Readers to this blog will know that I have two day jobs of sorts–besides being a speculative writer, I work in the HR department for a Christian non-profit called InterVarsity, a ministry on college campuses throughout the United States. Every three years, InterVarsity does a huge missions conference called Urbana (though it’s nowadays held in St. Louis, MO) where thousands of students go to hear speakers, attend seminars and get information of going into missions, whether overseas or in their own backyards. Because it is such a huge event, many campus staff come to serve at the conference, and that includes us in the national office.
I’ve never attended Urbana as a student, so I don’t know the full experience, but having been to science fiction cons for about four years now, I couldn’t help but compare Urbana to a gigantic con of sorts. I mean, I didn’t see a single person doing cosplay. The entire conference was geared towards missions, which would probably set many of my non-Christian friends to twitching. And…no alcohol, so no Barcon, which would send many of my writer friends (myself included) screaming. Oh, and the job they had for me was working for Urbana.org, so I had the strange, disorientating experience of spending most of my time at the conference not networking, but writing.
But I learned a lot at the conference that I realized that I wanted to…no…needed to do a con report.
Urbana 12 had a huuuuuuge concom.
You think the concom at Wiscon or any other large con is big? We hire people to work on the conference a couple of years before the conference. And that doesn’t include the production staff, the set up crew, registrar, communications. This Urbana, they had a social media team whose sole purpose was to tweet, Facebook, tumblr, Hootsuite, the conference around the clock. Because I was with Urbana.org, I got to be backstage, so I was able to catch a small glimpse of the work done to put together the main sessions in the morning and evening. And that in itself was a small glimpse of the whole.
Views from backstage
Urbana 12 had safe spaces for POC.
When I served at my first Urbana in 2008, they had me working the BCM lounge (Black Campus Ministry). For four days, 6 hours per day, I would feed students, talk to students, play games and basically hang out. It was a lot of fun, though by the end of the conference, I couldn’t talk to people, I was so peopled out (I was not the extrovert I thought I was.)
In 2009, I went to my first full Wiscon and attended the POC dinner. When they were talking about the safe space that POC could go to decompress and have a safe place to talk about the Wiscon experience, I was like, dude, it’s just like the black lounge at Urbana!
Urbana had several lounges in fact–they also had an artist lounge, an international student lounge, and an InterVarsity Staff lounge. But still, the ethnic lounges (they had one for black students, Latino, Asian, and Native American) stood out to me as awesome spaces for people of color to sit, process, and hang out with other people of color. I liked how they were all next to each other, so you could visit them (and I saw a few non-ethnics wandering about as well). This year, the black lounge also had panels and roundtable talks of their own. I sat in on a roundtable about being black in an predominately white setting. Very interesting discussion–I wished I stayed longer. I also missed the open mic, the dancing, the games…
My only complaint is that I wish there was an easier way to get to the lounges. They were located in the Ramada on the west side of the America Center, and there was no quick way to get to it except go all the way around the block…which in winter, made for quite the trek. (Interestingly, the POC safe space for Wiscon was also in a hard to find, out of the way spot, but at least it was still inside the Concourse Hotel.)
Urbana 12 had a con suite.
That first night after doing registration, I was pretty exhausted, but my body had gone into con mode–which meant that had this been an actual con, I would go and hang out with other writers. And where else did all the writers go but to the bar–or if the hotel had no bar, some place where the writers could sit, drink, and bemoan the whole writing business.
But Urbana was a Christian conference, so there wasn’t a bar to hang out (not one I would tell you about anyway). However, there was the aforementioned staff lounge, so I went there instead, and found it to be comparable to a con suite. There was snacks. There were games. And there were plenty of
writersInterVarsity Staff, bemoandiscussing campus ministry.
So the time I wasn’t working or wandering about, I hung out in the staff lounge. Got to meet new people, and I even learned how to play Dominion–which satisfied my geek fix.
Urbana 12 helped hone my writing.
So I was given a job at Urbana–helping out with line direction during registration, and helping out with the Urbana.org site. Since all that was involved with line direction was repeatedly yelling "WELCOME TO URBANA! IF YOU ARE A STUDENT AND PAID IN FULL, GO STRAIGHT! IF YOU HAVE NOT PAID IN FULL, GO TO THE RIGHT! IF YOU ARE AN EXHIBITOR, GO TO THE LEFT!" I’ll just spare my vocal cords and talk about the Urbana.org job.
I had the pleasure to work with Kurt Bullis and Mark Breneman on the Urbana.org website. This basically meant I got to put my writing skills to work mainly through editing and formatting articles and writing blurbs. I also got to perform and transcribe an interview, which I hadn’t done in years. And I pulled quotes from blogs to give to the social media team to tweet.
While working on Willow, I’ve been learning how to utelize placeholders in my writing. I used that to help me in writing the blurbs–when I couldn’t think of anything to write, I put down something I’d would like for it to say, like <some sort of description about Bibles here> and moved on to the next blurb–then I would rework it the next time I came back to it. I also had to write fast, which meant I couldn’t spend a few days working on something. I had to write fast, take a break, proofread, then give what I had to Kurt, who could use it as is or completely rework it.
It was an interesting process. I didn’t have time to make things completely perfect, so I had to make placeholders work for me fast. And that’s something I want to bring to my novel revision. So, in a way, Urbana helped with my writing skills. Also, as you can see, I know how to write headlines within an article now. WRITING SKILL POINTS GAINED!!
Urbana 12′s spiritual side
Urbana still is, though, a Christian conference, and one thing I don’t get from cons is nourishing the spiritual side of me. Though I didn’t go to any of the seminars, I did get to see the speakers in the plenary sessions and participate in the worship. And let me tell you, the worship was awesome. Not the average ‘let’s-get-a-guitar-and-sing-kumbayah’. It was worship in many different languages, with many different instruments. Very diverse, plus, doing it with 16,000 other people made it fun. They had drama pieces which ran from ballet to stomp dancing to rap. They also showed videos, which I may have taken part in.
I truly enjoyed listening to the speakers. And it also confirmed that I’m right where God wants me to be, though I am also being challenged on a number of things (most of what I’m still processing). And having communion on New Year’s Eve with 16,000 people was a phenomenal.
Plus there were other perks, but I’m not going to go into that.
So, all in all, Urbana 12 may have not been a con, but I got a lot out of it. And I’m not as exhausted or stressed out at the end the last Urbana (oh, a whole number of factors went into that). That said, it did make me eager to start working on my con schedule for 2013.
Maybe I’ll include a Christian con this year…