I’m writing this from the hospitality area at The Nebulas. In a couple of hours, Melissa and I will get dressed for the award ceremony. We’ll be one step closer to the completion of this event. Tomorrow morning, we will check out and drive home.
I’ve been attending conferences like this for about a decade. It started with WorldCon in Reno, which as I’ve noted before, changed my life and reminded me that there is this whole other part of myself that I’d been neglecting. I had found my people, I felt like I belonged, and I wanted more of it.
At some point over the last couple of years, my attitude towards these conferences changed. I’m just not as thrilled at being at a convention as I used to be, and I’m not sure what happened.
I’m going to keep this post as positive as I can. This is not intended to be a thousand word essay of me whining. What I’d like to do is examine the different factors that I can observe which is keeping me from feeling the same joy I felt when I first started coming to writer’s conventions.
Introvert Starts with I
I am an introvert. Large crowds make me feel claustrophobic. It takes energy for me to engage with strangers. If you are an introvert yourself, you already understand. If not, just imagine trying to do work at the bottom of a pool. You have to stop and go up for air every once in a while, and the longer you’re down below, the harder and more tiring the task becomes.
When I first started attending conventions, I think I had a greater reserve of energy to draw upon when dealing with strangers. It has always been challenging, but I used to go off to the hotel room and get some alone time. I don’t do that as much now.
Also, and without getting too political, I don’t think I used to stress over the news as much as I do these days. Worrying about having three functioning branches of government has left me with less energy reserves in general. That’s just the reality, and it’s not something I should talk about while at a convention.
Ignorance is Bliss
When I first started attending writing conventions, the only thing I really knew was that I liked writing and reading science fiction and fantasy. I wasn’t particularly familiar with any big name authors or agents. I didn’t have any stories to sell or talk about. I could happily get into an elevator or walk down a hall with an agent or editor and treat them just like I’d treat anyone else. It was easy.
I still try to treat everyone equally, but I think that having two completed, unpublished novels, stories that I’m dying to talk about, puts a strange aura around me. An aura of sick desperation. It doesn’t matter if I don’t say a single word about my stories, it is still repellent.
The Long College Course
Let’s talk about the panels for a moment. When I first started going to conventions, I absolutely loved the panels. I filled up my schedule with them, eager to attend and upset that I’d have to make sacrifices because there were always conflicts.
The problem is that after nearly 10 years of attending and taking notes, I’ve stopped hearing anything new. I try to take notes, but I feel like I’ve heard it all before, and often from the same people.
It feels like I keep attending the same college course over and over again. No one is taking attendance or handing out grades, and it is impossible to graduate. I keep going and listening for the differences and contradictions, just in case some of the material shows up on the test, which is probably never going to be administered.
I keep meeting the same people over and over, and most of the time, they don’t remember me at all. We are all wearing name tags, so some of the more socially graceful are able to play it off without a hitch.
While I don’t expect everyone to remember me — there’s really no reason they should — it still hurts to see the confused look in their eye when I call them out by name. It makes me feel like I’m not a part of the community.
Am I part of the community? Maybe not. Perhaps I’m not doing enough. When I first started attending conventions, it was okay to be an unknown because I didn’t know anyone, either. Now, it doesn’t feel as much like I’ve found my people. I have a bunch in common with this community, but it feels like there is some kind of entrance exam that I haven’t passed yet. Probably because I don’t even know where to go to take it.
So… How about that Weather…
Several times this conference, I’ve drawn a blank when it comes to simply engaging in conversation. This is entirely my fault. As I stated before, I’ve been getting into these crowded rooms with very little energy. It’s hard to start the engine when there’s no fuel in the tank.
I haven’t been completely hopeless talking to people, but I also haven’t brought much to the party. I can’t talk about my stories. I don’t want to talk about work. I’m not a stalker, and I’m not particularly good at small talk.
Often, I’ll ask a question about the convention, what the other person is writing or reading… something that seems pertinent or that will lead to common ground. My hope is to get the other person talking about themselves. Then I can listen and be attentive. But then their answer will be short, and I’ve got nothing after that.
This is My Vacation
When I look back at how I’ve spent my time during this convention, it’s hard for me to justify the time and expense. This is not going to be a tax write-off for me. This isn’t going to lead to any sales. I don’t think I learned much about the business of writing or any techniques to help me with my craft.
I took time off from work and spent a bunch of money to go to L.A. I spent my vacation feeling socially awkward, listening to things I’ve heard before, meeting people that don’t remember me and won’t remember me the next time we meet.
Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
At this moment, I don’t think so. People have asked me if I’ve had a good con, and I politely lie and say, “Sure, it’s been great!” But if I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ve had a great time. At this point, I don’t know what I can do to make it better.
Maybe the next one will be better.