You know how I'm always jetting about to professional conferences? Oh, wait—that's not me! I've never done that even once! Well, up until last week, that is.
I tend to sit in my little editorial lair, doing my thing, without really thinking about all of the other stuff going on around me. But I have a lot of friends and colleagues on Twitter and Facebook who are always crowing about this amazing workshop they attended or that awesome convention they went to, so I started to take notice.
Last year at this time I was so jealous because everyone was having such a great time at the annual meeting of the American Copy Editors Society in Las Vegas. I hadn't really considered going—I'd never been to ACES (wasn't even a member yet), I had no desire to go to Las Vegas (in fact, the exact opposite), and I really found the entire idea of going alone to meet up with hundreds of other copy editors kind of daunting. (I know, it doesn't sound like the most intimidating group of people you can imagine....) But all the tweets made me long to be there. So I vowed then and there that I would attend ACES2015—knowing already that it would be held in Pittsburgh, which struck me as infinitely more doable than Las Vegas (not just in terms of airfare expense, travel time, and jet lag, but also, um, "city personality," shall we say). So I joined ACES and registered to go.
ACES was founded in 1997 as a resource for people who work at newspaper copy desks, but it has grown to include editors from all types of media—magazines, journals, books, websites, and more. There are currently 1337 members! And 510 of us descended on Pittsburgh last week for a few days of learning and networking and socializing. I met people from all over the country (and Canada), not just freelancers but also people who work at the Washington Post, New York Times, BuzzFeed, WebMD, Business Insider, and on and on. It was fascinating.
I arrived Wednesday afternoon, just in time for a happy hour event for freelancers at a nearby bar. Most ACES members are employed by newspapers, businesses, etc., so this was a chance for people like me to meet up. I think there must have been about 50 of us there! I can't describe what a wonderful feeling it was to finally "meet" people I've "known" online for years! (Yes, really—years!) I'm a hugger by nature, but I wasn't sure whether people hug at these sorts of things. I quickly learned that they do, and warmly. I really felt like I was with My People.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday flew by in a whirlwind of presentations and sessions and workshops, accompanied by a fair amount of eating and drinking. (I'll tell you this: Between the newspaper folks and the really young people, there was quite a bit of late-night partying. I am old and boring and was also nursing a sore throat, so I went to bed at a Reasonable Hour every night. And that was a treat, too—to stay alone in a hotel room! I used every single towel and had all the pillows to myself.)
Here are some examples of session titles, to give you an idea of what was on offer:
BeltwayBlues: Editing Washington Copy
50 Years of the American Heritage Dictionary's Usage Panel
The Language of the LGBT Community
Editing for Clarity in Medical Communications
10 Mistakes Sportswriters Make and How to Fix Them
Legal Pitfalls on Social Media
How to Get More Out of Your Freelance Business
Copy Editing Translations
Grammar Is Power
So, some of them had nothing to do with my work, and others were just right. There were invariably time slots that had two sessions I was dying to go to, and I had to pick one; then there were others where nothing was particularly applicable to my work but I went just for the heck of it (like the sports one listed above, which was excellent).
The first session I went to was called Rookie Mistakes That Even Veterans Make, presented by Washington Post copydesk legend Bill Walsh. It was like coming home. Every time I chuckled at something, everyone around me was chuckling! Every time I groaned at something, everyone around me was groaning! Bliss.
I discovered that I'm not just into words, I think I might have been a lexicographer in a past life. I went to every dictionary session I could, and I just ate it all up. Oh, and there was a spelling bee! It was run by a Merriam-Webster editor and a real live Scripps person. I was too chicken to enter. I knew maybe the first 100 words, then things got crazy with OPPUGN and NESCIENCE and GRAVEOLENT. Yikes.
Friday night was the big banquet, and the keynote speaker was Ben Zimmer (who you may know from any number of wordy pursuits—Vocabulary.com, the Wall Street Journal's "Word on the Street" column, and the Visual Thesaurus). The title of his talk was "Nitpickery, Debunkage, and the Joys of Getting it Right," and boy, he sure knew his audience. If he needed to sing to make his point, he sang; he even rapped to teach us about the origins of "rock the mic." He showed clips from MadMen and Downton Abbey to give examples of anachronisms (to wit: no one in the 1960s would have said, "I am so over you" and no one in the 1920s would have said, "I'm just sayin'!"). It was word nerd nirvana.
One last highlight: Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned an article in the New Yorker subtitled "Confessions of a Comma Queen"? And I said that it was an excerpt from a forthcoming book? And that I was going to meet the author? Yes! Mary Norris, who has been at the New Yorker since 1978, has written a thoroughly entertaining memoir called Between You and Me. She talked about it and read from it and even passed around pages from the actual New Yorker style guide (it might as well have been an original Shakespeare folio for the way we reacted). I was glad to hear that she has also done the audio version, because she is not just a wonderful writer but a terrific reader. Then we were given an opportunity to purchase advance copies of the book (the rest of you suckers will have to wait another week). I told her that I felt that she had written it just for me, because I'm both a copy editor and a New Yorker junkie. So she inscribed it (with her beloved Blackwing pencil—there's an entire chapter called "Ballad of a Pencil Junkie"): "For Karen, my perfect reader!" So, yeah, I'll be buried with that. But even better: The last night of the conference, there was a party at a bar (cleverly called Olive or Twist). I saw Mary Norris there, but I was too starstruck to say anything to her. Then I had another drink, and it occurred to me that we're both copy editors, and perhaps no one was talking to her because she's so awesome. So I plunked down next to her and we had such a nice chat! She even mentioned a tweet about her session that she thought was funny, and it was my tweet—she'd had no idea! What a treat.
Sunday I flew back home to my husband and my kids and my cats. So now instead of missing them, I miss all my friends at ACES. See you next year in Portland!