“‘Cool’ isn’t the operative word here”

We’re not even out of February yet and I’m already looking forward to September with unbridled glee and barely controlled spasms of fangirl excitement. I like to think of myself as a patient person but the next 6 months are going to seriously challenge that notion. What has me so worked up, you ask? The answer is simple.

Dragon*Con 2010.

Yes, yes, I know it’s only been five months since I last left Atlanta. Yes, I know that my excursion to Farpoint should have sated my appetite for geeky fun just a tiny bit. It did. A tiny bit. But really, people…we’re talking Dragon*Con here. Four days of 24-hour partying (should you so wish to attempt it). Over 100 guests from the worlds of movies, books and comics. Four hotels full of people who not only share my varied interests in all that the world of geekdom has to offer (TAPS, Star Wars, Doctor Who, etc.) but who embrace those interests with an enthusiasm that I still don’t think I have been able to adequately describe.

For me, going to Dragon*Con last year was very similar to an experience I had when I was growing up. I had the incredible good fortune to attend a camp called SEP when I was younger. It stood for “Summer Enrichment Program” and was held down on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville. For two weeks I stayed in a sweltering dorm (we were given the old freshman dorms, which had no AC and no elevators) during the hottest part of the summer with about 100 other young students. Our days were filled with what essentially boiled down to introductory level college classes (the summer before my 6th grade year I was in a class where we read the Canterbury Tales and did a massive project on the Black Death). Our nights were filled with guest lectures, a production of an Agatha Christie play, and impromptu four-square tournaments.

Basically, it was Nerd Camp. I’m quite sure that’s how others would classify it. To myself and the other kids I was with, though, it was heaven. For the first time we didn’t have to worry about hiding the fact that we were reading Shakespeare for fun or that we would rather trudge through a creek and learn about salamanders than sit at home watching cartoons. Well, that last might not be the best example. I still like watching cartoons. The point is…imagine, for a moment, that you are a young student who is normally singled out by kids in your school because you happen to, you know, actually kind of like school. Not all the bullying that nerdy kids get falls under the “swirlies and wedgies” heading. In fact, I was never the recipient of that kind. Instead, I got name-calling, emotional abuse and just plain harrassment. Most of it wasn’t physical and not all of it came from peers at school. The harrassment made me want to hide the fact that I loved reading and that science and history were more interesting to me than teeny-bopper magazines.

Now, imagine that you are given the opportunity to go to a camp where you are not only accepted for who you are, but your love of learning is celebrated. You’re around other kids of your age who don’t make fun of your interests. You feel understood for possibly the first time in your life. There’s no need to hide your vocabulary or the fact that you read The Old Man and the Sea in third grade (I’ll state for the record, though, that was not my idea. It was an “assignment” from my father and I don’t recommend giving it to your child. Hemingway doesn’t have the same impact on an 8-year-old as it will when that same child is in high school. I’m just saying).

That, my friends, is what it was like to go to Dragon*Con. The place was accepting of my eccentricities. Hell, the place was accepting of people basically walking around all weekend in underoos and pasties. There are certainly varying degrees of – ahem – dedication to the characters you see walking around during the convention. I have no doubt that some of the folks I came across over those four days really truly believe that they are, in some way, connected to the character they are dressed as. They speak as that character, react to non-cosplay situations and questions as that character.

While that’s not a route I’m completely going myself – I’ll cosplay and get into character but the boundaries between “Meg” and the other roles I take on are clearly demarcated – it’s at least accepted by the other folks at the convention. Fans might grouse from time to time about other fans “giving fandom a bad name” by being too into a character but, really, there is a place for everyone at Dragon*Con. And, really, isn’t that a big part of why many of us go? Because we can feel a part of something bigger than ourselves and not be made to feel ashamed? I know I’m not being nearly as eloquent as I’d like to be in explaining what the experience is like. I think it’s just something you have to feel for yourself.

Now, I do have to admit that I poke fun at my hobbies and fandom from time to time. It’s more in the spirit of honesty and full disclosure, though, than any malicious intent. I think it’s important to have a pretty good sense of humor about your eccentricities. It keeps you self aware and that less likely to cross the boundary into obsession or whatever the fandom equivalent of the crazy cat lady would be.

The title quote for this entry actually comes from one of these moments of self-ridicule. My sister was over to the house the other day and we were talking about Dragon*Con at speeds approaching sonic. She’s going to be coming with us to Atlanta this time and she’s already planning her costumes. The three of us are going to try to match our costumes to a certain degree for most of the days. For example, one day will be Jedi/Sith. Heather came up with an awesome costume idea for the day when I’ll be dressed as a Popple (so awesome that I actually don’t even want to reveal what it is until Dragon*Con comes around).

My sister has also decided to dress as Orko from He-Man on one of the days. Maggie has (sort of) committed to being Skeletor. That meant I had to pick a character from the same general world. I immediately threw out the suggestion that I dress as She-Ra. Nobody wants to see me in that costume. I don’t want to see me in that costume. It actually didn’t take me all that long to figure out what I was going to dress as.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time or are one of the readers who happens to know me in real life it shouldn’t take you too long to realize who I’d pick, either.

Need a clue? Just think about my usual costuming aesthetic.

I tend to choose goofy pieces. I’ve done Toad, Po, a Popple…

Now, think of all the She-Ra characters that are out there.

Did you think of this guy? Good. Because that’s who I’m going to be. When I showed my sister she giggled and said “Yay! We’re going to be so cool!”

I turned towards her and raised my eyebrow. “Heather, we’re going to be walking through downtown Atlanta dressed as a weird, faceless wizard, Skeletor, and a giant koala-owl with huge ears that look like butterfly wings. ‘Cool’ isn’t the operative word here.” That statement sent her into even more giggles which eventually ended in a snort laugh.

I got much the same reaction when I told Maggie about the whole thing later. Of course, I timed it for when she had a big bite of food in her mouth. When she finally regained control of herself she just shook her head and said “Why? Why would you say such a thing?”

While I know it sounds kind of cynical at first I’d argue that it is kind of true. Cool, at least in the sense I normally hear it used, doesn’t really apply to what we’re doing. When I think of someone who’s described as “cool” I think of someone who is trying to give the appearance that they are, in some sense, better off than the people around them. They are with the “in” crowd. Cool, to me, usually carries connotations of superiority. You know all those kids in school who looked down on others because they didn’t have the right shoes/jeans/hairstyle/etc? They were considered “cool.”

When I go to Dragon*Con in September I won’t be overly concerned with what non-convention folks think of my wearing what will essentially be a pair of footie pajamas with a pouch all day long. A part of me will be hoping that folks like the costume enough to ask for a photograph but that’s not even the most pressing concern. The thing that will make the struggle of making the costume worthwhile will be the knowledge that, as silly as I look, I’ll feel pretty darn comfortable being myself.

Got a great convention story? A memory of the first time you dressed up in a costume on a day that wasn’t Halloween? Why do you go to conventions? I’d love to hear about it. Go ahead and post a comment.

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