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Do I Have To? Or How I Learned to Stop Bitching and Love the Con

By Chris Hicks

So you’re a married geek with a spouse who may not be as geeky or excited about the idea of checking out a local sci-fi convention as you are.

Are you doomed to forever find yourself a solitary Starfire, wandering the con floor without your Nightwing?

To meet Gillian Anderson but not share that amazing experience with your better half? Don’t give up hope!

Things can change. Share this article with your partner, because this is one such story…

One of my favorite things to do every night is grab some snacks, a drink or two, and head upstairs to my man-loft and hack away into the night at some new piece of code I’m working on, or some new concept I’m trying to learn.  While I would be perfectly happy to spend the rest of my life living as a semi-recluse, with my cats and my wife, Laura, to keep me company, my better half seems to be of the opinion that people should interact with others on a regular basis as part of a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle.

This has sometimes been a bone of contention, so when she first
floated the idea of going to a major geek convention–I believe it was
WonderCon–my response was tepid at best.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t enjoy geeky things. I like Babylon 5 and Halo 3 as much as the next code monkey.

But for me that didn’t translate into any desire to subject myself to an enclosed space with thousands of people excited about a bunch of other things I cared little to nothing about.

I’ve never really been into comics, never been that thrilled about art, and I certainly had no interest in sitting through a bunch of panels listening to people talk for hours on end when I could be doing something productive with my time…or at least that I knew I would enjoy.

However, it was something she was passionate about and, given that she puts up with my many peculiarities, it was only fair that I support hers as well.

I didn’t stay the prototypical con-spouse (that is, having to be dragged kicking and screaming) for long.

I don’t know that I would say that I fell in love with the con experience after the first one, but at the same time, I can’t actually remember having been to a con and not enjoyed the overall experience.

I think it worked to Laura’s advantage that we went to larger convention first, as it gave me more varied experiences than I would have had access to at a smaller con—more chance of finding something I would enjoy. I will admit it was imposing at first.

For someone like me, there is literally nothing like being surrounded by tens of thousands of strangers in an enclosed space, wandering through aisles that are a touch too narrow for the crush of people, a cacophony of shouting, laughter, and a thousand different things being moved around, all assaulting the ears: remember my quiet nights alone?  Surprisingly, I adjusted pretty quickly though. It’s amazing how the brain can sort through so much raw data and filter out all but the necessary. In the end, the din became little more than the soundtrack to the rest of the floor experience. And I began my journey of discovery.

Despite the fact that comics and art (in the traditional form) aren’t really my thing, I can and do recognize and appreciate the cultural impact of the great works of art. But other than being able to say “Yeah, I saw that,” I really have little interest in them. And to be honest, I felt and still feel the same way about most of the art I come across when at cons. However, there are always those few gems: those works hidden away in the Artists’ Alleys or among the small press tables which make me reconsider my position. The fact that I also have access to the artists themselves only enriches the experience. It’s fascinating to talk to them about what they do and what inspires them. Hell, in one case, I spent three hours in an artist’s booth chatting away while leafing through his work. And I bought a few things. So win-win. But the truth is, I’ve never enjoyed art as much as I have at a con. Perhaps if Monet were standing there next to his painting at the museum I’d be more tempted to join Laura there. Comics though, still…meh.

The sheer amount and variety of things available for purchase is one of the things I’ve found I like best about cons.

If you can imagine it, someone at some con somewhere has probably created it.

And unlike the mall, with the same products over and over, separated only by differences in marketing, each con will offer new discoveries and treasures.

Which is great for the less fanatical. Television shows and movies come and go, new characters are introduced or events happen, but even viewers like me who only watch a couple of such narratives will find that they are well represented across multiple cons.

Even if you watch nothing at all, you won’t miss out: There are always the more purely craft-oriented people, the ones making jewelry, lamps, clothing and much more for sale at the conventions. And trust me, you don’t have to be into steampunk to appreciate the skill and beauty of dozens (or hundreds) of tiny pieces of wire or tiny gears turned into something decorative or even practical. And what better place to shop for your more geeky spouse? Because many things are handmade, you’re often giving them something truly one-of-a-kind (as well as a constant reminder that you were willing to give up your whole weekend to do something just to make them smile). At a con, I always know I can surprise Laura with something that she’ll love.

And of course there’s just so much variety: vendors selling clothes, toys, comics, and basically anything else that someone thinks might turn a profit at a con. And you don’t have to be ready to buy to be able to enjoy “shopping” on the con floor.

One of our favorite activities is checking in with the T-shirt vendors to see what clever thing they’ve come up with this year. “Misuse of ‘literally’ makes me figuratively insane.” “Dear Algebra: Stop asking us to find your x. She’s not coming back.” “Come to the nerd side. We have π.” We always end up laughing our asses off before folding ourselves back into the crowd.

And Laura really adores the panels, which are usually my least favorite part of a con (unless it’s a Firefly panel…what red-blood American doesn’t want to hear Nathan Fillion wax poetic on the best show evah?).

Still there’s something to be said for them—even before they begin. While, on the surface, waiting in line for a panel isn’t very appealing, especially when it’s not for a panel you might have some natural interest in, it’s actually a blessing in disguise. Getting the chance to sit down in one spot (after the frenetic pace of the floor) for a while can be nice, especially when near a power outlet you can use for a bit to keep a cellphone charged. If I know it’s going to be a panel-heavy weekend for my wife, I might bring a book and get through a few chapters in line while at the same time giving my body a rest from carrying our supplies and purchases around (that backpack gets heavy).

And once we get into the panel-room, even if I’m not interested, the atmosphere is generally far more subdued and quiet, and depending on what the facilities are like, sometimes cooler as well. Which in the heat and pressing crowds of San Diego Comic-Con is a real blessing. But often, there’s a kind of magic that happens in a panel.

Comic book artist, actor, director—they are all in the business of entertaining us but generally from a distance. Getting into a room with these people and having them instead entertain you up close (and in some cases, personally) is a whole other thing.

You don’t have to like Doctor Who to get a serious laugh out of John Barrowman’s comic swoon after an impromptu liplock with the Tenth Doctor.

You don’t have to have seen Kevin Smith’s movies to be really caught up in his story about the first time he and his wife smoked a joint and got bitched at for high-jinks in Ben Affleck’s old house. And you don’t have to be a feminist or a comic book fan to recognize the (perhaps historical) importance of Kyrax taking on the hyper-male creative team at DC and asking: “Where are all the women?” You never know what will happen in a panel room.

Ironically, though, the best part for me of going to cons is also the thing I was initially most wary of: the people. While no experience with large numbers of people is completely positive for me, overwhelmingly, the interactions I’ve had with people on the floor and around the convention have been wonderful. When people are having a good time, you get to see them relating to the rest of humanity in a positive way, something which seems to be missing from our interactions far too often.

People at a con are excited, having a great time, eager to see what’s next or to go back and see something again. Yet they are still generally polite, helpful, and kind—hell, these people will stand in line for hours to give blood, a common charitable activity at cons. And it never gets old seeing a child freak out–each in their own special way—when they come across a well executed costume representing one of their favorite characters. And I’ve never seen a cosplayer be anything but indulgent and friendly to an obviously excited child. How could being in the middle of all that passion, good will, creativity, and energy be a bad thing or a waste of time?

In fact, if I might wax philosophical for a moment, I often come away from a convention feeling like, at some point (if not more than one), I experienced humanity at its best.

Even something as simple as standing back and seeing the effort and love that went into a piece of work be appreciated by a stranger, and the joy of the artist in sharing that work, is such a pleasure–even for an introvert like me—and restores my faith in our essential goodness.

Although I like the calm of being at home, the unceasing, dizzying, and positive energy present at a con is unique and something powerful to be experienced.

Not that it’s always frenetic or an overwhelming event.

There are always lulls throughout the day, whether it be sitting down for a snack, waiting in line for a panel, or dropping some purchases off at your hotel room before heading back to the convention center.

The great thing about cons, though, is that even these moments can quickly turn exciting. I once got into an 8×6 foot hotel elevator to go up to grab something from our room. At the next floor, someone stepped in and I found myself face-to-face with Lou Ferrigno. Me, just going about a bit of daily life, sharing an elevator with the Hulk. And believe me, that the elevator was too damned small.

What I’m really trying to get at, what I really want to say to the girl/boyfriends, spouses, partners, and lovers of our wonderful hard(er)-core geeks: saying no to this part of their life and passion is cutting yourself off from an experience like no other. Regardless of who you are, if you open yourself up to the possibility, you will almost certainly find something to enjoy, something to value, something to laugh about or appreciate or love at a con. Even if that thing is simply being able to witness the person you love doing something that makes them almost glow with happiness.

And if that possibility isn’t enough to convince you to give conventions a chance, maybe the two of you need to have a serious talk.

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