I recently embarked on a seven-day cruise in the Caribbean with a bunch of nerds. And it was glorious. The JoCo Cruise, established by musician Jonathan Coulton in 2011, is a yearly con on water. Except it’s much more than that. As we all know, it can be difficult to be a nerdy woman at times. If we’re not getting tested on how geeky we actually are, we’re getting made fun of for obsessing over Hamilton and Star Trek. Or worse, bullied and even physically threatened by men’s rights activists online. In my personal experience, I’ve been made to feel less-than, lower than dirt, and stupid for as long as I can remember. And, my fear of water withstanding, I was really worried about being stuck with a lot of strangers on a boat in the middle of the ocean. The main reason why I loved the JoCo Cruise? None of this was prevalent. I felt right at home and safe in the midst of 1100 other people just like me.
Although the crowd was not racially diverse, which was a bit disappointing, there was a good mix of both men and women and people of all ages and sexualities. JoCo and his crew did an amazing job selecting performers; we saw everything from a sick rap show from Jean Grae and Quelle Chris to Paul & Storm telling George R.R. Martin to “Write Like the Wind” to Allie Brosh explaining weirdness to us. The performances, panels, and events were not only entertaining, but diverse both in the people doing the performing and in content.
The most encouraging part? The sheer number of strong, phenomenal women I encountered. When I got home and reflected on the cruise, I started noticing a pattern: most of my favorite moments included inspiring women. Let me break down these highlights for you:
- N.K. Jemisin reading from a new short story. First of all, if you haven’t read N.K. Jemisin, get over to your local bookstore IMMEDIATELY and buy one of her books. She read from a story that’s not yet published, and it was GLORIOUS. In the middle of her reading, the cruise ship decided to do a drill, which kept interrupting her with beeps and bloops and shrieking and crew members slamming doors and running around. She took it like a champ, though, and powered through. And just when she hit a particularly awesome point in the story, the captain came over the loudspeaker and shouted, “BRAVO. BRAVO. BRAVO,” over and over again. The crowd went wild.
- Jean Grae working the crowd and singing her butt off. I’ve never been to a Jean Grae concert, but one thing I learned quickly: she doesn’t allow you to sit on the sidelines. She gets everyone up out of their seats and dancing, and she makes no apologies. Also, her rendition of David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream was one of the best things I’ve ever heard.
- Imogen Heap’s Mimu gloves. I’ve listened to her music for a while, but I’d never actually seen Imogen Heap live. She invented these gloves, which she hooks to Microsoft Kinect and uses to manipulate her music while on stage. She’s absolutely amazing – a musician, a computer whiz, an inventor. This is one of those things that’s difficult to explain. Just watch it, and if you ever have the chance to see her live, don’t pass it up.
- Allie Brosh is all of us. If you don’t know Allie Brosh, check out her blog Hyperbole and a Half. She writes webcomics about adulting, depression, and anxiety. I was wondering what she could possibly do at a live show. Well, she basically just got on stage and talked for an hour and a half. And by the end, everyone was crying and sharing uncomfortable things about themselves and hugging. It was just phenomenal, and she made us all feel like humans.
- Everything about Kelly Sue DeConnick. Kelly Sue writes comics – Bitch Planet, Pretty Deadly, and Captain Marvel being some of her more well-known ones. And she is BAD. ASS. At her panels and events, she discussed how she gets frustrated because people assume she’s successful because of her husband (she’s married to Matt Fraction and was a successful writer long before he was), how speaking your truth is one of the most important things you can do for yourself, and how you’re awesome no matter what other people tell you.
- Cameron Esposito + Rhea Butcher = True Love. Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher are both comedians, and they’re married. My husband and I ended up in line immediately behind them to get onto the ship, and they were talking and joking and helping each other with luggage. They both talked about being gay in their standup sets, which were hysterical. And my favorite moment with them? During karaoke, they dedicated Wilson Phillips’ Hold On to a 15-year-old girl on the cruise who’d recently been harassed by MRAs online, complete with synchronized dancing and yelling of “F*** THOSE GUYS!” I couldn’t love them more.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There were amazing performances by Molly Lewis and Aimee Mann as well. And all of that’s only from the performers, and only from the performers who were women. It was difficult to come away from these performances *without* being inspired.
I met so many amazing, intelligent, wonderful, nerdy women who weren’t performers as well. We ate dinner, danced, got beers at a local brewery on St. Thomas, and played board games together. We laughed, we cried, we hugged. Most importantly, all of us, performers and attendees alike, shared our stories and our passions with one another. Hearing the stories of other women, whether through their music, their comedy, their writing, or their conversation, was inspiring. I left the cruise feeling more empowered and confident than I’ve been in a long time. And knowing that all these women are out there, in the world, doing their thing, gives me confidence that I can too.
The JoCo Cruise is currently open for booking for 2017! Check it out.