Last month, I attended Worldcon, in Chicago. I love the city of Chicago, and I have many friends there. I have favorite restaurants from the days when I worked in that city. I have fond memories of my first-ever science fiction convention, which was the 2000 Chicon. I should have had a wonderful time.
Alas, I didn’t. I felt lost in the crowd. I never found some friends who were attending and I found a number of my, um, not-friends over and over and over again. The programming items I attended as an audience member felt “old hat” to me, and I regretted not serving on any panels with any other attendees. Time after time, I wandered the halls and sat in the lobby alone, feeling like the ugly girl at the party.
Earlier this month, I had a completely different con experience. I attended Capclave (the local convention in the Washington DC area.) By all rights, Capclave should have been a mini-disaster — it’s held in a distant suburb, about 45 minutes from my home. I could only make one day of the convention, so I crammed 2 days of activities into one. The night before the con, I watched my beloved Nationals fail in their race to the World Series — and I didn’t get home until 1:30 in the morning (and didn’t get to sleep until almost an hour after that.)
But Capclave was a wonderful convention. I saw old friends almost immediately. I made new friends even faster. I sat on a variety of panels where colleagues and I seemed to entertain the audience (at least, judging from laughter and from hall conversations later), and I attended other panels where I was inspired to think about our field in new and different ways. I made some useful business contacts. I came home excited and energized and grateful that I’d gone to the con.
So, what made the difference? Was it solely my “headspace”? Was it the friendly welcome of the Capclave Concom and their willingness to trust me on multiple-person panels? Was it mere happenstance, that I saw the right people at the right times?
Note: I don’t expect you to come up with answers to those questions.
And further note: To be fair, Worldcon wasn’t a total loss — I made a couple of new friends-in-person from friends-online. I actually caught up on some much needed sleep in my hotel room. And I truly enjoyed my presentation on Rites and Rituals for Coming of Age, where audience participation really helped to carry along the event.
And further, further note: There *are* tradeoffs. I came home from Capclave with an Introversion Hangover, that lagging of energy that let me know that my poor introverted self needed to take a day to recharge my batteries before venturing out into the world of extroversion (you know, like going to the grocery store, the post office, that sort of thing…)
World Fantasy Convention is just around the corner. I want to make it more like Capclave than like Worldcon. I have the mixed blessing of no programming; therefore, I have plenty of time to build the convention I want to attend.
What do you do to make conventions successful? (And if you don’t go to cons, what suggestions do you have, in the abstract, even if you haven’t applied them yourself?)