I only made it to a handful of conventions this year, but I met some of my now nearest and dearest at each of them. Caught up in the excitement, it wasn’t till later that I was able to consider how quickly perfect strangers had become some of my favorite people, literally overnight. The friendships we form at conventions and the experiences we have exist on a wildly truncated and intense timeline. Over-caffeinated and under-slept like you haven’t been since college, you’re doing things you don’t usually do every night, maybe even any night.
Hitting the Wall, With Your Face
Anyone can run out of emotional and mental bandwidth at a convention sooner than anywhere else. Being aware of when you’re about to hit the wall is key to actually enjoying yourself. Taking a moment to grab a quiet conversation with a new friend, retreat to your hotel room for a thirty minute nap, nip outside to chat up the smokers and anyone else looking for a moment outside the crush — all viable ways to keep from running shrieking and insane from the thousands of people surrounding you. Some of my favorite moments this year were under the eaves with a few friends outside, getting a breath of passably fresh air as we took a moment together as a group to collectively not go nuts.
Playing You vs. Being You
When we’re at cons, we’re “on”, playing a version of ourselves because it’s a different emotional space. That version of us, while containing some of our qualities, caffeinated and cranked to 11, is not the same as the people we are at home. You might feel the pressure to be an animated and intensely engaged 24/7 version of you. Some people have a reputation as being incredibly outgoing, the penultimate life of the convention. But away from suite parties and awards shows, those same people may be reserved, or even exhausted by that effort. Some of the most genuine and wonderful people I know often don their public persona as soon as they walk up to registration, and never let it slip in public till they walk out days later.
You must decide how comfortable you are playing you, or seeing others using a public mask. It is not inherently bad or good to be on or not. But if you decide to be on: remember that you’re performing and take time to “go offstage” and recharge.
Making a Fool of Yourself
Everybody has a story about something stupid they did at a convention. My collection is pretty small as sins go, but I have a recent one from this year. Off-site from a convention, a friend of mine and I were attending an event in a local nightclub associated with a convention. One of the guests at this event is an artist whose work I admire. In order to pluck up my courage, my friend bought me a shot. And another shot. By the end of the night, I was tipsy enough that I not only had to take my time walking when I went to attempt to say hello, I also only managed a petrified squeak. To their credit, that artist took a shyly awkward woman nearly tripping over them with grace and tact. Suffice to say, I fled shortly after.
I have yet to drink before meeting my heroes since then, and plan to continue the trend of doing so shy but sober. Being an intoxicated and awkward fan is one thing, but there are plenty of other things that could become your convention story. Walk of shame. Pick a fight with a peer. Stand on top of a table and literally sing your own praises.
So trust your instincts. If something inside you says you will deeply regret what you’re about to do: don’t do it. I know it’s easy to say, but you have to train yourself to listen to that Jiminy Cricket in your head that will save you from yourself.
On the other hand, if you do fall to temptation, you can hide behind excuses, drown in shame, or own that moment. If you’re called out about it, you don’t deny being stupid. If you can be confident in yourself enough as a person, you’ll have the integrity to admit to your mistakes, and even learn from them. If you don’t own it, other people will. So you better be on the spot to make that moment yours, and not a tool of other people to hurt or demean you.
The Seven Stages of Goodbye
The con is a transient space. It doesn’t last. It ends, and it’s supposed to. Don’t be sad about missing a party, blowing off a panel, or not seeing everyone you know. Cons are ephemeral. Not everyone can stay for the same amount of time. Goodbyes can start the night before con ends, through to the trip home. They get exchanged on the convention floor, in elevators and on escalators, passing each other on the street. They continue in taxi or train rides and at airport gates. I have witnessed the tearful, desperate kisses of long-distance couples at the gate during boarding calls, and the tears that followed on the plane.
Some goodbyes are easier, while others weigh heavy as a stone. Take a moment to hold that grief in your hands, and then let it go. There’s always the next Con.
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