Last weekend was one of my few guaranteed social engagements of the year, a Science Fiction convention called RadCon. It’s a three day affair full of friends and fun and memories. Of lounging around, discussing “big things” with strangers and family alike. Dispensing what little wisdom I’ve accumulated in my decades to an adoring crowd of fresh faces, and collecting the same from others.
This was the 22nd such annual gathering, and I’ve yet to miss a one. I’ll be honest, there were years when I just didn’t want to be there. Where I wandered around on the second day of the show wondering how my life had come to this. I was now one of those old guys with nothing to do but be angry all the time, and the fact that I was 29 year old really didn’t seem be a valid consideration.
On that day, instead of packing up my truck and driving home, I instead sat down and played a game with a friend. I had drinks/dinner with another set of loved ones, and eventually smoothed out the rough edges of my weekend. Since then, I’ve never again questioned my continued attendance.
At RadCon. For the other 362 days of the year I’ve mostly withdrawn from the life of an unconventional conventioneer. Part of that distance is that I’m no longer paid to attend 20+ such annual gatherings. Another part is that I don’t really get a lot of intellectual value from most of these events. One local show in particular actually adds negative equity to my life, disappointing me months in advance and causing me to question a great many things about my chosen profession.
A third reason I’m no longer such a visible presence is the drink. I really can’t party like I once did, and as some of you reading this may remember, I partied hard. I catch occasional glimpses of that guy in the mirror, remember his hard-charging approach to life and the take-no-prisoners attitude that served him well.
Him, not me. Because that kid’s molecules rotated out of my body long ago. All that’s left of the man I was are random bits of carbon arranged into conductive patterns that collectively compose my memories. There’s a lot of those kicking around this damaged brain of mine, and my life is so much better for the journey. But Electrochemically speaking, this year’s convention memories are no different than those of 1992.
So why make the distinction? Shouldn’t I be having both as much fun as I once was, and also feeling just as down about being there? It’s not the alcohol itself, I still have an obscenely high tolerance for the stuff. It’s the meaning I ascribe to it that’s changed. It’s no longer a defining characteristic of my happiness. I’m no longer running away from my life, I’ve arrived. I know who I am, and more or less who I want to be. I accept my shortcomings and celebrate my differences.
So, setting aside memories, financial considerations, and alcohol (all of which can be ably supplied by others), the main reason I no longer “make the rounds” is that there’s only so much I can take of other people’s lives before I just shut down. When I see someone who needs to talk, I more or less have to listen. Watching a someone stumble down the hallway like a younger me triggers the carbon patterns associated with loved ones leading me to a place of safety and healing, and then I’m off after them to find out if they remember their room number, or how many fingers I’m holding up.
I was not shot into space from a dying planet, nor have any radioactive exchanges with local lifeforms granted me the great power necessary to save the world. I have to do it one conversation at a time, and the other parties need to be more or less in the same headspace as I. Exchanging so much of myself is emotionally draining, and I frequently spend at least a week after a convention stressed out, sick, and not a lot of fun to be around.
And yet, people tell me what a cool guy I am for those three days, sharing stories about things I’ve done with and to them. Sometimes I’d like to meet the person contained in their carbon. Other times I want to apologize for taking up such valuable real estate. In the end, all I can offer is this:
At a convention, you see the best of me. Even when I’m at my worst. I’m not there for release or to blow off any steam, I’m there because I want to be. I need to be a part of the world, even if I don’t really like it very much.
So don’t be too surprised if you catch a glimpse of my feet of clay. I’m just this guy, you know? One that is fighting a strong urge to crawl back under the covers and come out ready for action next year.
See you there.