My First ACES Conference

[Originally posted on LinkedIn]

Last weekend I attended my first ACES conference. But let me back up.

When I met the charming, brilliant woman who would consent to being my wife, she had one stipulation: “There is no way I can marry an unlettered man.” I was a couple semesters shy of my bachelor’s and it drove her crazy that I was being lazy about it. So I went back to school, wrapped up my last several classes, got my degree and began providing editing/proofreading services for various local marketing agencies.

Along the way I decided to push this career into social media, as I’m terrible at networking, what with my crippling shyness and lack of social graces. I started up a Twitter account and populated three lists: DPRK, Composition, and News. I’m interested in North Korea, and I wanted to aggregate diverse and responsible alternative news sources, but more pertinent to what I’m getting at, I sought out all and sundry editors/writers, linguists, and lexicographers, and I compiled them in a list. Some of them were friendly and forthcoming, others I had to “prove” myself to, still others are on a lofty and rarefied plane far, far beyond my ambit. Whatevs.

The American Copy Editors Society (ACES) kept coming up. People had been to the ACES conference; people were looking forward to the ACES conference. Are you going? See you there! So sad I can’t make it! People who came back from the conference released the most amazing information, talked about the most amazing sessions they’d attended, met the most amazing people. Well, that was intriguing, so I had to ask around and talk to some of these attendees, and then I flirted with the idea of getting a membership, and then I joined. And last weekend I attended the conference.

It was absolutely amazing. Right off the bat, I spotted the luminaries and celebrities within our scene, people I’d admired (or fought with) online for years, authorities in their professions and fields. Legends, basically, to me. Not that I could adequately communicate this to my friends: “Don’t you understand? They’re lexicographers for Merriam-Webster! …The editorial standard for the United States!” My friends were excited that I was excited, bless them, but beyond that I’d lapsed into a Greek/Hebrew/Japanese dialect.

Well, never mind. I was in my element.

Folks would talk about a topic they were passionate about, freeze with a flash of self-consciousness, then slowly loosen up and smile and say, “Wait a minute, you understand what I’m saying, and you want to hear about it!” and continue. This was true: I was engrossed with everything everyone shared with me, from cutthroat compounds to inclusive, accessible editing and design, and I wanted more, always. Each of us had come from discrete worlds in which we might geek out on one of these topics, only to catch the glazed eyes and telltale rivulet of saliva that indicated our audience had mentally checked out as a self-preservation posture. It was a relief to see this go the other way, here.

I attended as many sessions as I could, though some of these overlapped with each other and I necessarily missed out. Never fear: there was always someone live-tweeting each event, for the sake of those who couldn’t make it out (#NOTatACES). Prominent experts and lifelong veterans of the language wars spoke on specialized topics:

  • Catch as Catch Can: How to scan for errors in facts and calculations, and how to shift gears when you’re focused on class of errors and overlooking another.
  • Is This Racist? How Editors Can Identify Hidden Bias in Language: What it means when we exclude our audience through humor, naïvete, or laziness, and how to introduce more inclusive policy in the workplace.
  • Copy Editing and Corpus Linguistics: Research tools for discerning popular usage and clearing up popular misconceptions.
  • Our Changing Language: When Does Wrong Become Right? Observations on linguistic drift, trends, slang, the staying power of changes, and how casual poetic expression does not mean civilization is collapsing around our ears.

Honored is how I felt to attend each course. Listening to expert writers and editors share their areas of specialty, directly relevant to anything I’m trying to achieve in my own life? Honored. And yes, I geeked out pretty badly. I was starry-eyed, my breath was taken. That didn’t stop me from accosting my heroes and asking-demanding a photo with each of them, “to prove that I was here.” I gushed, I stammered, I was gregariously unctuous, in my hindsight estimation. I didn’t mean to be: I was just very unguarded and receptive to this new environment. I couldn’t let little things like social propriety and personal space stop me from absorbing the wealth of education and experience in this hotel lobby!

And I was audience to the best, newest information as the Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press unveiled their revelations. I was learning about cognitive blind spots when CMOS revealed they were lowercasing “internet” and extracting the hyphen from “email,” so I missed the roars of delight and vindication that doubtlessly rocked the walls of that forum. On the other hand, I was in attendance when AP (cautiously) embraced epicene “they,” an overdue nod in the right direction. That’s what ACES provides attendees and members: updates on the latest information and best practices. Any responsible editor owes it to themself to attend, any diligent office will facilitate sending them along—and then, like us, they will never want to leave.

Unlike other networking events, I made some great contacts I really care about. I made (I hope) new friends. My head is buzzing with new ideas for my own career, what I can provide the office and how I can shape our practices. My desk is a riot of to-do lists and fevered half-notes to myself I can probably decipher later. I attended a presentation yesterday at work, and rather than struggle to stay awake like I usually do, I sat bolt-upright, scrawling pertinent notes, and I had questions to lob back at the speakers. I fully, wholly attribute this to habits learned at ACES, where I sat on the edge of my seat and preserved session notes in the form of frantic live-tweeting and photos. (I did not live-tweet the work presentation. No one would have appreciated that.)

If you’re an editor of any stripe or a writer of any genre, you really should think about joining ACES and making it out to Chicago next April. Hope to see you there.

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