When I first decided that I would write my next blog post about the things I learned while I was at Balticon over Memorial Day Weekend, I expected to write about crafting a fight scene, gender-flipping in stories, crafting a villain, or designing a cover. But then I failed to find the fight scene panel, gender-flipping was interrupted as soon as it started by a fire alarm, I slept through the villain discussion, and I burned out before it was time to talk about covers. So it’s safe to say the weekend did not go as planned. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything. So…

Things I learned at Balticon:

1. That building I walk by that says “IMET” on it has some amazing sciency stuff inside. Also: sea sponges might cure cancer.

Before anything was happening at the con, but after I had completely registration, I was approached by a petite woman who wanted to know if I was interested in learning about fish. It was the first time this had ever happened to me. Usually when people want me to learn more about something it is Jesus, the Bible, or the Book of Mormon. Even though I have no interest in changing my religion, I will frequently let people talk to me about theirs and this time I went along, saying, “Sure. How do I learn more about fish?” But it turns out the woman was not trying to convert me to a fish cult. She instead wanted to invite me on a tour of a fish hatchery, which she informed me was right across the street.

At this point I was intrigued. I’ve lived in Baltimore for four years now and the only fish-based things I knew of across the street from the hotel we were in were the National Aquarium and some restaurants. It turns out that “across the street” was a bit inaccurate and she actually meant “across the street and down a few blocks” but this was a good thing, because this meant that I got to go into a building I pass by every few days but have never been invited into.

The building in question is the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology. I had known it was some sort of research center, but had no idea they were breeding fish in there! The lobby is very clean in a sci-fi sort of way, with huge windows and white tile. Upstairs are various offices belonging to people from assorted schools. (The Institute is owned by the Maryland university system as a whole, not by one particular school.) The fun stuff is downstairs.

In a huge, factory-like room, there are scores of tanks, blue ones made of metal and about a meter and a half high. The whole place smells like a beach at low tide and the sounds of machinery blend with lapping water. It is both magical and incredibly mundane. The facility is studying sustainable fishing, which involves raising vegetarian fish and using the waste products produced by the fish to provide energy. In theory, this system is something that could be transported to anywhere, so I now know how to write a scene in a fish breeding facility on Mars!

2. It takes two to tango, but it’s alright that neither of them knows what they’re doing if they have someone to talk them through it. Also: Katey Springle Lempka is fantastic.

Remember how I was supposed to learn about choreographing fight scenes? Well, the program guide was vague as to the location of this demonstration, and while I was trying to find it I walked into a room with a very dapper and hopeful looking man standing in the middle of it. He asked me if I were there to learn tango. I considered quickly and decided that, sure, I’d dance. A lot of other people showed up and left to continue the quest for fight scene orchestration, but some people stayed for dancing. Including the lovely Ms Katey Springle Lempka, whom I know from G+ but whom I didn’t know would be at the convention at all, let alone dancing with me.

As the class was mostly women, we all learned both roles, and had great fun doing so. By the end, we were where the instructor says most classes are after several weeks. Go us!

3. The Reverse Shakespeare Company is a thing.

Before the fire alarm decided that it didn’t want me to be able to witness a panel dedicated to gender-swapping in stories, one of the panelists had time to mention the Reverse Shakespeare Company, an acting troupe that performs Shakespeare with gender-flipped casting. They don’t alter the dialog. It supposedly shows how silly it is to strongly associate most characters with a gender. I would imagine it also helps people to see exactly how male-based Shakespeare’s plays are, without them _needing_ to be. For example, why are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern typically cast as males? Couldn’t Hamlet have school friends who happen to be female? It’s not like there’s a scene with everyone measuring their boy-bits.

4. I can get over my fears. But sometimes it isn’t the right call.

At the start of Friday, I was nervous and tense and filled with anxiety. I went to the con anyway. I wish I could say that the anxiety vanished as soon as I got there, but it didn’t. It was worse the next day, but I went anyway. And I’m glad that I did, but when I failed motivate myself Sunday, I couldn’t get angry at myself. I spent the day playing video games with my son rather than confronting my irrational fear of “but there will be people there!” and I don’t regret it. Yes, it’s a bummer that I didn’t get to play any Victorian parlor games. And considering that I am in charge of my own covers, it would have been a good idea to go to that panel on cover design. But I spent time with my child and I figured out who the mastermind in Danganronpa was. So did I make a mistake staying home? I don’t think I did.

5. LJ Cohen is amazing!

Okay, I’m cheating a little on this one, because I already knew that LJ Cohen is all sorts of awesome. But I did get to see her in person and verify this. She had dinner with me and my family, and it was most excellent. And she signed one of her books for me! Huzzah!

Also, LJ has a new book out this week. Halcyone Space Book 3, Dreadnought And Shuttle. Currently on Kindle and soon to be in print. 🙂

BONUS) I’m moving in a year.

I didn’t actually learn this at Balticon, but two days later. However, this time next year I should be in the process of relocating to Denver! I am all sorts of excited about this! There are things I’ll miss about Baltimore, mostly people, but all in all, four years in a state I’m not in love with is too long for me. I look forward to all the stories the mountains are going to inspire me to write.

So, you see, while I didn’t learn the things I set out to learn over the last week, I still learned a lot.

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