What's so special about the JoCo Cruise?

[Swimming during JoCo Cruise 4.]

"Shout out to everyone who acts brave and fearless and tries things, and makes the rest of us feel that things are possible".
The Doubleclicks, perennial guest musicians on the JoCo Cruise.

In 2011, Kim and I went on the first JoCo Cruise. It was great fun, but it meant more to me than just that: we've returned whenever we could (in 2014 and soon again in 2017). This is my attempt to put into words what makes it such a special experience.

We didn't know a lot about Jonathan Coulton yet when we first booked, but Wil Wheaton's description sounded like w00tstock on a boat, and we'd always wanted to go to that. The entertainment is definitely a big part of it: a ship "full of music, comedy, and general nerdery", as the ad copy says. But the real strength of the cruise every year comes from the people ("Sea Monkeys") it brings together and the nebulous ethos that they share.

A lot of folks talk about how welcoming and supportive the JoCo Cruise community can be, and that's a big part of it. Now, it's not magic: I'm often shy, and I've managed to hover awkwardly alone at the edge of a room there more than once. But pretty nearly every time I've gotten up the nerve to join a conversation or gaming table, I've been welcomed (it's pretty easy for Sea Monkeys to find common interests), and some people make a concerted effort to break the ice. Probably more than anywhere I've been since my wonderfully geeky college, it feels like I'm surrounded by My People. And that sense of kinship isn't just surface deep: when I unexpectedly wound up solo parenting for the first two days of the 2014 cruise, it was lifesaving to recognize that I could count on just about anyone with a JoCo Cruise name badge to lend a hand when I needed it.

[Group photo from JoCo Cruise 1.]

But talking about the great community still feels like a "what" rather than a "why": it's the shared ethos that makes it work. It's hard to put it into words, but one attempt at a pithy summary might be "choosing to be awesome", or conversely, refusing to passively wait for the life you want. That's a theme in a lot of JoCo's music. Maybe it's most explicit in "A Talk With George", but you can see it in the secret life of an NPR newscaster in "Dance, Soterios Johnson, Dance", or in the upbeat kids' song "The Princess Who Saved Herself", or even (as a lesson in what not to do) in the programmer of "Code Monkey" who holds down in a miserable job waiting for a romance that will never materialize. The same attitude is a big part of Jonathan Coulton's own story, in fact: he left a steady programming career to chase his dreams as a musician. Quite a few of the other guests' work echoes similar themes.

Whatever the source, that attitude is reflected in some of the people and stories that have been most heartily embraced by the Sea Monkey community. Crafters and makers are celebrated, perhaps especially when their work makes them stand out from the crowd. Someone who spots an opportunity quickly enough to embrace it can become a minor celebrity for years to come. A person whose mishap gets them left behind and then perseveres through all obstacles to catch back up with the ship is lauded as a hero.

[Toddler Pit on JoCo Cruise 4.]

Even beyond those uniquely memorable examples, there's a general spirit of buoying up anyone who dares to take a chance. You will never in your life sing karaoke in front of a more supportive audience: they cheer at least as loud when someone's struggling as when they're great. The common theme, to my eye, is that Sea Monkeys aspire to be people who will choose to take a risk in pursuit of their dreams, and who will then wholeheartedly back each other up to see it through.

My chances to immerse myself in that spirit have meant a lot to me. I can easily get caught up in the daily deadlines of teaching and content myself with just getting by, losing sight of grand goals and sometimes hardly connecting with anyone outside of the house. After the first JoCo Cruise in 2011, I resolved to be more intensely and openly myself, and to actively work to pursue my dreams. I can't say that I followed through on everything, but it really did make my life better in concrete, meaningful ways. So as I write this, with the next cruise boarding in just ten days, I'm really looking forward to seeing where it will take me next.

Up to Steuard's personal page.
Up to The World of Steuard Jensen.

Any questions or comments? Write to me: steuard@slimy.com
Copyright © 2017 by Steuard Jensen.