13 Nov 2013

Conventions and Me

Some of you might have read the guide to conventions that I wrote about two months ago, in which I gave a general explanation of the phenomenon, what to expect, recommendations based on interests and so forth. That was primarily intended for the uninitiated, those who might have an interest for conventions, but just doesn't know it yet - or they know it, and they just don't know where to start. I didn't really talk all that much about my own personal experiences, so that is what I intend to talk about this time. It's been part of my life for nearly a decade, and I hope to continue for many years to come, maybe even introduce new generations to it (I can hope, at least).

To explain how it all started with me, I'll have to go back to a television show that I got hooked on when I was thirteen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was the show that pretty much got me into everything. It was through that show that I discovered fanfiction, it was that show that inspired me to create my own website, where I then posted my own fanfiction (among other places). One day an e-mail ticked into my inbox from a girl, who asked if it was alright if she posted my stories onto her website, to which I said yes. Not long after I got an invitation to a mailing list for Buffy fans, and through that group I made a lot of new friends.

We became this really tight knit group, who shared our love for this show, supported one another in personal matters, and it was through one of these girls that I got to find out about conventions. She told us about having attended an event, told us about her experiences, and it got quite a lot of us interested in going to one as well. The next year, most of the UK-based members of the group met up and attended an event together, and reported back to the rest of us. I then spent most of the following year saving up, so that I could finally go to one myself.

My first convention was also my biggest. Totalling somewhere around 1700 attendees, there was always something going on, and I got used to queuing very quickly. Not knowing when I'd get another go at this, I was determined to make the most out of every minute, attending as many of the talks as I could while still getting the photos and the autographs I was after. I definitely made a fool out of myself a couple of times. I remember throwing my arms around an unsuspecting Nicholas Brendon (who thankfully took it well) during the photo shoot in what I can only describe as a very fangirly moment. I also had the case of foot-in-mouth disease when I was up at the microphone asking questions, occasionally saying things that just sounded awkward, stupid, wrong or even rude (I mostly have that under control now, thankfully).

The convention aspect that I didn't really get into that first time was the evening parties. I'd never really been a person who felt all that comfortable at parties before, so I didn't see how the parties at conventions would be any different. So I was very keen on going back to the room and sleep instead (much to the annoyance for my roommates that weekend - if you are reading this, know that I'm sorry about that). It actually took me a couple of more events before I fully embraced and cherished the nightly aspects of a convention - now it's one of my favourite things in the whole event.

Because, when you reach a certain point, the conventions stop being about what guests are attending - sure, they help determine which conventions you'd rather do, but it ultimately becomes about the friends you make. For me, especially, as I don't get to see these people outside of the conventions due to living in a completely different country. I don't think anything can really top that beginning of a convention atmosphere, when people are running all over the hotel lobby, hugging and tackling one another, so happy and excited to see everyone, all ready for another weekend of fun. Being someone who struggles with my self-esteem and self-worth (long story short, I was bullied for about ten years), no words can describe how much it means to me whenever it's someone running towards me, happy to see me. I know I can be awkward and intense sometimes, so being so fully embraced by this wonderful group of people really means everything to me.

But don't get me wrong, the guests do matter to a certain degree, even when you're a seasoned convention attendee. What changes is merely the kind of guests you appreciate more. The first couple of times it's more about the big names, the headliners, the main characters, especially the ones you haven't met yet, but always dreamed of meeting. And there's nothing wrong with that. Conventions are partly about making dreams come true, after all. But eventually the people who stand out will be the ones who come time and time again, whom you get more of a connection with. The ones that more or less become like another friend to you, the ones that remember you and are genuinely happy to see you.

And I know what some people will say, what some people have already said to me (and rather condescendingly so); that the guests are there because they are paid to be there. These are usually the same kind of people who feel the need to remind me that the characters I love and obsess over are fictional. But in contrary to their beliefs, this is not new information. We are actually all aware that it's a business. What they fail to realise is that we all possess the capability to easily separate between who are being genuine and who isn't. If you think we are being duped, think again.

Full story can be found here
Some of the best guests are the ones who help out behind the scenes, who join the parties, engage in long conversations with the fans. Simply put, the best guests are the ones who let loose and have fun with the rest of us, whether their preference is the bar or the dance floor. And then there's the occasional guest who go beyond all of that, the ones who sees a fan in need of some attention, a reminder that they are worth more than they might think. My own personal favourite guest (Clare Kramer) is someone who saw me at a time when I felt invisible, who kept remembering me every time we met, and who made me feel like I mattered. Meeting her, and being exposed to her kindness the way I was, really shaped the first couple of convention experiences I had, and I always know any event with her in it will be a special one to me.

There are, of course, other things about conventions that have left an impression on me, beyond the amazing guests and fellow fans I'm grateful to have befriended, and that's the sheer insanity that take place. You enter a bubble in which the regular world more or less ceases to exist, and instead you are part of a world where all kinds of random things could happen. People are just in a completely different mindset (and it's not all due to alcohol consumption, either, although it does have an attributing factor for some of it). And that can lead to some pretty spectacular random things.

Some things become convention tradition, like convention dances where many fans in all ages engages in silly choreographed dances, some stemming from mainstream popularity like Saturday Night, YMCA, Gangnam Style or the Macarena, some from more geeky sources like Star Trekkin' or Doctoring the TARDIS. Then there are the dances that have to have been invented at the convention scene itself, like the many chair-based dances, which includes a rather raunchy version of Bohemian Rhapsody - a lot of which are conducted by the Jedi chefs with their massive lightsabers.

And should you ever find yourself at a Starfury convention where Jonathan Woodward is a guest - be prepared for Sunday morning, when many of us line up, dancing to Prince music, while waiting for communion consisting of whiskey and jaffa cakes. Occasionally he will shake things up by adding a whiskey cam, and there was also that one time where he brought along his own homemade confessional booth, where we were to confess our sins, then spin the wheel of penance.

Something else that I love are those random moments, the ones you can't plan for, but that just happen because two or more people react the exact same way and it becomes a thing. The best example I have of that is something that happened last year. The events I go to have themed parties, where we are encouraged to dress up (but it's completely voluntary). I don't usually dress up, because buying or making costumes can get pretty pricey, and I just want to prioritize other things. But since I had bought myself this gorgeous black coat and a wand on my trip, and the theme happened to be Hogwarts, I decided to go to the party as Bellatrix Lestrange.

I was playing around with my wand while dancing on the very packed dance floor, when I spotted someone dressed up as Harry Potter on the other side of the floor. We didn't know each other, had never even seen one another before, just happened to cross eyes at the same moment, noticing simultaneously that the other was carrying a wand as well, and suddenly we were duelling it out across the dance floor. Now, that's random to begin with, but it took the rest of the dance floor less than a minute to notice. Before I knew it, the whole crowd (including five of the guests) had all parted, making a clear way between myself and 'Harry' to carry out our duel. Within a few minutes of throwing spells back and forth, 'Harry' dropped to the floor in defeat, the entire crowd clapped, and one of the guests dropped to her knees in front of me, doing the 'I am not worthy' routine. Everyone then resumed dancing, and 'Harry' and I never even spoke (if you ever read this, 'Harry', know that this will probably always be one of my biggest convention highlights).

That moment really sums up conventions for me, because it's the kind of place where something as random and spur of the moment as this can actually happen, and people will actually react the way they did. Conventions give you this sense of freedom, the freedom to be yourself, to be random. It's this magical bubble where anything can happen. Where the surprise guest could be Starbuck, herself. Where Zachary Levi takes a couple of hundred people to the nearby Subway to get sandwiches. Where Joss Whedon suddenly shows up to party... You never know what to expect next, you can only hope to be there when it happens (and in my case, hope that Joss decides to make another appearance when I'm actually there...)


  1. Nice article, Sweetie. You gave me an incredible gift by making it possible for me to attend a convention with you. Having the opportunity to meet Clare Kramer and Juliet Landau left me with happy memories during what was a very difficult time in my life. I will never forget and I will always be grateful to you, pal.

    1. Happy to have shared that event with you, hon :)