Enduring SXSW

On the Sunday of SXSW I woke up bewildered, but in a happy way. I couldn’t believe the previous day. There was always, always sadness in me but Saturday had been so happy, all that sadness was pulled down below the surface. The good day tied anchor after anchor to the sadness, sinking it further and further down. 

I got up early, headed out to several sessions and felt productive. It was still difficult to learn how to navigate SXSW as a newbie, but I was doing it. Slowly but surely. Then I got a text. “I’m changing Facebook today.”

Half an hour later I looked at Facebook and I was “In a Relationship” with no one. An  anchor snapped and the sadness raised. I took a deep breath and changed my status back to single for the first time in 2 1/2 years. Another anchor snapped and the sadness raised. In the afternoon I took a break to pedi-cab it over to a favorite Austin eatery, 24 Diner. I sat at the only available seat, at the bar, and talked with a couple who were 24 Diner regulars. We chatted and ate and drank and exchanged blog URLs. The cute bartender poured me extra champagne. The hash was great, a second pedi-cab wheeled me back to the convention center. The sadness hovered, but still below the surface.


I scurried to a cool session I’d been hoping to catch “Using Emerging Technologies to Reach Your Audience”. This was an encore presentation (rare at SXSW) I’d missed a couple of days before. I was late, but the ballroom was only half full and I easily found a seat. I flipped open my iPad to take notes. Of course I checked Facebook. It had not published my relationship status change, which I was hoping it would so that *I* wouldn’t have to tell the world myself. Proof I don’t know as much as I think I know. Snap goes another anchor. Then I noticed I’d been blocked. Snap goes all the anchors and I sat in the big ballroom with the really cool presentation for 30 minutes before I realized I hadn’t heard a single word. Nothing.

Frustrated with myself, I snapped my iPad shut, hoped I hadn’t shattered the screen and headed to the hall to hopefully not cry. I didn’t. That was the worst day. 

Monday was better. Did the conference then went to the Buffalo Lounge that night with all my Oklahomies. Drank up all of everyone’s drink tickets then sang karaoke with a two friends and a live band. Then as we stumbled back to the shuttle, I may have stopped off to ride a mechanical bull. Maybe.

So...this happened.

Tuesday was better. Wednesday was EPIC. Thursday I flew home. 

Let’s talk about the epic Wednesday and save the Thursday for the next installment. Wednesday I heard a keynote from Jonah Peretti, the founder of Buzzfeed that left me completely enthralled for my profession. We sat close and because we didn’t have to leave for the following keynote, we saw Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal up close and personal. 

Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal. (!!!)

Later that night I departed my group and flew solo to a party I’d been anticipating for several weeks. Paste Magazine, Sennheiser and the Newport Folk Festival were hosting a showcase at the Blackheart and I was on the list. It was one of the only things I’d RSVPed to before my world was upended.


That show was perfect. It was heart. It was soul. It was banjo(y) church. It fed and fed and fed me. I even got to meet some of the Newport Folk Festival organizers and social media team. Nice folks. Saw some amazing music I’m going to post about soon. It was a high note of my week, second only to that amazing Saturday.

After I’d had enough, I walked back to the convention center to catch a shuttle. But not before stopping at the collection of food trucks called South Bites.

I love you, Austin.As I departed for Austin a week before, one of my friends told me to just keep swimming. Another told me to watch for signs. I did that. All week, I did that. On the way to the hotel that night I met a really nice guy in the shuttle. I lost his card, so all I remember is that his name is Michael and he works for Microsoft. He described a cool job when I asked about it but what struck me most was that he asked me about my day and thoughtfully engaged and listened to me about it. I realized in that moment that it had been a long, long time since that had happened at the end of any of my days. It was the first “Hey, Sheri….you know there’s better things waiting for you….” sign I’d had and it was a nice little comfort. Not an anchor to hold down the sadness, but a removal of an ounce of it. 

Michael has a neat job where he teaches Microsoft technology to the entertainment industry. He lives in Marin County, north of San Francisco. And when he travels, as it turns out, he keeps an art journal of his experiences. Collages, mosaics and sketches fill pages of hand-made style paper in a soft leather bound journal. I snuck a photo because I figured no one would believe me. 

UntitledYes, Universe. I hear you. There are better things waiting for me. 


Beginning SXSW

The night I arrived in Austin my friend Lanie and her coworkers let me tag along to dinner. It was good to gather myself up and pretend to be a human for an evening. Out in public. We walked from the parking garage to the the convention center to get our badges, then to the restaurant. 


What do you call it when you walk past a specific place where you had a specific memory? Or hear a specific song? Or taste a specific wine? Let’s call them ghosts. I saw about three ghosts, heard about six and one or two were mentioned in dinner conversation. I held it together nice and tidy like a champ. I was the valedictorian of post break-up composure. All on the outside, of course. 

The first day of the conference was overwhelming. I read somewhere that 40,000 people officially attend SXSW when it’s all said and done, plus all the extra people in Austin to support the conference. 

So. Many. Peoples.

We had met up with my friend Blake for lunch at one of my favorite Austin spots, Home Slice. Of course it was full of ghosts, too. Loaded. It was where we had watched showcases the previous 2 years. But the pizza was good and the company better.  

This. Is. Perfect.After lunch we headed downtown. We saw a bunny van. I Vined it. I don’t know how to embed Vine…

Once we arrived to the downtown area I realized that the session I wanted to attend in 20 minutes was so far away it required a shuttle that was a 10 minute walk from where I was. And thus began the struggle to actually participate at SXSW. I wandered aimlessly with my head in my phone, scouring the conference app looking for ANYTHING to sit in on. Something that 500 people hadn’t already beat me to (which would turn out to be a common occurrence that week). I stopped to cry behind my glasses then shook myself enough to keep moving and eventually found something to attend that wasn’t terribly far away on foot. It was called, “#ageofdamage: Be the Company You Want to Keep” presented by David Jones, Co-founder of One Young World and author of Who Cares, Wins. With my iPad open I “scribbled” notes and listened to his talk. Some of the nuggets I took away were things related to what he calls Radical Transparency. He said that the Industrial Revolution empowered companies and that we are in the age of a Social Revolution that is empowering people. People don’t expect perfection but they do expect honesty and transparency from companies. He shared a case study of Patagonia that was fascinating. Here’s an article that gives a nice overview: Don’t Buy This Jacket.

 From there I headed over to “How to Rank Better in Google & Bing” where, literally, 1,200 people beat me to a chair. At least. I bounced next door to a presentation from PBS that showcased a crowdsharing video service they had developed. Neat, but not terribly useful for me. A good spot to recharge all of my devices, though…something one always needs to be on the lookout at a technology-heavy conference. From there I missed “Technology, Imagination & Exponential Thinking” but got incredibly lucky upon my return as I learned it was filmed and made available online. Carve out an hour and have your mind blown.

 I sulked at the failure of the day. A year and a half ago when I learned I was coming to SXSW ’13, I thought I’d be storming the castle of awesome. Back to back to back sessions of genius-level techy brain food. Instead, I attended one session that was useful to me. I worried that each day would be like this. 

But they weren’t. They got better. 

The next day I put on my Chucks, went downstairs and pulled a Twitterati move to rescue my peers and I who were marooned at our outlying hotel. 

Then I summoned The Universe for Amanda Palmer. The Universe provided.


Then I attended a session on Creativity and the brain.

Then I went to the Google House and got free food and swag.

Then I went to some other place and got more free food and beer.

A little later I shook the hand of Al Gore.

Then even later I saw Band of Horses at the Samsung Galaxy Experience launch party.

Then EVEN later I pushed past a doorman and three hundred people to join my friend Jessica at the Gary Vaynerchuk secret wine party.


Then I decided not to temp fate. I sloshed through the rain and caught my hotel shuttle at 1:30am, went to bed and slept…hard. For the first time, in a long time, I had a GOOD day.

Leaving for SXSW

I arrived in Austin, TX on Thursday afternoon in a fog. A few hours prior I stood on the airport curb and curled into the chest of the man I love deeply. We said our goodbyes as if I were only leaving for a business trip but the shaking in my core still had not stopped. I almost forgot to take off my sunglasses before I looked in his eyes one last time. I’m never in daylight without sunglasses and forget that people can’t see all of me when I’m wearing them. I wanted him to see all of me. It was the last time he would. 

The people of Will Rogers World Airport didn’t get the same privilege. Once I passed through the rigors of security (guess who forgot she had a wine tool in her purse), the glasses went back on. No one else needed to see me that day. I wandered for a while and then remembered I hadn’t eaten. 

Sheri. You’re alone now. No one is here to feed you or take your hand and lead you. You’re on your own.  

I shuffled all pathetic-like over to Schlotzsky’s for a breakfast sandwich and some coffee. After I ate (raising my blood sugar is crucial to stopping tears, I’ve learned), I found a gift shop to stock up on packets of Kleenex and bottled water for what I assumed would be an embarrassing plane ride of weeping. I spent the last few minutes in OKC texting friends for support and thinking of the last things I’d left unsaid to him. Then saying them, knowing that when I got back in a week life would have moved on. 

I may have emo-Facebook posted. Maybe. Then deleted it because I am heartbroken, not 12 years old. Then I remembered that I’m allowed whatever I want and this is my life to live how I see fit. I also decided to white-knuckle it as soon as I landed in Austin. That I needed to get my Sheri in order as much as possible in the air because when I landed, a full-on sensory overload awaited me. 

In my Houston layover I remembered to call a shuttle service to get me to and from the airport in Austin. I had earmarked the week before my trip for break-neck, procrastinated preparation. One more lesson learned about waiting until the last minute, huh? The lack of shuttle was an easy fix but I also still had a week’s worth of SXSW Interactive Sessions that had been half-planned, at best. There was no embarrassing weeping on the plane. I drowned my emo thoughts moving from Patty Griffin’s Living With Ghosts to Impossible Dream to Ben Howard’s Every Kingdom. Then repeat. 

By the time I got to the hotel I was properly numbed out. My shuttle left me at the airport because I had been waiting in the wrong spot. The $20 I tried to break to tip the driver had come to me Vegas-style in a landslide of gold dollar coins. I met someone from Oklahoma City in the shuttle and we had mutual friends. And she follows me on Twitter. There was conundrum after distraction and I was glad for it.

After checking in I slung my body across the hotel bed and began reading official SXSW stuff about sessions and transportation while I snacked on the gift bag goodies and eyeballed the free vodka that looked about as good to me as a hole in my head. I broke out the iPad and checked the neighborhood for food or tea and found both, but after a short walk I discovered that two 6′ fences and a railroad track separated me from my destination. Around the same time, though, an angel from OKC tweeted that they were within an hour wrapping up their drive to Austin. 

Back in my room I stared into bathroom mirror, took a deep breath and put on makeup for the first time in a week. The white-knuckling began.

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