American Mensa’s Annual Gathering: exhaustion at full speed

Looking (mostly on Facebook), it looks like a lot of my friends were posting fairly regularly from the American Mensa Annual Gathering. And bunches of them were taking pictures.

I’m home, and I see that I didn’t comment on the events while I was there, and looking at my cell phone, I took precisely zero pictures. In part, that was a conscious decision to experience it all, rather than try to document the experience. The other part is that I was too damn busy.

So this is going to be a fuzzy-memoried recap of four and two-half days in Indianapolis at something that many are calling NerdCamp (though I don’t like that moniker).

After planning for a full night’s sleep before my departure, I of course didn’t get it. Was up way too late preparing for the trip in a variety of ways, so that my last pre-AG night was the same three hours of sleep I was expecting to get each night I was out there. Nevertheless, I made it out to the car in time, to the airport in time, walked the two miles to the gate (seriously, check out this picture https://www.google.com/maps/search/delta+airlines+delta+terminal,+jfk+airport/@40.6368693,-73.7818626,718m/data=!3m1!1e3 . The Delta terminal is the one pointing south, all the way out to the corner of the terminals section, and I was on one of those smaller planes all the way out at the end, at gate 51). Megan Williams and I wound up on the same flights both going and coming, without planning it. And as I’m typing her name, I’m thinking I shouldn’t name names, because there are so many that I know I’ll leave some out, and don’t want to slight anyone.

Anyway, we landed in Indianapolis. My sister and brother-in-law’s flight landed five minutes later, and the four of us took a car into the city and the hotel. After checking in, and settling into my room, I was off to my first session: “How Can Mensa Be Improved?” It was a round-table discussion of the organization, with about half the AMC present and taking notes (for you non-Mensans reading, AMC is the American Mensa Committee, the national board of directors, on which I sit as RVC1 [RVC1 is Regional Vice Chairman of Region 1, a cross between governor of the northeast region and a member of the national governing body]). Hoping it results in some good things. I followed that up with a Communications Committee meeting: very productive. And then the Firehouse Meet-and-Greet (Firehouse is a social group formed on Facebook and growing very large in the lives of its members), which kicked off with a four-piece brass band, a version of Hollywood Squares with audience participation, and a lot of welcomes to people I’d previously only known as tiny little online pictures. Immediately after that was the Chairman’s Reception, a somewhat more elegant gathering for people volunteering much of their time and efforts for the organization. Then I ran into a friend I’ve known a long time, who I only see at Annual Gatherings, and with whom I share a love of fireworks. She had a room on the 31st floor, with a great view of all the fireworks around town, and the main show, just a few blocks away! And since we were inside, it was air conditioned: very nice. I then wandered downstairs, chatted with a few people, and made my way to the poker game (always a good time). Before we realized, it was 2:30 in the morning, and the game broke up, but still, there were people around, and I didn’t get to sleep until nearly 4, which meant (you guessed it) three hours of sleep.

Thursday, I woke at 7 (ugh!) for a morning swim (in that tiny pool!). I’d figured a big hotel like this would have a decent pool, but nope: seven strokes from end to end. So I did a lot of turning to get a little exercise. After a quick breakfast, I scurried in to the AMC meeting (one of the four quarterly meetings we hold to transact the business of this 50,000-member organization with a $4.5 million annual budget). We broke for lunch for LocSecs and other local group officers (drawing on Mensa’s British roots, a LocSec is a Local Secretary, the president of a local group, of which American Mensa has about 130). Then back into the meeting, and a business meeting which was scheduled for 9am to 5pm finally adjourned about 7. It was long, it was tiring, it was productive (I’ll be sharing some of the results in my next RVC column, which will be going out the end of this month). That evening, I’d scheduled an HQ Trivia meet-up, since the trivia game seems to be growing in popularity, and I figured it would be a fun thing to do. Also, it was the only 9pm I had unscheduled. Six or eight of us gathered to talk and play, though none of us won, and we didn’t get the shout-out I’d been hoping for. Then I spent more time with friends I didn’t yet know and others I’ve known forever, and that socializing wound down about midnight, so of course I… headed for the poker game. They had room for me, and I got to play a bit, again, until like 3 in the morning. So once again, to bed about 4.

And once again, Friday morning, up at 7 (three hours of sleep!) for some time in the swimming pool. Friday morning was the Annual Business Meeting, where the leadership of Mensa reports to the members, and the members have a chance to have a say in the direction of the organization. Unlike the AMC meeting Thursday, the ABM was a little less contentious than I’d expected, and ended in time to grab some lunch in Hospitality (the main room for socializing and noshing). Then I got pulled into the cribbage tournament, played one game, and managed to lose it. At 3pm was the Region 1 Meet-and-Greet, and members from all across my region gathered to hear me encourage and laud the efforts of my local group volunteers, to interact with each other, and share their secrets for success. As an AMC member, I attended the Foundation Reception (the Mensa Education and Research Foundation is the non-profit arm of American Mensa, the group that offers research grants and awards scholarships), followed by the Gala Banquet and Speaker (astronaut Dr. David Wolf), followed by the dance. I really enjoyed the dance, spent some time actually dancing, didn’t wear a mask (it was supposed to be a masked ball, but when you wear glasses, masks become very awkward), and I was in the action until 2am. After a quick visit to the SIG suites (smaller versions of Hospitality sponsored by individual special interest groups; a relatively new feature of the AG), I checked in the games room to discover the poker game had long since ended, and I got to bed, once again, about 4.

Saturday, however, I did not have a first-thing-in-the-morning meeting, so I slept in, and actually got about 6 hours of shut-eye (gasp!). It felt good to get a little sleep, but bad to have missed out on a few hours of seeing people. Nevertheless, lunch in Hospitality was my breakfast, and then I sat in on the Awards Ceremony. That was followed immediately by two program items I wanted to attend, so I had to choose one, and opted for the Writers’ Round Table, where a bunch of writers discussed the craft and pain of writing. That was followed immediately by a session on the Changing Face of Regional Gatherings (smaller versions of the Annual Gathering, hosted by individual local groups, attracting a few hundred people), which was a discussion of how to run them, and a sharing of ideas. Then I took a break, because at 7:30 Saturday was my own talk. With Laurie’s able help, I made my way to Ballroom 8 early enough to get the computer set up (and for Laurie to set up the books), and be ready to talk about “John Kennedy’s Grandma, Bill Clinton’s Mother, and John Tyler’s Grandchildren: Familial Oddities of the Presidents of the United States.” It was a new talk for me on a familiar subject, but with lots of new data. I was a bit nervous going in, but the 100 or so people in the audience (which I thought was great, considering it was the last night of the AG) seemed to enjoy it. They didn’t leave early, and after I talked for an hour, they had questions to keep me going for another half hour (though I cut them off a little earlier than that). But it was a very gratifying session. Then I grabbed a little bit of food, and headed up to the SIG suites for a slightly longer stay. My evening (evening? It was after two in the morning by the time I got there) culminated in a visit to the games room, with a long, deep conversation with a few friends (thanks for your points of view, Tara and Chris), and then two games of Splendor, after which we realized it was 4:20, and I made my way to bed.

And you guessed it, woke up Sunday morning after about three hours of sleep, packed, made it to the brunch, and then checked out. I had a few minutes before departing for the airport, so sat in on the “hiss and kiss” session (I don’t like that term much, either), at which attendees tell the AG chairmen what they liked and didn’t like about the AG, along with suggestions for the future. Then it was back to the airport with Megan, back to New York, and about 12 hours of sleep.

Monday would have been completely shot but for a freelance job in the evening, so I had to follow it up with another 10 hours of sleep last night. But now, I think I’m fully rested… just in time to leave New York on Thursday for a convention weekend in Massachusetts. After sleeping every night in June in my own bed, I expect to be home for only 14 of the nights in July. That’s a lot of traveling I’ll be doing.

And yes, I know this is a fairly dry reporting of what the heck I was doing all those days. As I said, to mention the people I interacted with would slight those names I skip, and I don’t want to do that, because they all played significant roles in my enjoyment of the AG. There was a lot of business/work, but I filled the other hours with enough friends and fun to make up for it (and to be honest, I enjoy the work of volunteering, too, so it wasn’t really a struggle). Now I’m home, missing the people I was with, and kind of disappointed I don’t have any pictures. But I’ll survive that disappointment. And after two science fiction conventions this month, I’ll have two Mensa conventions in August, so it won’t feel like a long gap until then.

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