I am so grateful. Where do I even begin.
The past couple of weeks since XOXO have been incredible. Incredibly high, and incredibly low. You gave me experiences I’d never had before; you pushed me out of my comfort zone; you took my body and mind to unfamiliar places; left me inspired, in awe, and in tears.
Those tears are of both sadness and joy; depressed and elated; exhaustion and excitement.
I’d first heard of XOXO when I stumbled upon a talk by Jenn Schiffer. Curious to know more about the event she was speaking at, I realised that XOXO looked like fun. And was, as I expected, on the other side of the world. After watching that talk I didn’t think much of XOXO again and I didn’t realise that there was a hiatus until news spread in 2018 that it would be happening again.
I read the blog posts on the XOXO blog, unsure of what to expect, not really aware of the history behind the festival. The cost of tickets was… decent, and now I consider it somewhat affordable (save for the cost of flights from Australia), given the cost and offering of conferences I’ve attended in my home country. The blog posts drew me further into XOXO, and I hit the link to apply for a subsided pass.
I wasn’t sure how badly I wanted it. In fact, I don’t even think I wanted it that much. Nevertheless, my fingers output my reasons. My experiences, the things I care about, my marginalised background, and my desire to experience XOXO, turned into words.
“If I didn’t get a pass then I probably wouldn’t have bought one anyway,” I said to my friends and family, as I booked my flights and accommodation.
But oh, if I’d known that I’d come out of it feeling like this, maybe I would never have said that.
I don’t think it’s too soon, but… I’m coming back. I’m coming back because I had an exceptional time, I loved Portland, and I hope to reunite with the friends I made this year.
Friendship: An Interlude, part 1
It was the day before XOXO that I met up with my friend Phill. We became Twitter friends a while back (I’m pretty sure through a mutual friend) and met for the first time less than a year ago. We, funnily enough, both grew up in Australia in the same part of town, and did exactly the same university degree, albeit not at the same time.
Nick and I also met up with him when we were in San Francisco in July, and afterwards Phill sent me a message that said, “Nice to see y’all. Always feel like I’ve known you for a long time”.
I don’t know how to explain that feeling but I know it. There’s something about friendships where things just click, and you get along despite what differences you may have, or you find that you have a tonne of things in common, or you go through something that makes you the best of friends. XOXO did pretty much all of those things for me.
Welcome + social day
Art dismantles power, otherwise it is propaganda –Cameron Esposito
Following Cameron Esposito’s hilarious, powerful keynote and the welcome from Andy and Andy on Thursday evening, Friday was a day of meetups and events. The meetups were organised by attendees of XOXO, and you found groups of people interested in the same things as you. There was no logical structure to this day, and if two groups happened to meet up at the same time and you were interested in both, you may have had to choose just one. This gave everyone an opportunity to explore Portland because the meetups were in different places.
I didn’t expect to get that opportunity, and I also (more on this later) didn’t expect the breaks during the conference talks to be so long, that I felt like I saw a lot of Portland during XOXO already. But I planned my stay in Portland to end four days post-XOXO.
I chose to join the hiking group for the famous 4T trail in Portland, which the group scheduled for an estimated four hours from 9:00am. It left little time for much else the rest of that day, but I really wanted to check out the trail with a group of people while I had the chance. There was a rock climbing meetup at 8:00am but I never would have fit that in. It was also difficult for me to wake up in time for that – even though I’d slept for about nine hours, the jetlag had thrown me off a little bit.
I hadn’t gone hiking or even done a trail in a while, and coming to Portland I knew I had to find one and get close to nature. I met a lot of people in the hiking group and we had a funny moment while riding the aerial tram, where we discovered and attempted to use Twitter’s QR codes to follow each other.
Although we split up at some point on the streetcar (colloquially called a “trolley”) because we had different plans, a hungry bunch of us headed downtown for a bite to eat.
That was when Phill, Kyle and I started to stick together like glue. Somewhere along the way we made friends with Phill’s ex-colleague Linn, and the four of us hung out as a group throughout XOXO.
Arcade, Tabletop, (no) Art+Code
After the hike we grabbed food and doughnuts we went our separate ways and agreed to meet up later on.
After showering, I ummed and ahhed about what to do next. I wanted to go to another meetup but I was exhausted and didn’t feel like trekking. I eventually dragged myself to the writing meetup and met Christopher and Patrick, then we walked to the main venue together after that.
I’m not really into games, I have to admit. I was most interested in the Art+Code part of XOXO, and from what I heard, it’s what XOXO was like in previous years, so in 2018 it was rather different.
Unfortunately it was at capacity before it even started. To that end, I didn’t really end up going there for the whole night and instead spent a lot of time in Arcade, where some folks were showcasing their to-be-released video games, and Tabletop, where other folks were showcasing their board games.
Ami Baio’s card game You Think You Know Me was my favourite (purchase it for yourself). Myself, Phill, Kyle, and Linn came back several times to play her game and I think she noticed and got really excited that we kept coming back. It was a terrific game in helping us get to know each other and learn more things about each other.
In the game you get dealt a certain number of cards and the aim is to get rid of all the cards. You use a card by selecting a person in the group, reading out what’s on the card, using it as a prompt to assume something about them (thus the name of the game). If you’re correct, you put the card aside, and if you’re incorrect, you draw another card from the deck. It was because of this game that we learned the juiciest gossip about each other, and felt like we knew each other so well.
TJ’s hyper-realistic food game Nour (it’s on Kickstarter) had us hooked for a very long time. We couldn’t stop staring, watching, and playing the game – which has no objective other than to have fun and experiment.
Conference Day 1
Day three of XOXO and I already felt so at home. I felt like I could be myself around people that I had, just a few days ago, barely knew. I felt like I could be open to everyone, without judgment, without fear, without being harassed or abused or offended in the slightest. Andy and Andy put in a lot of effort to make XOXO inclusive and make everyone feel welcome, and anyone who didn’t follow the Code of Conduct was dealt with promptly.
Side note for people who don’t know me well: mental health is very important to me. Respecting and understanding that people have mental health is important to me. Not everyone has the luxury of being open – be it at work, around family, or even around friends. For XOXO to be that safe space, for a lot of people, is something that I really value.
I’m pleased to say that despite how tired I was, I managed to catch all the talks on the first day of the conference. I particularly wanted to see Jennifer 8. Lee’s talk, because I admired her work with emoji, and I’m really glad I didn’t miss that. I really enjoyed Jonny Sun opening as the first talk, he was charming and heartwarming.
Can I just say that I appreciate the two-hour lunch breaks.
By the end of the day we were dead tired, but as Phill, Kyle and I shared a Lyft ride together I decided to do a bunch of stuff I don’t do.
I decided to not sleep. I decided to do a spontaneous bunch of things. I decided to go to a bar. With people. And have a drink. (Which I often avoid because I’m that health food freak I mentioned.) Late at night until the bar closed. I’m glad I did, because all this was out of my comfort zone or even what I felt like doing at the time, but we had the opportunity to talk and know more about each other.
Friends: An Interlude, part 2
Somehow, through playing the game You Think You Know Me over and over, we got a lot of laughs out of repeating the same facts about each other, certain that we’d learned something new and stored it in long-term memory.
And then – I’m not sure how this happened – we got into the subject of emo and metal music and found that we all, unbeknownst to each other, liked metal music. Metal music fans are a mixed bag of very expressive individuals, and individuals who “don’t look like” they like metal music. We all fit into the latter category, and pointed this out with surprise as we asked each other incredulously whether we had heard of band XYZ.
We laughed at the fact that we’d only discovered this just now, at the same time acknowledging that our friendship had just risen a level.
Conference Day 2
“The hike was [just] two days ago” –Kyle
I couldn’t believe that. It felt like I’d been in Portland for weeks. But I did read an article recently about why time seems to move faster the older we get. It’s true, that our brain processes things differently when we get older. The main reason is because compared to when we’re a child, we go through more mundane tasks we’ve been through over and over again. More routine.
As a child we typically have many new experiences and our brain processes these experiences differently to when we are an adult and have already experienced these things.
XOXO, and visiting Portland, was a new experience for many of us. The days dragged on and seemed like weeks because we were seeing new faces, doing new things, faced with a new environment, engaging with new experiences.
I missed chunks of the talks on Sunday. Myself, Kyle, Phill and Linn grabbed brunch that morning, and I snuck out later in the afternoon to go to the Portland Saturday markets for a little bit. Honestly, the whole day, my heart was pretty heavy, knowing it was the last day of XOXO.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was somewhat of a blur.
Goodbye, we’ll see you again
When Andy and Andy did their closing comments I was already about to cry. I couldn’t believe that XOXO was coming to an end. I’d had the best time, and here I am trying to write about that time in words.
And then Andy teared up, so, heck, I teared up too, and I’d done the gross thing where I hadn’t washed my handkerchief so I’d been using the same wad of fabric for nose gunk for the past four days to now wipe my face.
I feel like all afternoon I had been holding in a lump in my throat and stopping myself from crying. Linn had to leave, because his flight was rather early, and our group was down to three, and I knew Phill and Kyle would be leaving at the same time.
Being alone is relative. Linn left, and he would have been alone, and when Phill and Kyle left, I was alone, but Phill and Kyle would have been alone at different times yet again. I say this because I know many people at XOXO would have had moments when they were alone, and this is something we all deal with differently, especially following an event where you’re surrounded by two thousand people. Although definitely not all the time, being alone can mean loneliness as well.
When Phill and Kyle collected their luggage it hit me, like, shit, I have to prepare to say goodbye. I freaking choked back a tear. No one can ever prepare for a goodbye adequately. Sometimes, post-goodbye, you’re like, did I even do that right? Did I say enough? Did I forget something?
I guess… goodbye isn’t the right word.
See you soon. Yes. I’ll see you again next time.
It only took a minute to walk from picking up luggage to the entrance of the venue, but there were tears running down my face and I couldn’t hold them back anymore.
It was so good to meet you,
we echoed, through long embraces.
Except it wasn’t just good, it was fucking great, and we didn’t just meet each other, we knew each other, almost as if we’d known each other our whole lives.
The special musical guest was Lizzo. I wish I paid a little more attention but as I sat there, I was engrossed in my phone, swiping through photos from XOXO, trying not to cry, and trying to compose myself. The experience reminded me of days I’d gone to concerts alone because my ex never wanted to come; I’d be occupied in my own thoughts, but it felt like a beautiful escape from the troubles of work and study, and at the time, that was what I needed.
Maybe this time, it was also what I needed.
Friends: An Interlude, part 3
I’m not going to lie – one of the things I’m never going to forget is how Kyle and Phill laugh.
We laughed so much in the many hours we stuck to each other like glue. To know someone’s laugh is… it’s strangely personal, it’s warm, it’s butterflies, it’s happiness.
Where to from here?
I thoroughly appreciate the safe space I felt I had with XOXO. I am grateful for how inclusive and welcoming the event was for marginalised groups. This is something that is lacking elsewhere, and I found myself telling people, “How do I put all of what makes XOXO amazing, in my suitcase, take it home, and make it happen there?”
I don’t have an answer. All I know is that I can be a driver of change. In the past, I’ve done things that I haven’t thought much of, but that have impacted small groups or individuals. Like running codebar, speaking at conferences, and writing my Hey Girlfriend! interview series.
I’ve come out of XOXO wanting to live a life with more intent. I do, regularly, try to be mindful of everything I do, and be present, but I want to be stronger in my life with that. I want to take care of myself better – sleep better, walk more, eat well, not stare at a blue screen all day.
XOXO has given me more passion to continue doing what I’m doing, writing stories, telling stories, building things that I care about, and helping folks in marginalised groups.
Last – but a hundred percent definitely not least – all the friends I made. Let’s keep in touch, let’s keep encouraging each other, bringing each other up, and holding each other accountable to our goals and helping each other become better versions of ourselves.
Until next time,
xoxo Georgie 🖤
If you read this expecting a recount of the talks and presentations that I saw, you probably – I mean definitely – didn’t get that. I acknowledge that this blog post is primarily about feelings. They are feelings I wanted to write about and share, and blog posts about feelings, rather than a recount of events, are few and far between. The ratio between discussing feelings and conference content in this post is like 10 to 1, and I get that, but XOXO impacted me because of the feelings I experienced. Nevertheless, the videos from the conference will likely be publicly available online, so me recounting them wouldn’t have been as good a story as this one. (Err, I guarantee it. Y’all know I’m about telling stories.)
This blog post excludes details about my solo sightseeing of Portland and events that occurred outside of the time of XOXO festival. Although they shaped my experience in Portland and my new-found love for the city, they are not as relevant and would add length to this post. However, they will be included in future posts.
None of this experience would be possible without Andy and Andy, all the volunteers behind XOXO, and all the speakers and folks who showcased their games. I appreciate their hard work and dedication to this event.
I named individuals in this post, whom I feel particularly strongly connected to, but I don’t feel like this post is complete without saying thank you to the other people I met and spoke to at XOXO. If you are reading this, you know who you are. 🖤
E. Christopher Clark
Finally getting through the backlog of stuff I’ve been saving to read since the end of XOXO and just wanted to say hello and say that I appreciated reading this. Feelings FTW!!!