Monday, July 7, 2014

Pro Tips From CONvergence

Pro?  CON?  See what I did there?  Please, hold your applause.

Really though, today's thesis statement is that this is a really first-rate convention.  If you get a chance to go, you really should. 

The staff is amazingly friendly.  Everything is super organized.  And they are serious about inclusivity, access, and providing a welcoming atmosphere.  We're not just talking about a couple of handicapped parking spaces and a "holler if you get the bad touch" clause in the program.  There are "don't harsh the squee" and "safe space" posters everywhere, free sign language interpreters provided (and seeing heavy use!), even separate rooms for dishing up various complimentary goodies - which I'm sure helps with crowd control, but keeping the PB&J station separate from the rice must also be a huge help for people who have to worry about food allergies and cross-contamination.  I'm in no position to say how successful CONvergence is in providing all these accommodations, but I can tell you for a fact that they are serious about offering them and making sure everyone can have a good time.

Best of all, any mental misconceptions you had about all the Klingons and Jedi and catgirls milling around will be obliterated as soon as you sit down for a panel and listen to the thoughtful questions and miles-deep insights they have about the subject at hand.  That is the part that really blew me away.  I have a vision of writers' conferences being "go to learn something and maybe also have fun" and fan conventions being "go to have fun and maybe also learn something", but man - that is DEFINITELY not an either/or proposition.  Not with this crowd.

And oh, what a crowd.

Approximately one-fiftieth of the 6,369 "Skittle-munching meat babies" in attendance

This I think was where I hit the wall.  I've been a pretty aggressively social person for the last decade or so, and lately I've fancied myself the kind of gal who can walk into a room and strike up a conversation with anybody about anything.

As it turns out, that is not true.  Not when the room (or hall, or lobby) is a shifting morass of warm bodies and loud noises.  I wilt.  I sweat.  I think about how amazingly lucky I am that my parents saved me from going to a 5A high school, because I would have drowned in a chum-bucket of pupating humanity.  It didn't help that this hotel is older, with lots of narrow hallways and yellowy lights and over-taxed air conditioners.  It also didn't help that I knew almost nobody.  (I had not realized how much home-turf advantage I've enjoyed at the Texas cons.)

Consequently, I didn't spend as much time at the con as I meant to, and I didn't meet as many people as I wanted to.  But I did have a great time, and I did learn a lot for next year (and oh, there will be a next year!)

So if you, like me, are going to attend your first Big-Ass Con, all I can say is:

But you can be!  Here are some things I learned this weekend:

1.  Volunteering is awesome - especially if you don't know anyone at the beginning.  Signing up to help out is a great way to give yourself structure and purpose, and an easy way to meet people.  Next time, I'm going to make sure I volunteer for multiple areas/departments, so I'm not doing one thing 100% of the time.

2.  Contemplate a costume.  Or maybe not a whole costume, but some cool, visual thing that people can use to start a conversation with you, even if it's just your favorite Firefly T-shirt.  This time, I was trying to look all authorly and professional, so I didn't wear any flair - and I wish I had.  It's the easiest thing in the world to walk up to a Dalek and say "Holy mackerel, I LOVE Dr. Who!  So what do we think about Peter Capaldi?"  And I expect it'll be even more fruitful if there's something about you they can use to reciprocate.

3.  Prepare to be whelmed. By which I mean, decide in advance what you're going to do when you start getting that queasy, cranky, overstimulated feeling, so you can chill out before you get overwhelmed.  I wasn't staying at the hotel, but I enjoyed several self-imposed time-out sessions in my car.  And a trip to White Castle.

4.  Keep up with the Twitter hashtag.  You don't even need a Twitter account to do it.  It's essentially a live crowd-sourced commentary about what's happening with the con - and it's so much easier to feel connected when you can see/hear a virtual conversation.

5.  Bring a buddy.  Because everybody needs a starter Pokemon.

And now that the con is over, I'm going to hang out with my good buddy Frank for some long-overdue cooking adventures before I jet home again.  Thanks for showing me a grand time, CONvergence - see you next year!

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