Rachel Gutin Profile picture
Jul 18, 2019 27 tweets 5 min read Read on X
A few of the panels I attended at #Readercon were on Saturday, which means they were on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. Before I put up my recaps for those, I want to talk about how attending panels on Shabbat is a different experience for me than attending panels on other days.
I keep Shabbat in a way that might described as traditional, or Orthodox. (I identify as a Conservative Jew, not an Orthodox Jew, but my observances often look Orthodox.) This means that when I attend a con that includes Shabbat, that day of the con looks different for me.
(And "a con that includes Shabbat" basically means every con I ever attend, because cons tend to be on weekends.)
Observing Shabbat at a con means I have to bring challah rolls with me, and grape juice (juice boxes work well for this), but it also means there are things I can't do. I can't use my phone, and I try to avoid turning lights on and off.
And, most importantly for this thread, I can't take notes while attending panels, because I don't write on Shabbat. (And yes, typing also counts as writing.)
When I attend a panel that's not on Shabbat, I take detailed notes, sometimes basically word for word, but on Shabbat, I can't do that. So I had to come up with a different system.
I'm not sure whether there's a name for the technique I use, because I worked it out on my own (though it's possible I read about it somewhere and forgot.) But when I describe it, people often say it's a memory palace. (It isn't, but I think it's a similar idea.)
Basically, I form an image in my mind. Often, it's cartoony, because that will help it stand out for me and be memorable. I build the image over the course of the panel, and I try to start with something that matches the panel's theme.
Some starting images I've used:
- For a panel on engineering in fantasy: a bridge
- For this year's panel on compassionate AI: a robot
- For this year's panel on hospitable worlds: the front of a house (ready to welcome people in)
Then, as I listen to the panel, I add other images, or alter the original image as needed. Each addition or alteration represents an idea I want to remember.
For example:
On the compassionate AI panel, there was a comment about how humans and AI get to "intelligence" differently. So I added two paths in front of the robot, both leading to the same place, one for the robot, and one for a human.
Then, someone mentioned how we don't know how the AI got there (and that can be an issue). I think they actually used the term "black box," so I added a black box on the AI's side of the path, with a visible padlock on it.
Another comment was about how the language we use for programming can restrict things, and that the language used for programming is usually English, so I put the word "English" in bright red letters on the box.
Throughout the panel, continue to add to the mental image, and I also review all of the parts of the image in my mind - not in detail, just making sure all them are still there and that I still know what they mean. (I think I actually try *not* to put them back into words.)
Then, once Shabbat is over, I make a quick bullet point list of all the ideas I saved for myself in the image. (Just key words/phrases, trying to get it all down.) It's normal for me to have about twelve bullet points from one image. (Which is way more than I'd recall otherwise!)
I also make sure to not discuss the panel with anyone until I've written down those bullet points - because I'm worried that turning the ideas back into words will cause me to lose parts of the image. (I could be wrong, but I don't want to lose ideas by testing it out!)
Most of the time, I write down these bullet points on Saturday night, then go back to the bullet points later to turn the ideas into more complete thoughts. The sooner I can unpack the image, the less likely I am to lose parts of it.
But this year, Saturday night at Readercon was busy (so many parties to attend!), and Sunday was busy too, including a long ride back home. So I didn't convert my ideas back into words until Monday. And I still remembered them!
This method isn't perfect. There are definitely some downsides. I can't remember exact quotes, so if someone shared a wonderful turn of phrase, I'll probably lose it. It also works less well for more abstract topics, which are harder to attach images to.
I also won't be able to recall who said what, for the most part. (Sometimes, I can picture who said it, but usually not.) Maybe in the future, I'll try assigning different colors to different panelists, but I'm worried I'll lose other information along the way if I do.
I'm also not sure how many of these images (whole images, not the parts) I can hold in my head at once. I don't think I've ever tried to hold more than two. I could probably hold three. I'm not sure what would happen if I tried to do this for more than three panels in one day.
All of this means that I'm a lot more selective in terms of which panels I attend on Shabbat. I pick a few that I really care about, and then I look for interesting readings, kaffeeklatsches, etc. to occupy my time. I also spend more time socializing. (Which is probably a plus.)
But even with these constraints, I'm glad I found a way to remember what I learn when I can't write it down. I also like that it forces me to pick out which ideas are the most interesting or important.
Now that I know how to do this, observing Shabbat at a con has become less of an inconvenience, and more of a change of pace, and a chance to experience the con - especially the panels - in a slightly different way.
Post-Worldcon update: At Worldcon, I discovered that, using a slightly modified version of this method, I was able to recall about 25 different points from one panel.
What was the modification? As the panel shifted from one topic to the next, I added what I thought of as different sub-images to my broader image to keep things organized. I realized after the fact that what I'd really done was make more than one image for the same panel.
As I only took mental notes for one panel on Shabbat at Worldcon this year, I'm not sure how many panels I could do this for. But I was pretty amazed at how much I was able to remember.

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More from @Rachel_Gutin

Dec 25, 2020
For those of us who aren’t celebrating Christmas, I would like to share a story:
In a small Jewish community on an outlying planet sits a museum. At its center, a narrow plinth. Upon the plinth, a boxy container, folded from heavy white paper, its edges charred. A wire handle across its top.

The label reads: In Commemoration of the Great Christmas Alliance
There is no further explanation posted, but ask any museum staff member, and they will tell you the tale of the time when Chinese food saved the Jews from boredom and despair, on the occasion of yet another Christmas.
Read 26 tweets
Sep 22, 2020
This Rosh Hashanah, my thoughts kept returning to a single story. It’s the story of a soul, newly arrived at the gates of Heaven And while I’m not sure I believe in a literal heaven, with an actual gate where angels stand guard, a story doesn’t have to be factual to be true.
So a woman arrives at the gates of Heaven. She is small of stature, but she stands tall before the imposing gates. A simple black robe hangs from her shoulders, and a lacy white collar adorns her neck. In her eyes, there is a gleam of steely determination.
In most stories, this is when the angels would stop her. They would ask her to prove she deserves a place in Heaven. But in this story, the angels step aside.
Read 15 tweets
Aug 23, 2020
After nearly five months at my parents’ house, I am finally back in my own apartment.

The first thing I unpacked: stuff that needed refrigeration.

Next: my laptop.

After that, books.

Here are all the books that spent time at my parents’ house. 39 books in three stacks, s...
And here are the books that I read while I was at my parents’ house: 26 books in two stacks, spi...
I also purchased a total of 18 books, 17 of which were shipped to my parents' house, and one of which I picked up while traveling.
Read 4 tweets
Aug 21, 2020
The eighth panel I attended at #ConZealand this year wasn’t technically a panel. It was a dialogue between @doctorow and @Ada_Palmer entitled “Corey Doctorow and Ada Palmer Discuss Censorship and Information Control”

I learned a lot from their conversation.
This thread will include some of the things the two of them said. I’m copying this over from my handwritten notes, so assume I’ve paraphrased unless I put something in quotes.
From @Ada_Palmer: Every time there’s new media technology, people worry about the new one and forget to censor older ones. Censorship focuses on the newest saturate media - and on where people get political information from.
Read 31 tweets
Aug 14, 2020
The seventh panel I attended at #ConZealand this year was “Justice in Science Fiction and Fantasy”, with @BrentCLambert, @AdriJjy, @MMSnodgrass, and Fred Lerner, moderated by @jennlyonsauthor.

This panel gave me a lot to think about.
This thread will include some of the things the panelists said. I’m copying this over from my handwritten notes, so assume I’ve paraphrased unless I put something in quotes.
The panelists began by listing pet peeves about how justice is handled in science fiction and fantasy:

@AdriJjy: I want more about societal institutions and systemic things rather than an individual. And I hate the bad guy getting redeemed by dying.
Read 32 tweets
Aug 13, 2020
The sixth panel I attended at #ConZealand this year was “Infinite Entangled Futures - Indigenous Voices in Conversation,” with @ShiningComic, @RoanhorseBex, @understatesmen and @toniwaiaroha, moderated by @sloanesloane.

This was a fascinating and enjoyable panel.
This thread will include some of the things the panelists said. I’m copying this over from my handwritten notes, so assume I’ve paraphrased unless I put something in quotes.
First, the panelists introduced themselves. Among other things, each shared which indigenous tribe they are a part of. Because most of these tribal names were unfamiliar to me, I didn’t know how to spell them, so I looked them up afterward on author websites and twitter.
Read 49 tweets

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