One reason why Adventure Time may be popular with adults is its complex emotional content. Via the creator, Pendleton Ward:
Dark comedies are my favorite, because I love that feeling – being happy and scared at the same time. It’s my favorite way to feel – when I’m on the edge of my seat but I’m happy, that sense of conflicting emotions. And there’s a lot of that in the show, I think.
The best example I can think of came in Season Four: the Ice King visited Marceline to get her help writing a song. Her conflicted emotions towards the Ice King are eventually explained via notes that he wrote to her. The result always crushes me, turning a comic character into a deeply tragic one.
I walk away from Secular Women Work in a similar state. It is very easy to look upon the works of others and despair, as a starter. Bria Crutchfield fundraised for and delivered four trucks’ worth of water and supplies to Flint, Michigan; Danielle White’s activism helped overturn HB2 in South Carolina, which discriminated against trans* people; Mandisa Thomas founded Black Nonbelievers, a thriving atheist community which has expanded into twelve cities; Lauren Lane founded and ran Skepticon for a decade; Debbie Goddard has been within organized skepticism/atheism for over sixteen years, splits their time between multiple organizations, and specializes in campus outreach. Every speaker was an activist with several wins under their belt, working to make this community a better place.
There was also despair over the state of the movement. One of the panelists mentioned graphic threats leveled by fellow atheists against herself. Bria mentioned how someone tried to get her fired for bringing water to Flint, during a panel devoted to the blowback activists face for doing their work. An offhand conversation I had turned to the women who have been driven from the movement due to harassment or worse. Five years ago, Melody Hensley gave me a warm hug to welcome me to Women in Secularism 2; roughly a year ago, she had to commit social media suicide to escape years of harassment directed at her, harassment that continues to this day. There are many more examples, most of which I’ve never heard.
But the human cost really hit home while I was packing to leave. Niki Massey’s name came up during this conference; she was someone I had the fortune to see at the first Secular Women Work, both on stage and at an after-conference dinner, but that was the extent of our connection. As a result, her death never carried the same impact for me that it had for so many others. While organizing my things, however, I reflected that three years prior Niki was doing the same thing. She too was organizing her things, she too was reflecting on her conference experience. Was she also thinking about attending the next one? It weighed heavily on me that she’d never have the option.
Still, while Secular Women Work did load me down, it was also a great release. Merely being in the same room as people I admired, soaking in the conversation, was a trip. There were fascinating discussions both on and off the stage, including a long one about IT management during a beautiful sunset. I found myself actively seeking light conversation, and I’m not the light conversation type. On the stage, Mandisa not only talked of her experience growing Black Nonbelievers, she also laid out her full management strategy. In a workshop, I scribbled down a few pages of notes as Elise Matthesen held forth on codes of conduct. Debbie pointed out there was little we could do about Trump, so she suggested redirecting our attention to local politics where we could have an impact. Cassidy Slinger argued that mission statements weren’t just for attracting new members, they also made it easier to kick troublemakers out. Mandisa made a similar point during her talk: joining organizations is a privilege, so no single member has a right to be a part of it. Gretchen Koch stated that all art is political, so decrying art for its politics is a smokescreen for arguing against politics you don’t like. There’s a lot more where that came from, I could easily fill another paragraph just using the notes I took during the direct action panel.
Inspiration for activism was in ample supply, too. During a workshop, Trinity Pixie argued the most effective way to help the trans* community was to donate cash directly to those in need. There’s a tonne of discrimination against them at work and elsewhere, so earning a paycheck is difficult, yet it is common for charity groups refuse to help trans* people. Donating directly also cuts out the overhead inherent to charities. Here’s a Twitter thread to get you started, but consider actively searching for such fundraisers if you have a little cash to spare. Even a few dollars could make a huge difference.
I walk away from many atheist/secular conferences giddy at hanging out with cool people. I walk away from Secular Women Work thinking deeply about myself, and how I can help the communities I belong to, and a little bummed at the state of the world, and giddy over cool people. It’s like the difference between snacking on candy and eating soy people.