This was my first year at OddCon in Madison, and I keep asking myself, “Why the heck did I wait so long to do this?” I also got to meet Steven Barnes, who I have been following online for years. Great panels, lots of friendly faces. I could easily describe the experience this weekend in three words: Best. Con. Ever.
A Brief History
My first con ever was Comic-Con in San Diego, CA. O.o Way too much walking. Waay too much noise. Waaay too many people. My feet felt like ground beef at the end of the day, and the crowds were completely overwhelming. But I also discovered the art show where I kept thinking, “I could do this!” Then I discovered panels. That’s when I fell in love. I only sat in on one, but after that one panel, I knew I wanted more.
Second con: World Fantasy in Madison, WI. o.O At Comic-Con, I had my husband with me, so I could loop back around and find him any time I felt overwhelmed or tired. At World Fantasy, I was alone. I actually hid in the bathroom and cried at one point because I was so overwhelmed. Big Crowds + Me Alone = Quivery Jell-O Mess.
Third con: WisCon, also in Madison. I fell back in love with cons, but still struggled with overwhelm, just on a lesser scale. Every year has gotten a little easier as I pick up new tricks for dealing with the crowds and meet new people to add to my list of Friendly Faces.
I’ve gone to five WisCons since we moved to Wisconosin, so OddCon isn’t literally my fourth con, but it is the fourth different con I’ve attended. There is a 1000-person cap at WisCon. So there’s a lot of people there (and a LOT of programming), but it’s not as insane as World Fantasy or Comic-Con. I don’t know the exact count, but I heard it estimated that there are about 250 people at OddCon. This seems to be my comfort zone. There were enough people there to make it exciting and fun, but not so many to make it overwhelming for me. Plus, many of the people there were locals, so I got to make some friends who I might actually see more than once a year now.
With five years of WisCon experience under my belt, I decided to go ahead and sign up for panels when I saw an announcement go out looking for panelists. I was assigned to four of them: The Price Is Right: Or Is It?, a panel on e-book pricing; Amazon: Evil Empire or an Author/Reader’s Best Friend; Writing Critique, a panel where writers could bring their unpublished work to be read and critiqued anonymously; and Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy. The first two panels were scheduled for Friday, the last two for Sunday; so I had Saturday pretty much free to do whatever I wanted.
Right away, I met Fred Schepartz who I shared two panels with, along with Lori Devoti who I know from WisCon. Fred was friendly and funny and even when I found out – Surprise! I was the moderator of my first panel! — I felt right at home and comfortable. Later, I also met Jim Leinweber who was moderating one of my Sunday panels, and we had dinner at the Indian restaurant around the corner before Opening Ceremonies. Also ran into Alex Bledsoe, another familiar friendly face from WisCon. But somewhere in all the excitement, something unusual happened.
I turned into Chatty Cathy.
Benjamin Billman, Joe Alfano (who I knew as @Zombie_Joe from Twitter and NaNoWriMo), and Scott Steele cornered me after one of my panels. At first, I was literally cornered, and felt uncomfortable, but then it was like a switch was turned on in my brain. Usually this switch is set to OFF. My mouth is clamped shut, I don’t know what to say, I’m figuratively and sometimes literally wringing my hands with anxiety, I’m afraid that anything I want to say will sound dumb. Someone reached in though, and flipped that switch to ON. I could speak, I didn’t feel like I had to struggle for what to say, whatever anxiety I felt was minimal, I wasn’t afraid of sounding dumb. Oh, I’m sure I said at least one or two things that sounded stupid, but I wasn’t afraid to say them. It was … honestly, kind of amazing.
Next thing I knew, I was talking to everybody. I’d see people passing in the halls and stop them briefly to comment on something I admired about what they were wearing or what they said. I was reaching out to people who looked as uncomfortable as I usually feel, asking them about their experience and getting them to talk about something they enjoyed talking about.
For the most part, the panels I attended and the panels I was on were all fun, animated, and informative. I have some notes written down but haven’t typed them up yet. There was only one panel I was on that I felt I didn’t contribute to very well, but that was because I was exhausted and my brain simply wasn’t functioning. After going to sleep late Saturday night, I was woken up multiple times by an insistent and obnoxious cat Sunday morning, and I learned that those Five Hour Energy drinks don’t really help with sleep deprivation.
In addition to my own panels, I also attended Combat in SF&F Literature with Alex Bledsoe moderating; The Art of Collaboration with Jim Frenkel moderating Guests of Honor Steven Barnes and Larry Niven, as well as Tananarive Due and Sarah Monette (who I recognize from WisCon and SFF/OWW); and The Muse Feels No Respect, moderated by F.J. Bergmann. I also met John Wardale, another local who I recognize from WisCon. He did some hair braiding in the ConSuite at OddCon, just like he does at the Gathering, and he taught me a couple new techniques which I promptly tried at home on my youngest daughter’s hair.
Highlight of my Con
For me, the highlight of OddCon came Saturday morning. Guest of Honor Steven Barnes was offering two morning classes on T’ai Chi. I was scheduled in a panel against the Sunday morning class, but I was determined to make sure I was there for the Saturday morning class at 10 am. Afraid that the class would fill up quickly, I decided to get there early and stake out a spot where I could easily see and hear Steven Barnes. I woke up at 5 and finally got tired of waiting around the house around 8. Around 9:30 I helped Paul Wiesner, Scott, and Joe set up the room for the class.
The T’ai Chi class itself was wonderful. I was the only person there actually taking notes, but that’s what I do. I take notes. I even carry two notebooks with me in my purse just for this purpose. I know that my brain can be random about what it chooses to remember, so I make sure that I write down everything I want to remember.
I should back up a bit. I’ve been following Steven Barnes ever since I read an interview with him in Locus in March 2003. Some things he said resonated with me in such a way that although I’ve forgotten the exact words, I’ve never forgotten the impact. Attending his T’ai Chi class reignited that spark within me. I approached him afterwards, and we ended up chatting for nearly an hour. I missed amost all of the Steampunk panel I very much wanted to attend, because what we were talking about was so much more important to me than the panel. I’ll write more about that later, but it was worth missing the panel.
I always love WisCon, even though I still feel a bit overwhelmed at it, but I’m looking forward to it more than usual this year. With more friendly faces I’ll know from OddCon, in addition to the few people I already know from WisCon, I’m hoping that some of that Chatty Cathy energy will carry over to next month so that I’ll be able to say: Social anxiety? Me? No, you must be thinking of somebody else.