This past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate my first convention. The thing is, I didn’t know it was my first convention. I’ve been attending conferences like AWP for years, after all. But by the time the third Storm Trooper had walked past me and I’d witnessed a gas-masked girl walk by with a behemoth lollipop, I realized this was certainly my fist convention with a capital “Con.”
Former Redmond Poet Laureate and all-around poet extraordinaire Jeannine Gailey had invited me and L.A.-transplant singer/songwriter/poet Nicole Dieker to participate in poetry panel at this year’s Geek Girl Con in Seattle. I always enjoy opportunities to talk about poetry outside the poetry-specific ecosystem, so I was delighted at the chance to participate. (See, don’t all three of us look like we’re having a good time?)
With a media signing first thing in the morning and our panel later that night, I had a change to spend much of the day in the convention center, listening to panels, walking Artist’s Alley, checking out the exhibition booths of graphic novels of some very complicated games I didn’t understand in the slightest.
What struck me the most about this convention, aside from my obvious ignorance of much geek culture, was the fact that everyone was having an unabashedly grand time. They played games, they mixed and mingled with new people, they posed for pictures with strangers wearing unicorn heads, they tried on funny hats. The mood on the exhibit hall floors could not have been more different from the sometimes dour, often painfully hip, sometimes needy vibe that a conference like AWP can give off. (Now, to be clear, I have nothing but love for AWP and for the hard working people who pull that monster of a conference off every year. I’ve just had it up to here with the writers snarking about other writers, writers lamenting that they don’t have X prize or Y tenure-track position, or writers–often the young ones in the fancier footwear–feigning fatal cases of ennui.)
The Geek Girls were as different from your stock writer character as they could be. I heard people shout at one another across the exhibit hall at one another simply to say “you’re awesome” or “love your costume!” And the people cruising around in their character costumes (I’m told this is called “cosplay”) seemed to truly enjoy one another’s incredible commitment to foam, paint, textiles, and wigs. I didn’t see anyone giving envious eyes to anyone else, but people complimenting and actively appreciating what other people had clearly been working on for some time.
What if writers’ conventions could be this positive and fun? I’m not necessarily advocating that we all test the theoretical limits of spandex the way some folks at Geek Girl Con may have, but what if we all gave ourselves permission to have a damn good time at conferences in a way that didn’t involve quite as much time at the hotel bar as writers’ conventions seem to do? What if we introduced ourselves to new people not because we had any publishing agenda with them, but because we’re all part of a tribe? What if we geeked out about poetry together? Or shouted compliments to strangers?
One last thought about what writers’ conferences can learn from geek conventions: as I left the room in which Nicole, Jeannine and I had offered our panel, the next group was setting up to talk about “Nerdlesque.” On a floor-to-ceiling projection screen at the front of the room was a larger-than-life image of what appeared to be a drag Napoleon Dynamite dance routine. Seattle AWP-goers, consider the gauntlet thrown.