Ah May. The start of my convention season. The happiest time of the year. Nothing propels me into poorly ventilated, crowded public spaces faster than the promise of craft panels and genre discussions. For my first few con years, I would stand, shoulders hunched to my ears, book bag clutched to my chest, in those poorly ventilated crowded public spaces, wondering why in the fuck did I think a panel called Tropes In Tailspin: How to Write Twist Endings was worth dealing with all these unnecessary people. By the end of the convention, I’d be a mean, snarly mess, and my self-esteem would be at rock bottom.
All those stories about asshole nerds who can’t people well enough to have an enjoyable time at a con, was I among their number?
Maybe. I haven’t been voted Queen of any con yet. YET. But I’ve learned a few things about myself since those early rocky/snarly years. And I’ve learned a few hard-won, slow in coming tactics for convention self care.
1. Find something else to do. I know, I know. Cons are super expensive, too short and too jammed packed with the stuff that made you want to attend the con. So why this nonsense about ditching out. Because there really can be too much of a good thing, and luckily, most cons are held in places that have an abundance of other good things too.
At a con in New Orleans, I tried to cram convention activities into every moment, and it ended with a mid-week losing of my shit. The for real kind. Crying into a towel on the floor of my hotel room. That kind of over-peopled, over-stimulated, over everything. The hotel was within walking distance of the WW2 museum. I went by myself. The time alone and the quiet refreshed my introverted spirit, but also gave my brain a break from everything that was making it spin.
2. Walking. I know, I know. Feet already so very sore feet from so much walking. The walking done at cons, that’s just life walking. Shuffling behind slow movers and side-stepping gawkers and walking between elevators, trying to find one you can squeeze into. Nothing rejuvenating there. A good sustained walk refrags your system. Junk gets dumped, stuff gets put back where it belongs. And the fresh air helps with avoiding con crud.
3. Water and nutritious snacks. I know, I know. Hotel salads are the worst, and also $38. And believe me, I am a chick who goes balls out on the buffets in Vegas and open bars everywhere else. Here’s the thing. Crap food is everywhere at cons. Everyone brings snacks. Everyone uses candy and treats to lure folks to their booths. Parties are stocked with cake pops and syrupy cocktails and deep-fried apps. Breakfast is for sleeping through. You’re gonna get enough treats, enough French fries, enough shared desserts and punchbowl-sized drinks. Veggies, fruit, protein that doesn’t come on a sesame seed bun with a side of fries, water—all that is going to be rare and probably expensive. Bring some fruit (if it doesn’t need to be refrigerated at the grocery store, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated in your hotel room). Same with veggies. Bring some shelf stable protein. Tuna packets, peanut butter. Bring bottled water if you’re not the from-the-faucet type. And don’t wait until your pee looks like Gatorade to start re-hydrating.
4. You Do You. I know, I know. Some cons are not a vacation, they are work conferences. Sure. That’s excellent advice, especially when power players and peers are around. And rules of good workplace behavior still apply: keep your hands to yourself, don’t be the creeper near the water cooler. And yet, nothing wrong with enjoying your time in a new city. Huge difference between getting shitfaced and stealing a mike at an awards program, and giving yourself an hour at the hotel spa, even though it means you’ll be walking in a little late to one of the evening festivities. Give yourself some pool time, reading time, art time, nap time. Whatever refreshes you.
5. Step a Little Out of Your Comfort Zone. Cons are opportunities. To advance a creative career, to meet peers, make new friends, network, sneak peek on where your genre/art form/fave media is headed. Seize it! Ask questions at panels, chat up the editor standing next to you at the free smoothie station at the morning mixer. Small talk in elevators, invite fellow badge holders to eat at your table. Nothing gives you good vibes for the next con by leaving the previous con on a high note.
6. Going back to the You Do You advice, note that I said stepping out A LITTLE. You don’t have to burst through walls, Kool-Aid Man style. You don’t have to be the wittiest wit-flinger in the room. In fact, it’s probably better than you aren’t. (Unless you doing you means you are the wittiest motherfucker in the room, which, in that case, go on with your Samuel L Jackson witty self). Figure out what makes for a successful “stepping a little bit out of your comfort zone” for you, and then try.
Honest attempts without success are just as good for you as knocking it out the park. It’s in the doing, not the ending. Though I wish you good endings too.