Several times a year, I have to pack for one of two sorts of major excursions: Conventions and White Mountain hikes. The two could not be much different. In fact they are the polar opposites that keep me balanced.
I have partly pre-packed bags for each that have the items I always take. In my back pack is a first aid kit, a hat and gloves, rain gear, maps, kerchiefs (single most handy item), and my bear-sticker. That latter is a hefty knife with a compass on the handle and a compartment with matches, safety pins, fish hook and line.
In my convention bag I have PJs, slipper socks, bathing suit, extra lanyards, business cards, copies of published works, and a cosmetics bag which has make-up, fingernail polish, assorted jewelry, and sundry overnight items.
The back pack and the con bag have two items in common: a toothbrush and a hairbrush. And if it’s a day hike, I don’t even take those.
When I’m hiking, particularly overnight, I’m lugging everything on my back. Weight is an issue, so I take only the absolute essentials. I’ll be dealing with the unpredictable moods of nature, so among those essentials are layers of clothing from hot summer day to blizzard, because in the White Mountains the weather can go from one to the other astonishingly quickly. If I should slip and injure myself, I need to play medic. Some idiots think all they need is a cell phone so they can call for help. This is an excellent invitation to disaster. You’ll wind up lost in a wet, freezing fog with a twisted ankle and no service.
Going to a con, I’m coddled in the climate-controlled comfort of a hotel the whole time. My worst problem might be needing a sweater because some of those rooms get chilly. Instead of worrying about taking too much, I worry about not taking enough. I need outfits for serious panels, outfits for fun panels, outfits for parties, for Bar Fleet, for hanging around in the room and for wandering the halls at three in the morning. Weight doesn’t matter; just drive up to the hotel and then get a trolley for all your truck, the boxes of books, the cooler full of snack food, the party supplies.
At the con, I have access to a bathroom with a shower and loads of fluffy towels, mirror and hair dryer and an iron. I’ll change my clothes on a whim if it suits me and the situation.
On a hike I wear the same clothes for three days because there’s no point in changing except to put layers on or take them off. There’s no place to bathe, other than to shove your sweaty face in a cold stream for the lovely shock of it.
On a hike I’ll stuff the cell phone into a pocket somewhere just in case, but probably won’t touch it again until I take it out at the end of the hike. I am completely unplugged.
At the con, I’ve got my iPod and my laptop, and I’m screaming if I can’t get the wifi to work within minutes of settling into my room.
As schizophrenic as this seems, I couldn’t do without either extreme. I need the social opportunity that conventions give me to meet with fellow writers, fellow geeks, fans and icons. I learn from others and I learn about myself, stretching my limits, making connections in a way that I just couldn’t do in the rural backwater I call home. I am immersed in the strange and wonderful worlds of the imagination, the life of the creative mind.
On the other hand, I need just as much the opportunity for silent introspection and physical challenge that hiking affords me, to reconnect with what is meaningful, what is essential. Being on my own out in the wilderness serves to remind me of the hard realities of living, the need for shelter, food, water, and how screwed we are when we take any of these for granted. Camping out, or spending a week in a cabin with no electricity, makes me appreciate luxuries like a flush toilet.
Two vastly different perspectives, intersecting at me. Neither is superior; one informs the other. And that is what you get when you unpack any shouting match between opposing viewpoints. Polar opposites provide balance, and they intersect at us.