I to come out, together, and talk about our strip with people. That they would want this enough that they would actually pay us to do this. This has happened. My dream has come true and it is gone and now there are only future dreams. And I am afraid.

Things are always changing like this. We are not polyvinyl trees, frozen forever on the cusp of Autumn. We ride, eternally, on the ever-shifting point where dreams boil away to memory. I don't want the good things to go away, but it is folly to say to the world, or to anything in it, that they should not change just because it makes me feel lost and afraid. The only thing to do is to find more dreams.

Well, I'm workin' on it.

I spend tomorrow on the National Mall before leaving Washington D.C. Tonight, on a promise made to Mrs. Garrity, I wait with my cell phone on in case Shaenon needs anything (she won't) and dwell for one more night in memory.

The Corvus Corax song, the one from the Rave, is now on my MP3 player. I will click the Send key on this overly-long and overly-moody con report, and then walk out the door to my right, back to the hotel atrium. And I will be listening to the thundering bass and the bagpipes and gazing at the white lights in the artificial trees in their endless Fall and think of the unknown gossamer-winged girl who was dressed in those same lights just one night ago, when Intervention 2011 still existed.

I will think of her dancing.

Good night.
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