XOXO: Not an Echo Chamber

The XOXO festival opened last night in Portland with a party at Holocene, but in reality the crowd started to gather first on twitter, where following the #xoxofest tag showed attendees en route, finding each other on planes and trains, and generally setting a mood of giddy anticipation for the event. Even the sun showed up, tricking first-time visitors into thinking they had landed in nirvana (reality check next February).

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Back Fence: @xolotl, @rael & @jshardison

This last April I had the privilege of telling a story on stage at Back Fence PDX, the innovative storytelling event brought to us by @melissalion and Frayn Masters at Portland’s Mission Theater. At Back Fence, regular folks get up on stage and each tells a true, personal, unrehearsed story that lasts no longer than eight minutes, all linked to a general theme for the evening. Melissa and Frayn preselect the storytellers and audition their stories before the event, so it’s not an open mike. Back Fence is more like blogging live in a nightclub.

My story for the evening’s “fish out of water” theme recounted some misadventures in my unorthodox schooling and an all-too easy walkabout in wild Utah that together ultimately led to the simple lesson: when all else fails, study hard for the SAT.

Watch my whole 8-minute story below. Excuse the choppy video and wear your headphones to catch the audio.

In June, Back Fence was back, this time with a story from the whitest African-American I know, Rael Dornfest, the craggy mind behind the now-mythic Values of N and a user experience engineer at Twitter. Rael told the tale of his family’s wild ride into the dark heart and eventually out of apartheid South Africa to the tune of that night’s theme: “caught red-handed”.

Also in June, Back Fence featured the precariously Kentuckian @jshardison with a real “don’t try this at home” story dripping with Southern atmosphere and exploded bits. I have no idea what this man is or does, but I just try to stay at a safe distance.

Videos of Rael’s and Jeff’s stories weren’t captured, but bring your funny bone, your dy-NO-mite and your “what have I done lately” for social justice to Back Fence this coming Fall. Get thee hence for local, organic, homemade entertainment.

Nate Angell at Back Fence PDX from Melissa Lion on Vimeo.

Creativity Inverged: InVerge & Cre8Con 2008

Experiencing three days of purposefully and accidentally thought-provoking speakers at Portland’s recent Inverge and Cre8Con conferences leaves me feeling, well, thoughtful and provoked. Some of the presentations were predictable, some were compelling, but nearly all of them generated further reflection on what is and what will be.


Engagement was the theme I drew from the wide variety of media and marketing professionals and researchers at Inverge. From the giddy meditations on the media engagement that is from presenters like Widen+Kennedy’s Renny Gleeson, Vidoop/OpenID’s Scott Kveton, raven.me’s Raven Zachary, and cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, to the descriptions of what media engagement is beginning to become from USC ICT’s William Swartout‘s descriptions of the building blocks of holodeck technologies and Vortex/Harmony Channel’s Ed Lantz‘s tour of immersive media environments. Then the good news/bad news of engagement brought to us by MIT’s Joshua Green, who got us thinking about the value the agents formerly known as “consumers” bring to brands and products and what they should get for their work, and Andy Mooney and Chris Heatherly, who openly described Disney’s very clear and strategic systems to engage children as “desiring machines.” I hand it to Disney for understanding how to architect experiences like the techno-charm bracelets that talk to each other and jack in to Tinkerbell’s Pixie Hollow website…but thankfully, Disney’s poor art direction and music selection may keep them from owning the entire brains and allowances of every child on earth.


Despite drawing on only local Oregon talent, Cre8Con certainly delivered a day-load of eye-poppingly great work and thoughts on how to make it, including Michael Curry‘s amazing puppetry, damali ayo of Crow Clothing’s must-have clothing and laudable business practices, and Brian Van’t Hul of LAIKA’s tantalizing previews of the upcoming Coraline animated feature.

When it came to creative practices, I was left waffling between the incredible focus required to produce Jay Meschter of Nike’s nearly-invisible shoes and Adam Gallardo of Dark Horse Comic’s advice to absorb as much as you can from the widest variety of sources. I’m left feeling like both practices fuel my creative engine.

On Your Feet ‘s closing 10-min summary of the entire Cre8Con conference should be required at any and all conferences of any type from now on for both laughs and material retention. And finally, let’s not forget that neither of these worthy events would’ve happened without the dedication of Steve Gehlen and a host of other hardy volunteers.