Today I bought business cards. This feels more important than it probably is.
Pantheacon starts in one week. I have never been before; for that matter, I have never been to any Pagan event like this except for the Heartland Pagan Festival and St. Louis’s Pagan Pride Day. The last time I went to Heartland, the attendance was, I think, around six or seven hundred. I’m told Pantheacon is about four times that big. That’s a lot of people to meet. Supposedly I should have gotten ribbons, but business cards will have to do for now.
“Take a look at this,” I say to my girlfriend. We live in different cities at the moment, a moment that has lasted nearly the entirety of our relationship, so this conversation happens over Facebook. I send her a picture of a business card design I made up on the Office Depot website. “Is it hideous?”
The card is blue and green, vertically aligned. At the top is a surreal picture, the silhouette of a man standing in the center of a pyramid whose walls are made of a starscape, a sky dotted with clouds, and a field. Below that, my pitch: “Eric O. Scott, Author, Blogger, Memoirist. Contributor to Killing the Buddha, Patheos, Pagan Square, and the Wild Hunt.” Below that, an array of contact info.
“Hideous is way too strong a word,” she says. “Though it’s wordy. What’s the story on that picture, anyway?”
“It was the only thing that popped up when I searched for ‘New Age.’” Office Depot, as expected, had no results at all for “Wiccan” or “Pagan.”
“The graphic doesn’t seem very you,” she says. “You are more of a tree than a mystical triangle thing. You have roots.”
This may well be the sweetest thing she’s ever said to me.
Today is the big Mardi Gras parade down in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis. I don’t go to the parade – I had to work the night before, so I slept, instead – but in the afternoon I go to my parents’ party. They throw one every year, ever since my mother developed a love for New Orleans after spending a long weekend there with her a friends a decade and a half ago. Sometimes I am struck by the oddity of our fervor for an ostensibly Catholic holiday, the point of Mardi Gras being a final explosion of indulgence before the long austerity of Lent.
Then again, I suspect the majority of people getting drunk at 11 AM down in Soulard don’t plan to give up anything until Easter, either, so perhaps we’re just playing along.
They draw a big crowd this year, dozens of hungry mouths waiting to scoop out bowls of jambalaya and gumbo. People stake out their spots out on the patio, in the living room, or in the kitchen, the last of these being obviously the prime location. My dad’s friends congratulate me on my upcoming book, much to my discomfort. My aunt attempts to play the tambourine and mostly fails. It’s a good party.
A friend of the family shows up later on, once most of the food is gone. She goes to Pantheacon most years, though she won’t be there this time. (I’m secretly grateful she is staying home; I know myself well enough to know that I tend to cling to the people I know when I’m in a crowded room. The best insurance against my own shyness is to simply not know anybody.) She gives me a list of recommendations: bring a cup, keep track of time, don’t get star-struck when Margot Adler passes by. (No promises.)
“And try not to stand in the back of the elevator, if you can help it,” she adds. “There’s a guy there who will try to grab your ass if you aren’t careful.”
Something to look forward to, I guess.
Today is a road day. I’m heading east, to Champaign, Illinois, where my girlfriend goes to graduate school. I’m working on three hours of sleep and a Coke. I miss the turn off from Highway 55 and have to circle back around, lest I end up in Bloomington and add to my girlfriend’s ledger of Evidence That I Am Bad At Directions.
It’s going to be a packed week. Four nights in Champaign, followed by another day of driving on Thursday to be home in time for my father’s birthday dinner. (Yes, he was born on Valentine’s Day.) Then a 6 AM flight to San Jose, followed by…
Something. I don’t know what, yet.
As I have noted before, I am a statistical freak. Pagans-and-Heathens-and-Polytheists – look, you know what I’m talking about – we are, by and large, converts from Something Else. My parents were both Low Protestant Christians in their childhoods. I know some ex-Catholics, some ex-Lutherans, some ex-atheists. But I was born into it. It’s all I’ve ever known. And that has non-obvious consequences.
Here’s a big one: I’ve never gone looking for a Pagan community, because I’ve always had one of my own. While I’ve known of other Pagans in the places I’ve lived – my dad infamously engaged in open warfare with certain St. Louis Pagans in the days of listservs – I’ve never sought them out myself with the hope of making connections or friendships. I considered myself as isolated from the “greater Pagan community” as I was from mainstream religions, an outlier to both, my life holding little in common with anyone else’s. (As a teenager, I would occasionally meet another teen who had just declared themselves a Witch and hear the inevitable conversion narrative. “Sure, my parents made me go to church, but in my heart I know I’ve always been Pagan.” I would smile, but inside, I always thought, “Really? Because my heart never told me that, and I actually -was- always Pagan.”)
I’m told that Pantheacon is a friendly place, that I’ll find the place inviting. I hope so, of course. But still, it’s an awful long way from home.
I make it to Champaign before dark. I kiss my girlfriend hello and say nothing about missing the turn.
Today my girlfriend spends her time preparing for the oral examination of her qualifying papers, which will be held tomorrow. Late in the evening I watch her rehearsing with her PowerPoint. Slides flash by, full of citations for studies into Russian language acquisition and data points for the relative cultural prestige of languages in Kazakhstan. Though my life revolves around language, it’s over my head; I only took one semester of Linguistics, and that was years ago.
I spend most of the day doing crossword puzzles, writing, and reading anything that comes across the Pantheacon Twitter feed. The CAYA coven posts their packing list, which seems useful, though I have no idea what counts as “necessary” ritual gear; I’ve only done ritual with strangers a handful of times. (Can you stow an athame in a suitcase? What if it’s wrapped in a sock?) The Pantheacon site suggests only picking three “must-see” events a day, as there simply isn’t time to see it all. I glance at the schedule I’d set out, which has only three empty slots throughout the weekend.
I get the feeling that I am not prepared for this, that I have decided to dive into a cenote without first learning how to swim. By nature, I am a solitary person, accustomed to sharing my religious life only with my family. I am all too aware that my experience with the “greater Pagan community” has, for the most part, come only at the safe distance of a computer screen. In a few days I will find myself standing in the middle of a convention full of strangers in California, strangers with whom I may have many more points of divergence than similarity. My vision of that coming throng scares me a little.
And then, I shrug. Oh well. So what if I’m anxious? There’s nothing to do with the unknown but conquer or be killed by it. The flight’s already booked; the business cards have been printed. The dark water glints at the bottom of the pit. The only thing left now is to jump.