My visit this year was abbreviated because of other commitments but I am grateful that I did get to spend at least some time at one of my favorite gatherings. It was also fun this year because I got to introduce XOXO to my colleague at work, Vincent Chang, who has a side gig as a game designer.
I was happy to hear that the organizers decided against a repeat of last year’s experiment to hold the conference in the cavernous Veterans Memorial Coliseum and returned to the more intimate grounds of Revolution Hall. I applaud their attempt to be more inclusive with the larger venue but, ultimately, something is lost when you host intimate talks in a cavernous hockey rink.
This was my third XOXO (post from 2018). Each time I go, I gain a deeper appreciation for what Andy & Andy are building. I confess that I do not feel marginalized as some of the presenters but, as an Asian-American, it is helpful to learn about the struggles described in some of the talks. Empathy comes from understanding and I thank all the presenters for being so brave to share their stories and the audience in being so collectively supportive.
Against the backdrop of fascinating talks about the etymology of Ms. and the hegemony inflicted upon us by culturally one-dimensional restaurant reviewers , this year I focused on the attendees and their interesting And varied backgrounds. We were encouraged to spend 80% of our time listening and 20% talking. Moving beyond the standard conference introductions such as, “Where do you work, what do you do?” and spending time to uncover a person’s inner fire was immensely rewarding.
Some people I met included
a couple that was deep into Japanese Pro-Wrestling as an art form. They turned me on to Hoodslam, a world I’ve never heard about, taking place right in my backyard.
a recent migrant to San Francisco who was now working on a secret VR/AR project
a woman who took the last year before she turned 31 to take advantage of Australia’s Working Holiday program
I also learned more about anxiety and had an open conversation with those that experience it, what it is like and what are things that I can say that can help someone having a severe anxiety attack. I learned about Box Breathing.
Estelle Caswell (Earworm) showed her video exploration into the male falsetto in popular music and answered questions about the process to make the video presenting her findings. FYI: she made a Spotify playlist.
I was only able to attend Saturday’s talks but each one was excellent.
Tracy Clayton reminded us Not only of the importance and value of a diverse workplace but also underscored that Diversity isn’t the same as Inclusion. Tracy grew up on Twitter and drew strength and support from her network but the same thing that was keeping her alive was also hurting her emotionally. She shared her struggle to reconcile those two forces and find hope. “Hope leads to motivation, motivation leads to action, and action leads to change.”
Emma Kinema shared her experience as a labor organizer for the video game industry drawling a line from the IWW in the 1930s to the present day struggles of video game developers. Organized labor as something that can unite people in our politically divided world was a theme all weekend both in and outside the conference. The labor movement is strong in Portland.
YouTube personality hbomberguy shared the story of his epic 57-hour Twitch stream in which he raised over $300k for the British Trans Rights charity Mermaids. At hour 56, AOC showed up.
The charming couple Rekka and Devine make up the Hundred Rabbits team. They shared their adventures of moving their life on to a 33-foot sailboat Pino and making their way across the Pacific to Japan. Life on the water lead to extreme self-reliance and radical simplification. 11GB XCode updates and Adobe Creative Suite connectivity are unacceptable on a satellite phone connection so they were forced to build alternative solutions. Just as open source tools lead to more efficient solutions for their technology, they also have open-sourced their lifestyle to help others live off the grid.
Soleil Ho, one of the hosts of the Racist Sandwich podcast that covers the race & politics of food. Here’s a link to Episode 14 which talks about the politics of food photography. Soleil has now become one of those she used to rail against as the new food critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. In her words, “Representation in media is a powerful thing but you must beware of commodification.” This is her new challenge.
Caitlin Doughty shared her career path to a mortician and how she started her “death-positive” movement. I learned a lot about things that are not normally talked about.
I chatted with one of the developers at Moonlight Kids, a game studio that is halfway done with, Wild at Heart. They expect it will take their small team two years to complete. The team is completely distributed and the festival was one of the rare times that the team were together. I asked how they coordinate their work schedules and maintain momentum towards deadlines set by their publisher. One thing they try and do every week is open an hours long conference call, not with any set agenda but just as a way to connect, to keep the lines open for quick questions and to be there for each other.
I wish I could say more – it was fun but a bit overwhelming as I’m not much of a game player. Vincent and I played Mechanica while the one of the designers of the game patiently walked us thru the mechanics. It had something to do with making vacuum cleaners.
Vincent was really in his element and he signed us up for a “Super Secret” playtest of a game called The Adventure Zone. Our round was led by Keith Baker who is someone really famous in gaming circles. He was really nice and took an interest in Vincent’s game which made him very happy.
Saw the tail end of a live performance of Everything is Alive, the podcast where they interview inanimate objects. In this episode they interviewed a chainsaw.
Wrapping up, Demi Adejuyigbe made an announcement that he was finishing the season (and moving on from the show) and threw down the most amazing dance routine to a mashup of all the songs covered in the season. Here’s just part of it.
Vincent and I explored several places around Town.
We ducked out for dinner at McMenamin’s Kennedy School located about 6 miles outside of town but well worth the trip. The complex is a restored 1915 school with each of the rooms converted for alternative uses. There’s a speakeasy in the “Detention Room” and a Beer hall set up with crazy pipework art in the “Boiler Room” – well worth the trip but bring your bathing suit as I hear the soaking tub is quite nice too.
Back in the late-80s I visited Portland for the first time to see my sister who was attending Reed College at the time. Late one evening she and her friends took me to a cafe. All I remembered about it was that there was one table in the room that was rigged up with a pneumatic lift that ever-so-slowly would push the table upwards and downwards. They always left the table open for out-of-town visitors so that the unknowing visitor would at some point realize that what was once a normal table was now up around their chin, would let out a yelp and the rest of the room would giggle and welcome them to Portland. Vincent promptly googled and found the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, right around the corner from the conference!
Other spots visited:
If you’ve read this far, thank you for indulging me. XOXO 2019 was a rich experience that I will reflect upon many months afterwards. Thank you Andy x Andy for making all the arrangements – I’m spiritually recharged with a renewed sense of optimism for the potential of a connected humanity.
While it’s important to talk about the issues, they are all just ideas and plans until we have a debate about the structure of our political system – that is what is limiting our ability to make real changes that will stick.
Here’s Mayor Pete from last night’s debate:
[This is] the conversation that we have been having for the last 20 years. Of course we need to get money out of politics, but when I propose the actual structural democratic reforms that might make a difference — end the Electoral College, amend the Constitution if necessary to clear up Citizens United, have DC actually be a state, and depoliticize the Supreme Court with structural reform — people look at me funny, as if this country was incapable of structural reform.
This is a country that once changed its Constitution so you couldn’t drink and changed it back because we changed our minds, and you’re telling me we can’t reform our democracy in our time. We have to or we will be having the same argument 20 years from now.
On Monday, an all-star cast of actors gathered together in New York to perform a dramatic reading of the Mueller Report, the 448-page looking into Russian interference into the 2016 election. The play was written by Robert Schenkkan, a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning screenwriter and playwright. Jason Alexander, Sigourney Weaver, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mark Hamill, and many others make their appearance. John Lithgow is particularly good at channeling Donald Trump as he reads his quotes and tweets.
The performance was for one night only and was put on by Law Works, who also host the video stream above. From their about page:
Law Works partners with leaders in the legal, judicial, national security, law enforcement community, and current and former elected and appointed officials to explain how the rule of law is the foundation of a healthy democracy, to defend the nonpartisan role of the Department of Justice, and to expose current threats to core American values and electoral systems . We advocate for bi-partisan legislation to protect our judicial institutions.
What an amazing game played by UCF against Duke yesterday. I keep coming back to the final basket, those final seconds when everything hung in the balance, how it almost made it in, just a slightly-softer-touch. UCF was so close to upsetting a #1 seeded championship team. It was never supposed to be that close.
“It was up there forever, I felt like, in slow motion,” he said. “Once I saw it go past the midpoint and roll out, there was, at that point, nothing left to do.”
Then today I saw the locker room speech by the UCF coach, Johnny Dawkins, father of the player who just missed that last basket and a former player for Duke, the team that won. You can hear the sniffling in the background and really feel their loss. These boys, some of them seniors, were playing in the last game of their entire basketball career. They are at the peak of their career, if they are not getting picked up by a pro team, this is it.
For me it was an exciting game and an close loss. Exciting for sure but my bracket’s intact, I’m moving on. Just a close call. But to these kids, the loss must have been devastating. So many years invested up to that one final moment.
There is an annual high school baseball tournament in Japan that is very much like the March Madness tournament here in the United States. 4000+ teams across the country play in a national tournament that ends up with less than 20 teams going to a the famous Koshien Stadium in Japan in mid-August. The entire nation turns in during the hot summer evenings to watch their nation’s youth play their hearts out.