Sunday, October 18, 2015

On Being an Actual Person at NerdCon: Stories

A week ago, I went to my first convention/conference. (I’m still not sure which one it was…let’s go with conference. It sounds fancier.). It was NerdCon: Stories, and it was simply magnificent.

“I love stories because they let me out of this prison of myself.”
~ John Green

John Green talking about why stories matter on the second day of NerdCon

Now I’m supposed to explain to you what NerdCon: Stories is. This is a difficult task because NerdCon: Stories is brand new, and even the conference’s founder, Hank Green, has repeatedly said that he’s not even sure what NerdCon: Stories is. If I had to sum it up, I would call it a celebration and exploration of stories. We celebrated the stories that make us who we are and explored how they are created. Basically, if you are a human being, you would have loved this conference. Special guests included authors, podcasters, comedians, music performers, and more. (Throughout this post, I will insert random quotes that were said by NerdCon: Stories guests.)

”Do the thing. Don’t be discouraged ‘til you should be.”
~ Storm Dicostanzo

Storm Dicostanzo playing guitar between his microphone stands, John Scalzi (left) and  Paul Sabourin (right)

One of my least favorite feelings in the worlds is the feeling that comes with being in a large crowd. I hate losing my sense of self, my sense of identity, and being lumped together with a bunch of strangers who happen to be in the same place. How can I describe it? It’s the feeling you get when you are a tourist at a stupidly crowded tourist attraction. No one around you treats you like a person, not the other tourists and especially not the people who are not tourists (security guards, information desk workers, vendors, etc.). You are simply another hassle, another mindless sheep to be herded about, another tourist to be given the identical experience as everyone else. That feeling is the worst.

“We would stab a family member before being rude to a stranger.”
(About people in the Midwest)
~ Patrick Rothfuss

The "No Pressure: How to Keep Creating Once You've Technically Succeeded" panel
with Patrick Rothfuss, Tea Obreht, Dessa Darling, John Green, and Rainbow Rowell

At NerdCon: Stories, there were very few times when I felt that feeling of identity loss. Amazingly, this conference allowed me to remain myself, even though I spent the majority of my time in large crowds. This was due, in large part, to the caliber of the attendees. While waiting for different events, it was the easiest thing to have a conversation with the people around me. We were all nerds. We were all there to celebrate stories. Why not share some of our own nerdy stories while we waited? I met an elementary school teacher who had her entire class make puppets (she showed me pictures!). I met a college dropout who has written four books and had one published in July (congratulations!).  I met a college graduate who came all the way from Washington to see Patrick Rothfuss and didn’t understand why so many people were wearing shirts that had a mustachioed man’s face and the word “pizza” on them (don’t worry, I explained). My list could go on, and each person was kind enough to listen to my stories too. Perhaps this feeling of camaraderie and openness comes with most conferences, but I appreciated it all the same. The people around me saw me as a person, which was an unexpected gift.

“Be passionate. Be specific. Do the things you’re excited about.”
~ Stephanie Perkins

The "So How Do You Make Your Money?" panel
with Hank Green, Darin Ross, Storm Dicostanzo, and Stephanie Perkins

And it wasn’t just the attendees. The speakers at NerdCon: Stories made it abundantly clear what they thought about the audience. From the very beginning (when Hank Green told the attendees to ask the person next to them how they are doing before he even came onstage) to the very end (when the New York Neofuturists required lots of audience participation during their performance of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind) the people onstage treated the people offstage like people. Time and again they told us that our stories matter. Not only that our stories matter, but that our stories are just as valuable as theirs. The speakers and panelist at NerdCon: Stories were people that had gotten some kind of fame and/or fortune from the stories they told. Yet they didn’t act like their stories were better than ours. I was amazed during the panels to hear about how often these renowned storytellers faced rejection and failure. (They’re just like you and me!)

“That’s the nice thing about failure. You do it in complete darkness.”
~ Hank Green

Hank Green welcoming everyone to NerdCon: Stories on the first day

I really could go on and on about how much I enjoyed my time at NerdCon: Stories. It’s been a week since it ended, and I’m still basking in the glow of its awesomeness. It even motivated me to reopen my blog, which has been collecting virtual dust for nearly two years. But rather than going into explicit detail about every moment of enjoyment that occurred while I was there, I want to tell just one more story about being an actual person.

It was 10:35am on the first day at NerdCon: Stories. I finally found the signing room (which was one floor below the main level rather than one floor above). I got there just in time to discover that the 11:00am Patrick Rothfuss signing was full. This was a huge disappointment for me because it meant that I would have to miss the Nerdfighter Q&A with John and Hank Green at 12:30pm if I wanted to wait for the next Patrick Rothfuss signing. Reluctantly, I stood in line for the signing, angry that I would be missing the Q&A but happy that I would finally meet one of my favorite authors. Then the line started moving an hour before the second signing was supposed to begin. A volunteer informed the crowd that Patrick Rothfuss was skipping his break so that he could sign more books. I wouldn’t have to miss the Q&A after all! Filled with gratitude, I decided to make Patrick Rothfuss a quick present. I didn’t have much to give, so I folded up a dollar bill to look like a shirt and tie (because I know how to do that).  It wasn’t much, but it was heartfelt.

When it was my turn to get my books signed, I presented the esteemed author my simple gift and thanked him for going above and beyond to please his awaiting fans. Except I wasn’t that articulate. I love meeting authors, but I hate being a fan. I know that I’m just another book to sign, another face to smile at, another name to forget. I feel bad for being a hassle and try to leave without making their lives more difficult.  So I handed Patrick Rothfuss my little gift, mumbled a couple words of thanks, and gathered up my signed books. And what did he do after he received my $1 worth of thanks? He took a ring off of his thumb and GAVE IT TO ME. The ring says “Kvothe” on it (which is the name of the main character from his fantasy series). It is gold-plated bronze, worth $40, and looks like the One Ring to Rule Them All when I wear it around my neck.

I love it. And hate Patrick Rothfuss.

“What makes Roth fuss?”
~ Maureen Johnson

The "Is This A Kissing Book?: Writing Sex" panel
with Jacquelin Carey, Maureen Johnson, Stephanie Perkins, and Patrick Rothfuss

Okay, I don’t really hate him. But come ON! After all the happiness he has given me through his books, he couldn’t let me do ONE nice thing for him? ONE small thing to try and repay the debt of gratitude I owe him? He had to make my debt to him EVEN GREATER?! Patrick Rothfuss, you are too kind and I can’t do anything about it. Even though it upsets me, I’m so glad I have this ring and the story that goes with it. I’d like to thank Patrick Rothfuss for this unanticipated kindness and for treating me like a person when I least expected it. Like all of the people at NerdCon: Stories, he didn’t forget to be awesome.

On an unrelated note, there was a sunset in La Crosse, WI, last night and I saw it with my face.