Before I start writing about the last half of my Dragon Con 2013 experiences, I forgot to mention one of the coolest parts of Friday evening. When I was talking with the trio about face casting, I noticed a Doctor Who-themed family, making some late-evening fixes to their Cassandra prop (which was absolutely fantastic). Most of the family were dressed as Cassandra’s attendants, but the youngest was dressed in circa-1940s style clothing, with a gas mask. She was walking around asking “Are you my mummy?” and basically scaring the bejeezus out of people. I goofed around a bit with her, running and hiding behind other people, as her mom called out “Look! You’ve scared the boogie man!” It was enormously fun and always makes me feel good about the future of cosplay.
For the past few years, Saturday at DragonCon has involved hurriedly gathering together the day’s costumes, getting dressed, grabbing whatever granola bar or other baked item was handy, and running down to the staging grounds for the annual Dragon Con parade. The past few years have seen us in a He-Man/She-Ra group, cleaning up the end of the parade dressed as Sci-Fi Janitors, and high-kicking our way through Atlanta’s streets as the Three Ninjas. In fact, Heather’s only experience with the Dragon Con parade has been as a participant. She’s never had the opportunity to just be a casual observer.
As fun as it is to walk in the parade, I think it’s important to sit back and watch it from the sidelines, at least once. It’s a tremendous showing of all the many and varied arenas of geekdom. The parade is actually the reason Dragon Con first appeared on my radar. I was still new to conventions – I’d only been to two (FanExpo and Polaris – both in Toronto), when I found myself looking through pictures of the massive 501st turn out in the Dragon Con parade. Row upon row of stormtroopers, some of them in attire that was a little less “standard”, marched down the streets of Atlanta, followed by Rainbow Brites, and Spartans, and monsters and so on and so forth, and I found myself longing for that experience.
Cut to about six years later. This year, as Maggie and Heather set out to find a spot to watch the parade, I went about my new morning routine of slowly getting out of bed, gingerly stretching my back muscles, and hunting down my small sewing kit. I still had a few finishing touches to put on the darn dragon (adding claws and fixing one of the wings), so I hunkered down on my bed and got to it, while DCTV played in the background.
I could hear the bands in the parade playing, down below our balcony-that-doesn’t-open, and part of me longed to go see what I was missing out on, but I knew my back wouldn’t be all that fond of the jockeying for position that I’d have to do, just in order to catch a glimpse of the parade as it went by. So I stayed in the room like a shut-in, sewed my dragon hands and feet, and proceeded to get dressed.
When Heather and Maggie got back, we assembled our various How to Train Your Dragon costumes. Just getting in and out of Toothless requires help from a handler. We managed to get everything together. I made the decision to carry the wings, instead of putting them on, so we could get in and out of the elevator and through the halls a lot easier. That didn’t last long, though, as people saw a dragon walking through the hotels in search of food and everyone wanted pictures.
Eventually, we made our way to the Peachtree Center food court, and availed ourselves of the extremely delicious falafel and creamed spinach at Aviva by Kameel. Oh, the food there…I am so upset I can’t eat their falafel every day. It was SO GOOD! If you have a chance to go there, take it. Everything I had there was absolutely delicious, the service was fast and friendly, and the prices were probably the best of any of the places there. I am in awe of the hours they were open, too. It was something like 10am-2am. I’m sure they made a killing in business. The place was always packed and, by the end of the weekend, they were starting to run low on some items.
Anyway…what was I saying?
Ah, yes. We wandered around the food court seating for a few minutes, looking for a place to sit, when a man flagged us down to let us know they were leaving and we could have their seat. That’s one of the things I like about folks in the food court – we’re all kind of in the same boat, and we try our best to look out for each other. We settled in at the table, and I enjoyed getting to unzip the top of the costume and lay my giant dragon head down for a moment. Folks wandering by stopped to tell me the costume was awesome, and several folks asked if I was broiling inside it.
I’m actually surprised at how not-too-bad costumes like Toothless and Kowl are. When people learn that they are made out of felt, they assume they are going to be ridiculously hot, but the felt actually breathes a lot better than many other fabrics I’ve worked with. my biggest complaint is that it tends to be a little scratchy and stiff, and therefore isn’t as cuddly as I’d like to be when dressed as a character from a children’s show or movie.
After lunch, we started to head back towards the Marriott, where we would be meeting up with other members of our How to Train Your Dragon group. I heard a voice shouting behind us and, when I turned around, there was a young man dressed as Hiccup! We posed for a few pictures and told him where we would be around 1pm that day, and encouraged him to show up and pose with the rest of us. He had a friend who was dressed as Astrid that day, and we said to bring her along as well.
Back in the Marriott, Maggie split off to go back to the hotel, so Hunter could change into his costume (it was originally for Maggie’s cousin, Danny, but he was unable to make it this year), and hand out helmets to the other two folks who would be joining us. Heather acted as my handler during this point in time, and did an absolutely stellar job of making sure I had a place to sit, stayed hydrated, knew when pictures were being taken, and made sure no one ran into my wings.
When the group met back up together, we wandered around the different levels of the Marriott for pictures. We started up on the top level, near the back, and were set up there for a while. Eventually, we started moving more towards the bit of carpeted space that surrounds the block of elevators, though we did occasionally have some trouble with other groups taking over the same real estate. This happens. You get used to it. We did get stopped and asked to participate in the DragonCon music video.
I’m a little unsure of just how long we were in the hotel, taking pictures. Time does funny things when you’re in a giant costume head and have no access to your cell phone. I will say that, near the end, I might have started getting a little crabby with some adults. People had a tendency to lean on the costume head a bit more than they really needed to (HTTYD group and random con-goers alike), which gets kind of painful, when you are the individual whose head is being impaled by the wire skeleton of said costume head. Also, if you are acting as a handler for someone who can’t see (except out of a small hole, offset from where there actual eyes are), you might have to narrate what is in front of them. Tell them what might be around them, so they are aware of the people doing potentially jarring things, should they stumble into their circle of being. It’s also not all that fun to be grabbed and pulled into the right position for a picture. If the costumed person can’t see in the first place, they a) don’t necessarily know it’s their handler grabbing them and b) still need to know if they are about to be yanked from their original position. In my case, any movement that I wasn’t planning – being pushed on from behind as people posed, being pulled into place from any direction, etc. – aggravated my back.
Unfortunately, being a dragon made me a little fussy and grumpy, which I think is understandable. One of my favorite things about being in costume is the chance to interact with other costumers and the public…especially the little ones. It was difficult to do that in an event the size of DragonCon, with crowds pressing in on all sides, and an inability to hear any direction my handlers might have been giving me. When you’re encased in a costume like Toothless, your ability to have fun is going to be hampered a bit, unless the people around you are engaging with you, which is, again, all too hard to do in an environment like DragonCon. In the end, I felt more like a prop or a piece of scenery, which people were moving around, instead of the cute dragon I wanted to be.
All that being said, I did get to have some fun. There were no small number of people shouting “Toothless!” while I was in costume,
and there were several kids who came up and wanted to have pictures taken with me. I even stumbled across another Toothless cosplayer, and got to goof a little around them.
At some point, later in the afternoon, my back finally let me know that it had had enough, and I went back to the hotel room to change out of the dragon suit and ice my muscles for a bit. I pulled out my Kaylee jumpsuit, found my boots, and I was ready to go!
Comfortable and relaxed, I headed down to the first panel: Folklore in Fantasy. I was the only non-author on the panel (well, the only author who hasn’t been published in the genre of fantasy. I’ve had other things published), but I didn’t feel all that out of place. The discussion touched on the folklore of a number of cultures, not just the Germanic and Celtic literature that everyone is so familiar with, but also Yoruba, Japanese, Native American, Creole, etc. It really was a fantastic panel, and I was even asked – by the audience/panelists/facilitator – to tell the story of Skywoman. For a storyteller, that was a true high point of the evening. It is such a rarity to have people ask for a story that, when it happens, I sometimes feel like crying.
I took a short break after the folklore panel, and ran up to my hotel room to take my contacts out and change to glasses for the rest of the night. The trip upstairs and back down filled the time between my two events that evening and, before I knew it, it was time to head in for my second panel of the Con.
Quite honestly, I was a little surprised that I sounded like I knew what I was talking about in the Human Wave SciFi panel. Of course, I suppose I was still running off my endorphin high from earlier in the evening. I don’t read nearly as much sci-fi as many of the other folks in that room, but what I do read tend to fall more towards the optimistic side of the spectrum. When we introduced ourselves at the panel, we were encouraged to talk about why we read that. Why is it something that we are drawn to. I looked out on the audience (noticing a few familiar faces from the previous panel I had been in), and mentioned that, in addition to my usual biography – folklorist, traditional Native storyteller, etc. – I also happen to be an ordained minister. I like to read human wave scifi, when I read scifi, because I deal in ministry. I hear stories about people’s days, good and bad, and I try to be a steady, comforting presence when friends and family and complete strangers alike are going through rough times. I read to provide an escape, most times, and I wouldn’t really be escaping much if all I read was dystopian doom-and-gloom, now, would it? I am, at heart, an optimist. I like to believe in the better nature of people, and that good will, for the most part, win out over evil in this world.
That’s not to say I don’t recognize that there is bad in the world, or that things sometimes go to shit. I am a realistic optimist. I know very well that people can be awful to each other, and many times for no other reason than that they can or want to be. People look at non-dystopian literature and think it’ll be boring because…where’s the conflict? But non-dystopian literature doesn’t negate the possibility of conflict. It just means the conflict in a story will come from a different direction than being kept down by “the man,” a la Brave New World, or 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale. The author will just have to make an effort to create believable conflict from another arena. Which is entirely possible. After all, most of us, I would think, aren’t really living in an oppressive dystopian society (no matter what Fox News would have you believe), and we have plenty of conflict in our own lives. Human Wave scifi is all about how humanity can use its better traits (curiosity, intelligence, adaptability being among them) to deal with problems which might arise with interstellar travel, interspecies/alien interactions, and advancing technology.
After the panel, a number of people came up to chat, expanding on a few other topics we had all touched on during the discussion. One of the men had mentioned a book he had given his pastor to read, and suggested it to me. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced the paper I wrote the title down on. 😦 I believe it was an Ursala LeGuin book, but I’m not sure.
As we filtered out of the room, I met up with Maggie and Heather again. I proclaimed my desire for some celebratory pie (it had been a good night), and we went up stairs in search of delectable treats. It took asking around a bit, but I finally tracked down a miniature pecan pie in the convenience store in the corner of the Hyatt. It was super-sugary (and so I couldn’t eat the whole thing), but it was pie and I was happy. We wandered around a bit longer, chatting with random people and having a good time, before I decided I needed to head back to the room for a shower and some decompression time. I watched some DragonCon TV, and swiftly fell asleep.
Several years ago, I made the costume worn by Alanis Morrissette, at the end of Dogma. You know the one. It’s got a fluffy white skirt, a shiny corset and jacket, boxer shorts and a pair of flip-flops. It is, hands down, the girliest costume I have ever made or worn. And I love it. I don’t wear many skirts (except for this summer, for reasons which don’t have anything to do with this post), and the ones I do wear tend to be pretty basic. Not this one – dubbed “the God skirt,” simply because it’s part of my God costume.
Since it was Sunday, I figured it was the perfect costume to wear around for the day. I didn’t have anything immediately on my schedule for the day, so Heather and I headed back over to the labyrinth that was this year’s Dealers’ Area. As we wandered into America’s Mart, I remarked to Heather that I like wearing the Dogma costume, because I don’t get stopped all the time. A lot of people just don’t recognize it. Of course, as soon as I said that, the woman behind us drew even with us, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Excuse me. Are you God, from Dogma?” Heather and I burst out laughing, and I told her that her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. She mentioned that she originally thought it might have been the shortened prom dress from the movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but then she saw the flip-flops, and that I wasn’t wearing a leather jacket.
The best part of wearing that particular costume that day is that we could wander through the dealer area better, without having to worry about a costume head, and I could actually carry stuff. I picked up some cool makeup pens that glow under blacklight, and bought a Hufflepuff Quidditch sweater (Badgers, represent!), and just generally enjoyed spending some time with my sister. We went back to the Hyatt and Heather and I splurged on lunch at the in-house restaurant, “Sway.” It was absolutely delicious! They had the best iced tea, and the sandwiches we got were tasty and unique and well worth the visit.
My final panel was at 5:30pm, over in the Westin. I didn’t have anything else on the schedule for that day, so I headed over to the hotel a little early and found a nice soft spot to sit for a while. I noticed that there was a sizable group of furries present, so I sent Heather a text (which thankfully got through, despite the signal black hole that is DragonCon), to let her know. As I sat on my fuzzy cushioned seat, it soon became apparent why the people fully-encased in fuzzy, cumbersome costumes were hanging out in the Westin…the lobby area was FREEZING! My legs and flip-flop-attired feet were so cold! Thankfully, my Dogma costume comes complete with a jacket.
A lady passing by with a stroller spotted Heather and I as we sat and chatted, and asked if she could take our picture. She oohed and aahed over both of our dresses (Heather was wearing her TARDIS dress, which always gets a number of compliments), and wished us a good rest of the convention.
Shortly before my panel was scheduled to begin, I headed over to the furries to chat for a few moments. I talked to a gentleman dressed as a cheetah (who, when he learned that Robert grew up in Kenya, told me to pass on the greeting of “Asanta sana” to him), and one of the handlers, who was dressed in some absolutely wonderful steampunk gear.
Eventually, it was time to head to the last panel on my schedule. The room it was in was the complete opposite of the Westin lobby, and some people found it too warm. I was rather early to the room, and so was the second person to arrive. Deirdre Knight beat me to the front. I sat down next to her, we introduced ourselves, and swiftly fell into comfortable conversation that somehow managed to include the front few rows of the audience. As other panelists trickled in and assembled, the conversation became even weirder, wide-spread, and absolutely lovely. Leanna Renee Hieber happened to pick a chair down near my end of the table, and I want to thank her. I got to admire an absolutely beautiful costume. It seems many of us on the panel and folks in the audience came to the con just as much for the costumes, so I felt right at home. There were a few young women in the front who were admiring my costume. They, too, remembered it from Dogma. I remarked to them, Deirdre and Leanna that I had chosen it because I’m a minister and it was Sunday, so I felt it was appropriate. When Alethea Kontis (who had been one of the panelists at the folklore panel on Saturday) came in, Leanna told her the reasoning behind my costume choice. She turned to me and said “I knew I liked you, yesterday. That just clinches it!”
I honestly can’t tell you how much fun I had at that panel. There are no words to explain how comfortable and at ease and welcome I felt on that panel. We talked about the things from folklore that scare us (mine are things like the chindi, which I find scary because it’s all connected to how you treat the other people you interact with in this world, and holds you accountable for the horrible things you might do or say to people), and how urban legends reflect the societies and times they spring from, and how there are so many connecting themes between different cultures and their stories. What touched me most was that I was able to talk about folklore from a storyteller/scholar point of view – from the point of view of someone who knows the theory behind performance and story tropes, and enacts these same stories from a non-scholar point of view. I got to engage in some serious discussion about one of my first loves – the stories we tell, and why we tell them – and I was reminded why I chose to go into that field.
It’s wonderful to be reminded of the things I love and why I love them, and this year’s DragonCon gave me the opportunity to do that. I got to be a scholar! I got to be a storyteller! I got to sit in a room of people interested in the same things, and talk about things like liminal places, and the fear of the other as represented by tales of alien abduction. And, more importantly (from a storyteller’s point of view), people listened. There are so many times, every day, when I get frustrated by the inability of so much of the world to listen. And I’m not talking about just listening to me. I mean listening in general. Listening to the other side of an argument, and recognizing that they have a valid point of view. Listening to another personality type, in order to find out how they process tasks and ideas. Listening to each other talk about the mundane parts of our day – which, in the end, are generally a lot more important than they might at first seem.
At the end of the trip, this year, I found myself pondering many things. I reveled in the glow of three excellent panels for a few days, and wondered if, next year, I would be back at DragonCon.
That seems a gasp-inducing statement, I know. I love costumes and conventions and geeks and fandom and all of that. How could I even consider not going back to DragonCon next year? Quite honestly, the reason is how successful the event was for me this year. I was reminded of how much I love the research and writing (yes, scholarly writing) that I was so heavily involved with throughout my graduate studies. I’ve missed that, these few years. I’ve touched on a little of it through work, this year, as we ready an exhibit, but I miss working in the folklore field, and I think next year is time for a little change in my schedule.
The American Folklore Society will hold its annual meeting next November, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it is my intention to attend…and possibly present. DragonCon will, naturally, be on hold, as I only have so much vacation time per year, as well as funds for travel to and from the conference. I think I’m okay with that, though. DragonCon has plenty of other people wanting to attend, and I think they’ll understand if I miss a year here and there.
I hope to include some DragonCon panel-spurred topics of discussion here in the future. I’ll do my best to keep updating, with a more regular schedule.