Lessons from SXSW: Why I go, and why I keep coming back


Some people come for the panels and others come for the unprecedented opportunity to party with fellow nerds, but I come to SXSW to have my head and heart split open.

This year didn’t disappoint. To the contrary, it was easily the best South-by conference yet. Not just because I got to reconnect with now-longtime friends, or to meet-live-and-in-person so many wonderful people I’ve known only online thus far, or because those people proved to be exactly as I expected them to be in real life, but because I spent the entire time being myself, and feel like at this point, it would be almost impossible not to be.

Don’t get me wrong: “hard” opportunities abound in Austin for that five-day stretch (as I assume they must for film and music types during their respective stretches). I’m sure there were deals being sealed right, left, top, bottom, in- and (Buffalo-gals-go-around-the-)out side. Having danced this waltz thrice so far, though, I can tell you that the real beauty in all that stuff coalescing in one small slice of space and time is the unprecedented opportunity it offers towards leaps in growth. At least, for hard-working introverts of a nerdly nature.

Consider that most of us introverted nerds work at our own stations, in front of our own computers, on our own stuff, alone. It takes real effort to mesh with other nerds, when that’s even possible locally. Yes, there are co-working spaces, great ones like BLANKSPACES here in L.A. and Office Nomads up in Seattle. (I saw Co-chief Nomad Jacob Sayles again in Austin, which was fun and random.) Yes, there are great groups like Biznik (come to the L.A.-flavored events I’m hosting, if you’re around!) and KERNSPIRACY (ditto on Spencer Cross’s events, if you’re a designer and around) who encourage real-live mixing and mingling, and yes, great stuff comes out of it. There’s something about that once-yearly thing though…maybe it’s nothing more than scarcity, but really, so much good stuff flows in those four or five short days, it’s pretty amazing.*

I’ve been catapulted forward by stuff where there was no human participation at all, too, and plenty more of it where the human contribution happened without any intention or awareness on their part. These are epiphanies and they’re a whole nuther story. Several stories, in fact, which one human at SXSW this year told me in no uncertain terms that I need to start telling. (More on that later.)

What I got from being around Gretchen and Pam and the endless, delicious onslaught of excellent person after excellent person in the flesh was juice. The energy to keep me going, the alchemy that happens when ideas connect with encouragement.

I have so many things to tell you, I could burst. But I will tell them slowly, and with a lot of napping in between.

SXSW giveth, and SXSW most definitely taketh away…


Image is a SHITTY photo of the way-excellent 2009 deconstruction of my biz card by one Marty Whitmore. He is cute as a button and weird as Austin. Also, talented.

*Liz Strauss‘s SOBCon (“School for Bloggers!”) ran a close second for overall meetup-happiness last year; I had quality time with a host of Internet-made-real and just randomly awesome people. If you’re a blogger wanting some camaraderie and encouragement around your blogging, you should check out this year’s event. Plus Chicago in May = totally awesome!


  1. It was lovely to meet you!

    And I’m glad that Kyeli and I could introduce you to Marty so he could draw for you. (:

  2. The beatings will continue…?
    Why allude to violence?

    How about:
    you will be pummeled with verbage until communication improves?
    you will be stuck with xx
    you will bored to xx
    you will be moved to xx

  3. EJ – Well, it is a pretty famous phrase. And in my vast, 10+ year experience as an ad ho, if you try to contort a famous phrase too much, you end up with something that loses the original meaning and doesn’t make enough of a new one to warrant ink. Er, pixels.

    Rest assured that Marty, while a devotee of all things zombie, is actually as sweet and gentle as a baby kitty. And me? Well, you know me.

    Just wordplay!

    Pace – Lovely meeting you and the lovely Kyeli and the lovely Marty. Such a fun time! With extra, random meetings in the hall, too!

  4. It was great to meet you, and get to spend some time talking with you! Glad you enjoyed the business card doodle, and I’m posting the drawing I made of you at lunch on my site, in case you are interested in seeing it again!

    I may be sweet and gentle now, but when the zombies come, I’m going to speak softly and carry a blood-soaked chainsaw. …to contort yet another violent, famous phrase. (^_^)

  5. Pingback: SXSW Zombiegeddon!

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