Tag Archive | CONvergence

Friend a Day – Stephanie Zvan


CONvergence week continues here at Friend a day headquarters!

I met Stephanie when we were in the same play in college.  I was nearly killed by a piece of scenery on opening night.  That’s a different story.

After that show, I hardly saw her for years.  It was only through the Skepchick/FreethoughtBlog events at CONvergence that we re-connected.

Stephanie is devoted to supporting social justice issues through her Almost Diamonds blog.  She has become a target for a lot of internet hatred because she’s not willing to back away from an important fight.  She’s openly critical of well known members of the atheist community like Richard Dawkins.

I can’t imagine how exhausting the abuse can become and yet Stephanie faces it with a sense of humor and, I think, the conviction that she is right.

When there is an issue that has me upset, I find that Stephanie frequently is commenting on exactly the thing that has me frustrated.  Her thoughts are well researched and detailed.  Certainly you can disagree with her but you can’t disagree with the effort she put into presenting a cogent argument.

She was a guest on Geeks Without God our first weekend and was one of the people who helped set the tone.  We’ve had her back since to play the horrible Left Behind Board game.  You have to have a little extra helping of respect for anyone who endured that game.

I remember working with Stephanie on that show all those years ago and even back then she had a ton of confidence you knew would get her through a lot.  It is that strong sense of self that helps her keep saying things that make her a target for a lot of petty stupidity.

And that is something I don’t think the petty, stupid people have figured out.  Being an asshole on the internet is easy.  Fighting against the assholes is a lot harder.

I’m really proud to know someone who is fighting the assholes.


Friend a Day – Harry Knowles

Photo by Brett A. Hart

Photo by Brett A. Hart

It’s CONvergence week and that means all my Friend a Day posts will probably have something to do with the convention.

Harry was a Guest of Honor at our first convention back in 1999.  He’s returned a couple of times since then and I’ve been fortunate enough to go down to Austin almost every year since then for Butt-Numb-a-Thon.

Through that, I’ve gotten to know Harry as well as anyone who only sees him once a year can really know anyone.  I love going down for the movie festival but I’m even happier to spend time with people I hardly ever see.  Like Harry.

The thing about Harry is he is living the dream all of us geeks had when we were young.  I’m not resentful of that fact because he is completely aware of how fortunate he is to live that dream and he is always doing his best to share it with others.

Sitting with Harry talking to him about movies is sort of like film school every time.  He knows so much about the film industry and film history it kind of blows my mind.  And he is so fucking smart, he can take all of that information, process it, and draw intelligent conclusions.

When he introduces you to someone, he will then probably spend at least twenty minutes telling you everything about that person.  He doesn’t talk about that person’s faults.  He tells you why he likes them so much.  I think he just has the ability to see the best in everyone.

His sense of humor is mildly sadistic.  If he pokes fun at you, it is because he likes you.  He also expects the same in return.  He is completely capable of taking as much as he’s been given.

I’m glad that we asked Harry to come to the convention all those years.  If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t have ended up seeing him once a year.  Once a year isn’t enough, but it’s better than nothing.



Friend a Day – Alicia LaMunion

Photo by Mike Lee

Photo by Mike Lee

I’ve known Alicia since she moved to Minnesota several years ago.  She became a large part of the local geek community as soon as she moved to town.

She has always been someone who has seemed very open and honest about everything.  I’m not sure if I know anyone less deceptive than Alicia.  I think she wouldn’t know how to be any other way.

When it comes to gardening, she is very talented and active.  She has helped us a little bit with the plants around our house and without her help, we’d have nothing but weeds.  I’m always impressed with people like Alicia who seem to have a natural knack with plants because I sure don’t have that knack.

Her interest in outdoor activities like fishing and boating is something she’s offered to pass on to our kids and I really appreciate that offer.  I don’t fish but if the boys want to learn, it is great to know that we have a friend who not only can teach them but actively wants to teach them.

Alicia has a very pleasant demeanor that makes me look forward to seeing her.  The pleasantry of asking you how you are doing never feels like just a pleasantry when it comes from her.  She seems genuinely interested in the answer.

We have a tendency to run in to Alicia and her husband Mike at a lot of local events like movie openings, presentations by Neil Degrasse Tyson, conventions, and it always seems strange that I wasn’t expecting to see them there.  They really embrace their interests and it is a big part of their identity.

I regret that some choices I’ve made lately have left less time for friends like Alicia.  I’m trying to make a few adjustments to fix that because it is important to make time for friends like her.


Friend a Day – Christopher Robert Cargill


Photo by Eugene Hsu

I’ve known Cargill since I met him in a kitchen in Austin, Texas.  We were both trying to stuff 200+ bags full of SWAG for Butt-Numb-a-Thon.  Actually, I think I was mostly in the attic rolling posters.

I’m fairly certain I thought he was loud and obnoxious.  I was an idiot.

He is loud.  But he’s not obnoxious.

Fortunately, it only took me about 24 hours to figure that out.

Cargill is better informed about almost any topic than anyone I know.  I may not always agree with his opinion (though I usually do) but I can’t argue with his facts.

I’ve gone to him for advice on several occasions as there are very few people whose opinion I value more than his.  He has a way of cutting through all the bullshit and getting right to the central issue that has to be addressed.

He’s also one of the most gracious hosts I know.  When Butt-Numb-a-Thon rolls around, he and Jess open up their home to a parade of out-of-town guests.  I’ve never felt unwelcome in their home.  They make you feel like you are one of the most important people in the world for the time you spend there.

In the years of doing panels with him at CONvergence, he has shown he is up for just about anything.  If we are doing a comedy panel, he is funny.  If we are doing a panel about movies, he knows a lot about movies.  As a writer, he knows a lot about writing.

He doesn’t use a panel to sell his work.  I assume that he expects being an intelligence and informed speaker can do more to sell his work than trying to talk about his work every second.

Cargill is going to be a Guest of Honor at the convention this year and that has been a long time coming.  His resume certainly means he is worthy of the title.  It is his personality, however, that makes him perfect.

He is loud, yes.  He is also generous, intelligent, funny, and creative.  I can’t wait for CONvergence attendees to get to know him better this weekend.

Friend a Day – Hal Bichel

Photo by Damon Thrift

Photo by Damon Thrift

I’ve known Hal for a few years now as she has gone more involved with CONvergence.

Hal has always impressed me with her ability to use social media.  She’s been working with Christopher Jones to help increase his visibility on Twitter and Facebook and it has, I think, made a big difference in his visibility to his fans.

She can seem a little quiet when you first get to know her.  I assume she is just sizing people up because once she knows you a little better, she is opinionated and passionate.  When she has an opinion on how to improve something, she is not quiet about that opinion in the least.

I like that she will push her agenda to others.  She isn’t shy about making her position known and trying to affect change.

As the picture of her Klingon Dr. Who costume would indicate, she’s also an imaginative cosplayer and she really seems to get a lot of pleasure from that activity.

When it comes to her involvement in fandom, I think she is really all in.  She is always looking to immerse herself in the experience.  She goes to a lot of conventions, cosplays, works with CONvergence, and really seems to embrace the community.

Working with her on the convention, one of the things I appreciate is her ability to be direct and succinct.  When she asks for something, she does so clearly.  She doesn’t try to sugar coat a request.  She also understands if a request can’t be accommodated.

Her dealings with others are a lot more professional than one will find in a community of volunteers.  She treats the volunteer position like a job.  I think we could all learn from that and strive to be a bit more professional in our dealings with one another.

I’m pleased I’ve gotten to know her better over the last few years.  Hal is, in a word, awesome.

Friend a Day – Jody Wurl


I’ve known Jody from my earliest days at the Renaissance Festival.  She started – I think – two years after me.

Jody has such a wealth of knowledge about books especially.  I think at least half of the speculative fiction books in my home are here based on her recommendation.  When we were younger, I’d read any book she put in front of me because she always made good suggestions.

She has always struck me as someone who is searching for joy in her life, even when there is sorrow.  She strives to find the best in life and even when she stumbles, she finds a way to return to that place of happiness.

I’ve watched her do so many things well over the years, it is staggering.  She is a great dancer, a great librarian, a great street performer, and now she is working on improv and I’m sure she is going to be great at that.  She probably already is – I just haven’t had a chance to watch her.

Family has always been so important to her.  She is always talking about her sisters and her nieces and always making time for them.  I can tell how much it means to her that her family is part of her life.

When it comes to details, she is so much better than I am.  When I talk about her wealth of knowledge, I can’t even believe how much information she just remembers.  The two of us work in the same department for CONvergence and thank goodness for that because if it was only me, none of the information would be retained.

She’s told me some hard truths over the years.  They weren’t always easy to hear.  I didn’t always react to them well.  But the sign of a good friend is someone who tells you hard truths.  They tell them to you because they care about you and they want to help you grow.

Jody has always been a friend who helped me grow.  I’m lucky that we have remained friends for so long.

Friend a Day – Bill Stiteler


Photo by Peter Verrant

Bill is another connection made through CONvergence. I feel like I should have known him sooner than that since we both know most of the same people.

Almost every time we see each other, Bill tells me about some horrible movie that I need to watch.  I end up watching far fewer of his suggestions than I should which is too bad because they are all worth the time.  Too many movies, too little time, I guess.

When it comes to obscure trivia about all manner of 80’s popular culture, Bill is probably the best source I’ve ever met.  He knows more obscure facts about just about any 80’s television show than I know about all of them.  It is truly amazing.

He takes all this knowledge and can turn it into some of the funniest writing I’ve seen.  That he is able to mix obscure pop culture references with comedy that will appeal to everyone is something I admire because it is something I try to do in my own writing.

Bill (along with Melissa Kaercher) also produces one of my favorite shows in the Twin Cities, Powerpoint Karaoke.  I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve gone to a show because he can get such a diverse array of talented people and because the slides he and Melissa produce are so inventive and silly.

He has a sarcastic wit that is always active and always sharp.  It surprises me how quickly he can come up with the best angle on just about anything.  I don’t think it is ever in an attempt to impress anyone with his cleverness.  Rather I think it is because he is simply that clever.

I like spending time with Bill because I know that I’ll always end up laughing and I’ll also probably end up learning something.  He is a wealth of information and he is always willing to share.

I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to work with Bill over the years and I always look forward to what he will do next.

Friend a Day – Jerry Belich

1509831_10152065714182091_8784472753110327539_nI don’t know how long I’ve known Jerry.  I’m fairly certain I was aware of him long before I got to know him.

He’s one of those ubiquitous people who floats through my friend cluster and we finally managed to get caught in each other’s gravitational pull.

Jerry is a wonderfully inventive person. Whether it is his Choosatron or coming up with ways to do special effects for an epic Sweded version of Dune, Jerry just manages to come up with clever ideas and he executes them with imagination and style.

He collaborates very well with others.  When we work on a project together, he is very clear about what he can bring to the table and what he can’t.  If I’m the director, he only injects his opinion if I ask him to (of course I always do.)

In addition to his other talents, he’s also extremely funny.  As a participant in the Stop Talking shows that I’ve done at the Minnesota Fringe, he is almost savant like in his ability to play the game.  He’s also wickedly funny even while he is managing to play the game better than anyone else.

We are both exploring the freelance path at the same time.  I’m dipping my feet in the pool while he dived into the deep end.  It makes him a valuable person to talk to as we are having somewhat relatable experiences.

The biggest challenge we face together is we both have a lot of good ideas but we don’t have a lot of time to execute them.  The reason that is a shame is because they are really good ideas.  Making those good ideas with someone like Jerry is a lot of fun and I think we are both frustrated we haven’t had the time to get them done.

When they do happen, they will be amazing.

I’m very happy that Jerry and I have managed to slip into each other’s orbits.  He’s one of those people who makes life a lot more interesting.


Friend a Day – Joseph Scrimshaw

1491355_10203168806974326_5021579959808376726_oI’ve known Joseph from somewhere around the beginning of CONvergence back in 1999.  At that time, his career as a comedian was just starting to develop while I had no idea that I might one day be looking to do the same thing.

For the last several years, he has been a terrific sounding board for me.  He’s walked a road I’d like to walk and what makes him great is the fact he’s willing to talk to me about the journey.  He is extremely generous with advice if you ask for it but he doesn’t offer it unless he thinks you are interested.

Joseph is one of the hardest working comedians I know.  He is always writing something and the diversity of what he writes is staggering.  He has written some of the funniest and most successful plays at the Minnesota Fringe.  He writes a very funny blog.  He’s written a book.  And so on.

When he’s on stage, he looks confident and comfortable but never cocky.  He is in his natural element and he likes it there.  When he is clearly enjoying himself, the viewer can hardly help but to do the same.

We have had many conversations over the years about comedy and he takes it very seriously.  He spends a lot of time thinking about what makes comedy work and how he can make his comedy better.

Recently, he moved from Minnesota to California, which is a big risk.  If I know anyone who can make the move successfully, it would have to be Joseph.  Sure, there are a lot of random factors involved but he is talented and an extremely hard worker.

For someone as talented as he is, he shares the stage with others extremely well.  His Obsessed podcast could easily be much more about his cleverness than about his guests’ obsessions but he does a terrific job of using his questions to bring out the comedy in his guests rather than worrying about providing it himself.

Life is full of comings and goings but I’ll admit that when the Scrimshaws moved to California, it was a going that made me a little more sad than most.  I definitely miss their presence even as I celebrate what I hope will be great success.

Joseph has a comedy blog over at www.josephscrimshaw.com.  You also can (and should) support him on Patreon.

Also, he’s doing a performance in Minneapolis on Saturday at the Comedy Corner Underground.  If you haven’t seen him live and you are in the Twin Cities, you should go!

Friend a Day – Melissa Kaercher

Photo by Amanda Celeste Jaeger

Photo by Amanda Celeste Jaeger

I knew Melissa before I really knew her.  I ran into her at GE, where we both worked at the time and I recognized her from the Renaissance Festival and CONvergence.  I believe I said something to the effect of “is there anywhere you aren’t?”

That’s a good question for Melissa overall because it does seem like she is everywhere and doing everything.  She attends several conventions a year, she is on a bunch of podcasts (one of them with me), and she is part of no small number of other creative endeavors.  The answer to my question, it would seem, is no.

We first bonded over a mutual love of movies.  She’s seen all of them and I have seen many, but considerably less than her.  She proceeded to provide me with title after title that I “needed” to see and she was, of course, always right.

She’s an expert at navigating social situations.  She makes friends easily and often.  If she’s met anyone she didn’t like, she keeps that information to herself.

Instead, she is constantly sharing her home for any number of events – usually associated with movies.  She truly enjoys sharing her passion with others whenever there is a chance to do so.

When is comes to the projects we work on together, she has a tendency to be the one who keeps the rest of us organized and on task.    She has a knack for that sort of thing.  The Smackdown panel would not take place without her constantly goading Christopher Jones and I to do our jobs.

Melissa also has a knack for design and she’s helped me out on several occasions with art for Vilification Tennis or a logo for one of my many projects (the logo for Geeks Without God is one of hers).

The creativity that she shows in putting together things like Judging a Book or Killer B’s is remarkable.  More remarkable, she does it without any expectation of recognition for what she has done.  Instead, she does it because she thinks it is a fun idea.

The energy that she brings to everything she does is amazing.  I’m glad to know Melissa simply because she is an example of someone who is squeezing everything she can out of life.

She blogs over at Tin Lizard Productions.