Before this last weekend, I hadn’t attended a convention in a year. And the last convention I attended was somewhat memorable.
Before I left for ConFusion last week, I told myself I had to take it easy. I had been sick for much of the three or four weeks preceding the con, and in addition to that, I’ve been a bit burned out, which seems to mostly mean I’m more tired than usual and have less social energy. I’ve been forcing myself to go out some, but wow, am I much more of an introvert than I usually am.
The perfect time to go to a con!
(Cue maniacal laughter.)
I’ve found it difficult to explain the experience of attending a con as a early-career writer to people who have never been to a con and are not writers, but I will try now. It is incredibly intense. It is both one of the best times ever and an enormous amount of work. It sounds like a big party, and it kind of is, but you never forget you’re there because of writing, which is one of the most important things in your life, and therefore everything that happens at a con has the tendency to take on an overinflated importance. It is difficult to avoid some feelings of being judged, and this doesn’t seem to go away even for many seasoned pros.
The entire con experience is laced through with an undercurrent of PRESSURE. Pressure to make good use of the time because you spent a bunch of money to be there. Pressure to sound intelligent and not say anything incredibly stupid or offensive. Especially on a panel or when talking to a writer you particularly admire. Pressure to smooth over social awkwardness. Pressure to find someone to talk to at the bar. Pressure to prove yourself. Pressure to find an interesting topic to discuss or be on Twitter more or make sure your opinions have some actual thought behind them. Whatever your particular pressure poison is.
Lest you begin to get the wrong idea, the con experience is also jam-packed with amazing moments, fun excursions, and stimulating conversations you’re still thinking about long afterwards. It’s a pressure cooker of mostly awesome.
I had a wonderful and tiring time this weekend. Everyone was very kind to me. There was no running off to cry in public bathrooms (always a plus). Three of the four panels I was on went extremely well, and the fourth one wasn’t a train wreck or anything, I just thought it was kind of boring. I got to spend lots of time with Ferrett, along with many other friends and acquaintances, and I met several new people who I liked a lot. While I heard stories from other writers about stuff that went down at this con, I personally had a very positive experience.
But I did notice a difference.
I took a lot more time alone in my hotel room. I’d reach a lull in my schedule or have no companions at the bar, and instead of pushing myself to seek out THE BEST USE OF MY TIME, I’d go back up to my room and play Splendor on my iPad and relax. However, this self-permission turned out to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having some quiet time was really nice. On the other hand, I definitely felt like I was using more willpower than I normally do because eventually I’d have to force myself back out into the thick of things, and the expenditure of that extra willpower took away some of the gains of taking the quiet time in the first place. So that was one unexpected thing that happened.
The other thing I noticed was that I cared less overall about what other people thought. The main result of this seemed to be that I circulated less. I pushed myself less to be a flitting social butterfly moving from group to group. I moved some, but not as much as usual, and I had pretty much zero concern about thinking about whether I should be mingling more or considering with whom I should be talking more. I’d see a group of people I kind of knew and think about joining them, and if that seemed like it might cost me a lot of work or energy or awkwardness, I didn’t care enough to do it. Because I realized it didn’t really matter; I already can’t remember the specific cases when this happened. Instead I spent my time more organically; I didn’t work to engage people but talked with people with whom the engagement came naturally.
Interestingly, I met plenty of new people this way (although it’s hard to say if this was less or more than previously), and the general quality of conversation seemed to go up. Usually at cons I spend a lot of time having almost the exact same conversation fifty times or more. This time there was a lot less of that, and the increased variety of topic was something I deeply enjoyed. At various times I had really quality conversations about music, dance, various books, social justice, female friendships, transmedia, psychology, relationships, cooking and food, story ideas, theater and musical theater, television, the film industry, economics, several panel topics, and more. Of course, good conversation is a hallmark of most cons, but this time there was simply MORE of it, which is an unalloyed positive as far as I’m concerned.
Even so, the pressure was still present. I simply wasn’t allowing it to shape as much of my time or determine as many of my actions. Even in the face of pressure, there is often a choice: what do I value the most here? And in my case, it was allowing room for moments of significance and connection, and also, perhaps the biggest change, allowing myself room to do what was good for me.