Not saying it changed my life, but it kinda did: NYCC 2014

Everybody says our twenties are meant to be insane – full of upheaval and learning about ourselves and figuring out what it is we really truly want out of this crazy mixed up world. That’s the point of them, right? As a nearly-30 single lady in New York, with all your usual Real Life nonsense to contend with, mine certainly fit the bill –  I moved to NYC, handled a bad break up, and finally figured out how to pull all the strands of my personality together to make a Real Live Functioning Human. Mostly.

Enter my life in fandom. Sure, I was a geek from the word go, but that was mostly in my own little world, not really interacting with the wide geeky world at large. Twitter freaked me out and my Magic cards collected dust as my old group of players were scattered across the country. That all started to change about a year ago, when I figured out what all the fuss was about Twitter, met some incredible people, and got tired of watching convention write ups pass me by on the interwebs with wistful envy. See, up until this month, I hadn’t been to a convention.

I’d read about SDCC for ages, and had been thinking more and more over the years that I wanted to start going to cons. I got close to buying tickets last year for NYCC, but was thwarted by extenuating circumstances. Basically, Real Life is annoying and I let it get in my way. As our beloved War Doctor would say, No More. This month was my first con, NYCC 2014, and without wanting to sound dramatic – I’ll kinda never be the same.

Day One: Chaos Reigned

I don’t know what I thought I was going to happen. A typical nerdy prepared type, I read a ton about going to cons, advice for first-timers, and on and on. I felt pretty confident, and knew not to bother with a cosplay to distract things on the first day. Of course, the reality was NOTHING could have prepared me. I walked into the Javits Center about half way through the day on Thursday, and blinked. Everything is everywhere, and I spent a solid hour wandering around the entry floor in a daze. I ended up in Artists Alley, and thought “OK, this is the big thing then. This is cool – this actually feels weirdly calm.” While I’d read not to overbook yourself, and thought I’d pared down my panel sked to a reasonable degree, I  had no idea what I was doing and certainly did not make it to everything I thought I would. That said, two panels for Thursday which looked interesting had been scheduled in the same room, back to back, so I headed on over.

My first panel experience was …. not great. I was primarily looking forward to seeing Howard Shore on the Lord of the Rings: The Music of Middle Earth, and wasn’t sure what the crowd situation would be. Directly prior to it was Coffee Talk with Dragons and Monsters, a discussion on what makes a monster frightening. The main pull for this one was that R.L. Stine was speaking, and whom among us wasn’t obsessed with Goosebumps? This kid definitely was. So in I went. Right off the bat, though, the moderator was a poor fit. The conversation was stilted and uninspired, and at the lowest points the room was flat out tense. I was a little unsettled, but making the best of it, and hoping that not all the panels would feel quite so uncomfortable. A singular highlight was R.L. Stine pronouncing Something Wicked This Way Comes as his favorite scary story. I’ve always loved it myself, and talking about a favorite work seemed to liven things up for everyone.

Sure enough, when the room changed over and Howard Shore came to teach us all about Wagner, things were immediately looking up. (Seriously, he essentially lectured on the importance of Wagner and Opera and world instruments to the score of LOTR. My inner classical music geek was rejoicing.) Questions were decent and written on cards instead of asked on mic (What was the first piece he scored? The theme to the Fellowship. The hardest to score? The ring being destroyed, which he absolutely saw as a metaphor for the completion of a project that ended up lasting another four years.) Cheered, I headed back into the floor.

At this point I realized I was definitely missing something. Sure enough, I had managed to completely miss the main dealer’s floor – how, I do not know. (*cough* I’m looking at you, non-existent Map section to the NYCC app *cough*) I realized this when I came up an escalator kind-of-on-accident and found myself face to face with a giant, slowly blinking Smaug. Three hours later, I’d wandered most of the dealer’s floor in a fog, picked up a few tees, and completely exhausted myself. I was determined to go back the next day cosplayed and better prepared.

Day Two: Sonic All the Things

A Fourth Doctor outfit was on the docket as my first real venture into the land of cosplay, and I walked out of the apartment feeling great and ready to sonic all of the things. (Seriously, it’s impossible to have a sonic screwdriver that makes noises in one’s bag and NOT constantly sonic all the things. ALL. THE. THINGS.) I started off just by walking the floor again, and swung into Artists Alley for some swag. Before I knew it, the time had come for the Ten Years of New Who panel, which I was certainly not going to miss. I got in line, met up with some of my favorite fellow Whovians, and camped through another rather painful panel – Kickstarter. This time though, the panelists were lovely, and it was the audience bringing the awkward with non-questions that did more to highlight their own projects than ask advice of the panelists. But soon enough, the Who extravaganza began, and it was a damn delight.

After a brief and unsuccessful attempt to get into the Birdman panel, I kicked around some more before re-joining with my epic team for Doctor Who trivia. We made tee shirts. We were not messing around. We were also immediately terrified and convinced that we would finally break our rather impressive winning streak. Against all odds, victory was ours, and the whole night was an absolute highlight of the con. For a more complete tale of our hilarious hi-jinx, head on over to Head Over Feels and take a look at their recap. Actually, take a look at everything, cuz those ladies are fantastic.

Day Three: Sestras? 

Leave it to me to plan my most elaborate cosplay for the day that I had to get to the con first thing and line up for a main stage panel. Saturday was the biggest event day, I had been plotting a Cosima cosplay because of my love of Orphan Black (which you can remind yourself of here). That translated into a 6:30am alarm complete with hair wax, texturizing spray, a flatiron, and a whooooole lot of hairspray. Ultimately I think the whole thing worked out well, and I loved having such a quick point of discussion with people at the con.

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That’s me on the left with some fantastic Clone Club ladies. Helena was 100% in character and it was awesome.

The only major bummer of the weekend came on Saturday afternoon. There weren’t a whole lot of panels on the main stage that I wanted to see, and because of the new NYCC policy of clearing each crowd from the main stage before the next panel to avoid campers, I was there bright and early waiting for a wristband for the Patrick Stewart spotlight. My love of Next Gen is real, I love him as Professor X, and he’s just an all-around badass, so I really didn’t need much of an excuse and was thrilled to get in. However, just 45 minutes before the panel was set to start, NYCC volunteers came around and let us know that the Captain had to cancel. I’d be absolutely lying if I said I wasn’t pretty heartbroken, especially because it had been the single main stage event I really had my heart set on. But the beauty of NYCC is that basically the entire cast of ST:TNG was in the other room signing things, and so they whipped up a last-minute Star Trek panel. The cast members who did make it in were a delight – it was wonderful to see Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis’ legendary banter in person. (However, a note to the announcer guy at NYCC who promised a “George Clooney-level appearance” if they “got through their autographs” – don’t make promises you can’t keep to a room full of already saddened Trekkies. K? Thnx.) On the whole, everyone made the best of it, and I was happy to be there. The day ended with a truly fantastic  after party for Fan Girls’ Night Out, but more to come on that later.

Day Four: The Denial is Real

I kept things simple for Day Four. No cosplay, not a lot of panel obligations, lots of wandering around wondering how it could possibly be over already. (One delightful moment included being nearly knocked over by a shrouded Paul F. Tompkins as he was rushed down the hall by a clearly horrified NYCC volunteer, presumably on his way to do something charming and old timey and Thrilling Adventure Hour related.) The panel I did know I wanted to drop into was The Mary Sue Presents – All on the Table, a panel discussing diversity and representation in gaming, specifically tabletop. Prior to that, there was a DC Digital discussion, and considering my burgeoning interest in comic books, I camped through it.  And damn was it fun. Fantastic panelists really are the key to a good discussion (stating the obvious, I know, but considering where we started….) and I was psyched to be in the room for this badass Wonder Woman announcement.

All on the Table was my last panel of the con, and an incredibly important one at that. Given the firestorm around female gamers that’s somehow still going strong, and the fact that one of our panelists was Brianna Wu, a woman at the heart of said firestorm, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about tabletop specifically. Rather, the conversation was spent diving into detail about the importance of representation in gaming as an industry, and predominantly video games at that. My stomach was in my throat for the entire Q&A, as thanks to this business I’m now even uncomfortable around Jayne cosplayers, but I should have trusted in the kindness of the fellow sensible gamers in the room. Questions were wonderful, thoughtful, and simultaneously disheartening (one woman in particular asked how to assure other women writers that they should still review video games – there was no easy answer because this is the world we now live in, but that does not mean any of us give up, and I myself was inspired to dive into a few game reviews myself).

You are having one of those “What does it all mean” things

Yeah, yeah, that’s from High Fidelity, just go with it.  Music geeks are geeks too! So I DID have one of those “What does it all mean” things, but I think it was way more fun than Rob Gordon’s.  NYCC symbolized a whole lot for me before it even began. My first major con, an incredible opportunity to spend a full four days surrounded by people who love the things that I love, and a safe place to be a geek. (BTW, #cosplayisnotconsent, and props to NYCC for plastering their anti-harassment policy all over the con.) No matter how many times before I’d gotten teary reading con recaps discussing the truly emotional experience of being around your people, and no matter how ready  I thought I was for that sort of support and acceptance, nothing beats actually feeling it. Nothing. Which brings us back to that Fan Girls’ Night Out I mentioned.

This was the first poster I laid eyes on at the bar for Fan Girls’ Night Out, and I blame lack of sleep for the fact that it almost made me cry. Right in the middle of the chaos, exhausted, emotional, happy, and ready to dance with my friends, this poster hit me square in the face. It epitomized everything I’d seen and felt over the last three days, it had to be mine, and don’t worry, it’s here just waiting to be framed. (Props to Redbubble, where you can find this too if you’re so inclined.)

The “wrong droids” aren’t necessarily ones who aren’t geeks, but they are DEFINITELY ones who disregard things that people love just because they don’t understand them. Flip that right around and the same goes for sports – I won’t judge your fantasty football league if you don’t judge the hours I’ve logged playing Skyrim. And while most of the people I’ve spent my life with thus far have played by the same rules, some of them haven’t, and that ends here. It’s why I love Wil Wheaton so much – he very eloquently beats the drum declaring that you can love anything that connects with you, and that no one ever gets to tell you you can’t love the things that you love. Ever.

There is ugliness in geek culture. Especially now, no one would argue that there isn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s right – in fact, it’s an assault against the thing that makes us geeks. The soul of being a geek is to understand that the thing that gets you through, the thing that you find inspiration or comfort in,  is automatically sacred. It does not matter a bit what that thing is – a television show, a game, a book, anything – what matters is that its artsy soul speaks to you. (And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve had that thing in your life, either, so gatekeepers can move right along.) So of course, when we find each other, it’s emotional and impactful, because our nature is personal and intense. Wretchedness can come out of defending that sacred thing, but I’d rather we look at the beauty. Our geekiness brings us together, and keeps us open minded, and lets us see the truth in stories that speak to the human experience.

Tl;dr: Being a geek is incredible. Cons are incredible. Be good to each other, be proud of what you love, and most importantly remember – life’s too short to look for the wrong droids.