Fire. Yoga. Magic. Alpacas. When I scroll through my mental highlight reel of World Domination Summit 2019, these are a few of the images that immediately come to mind. (If you’re not sure what this whole World Domination Summit thing is about or you’d like to explore some of the wacky highlights from previous years, here are my recaps from 2018, 2016, and 2015. 2017 was also great—I promise—but for some reason I neglected to write a recap that year!)
Last year, ringleader Chris Guillebeau announced that there would only be two more years of WDS, making 2019 the penultimate event. One of the running jokes this year was that “penultimate” doesn’t just mean “the one before the last.” It can also mean “better than ultimate.” The jury’s still out on that one—we’ll have to wait and see how next year’s event goes. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite moments from this year.
Fire (and a few other surprises)
The main stage events this year kicked off with a bang—literally. We watched a hilarious intro video where Chris explored side hustles like beekeeping and wanted to replicate the “success” of Fyre Fest. Worried that he was going in the wrong direction, the rest of the WDS team tried to replace him with DJ Prashant, but he was only interested in instructing people in how to perfect their Bollywood dance moves. It looked like WDS might not happen at all, but somehow at the last minute Chris jumped out of a trunk while the stage around him burst into towers of fire.
The WDS team knows how to sprinkle little surprises like this throughout the event. One of my favorite moments from a previous year was when we were waiting in the dark theater for the next session to begin. Multi-colored LED-lit inflatable beach balls appeared out of nowhere and we bounced and tossed them amongst ourselves until they seemed to disappear as magically and instantly as they’d appeared.
Another year, we were serenaded by an all-ukulele punk cover band as we left the theater.
And another year, while we wandered outside the park near the theater during our mid-morning break, we were kept entertained by roving groups of acrobats and musicians. I believe that was also the year that I first saw the person on a unicycle dressed up as Darth Vader playing a bagpipe. I don’t believe they were officially part of the WDS programming, but their presence was a pleasant and welcome addition.
Last year, attendees received pins for every year they’d attended and we kept wondering when we were getting our pins for this year. Any time we’d ask a WDS ambassador, they’d say, “Just wait for it.” So we waited. And one morning, when Chris was about to “dismiss” us for lunch (I love how he always uses that wording), a tiny parachute appeared from the ceiling and lazily drifted into the audience. Then another. And another. Since there were around 1,000 attendees, not everyone received their 2019 pin in that manner, but it was another whimsical moment.
Yoga, conga lines, and high-fives all around
In case those first few paragraphs didn’t make it clear, WDS can be a very overwhelming and intense experience. This is generally a good thing, but I find it’s also important to take time for introspective and quiet activities. I love going to Jill Knouse‘s Yoga on Main Street because it gives me some of that necessary downtime, but it’s literally right in the middle of WDS activities, and for the past few years she’s invited the awesome DJ Hyfi to bring the beats.
This year, I was taking part in a WDS activity called “The Unconventional Race,” which was a sort of self-guided scavenger hunt. Through the WDS app, I could select a series of challenges and submit photos or videos to prove I’d accomplished them. During a “lightning round,” I had the opportunity to win a ton of extra points by getting a group of people to do a spontaneous conga line and a high-five chain. I was a little hesitant to do either, but with some coaxing from my friends and support from Jill, I was able to do both. (I didn’t end up winning the race but I still had a lot of fun doing it.)
Magic is all around us
As I’ve already described, the WDS experience is pretty magical. But this year felt particularly magical thanks to one of the speakers, Nate Staniforth. Nate is a real, live magician, but he prefers that you NOT think of Gob Bluth from Arrested Development when you hear about his profession.
During Nate’s talk on the main stage, he shared a story from his childhood. The first time he learned a magic trick, he terrified the kids on the playground. When he made a coin vanish into his hand, he blew their minds. They had no idea what he had just done and ran screaming from him. This led one of the scariest, strictest teachers to make a beeline over to investigate. When she asked him what he did to make those kids run screaming in the other direction, he performed his trick again. And that moment was what changed his life forever. When he did the trick for the teacher, he saw her transform from a scowling authority figure into a delighted little girl.
In order to give us a sense of what it’s like to be a magician, he played a video from the WDS picnic the night before. I don’t have the video, but I think the photo below gives you a pretty good sense of how people react when Nate does his tricks.
I loved how Nate was able to take us along on his journey with him, from his early experiences of the transformative powers of magic to his disillusionment and fatigue to finding a sense of purpose again. The main message I took away from his presentation was to continue to seek out those moments of wonder in our everyday lives.
And from the sublime to the ridiculous, I have to give a little shout-out to my friend Michael Riscica. His main claim to fame may be his business, Young Architect, but he’s also got mad (and magical) PhotoShop skills. He was one of my top supporters in the Unconventional Race, as evidenced by the photo below. One of the challenges was to “board a submarine” and he thought that rather than traveling across town to OMSI to set foot on board an actual submarine, he could just whip up a photo where I appear to be skateboarding on a submarine. Unfortunately the judges rejected this entry, but I still stand by it as creative and unconventional.
World llama-nation summit + alpaca party
The closing parties are always one of the highlights of WDS. They consistently find cool places that showcase Portland’s beautiful summer evenings, there’s tasty food and drinks, the music is pumping, and the vibes are good. This year was no different. The theme was “Space Cowboy,” and the emails leading up to it would say, “Have no idea what this means? Neither do we!” so it was up to attendees to interpret it however we wanted.
This year’s party was at The Redd, a renovated steel factory in SE Portland. The interior did have a bit of a fancy barn vibe to it with exposed wood beams. In addition to a mechanical bull (definitely cowboy), a ball pit (maybe space? You do feel like you lose your sense of gravity when you jump in…), there was a llama/alpaca duo who were available for snuggles and photo ops.
I know I’m not alone in this, but I’ve been a bit llama/alpaca obsessed over the past few years. I went to Peru and held a baby alpaca. (I won’t say that was the sole purpose of my trip, but it was definitely a highlight). I had to be ruthless in this year’s white elephant exchange to win an alpaca mug. And I was inordinately happy when the iPhone released the llama emoji. And now this…
And that, my friends, is a wrap. There’s much, much more to consider and process, but these were a few of my favorite moments from WDS 2019. Remember next year will be the final one! Learn more here.
Top photo by Armosa Studios.