Brain food for writers

- by Jennifer Stevenson

One of the goofy things I have done to fill the creative well is attend the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress.  This is a week-long event that takes place at Western  Michigan University during the first week in May, when the daffodils are in bloom and the swans are nesting.  Scholars from all over the world attend and speak.  There are forty sessions, an average of three papers per session, every ninety minutes, for five days.  Some three thousand medievalists attend.  That’s a whole lotta cool stuff.

It’s also amazingly inexpensive.  For about $350 you get food and lodging for five nights and admission to the Congress, including special events, banquets, wine parties, concerts, the whole megilleh.

Anecdote.  I was serving as secretary-treasurer for the Societas Magica, an academic group founded for the study of the scholarly history of magic, and had driven over from the Chicago area on zero sleep.  I had forty minutes to kill before our business meeting.  I needed a nap.  I chose to slide into a session where the lights were out; they were showing slides; hey, I could put my head down on a table in back and nobody would notice.  Hah.  The session was about giant medieval wooden machines.  The presenter of the moment was showing slides of a 500-year-old mill, pointing out how they used elm for the shafts, alder for the cogs, etc. etc.  In French.  Now, I do not read or speak French, but I couldn’t sleep through this.  It was too interesting.  By the end of forty minutes my brain hurt, trying to hack the language, but it was a good hurt.

There are drawbacks.  The food is dorm food, almost comically terrible.  The dorms are like white collar prisons—bring an extra light bulb or two, and your own blankets, pillows, and towels.  WMU is a classic Midwestern college campus, set among picturesque hills with creeks at the bottom, and heavily wooded, but that means it’s also excruciatingly hilly for the non-athletic, and your 8:30am session may be on one side of the great divide and your 10am session on the other.  Jogging shoes.

But the biggest drawback is that there is just so darned much to do.  In between the boggling numbers of paper presentations, you can attend meetings of societies who study Richard the Third, or Cistercian Monks, or gay and lesbian matters of the medieval era, or music, art, metalworking, shipbuilding.  There are wine parties, hoo boy, those bibulous medievalists!  Once I saw a Fresian gelding, supposedly descended from the great black medieval war horses, all dressed up in bright-colored finery, demonstrating war-horse moves.  I saw a small hand-made replica of a Norse boat launched on the swan pond.  I ate medieval-style food at a special banquet.  I went to concerts played on authentic instruments, masques, and miracle plays. At every single meal for five days, I sat with fascinating strangers and learned stuff.

And I bought books.  Danger, Will Robinson.  Leave your credit card at home.  The book room is a menace.  It’s most dangerous on the last day of the Congress, because that’s when the university presses are trying to unload their stock cheap so they won’t have to ship it home.  Awesome antique book dealers, too.

A final goody is that once you’ve attended the Congress, you get on their mailing list and, forever afterward, every year before the Congress, they send you this thick schedule book of all the papers that will be presented.  Seriously droolworthy.  Click here to be terribly, terribly tempted.

Jennifer Stevenson writes blue-collar romantic comedies and sexy paranormal romance.  Look for her stuff here.   Right now you can read Fools Paradise, one of her Backstage Boys stagehand romances, serialized for free, one chapter every Friday. 

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One comments

  1. That sounds like the best conference ever. I must go one year.