“There are only a few hundred people in the world who would possibly enjoy this and they are my people and I love every last one of them.” Scott Alexander

I.

This past weekend I went to Momocon, an anime/cartoon/gaming convention in downtown Atlanta. I learned a few things. I learned that certain pieces of costume armor should be made flexible if you don’t want to damage your genitals. I learned that there’s a nifty hand tool that can punch neat holes in leather without hassle. I learned that any anime music video containing Gendo is automatically funny. And I learned of the existence of two or three different animes that looked like they might be interesting, except for the niggling difficulty that I didn’t learn any of their names.

After one of the shows, I asked the room’s staffer what it was. He said, and I am quoting as closely as I can remember: “I don’t know. I have no idea what we just watched.” After I got back home my partner found it in a few minutes from my description, on Google. Yay for modern technology. There’s something cool about seeing something, not knowing what it is, liking it, and finding out.

The moment that most stuck out to me was a fairly trivial one that still demonstrates why I go to cons in the first place. I was walking from one panel to the next, and a woman I didn’t know stopped me to approve of my shirt. It was a fan-made Chrono Trigger themed thing; no logos anywhere for copyright reasons, but she recognized it by the style. A few seconds later she was gone, but it still made my day because this is the sort of thing that mostly only happens at cons. It gives me the sense that I’m among my tribe. There is a surprising amount of camaraderie to be found simply in recognizing an in-group reference. The game is a classic, but it’s also old. Few would get the reference even among gamers, simply because age moves on and the bulk of gamers haven’t been around long enough to get it.[1] I sort of wish she hadn’t been going from one place to another; I have a CT-related fanfic I would have liked to share with another fan.

The incident reminded me of the quote at the top of the page; these people are my tribe and I love them all. Except that idiot who kept talking over the presenters in a couple panels I was in. That guy can die in a fire, and then go to hell where there will be more fire.

I spent a lot of time in the AMV room (not common for me) and found I get the same feeling from a lot of humor AMV tracks, because the jokes require a certain familiarity with the culture. Anime 101, which I think won the humor category(?), is a good example. Slipping Kyubey into a list of Pokemon, or referencing Goku’s power level, is the sort of thing that’s only funny if you’re aware of the mythos, characters, and memes involved;[2] and you can’t appreciate how epic a chess match between Light Yagami and Lelouch Lamperouge would be if you don’t know who they are. It’s not strictly an anime and gaming thing, either. I have the same these-are-my-people reaction to Less Wrong in-jokes, and I definitely feel it when someone calls back to long-ago days on a certain Usenet group.

One of the most entertaining presentations – and something that makes me glad that certain things overlap with more stereotypical geek culture – was a demonstration of western-style swordfighting. Not sport fencing, but the real thing. I forget the group’s name, but they study original sources about middle ages and Rennaissance swordfighting and replicate it. With real swords (maybe without an edge, I’m not sure) and body armor that’s basically plate-reinforced Kevlar. There are few things in the world that are more awesome than this, and I would totally try it if it wasn’t on the wrong side of Atlanta murdertraffic.

Normally I take lots of costume pictures at conventions. This time I only got about a dozen, but that’s unsurprising because I was only there for about half the convention. It’s also a smaller convention than I’m used to. I’ve been to Otakon for something in excess of ten years and Dragoncon for perhaps four, but those conventions are both huge. Thirty thousand and fifty thousand people respectively, compared to Momocon’s ten to fifteen. The Atlanta Hilton’s air conditioning, unfortunately, is as hopelessly overwhelmed by Momocon’s ten to fifteen as it is by Dragoncon’s fifty. The outdoor temperature does not help. Why do convention organizers insist on doing their thing in summer, or as close to summer as makes no difference? The weather is miserable.

Random note: I went to the fanfiction panel. I usually do when I can, even though I don’t write very often. While there, I got to thinking about fanfiction.net’s atrocious css styling. I think it might be possible to remedy that with creative use of firefox’s userContent.css file. Not for the rest of the world, of course, but just for me; reading anything on ff.net is painful. It’s something to look into.

II.

Cities must be an aquired taste. I used to absolutely hate cities, but after going to downtown cons for so long I find that I tolerate the crowds much better; not so much because I hate people less, as because I’ve become more aware of the benefits.

Chief among these is public transit. i.e. no traffic that matters. I loathe dealing with traffic and I loathe scheduling around it. Having stuff available in walking distance, or just off a train station (bus stations do not count, buses still sit in traffic), is nice.

So is having stuff around, period. In recent years I find myself looking for more conventions or similar events to go to, just because I do enjoy them so much. A commonality between them: They’re all down town. You won’t get something like Momocon in the Atlanta exurbs. In fact you won’t get much of anything in the Atlanta exurbs. That annoys me more with each passing year, though not enough to try and move closer to a city yet. Probably enough that I’ll want to be on a train line next time I move, though. A work-from-home job would really help.

III.

I usually take notepads to conventions with me, although this year I took a cheap Moleskin knockoff instead. Without one, I forget what I see. Or, not forget, exactly; I just never remember things when I’m in a position to do something about them. For example, that show above that I was trying to find: without a notepad, I would only remember it driving in the car, or when I’m going to sleep, or during a boring meeting at work, or in any case sometime when I cannot look it up. This isn’t a convention thing for me, it’s an always-thing. I forget things when I need to remember them and remember when I’m not in a position to do anything about it. Hence, notepads.

I had a bit of a rude awakening this time, though. I have arthritis in my fingers. Yes, I know that’s not supposed to happen in your early thirties. It did anyway. I have an ergonomic keyboard that really helps trying to type with it, but they don’t make extra-ergonomic pen and paper; writing stuff down is starting to hurt. I should really see a rheumatologist sooner rather than later. There’s large swathes of stuff I would love to do that I won’t be able to if I can’t use my fingers effectively. I’ve had stupid health disorders all my life, but this is the one that, left unchecked, will actively stop me from doing things I want to do.

Besides, I make my living as a keyboard jockey.

IV.

I said I feel like I’m among my own tribe at cons, so this next bit is kind of funny: even in my own tribe, I can’t talk to people. I can’t strike up a conversation. This is what social anxiety feels like from the inside, at least for me: I am constantly, constantly afraid of looking stupid, of creeping someone out, or just of speaking to someone who would prefer not to be spoken to. So I try not to look stupid, and all my efforts to look not-stupid end up making me look even more stupid. It’s really one of those things where the harder you try, the worse you do.

I might write about this more in another post, but I have a long string of life experiences where I created a minor personal catastrophe by being so afraid of creating a minor personal catastrophe that I did stupid shit to avoid it, shit that everyone knew was stupid except me. The string goes back to around age 10, by which I mean the oldest disaster I remember was from age 10. And it’s still embarrassing enough that I will not share it here.

Understanding System 1 versus System 2 thinking helps. It doesn’t help me avoid panic; It just helps me understand what’s going on. What’s going on is this: System 2 is perfectly aware that it’s OK to strike up a conversation. System 1 remains thoroughly convinced that every interaction will look like this. Guess which system really controls the brain?

Not that System 1 thinks people will literally react that way, oh, no. That would be too easily disproven. No, they’ll just think that, and politely excuse themselves, and I will remain unaware that I’ve just made an ass of myself. That’s not as unjustifiably paranoid as it sounds; something very like that actually happened once (that I know of), so it’s much harder to sell System 1 on the idea that initiating conversation is safe.

To some extent, this comes of generalizing too much from my own experience. Chances are, if I’m not actively approaching someone, I don’t want them approaching me. That goes for 99% of the people I pass by on a daily basis; it’s part of being introverted and antisocial. On an intuitive level, I assume others feel the same, even though on a logical level I know it’s quite untrue. Every interaction feels like I’m imposing.

This bugs me a lot more than it used to. For a long time I didn’t want to talk to anyone anyway; grade school and its residents more or less turned me off the human race for a very, very long time, and I was content with seeing my few true friends once or twice a year. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve found I want more company…and I don’t know how to get it. Even when I’m already standing among my own tribe.


  1. There was a re-release on the NDS not too many years ago; it’s quite possible more people are familiar with it from there than the original.  ↩

  2. Okay, the power level bit might be funny anyway.  ↩