the Non-Conference

Kind readers,

I just wrote a long post over on my Livejournal about the Non-Conference… Allow me to share it with you here.

moving in perfect peace and harmony towards Elvisness

My most precious ones,

whew! I’ve been resting since I got back home from the Non-Conference, and I’m slowly starting to feel less exhausted.

Before I begin telling you all about it, let me say this: it was extraordinary, and I’ll definitely be going to the next one.

Things were rough on thursday, though. That evening, I don’t know if it was tiredness, nerves, or the prospect of going to a city I’d never travelled to before and everything, embarking upon something entirely new—a mixture of all these I imagine—but I started to cry and was basically unable to stop until I finally went to bed. Then I wound up taking not one but three sleep aids, to no avail; I had no sleep whatsoever. I got up early the next morning, looking and feeling like absolute shit on a cracker: I was sleepless yet groggy, anxious, my eyelids swollen like little sausages (it took a good part of the day for the swelling to go down), my face throbbing. I took Tylenols, got in the shower, and dressed, put my overnight bag in the car, and began my journey to Kitchener.

Everything was fine when I was on highway 7 and 115, and then I got on the 401. I hadn’t driven on the 401 in twenty years (the last few times I’d been to the city, I took the train), and I’d hoped I left early enough to avoid traffic. But apparently, during week days, there’s always traffic around Toronto; the slowdown began one hour before I even got to Toronto, and persisted for about an hour after I’d driven past it.

It was exhausting. A drive I thought would take me around five hours lasted seven hours.

But, thankfully, I found my way to the hotel without trouble, and when I entered the nice room, my relief was overwhelming to say the least. I felt more relaxed; I had my temporary shell where I could rest and recuperate by myself. I undressed, got all my stuff organized in the bathroom and lay out my clothes for the next morning with my usual, almost military precision, and ordered room service—spaghetti with meat balls. I then watched television in the large, warm, comfortable bed, propped up by a mountain of pillows, and thank goodness, I dozed off early and did get some decent sleep that night (I give it a 7.5 out of ten. It was a million times better than the previous night, which would rate a 0).

The next day, I got up at six thirty, feeling much better. I showered, dressed, and went to the lobby; I’d called the front desk on the previous evening, arranging for a taxi. Said taxi soon arrived, and along with my heavy box of books, I was on my way to the convention center, which was about ten minutes away from the hotel.

When I got there, I saw a very nice, beautifully organized conference room. It was large, but not gargantuan. I’d say the conference was MISTI-sized. There was a table with all sorts of complimentary beverages at the back, and a stage at the front. The kind people who gave me my registration badge brought me to my table, and I saw, to my utter delight, that I was sharing it with Atheist Republic; these were people I’d been dying to meet (their Facebook Page has over a million likes).

Shortly after I set up my table, I started selling copies of Hula Girl. I used my Square device for the first time, and it worked perfectly. I’d made color copies of a poster I’d designed (it had quotes from well known bloggers and podcasters who’d shared kind things about the book), and I handed them out to people who were stopping by, saying, “Would you like a piece of paper? These are some of the things that have been said about the book…” And I talked and I talked. It felt so awkward, trying to promote my own work, but I did my best.

More than one person was impressed by the fact I’d been on the Godless Spellchecker podcast, including Professor Krauss (I’ll get to this in a moment).

I was already speaking with many people, such as Nicol Simard (The Infidel), who invited me to be on his podcast at some point (“podcast for the damned”). I said, “I’d love to.” I had seen one of his shows, when he interviewed my friend Sean McGuire (My Secret Atheist Blog).

The first person to give a talk was Armin Navabi, founder of Atheist Republic. He’s a remarkable young man, and throughout the day, I greatly enjoyed chatting with him. His presentation was funny, thought-provoking, and moving (he’s an ex-Muslim). At one point, I told his lovely companion Chay—she was so lovely—that I’d sent them a copy of Hula Girl a number of months ago, but I knew they got a lot of mail and I figured it was in a pile somewhere, and she immediately got a copy of my book; I got a copy of Armin’s own book, Why There Is No God.

At the end of the day (it was close to ten o’clock! I was drained, but exultant), Chay said, “I want some photos!” My goodness, I’d hang out with her all the time if they lived closer (they’re in Vancouver).

Here I am with another wonderful fellow whose name I alas now can’t recall (he was one of those who got a copy of Hula Girl). You can see that I was becoming very tired.

I met countless wonderful people there.

All the talks were fantastic. Not a single one of them was dull in any way, and there frequently was a lot of laughter. And then, of course, there was Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who read words that made my throat clench. She had a translator with her, and I was awed by her courage. I even had the good fortune of running into her at one point, and I thanked her and held her hands in mine, she was so small, and told her that her talk had been beautiful, and I said, “Can you understand me?” She smiled and shook her head a little—she doesn’t speak much English—and I repeated, “Beautiful… Your husband will get out of there.”

Also of note was Carolyn Hyppolite’s talk (I managed to bump into her too, and I gave her a complimentary copy of my book; amazing woman), and Stephanie Guttormson’s talk about transgender issues (I had the opportunity to give her a complimentary copy of my book as well), and Brian “Mr. Deity” Dalton (he was incredibly funny). I mean, everything was top notch.

I ate my lunch and dinner at my table, away from the bustle of the eating area (it was behind curtains beyond the stage), and so did Armin and Chay, and we talked quite a bit; it was wonderful. By the end of the day, I’d sold about two thirds of the books I’d brought. I spoke a few words on camera for the fellow who runs Atheism TV, Emmanuel Proux, who asked me to say why I was an atheist.

At one point, a woman who’d purchased two copies of Hula Girl came to me while I was signing, and she said, “I just wanted to tell you that I’ve started reading your book and I can’t put it down! You’re so concise and”—she lavished praise on my writing, which made me stammer and feel tremendously encouraged…

And before it was time for Professor Krauss to speak, I managed to summon the nerve to go give him a copy of Hula Girl with the help of Nicol, who insisted I do so and ushered me towards the stage. In fact, he was the one who began speaking with Professor Krauss and told him that I had something for him.

I told Professor Krauss, “I’m sure your suitcase must be full already, but may I give you a copy of my book? If not, it’s okay!” But he crouched down and said, “I do have a lot of stuff, but your book is thin, and yes, I’d love to have it,” and then I was stunned to hear him ask me to sign it. I’d actually meant to ask him to sign his book for me! Of course, I’d freaking forgotten to bring it with me on the trip. I told him I’d been on Godless Spellchecker and his eyebrows shot up and he said, “Oh!”

I had no idea a kind person had been taking these photos! They were waiting for me in my email box after I got back home. I was most grateful and thrilled to bits.

Professor Krauss gave his talk, and he was magnificent. His knowledge is formidable, he has a very sharp wit and doesn’t suffer foolishness gladly. When he started talking about physics and the Hadron Collider, I was captivated and it was better, far more wondrous, than any sermon I’d ever heard.

Before I left, I got a marvelous necklace from the people at Sacred Secular Sanctuary—people after my own heart. I wore it the very next morning, and it made me very happy.

I also gave some more copies of Hula Girl to Spencer Lucas, who’d organized the convention and who was very kind to me (“Are you enjoying the convention? You’re selling books? Good!” I thanked him profusely), and to a couple of people at the Humanist Canada table, including the wonderful Eric Thomas, president of Humanist Canada, who was very kind and encouraging to me too, I loved this man, and to Christine Shellska, president of Atheist Alliance International, who was, no surprise there, very kind and encouraging to me as well.

Again I’ll say: it was a phenomenal event, and I’m so happy that I went.

Then I went back to the hotel; it was nearly ten o’clock, and I had no stamina left for the concert that was about to start. The taxi arrived, and soon after I was back in my room, resting upon the plush bed. I had another very good night’s sleep, I say nine out of ten, and the next morning I hit the road around nine thirty. The drive on the 401 was much, much smoother this time—there was only one slowdown, cause by a multiple car accident—and I was home around four o’clock. My better half was in the middle of making dinner. I ate, then soon fell asleep on the couch.

I’ve been sleeping a lot since I got home.

The next day, I saw that there was a beautiful gift waiting for me online: the twentieth review of Hula Girl on Amazon, and it left me dumbstruck.

Next stop: thirty reviews, I hope!

I’ll rest for a few more days (feeling sleepy right now, in fact), and then I’ll be hard at work on Tiki Hour.

So, goodness, as you can see, it was quite an epic adventure, and a joyful, stimulating conference! I would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, everyone who purchased a copy of my book at the Non-Conference; I can’t begin to tell you how much your support and interest in my work means to me. Thank you so much. If you enjoy the book, please do tell all your friends and anyone who might be comforted or inspired by it! Thank you.

Deep gratitude as well to Spencer, who is such a marvelous, soft-spoken, dedicated fellow. We need the Non-Conference. It was a joy and privilege to be there.

Your devoted
Logospilgrim, the quiet professor