I'll cop to some nerdiness when I admit that I like conferences. To me they're like graduate school, except without the examinations or the sadistic, inbred faculty. Also, conference hotel bar afterparties tend to be much more happening than those twitchy grad student shoegazers of yore.
I had a journalism fellowship this past year that took me around the country for exotic professional development experiences, such as a backstage tour of the situation room at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where we watched the epidemiologists track ebola in eastern Africa and flooding in the Pacific Northwest.
Periodic junkets with the health care journalists made me hungry for more. Back in St. Louis, I found myself covering conferences hosted by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and Missouri Department of Corrections, an organization (directed by a conservative Christian Republican) that I was amazed to find progressive and compassionate.
I guess this all gave me the itch to put a conference together. Hence the Inaugural Monastic Retreat, an all-male, underground, amateur cultural seminar that I will cohost this weekend with my friend John Eiler.
It started with two daddies, trying to deepen a new friendship while constantly parrying the attention demands of small children and the conversational rhythms of strong-willed spouses. I suggested a buddy weekend for just the guys in the city at the Eilers, while "the girls" (we both have daughters) hung out at our house out in the county. The girls agreed. A date was set.
Then the conference yen struck. One night in John's garage, while draining delicious California ales, we began to dream the dream. We thought we would invite over some of our favorite local artists and thinking fellows. Within some parameters, they would be encouraged to bring with them and share core texts - possibly of their own origin, but just as likely some obscure classic that the rest of us are supposed to know about.
Our fellow conferees were relegated to the male gender, a suggestion of Catherine Eiler's, who thought that arrangement would be more consistent with the "guys night out" concept, with which we began. Fair enough, we thought. We'll thematize the exclusive masculininity of the gathering and consider it a Monastic Retreat.
Real life and any number of tragedies, personal and professional, intervened between then and now, which means we are doing the final scheduling and confirmations at the last minute (ah, men! the women will say ...). But this is how it is shaping up:
Friday night: The Inaugural Monastic Film Festival
* A: Anonymous, by Daniel Bowers, hosted by star Ray Brewer
* Blind Cat Black, by me, hosted by the (a'hem) director, me
* The Bunglers, by Bradley Bowers, hosted by the director.
Followed by an afterparty and Open DJ spin in The Monastic Smokehouse.
Saturday morning: Boxing for Breakfast
Glenn McBrady, Steven Fitzpatrick Smith and K. Curtis Lyle each screen one of their favorite fights and host a discussion, with intermissions for Open DJ spins at the Bloody Mary bar and Men with Knives I: Eggs Madison by Chef John Eiler.
Saturday afternoon: Culture swap
The original dream for this thing had events all carefully scheduled and delineated into genre, with just the right intermission DJs spec'd out on the hour, but at this point we'll see who shows up and take what we can get. We'll still have Curtis in the house, and also expect Robert Goetz, Brett Underwood, Rob Durbin, Michael Lynch, Sherman George and who knows who else. Probably Baba Mike Nelson. Maybe Hammiet Bluiett. There will be one order of business: the monks will collectively jury a selection of Michael Lynch's collage work for future reproduction and sale.
Saturday evening: Men with Knives II
How to make Nymah Kumah's Jolof Rice, the West African precursor to jambalaya, with Chef Chris King; followed by a dinner of jolof rice.
Early Saturday night: Chick Poets
We are behind the 8 ball in planning an off-campus, coed excursion to The Royale, where members of the fair sex will entertain and provoke us with their wisdom and feminine energy.
Afterparty in The Monastic Smokehouse, with Open DJ Spins and/or live musical stylings and culture swap.
* Soulard Market excursion for provisions, followed by a Prayer Breakfast with Elder K. Curtis Lyle
* Health Panel, including guided meditation by Curtis, slow yoga by me, acupressure for hangovers by Chris Heeb and back stretches for fat guys by John.
After the Health Panel, John will open the grill, and women and children will be invited back into our lives as the Inaugural Monastic Retreat comes to a close. After an Open DJ Spin and coed barbecue, the monks will return to their conventional lives, toting home their Monastic Schwag Bags.