I ran a booth, I dragged six of my nine kids with me, had two others meet us there, and three days of 12+ work days are still a blur in my head, but I remember a few things:
1. I am not in shape to run up three flights of stairs to see Mark Hamill in the distance. But once I got my breath back, hanging with Mark in the Vivint Center was totally doable.
2. My knowledge of geekdom isn’t as deep as I thought. I recognized maybe only a third of the costumes which paraded past my booth. But I did recognize TwoFlower—and the older man dressed as him was delighted that I also knew what his elaborate imp-in-a-box was. (Terry Pratchett’s version of a camera.)
3. People will freak out when the curtain they’re sitting by suddenly parts and someone (me) walks through it. Probably my best entertainment was leaving my booth by the back curtain to dart over to the bathrooms, shocking lurkers that life exists beyond the panels. I also got to hear a lot of juicy gossip from people who didn’t realize I was sitting just a foot away eating my dinner, especially about someone named Cheryl.
Wherever you are, Cheryl, your associates don’t believe for one minute you didn’t have surgery, and Daniel’s on to you.
4. Listen—really listen—to people to discover marvelous things. One young woman came to my booth asking if I had a Doctor Who clock. I told her I was gathering suggestions for one, and did she know anything about the older Doctors? She pulled out her iphone, wrapped as a Tardis, and in seconds she had up wiki pages of Doctor Who to back up her suggestions which she proudly stated.
Next she pulled out her ipad and showed me the scripts she’d downloaded from audio plays, and she trembled slightly with joy to find someone willing to appreciate her fanatical fandom.
Maybe, the thought occurred to me, she’d been waiting for three days to find someone needing her expertise, and while it was Saturday night and the Con was closing, we chatted for ten minutes about her knowledge. I gave her my card and told her to email me if she had any other suggestions, because clearly she was the authority, and she blushed with pride.
That’s when I also noticed she was alone. Maybe she’d come with someone else and would find them later, but I doubted it. I hadn’t yet seen anyone alone at Comic Con, but she wasn’t looking or waiting for anyone. She was hoping, perhaps, that someone would find her. We did.
5. A middle-aged woman not dressed in cosplay but wearing a badge (see photo above of my daughter’s all-powerful badge which got us passed all lines) looks like an authority. One afternoon I took a break and wandered over to where the celebrities were signing autographs. My purpose was to catch sight of Manu Bennett, who one of my old high school friends who I saw earlier says was worth gawking at, and who I’ve always thought would make a great Perrin Shin (one of the lead characters in my book series).
But I’d never be brave enough to meet him, because what would I say? Something creeper-stalker-like, such as, “I’ve written a book series, and I’ve imagined the main guy should be played by you”?
So I stood with my arms folded, about 70 feet away from the entrance where the celebrities came into the convention center, and I must have looked rather stern as I was lost in thought. Stern enough in my black t-shirt and beige pants that people gave me wide berth, except to ask me questions. “Where are the celebrities when they’re not here?” “Where’s the food court?” “Can I just go up to a celebrity and shake their hand?” I made up believable answers.
I didn’t realize until later that I was dressed like the security guys, and that people probably mistook me as a supervisor (since my build obviously doesn’t scream, “SECURITY!”).
That’s when I wished I’d tested my philosophy, that someone walking purposefully will not be stopped. I wanted to go behind the black screen where the celebrities hid out, and stride down the corridor as if I belonged there.
But then I realized how embarrassing it’d be for my kids to have to go to the security office and bail me out (or whatever happens if someone’s caught). And there I’d be, weeping and saying, “I just wanted to see if he could be Perrin!”
The fantasy of doing it is better than the reality, in many ways.
Manu Bennett finally did come out, grinning and sauntering.
Definitely could be Perrin.
6. Some costumes are astonishing. I want to redo my bedroom to look her.
7. Some costumes are ridiculous. As my friend David Jensen observed, bikini armor is quite useless.
8. Even if the costume is many sizes too small, some people will insist on squeezing most of their body parts into it. Mercifully, I didn’t take any photos of those. But I still feel nauseated at the thought of bulging flesh.
9. People respect a soldier’s uniform. My oldest son wore his army fatigues (and bought a matching outfit for his girlfriend), swapping out his army patch for a Zombie Fighter patch. He was surprised at the amount of people who came up to shake his hand. Even the Asian workers at the Mongolian BBQ food truck, where he bought us all lunch, wanted a picture with a “real American soldier.” And here he thought no one would want to take his photo.
10. Some people will complain, no matter what.
“There’s too many people!” (You’re one of them.)
“I just know I’m going to get sick from something!” (When you’re with 100,000 people, yeah . . .)
“That costume is so awful.” (Have you looked at your own?)
11. Some people will find the bright side, no matter what. Those folks give me hope and inspiration.
12. Utahns with children really like Harry Potter. As evidenced by the amount of strollers parked outside the ballroom to hear Evanna Lynch (“Luna Lovegood”) speak.
13. Don’t give up in the middle. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but during the last week I lost five pounds because of a knotted belly and twisted bowels. I’ve never, ever, done something this stressful in my life. (Except moving cross country, driving a van 2,000+ miles only four weeks after I had my 8th baby–that maybe was worse.) Never before have I invested and created and worked so much, and halfway through Friday I realized that the sales weren’t going to be what I had fantasized.
In fact, we’d barely break even. No one around us was doing huge sales either, and I found out later that very few of the vendors had the success they were hoping for.
I was ready to quit and leave, even though I knew I wouldn’t do it. I privately castigated myself, however, for my arrogance, my naïve hope. Why did I think this was a good idea in the first place?
Because every morning, for the past two months, I’d waken up with the clear image of what I needed to accomplish that day to be ready for Comic Con. Every day I felt the gentle reassurance that this was what I should do, that it would all be well, and that I should continue.
And so I did, waiting for whatever was to come, and eventually learning to have fun. By that evening I was talking freely with people and actually enjoyed myself. That’s huge for an introvert like me.
14. Watching it all come down is depressing. Like seeing the clean-up after a funeral. It really is all over.
15. I saw marvelous things I’ll never see again. My favorite, which I didn’t have time to whip out my camera for, was the true Rastafarian, with massive dreadlocks, on the street outside the convention center on his skateboard, blaring reggae music. He was dressed like Spiderman as he whizzed by. Beautiful.
16. Awkwardness reigns. It’s a well-known fact that many geeks, nerds, and cosplay folks feel out of place in the regular world. They come to these conventions to find other fringe folks, and to be part of the group for once. Even then, there are still those on the fringes of the fringe groups, but they’re the ones who get all of the attention—positive attention, usually.
I told my kids that whoever seemed truly bizarre, but was wearing a wristband, was probably still ok.
It was the folks who weren’t wearing wristbands or badges they needed to steer clear of.
17. Not everyone “gets” it. The nice women running the booth next to me were clearly not part of the geek/nerd/cosplay world. Their product was kids’ books, and they were used to community fairs. Their eyes would bulge in shock or fear at what walked by next.
Then a very shapely woodland sprite sauntered past, wearing only a g-string and a lot of body paint, and I heard one of women murmur, “And I thought the state fair had some weirdos.”
18. Playing “Who is he/she with?” is a new sport. During quiet selling times, my daughters and I would sit back and watch who’d come by our booth, then try to guess what their significant other would look like, as they often were a step or two behind. We were often quite surprised, and occasionally uttered, “How’d he/she get her/him?” Some folks I’d never pair together, then again people probably think the same thing when they see me with my cute husband.
19. Karma exists. In my religion we don’t talk about karma per se, but I’m convinced it’s out there. I over prepared for Comic Con, bringing a lot of stuff I didn’t need, but that others around me did. My booth neighbors on various sides borrowed my tablecloth, my phone charger, my blank paper, my markers, took a lot of my free mints, and even let me bounce a wailing newborn while they handled customers (the hardest duty, I assure you).
For one brief moment I did feel slightly put upon as the child of my booth neighbors took candy from my booth for about the seventh time, but then I thought, “If I’m not here to help others, then what good am I?”
Maybe it was that attitude that karma recognized (whoever or wherever she may be) so that she allowed Billy Boyd, aka “Pippin” to wander by our shop with his security (dressed in black shirts like mine) and nod in approval at our stuff Saturday afternoon. I had missed seeing his panel Thursday night (you can see part of it below) but my kids had all gone and hadn’t stopped talking about him for two days.
By the time my daughter, who was in front and noticed (while I was sitting behind snacking) recovered enough from her shock to tell me who had smiled at our stuff, he was gone. But still I grabbed a Lord of the Rings clock and took off running into the mass of tens of thousands of people. I just had to give a hobbit a clock!
But I didn’t see him, anywhere, even after 20 minutes of searching. I admit I even prayed silently, “Dear Lord, if there’s any way I could give him a clock, may I? Where do I go? I know this seems silly, but I really would love to give him a clock . . .”
My oldest daughter, whom I called to tell what happened, later texted me, “I bet he’s gone back to sign autographs. Give the clock to his handler.” That’s when I knew . . .
20. Sometimes, you’ve got to just be braver than you’ve ever dared, even if you think you’ll vomit. “I’m going over to see Billy Boyd,” I told my daughter. “I have to try.” So I took the clock to celebrity row, and also took a Harry Potter one for Luna Lovegood, in case she was there. I was intending to leave the clock with Billy Boyd’s “handler” (that’s what they call them, as if they’re displaying their beasts at the zoo), because I hadn’t signed up to meet Pippin, nor had I paid $50 for an autograph. I stood in line anxiously, watching as the dozen or so in front me went to gush and have something signed. When I got to the handler, I explained what I wanted her to give him.
“No,” she said, with a slight smile. “You’ll give it to him yourself.”
I was not expecting that response. “I’m so nervous,” I confessed, “that I might throw up.” She told me they had buckets, and go ahead.
By this time Billy Boyd, down the table, was looking at me quizzically, so I thought, Gotta do it.
I took the clock out of the box and told him that he walked by our shop and smiled at it, to which he responded, “Yes, I remember!” because he could see my label on the box which matched the sign. (So all my work in branding actually was effective!) I said that we made a LOTR clock, too, and he said, “I didn’t know that.” I also didn’t expect him to respond to my frantic monologue, so I’m sure I stumbled in my words as I said, “My daughter was too shocked to say anything as you walked by, but she stared at you.”
“I saw that, too!” he grinned. That’s when I began to realize he was just an ordinary man. Sort of.
Then I told him, “All of my nine kids are huge LOTR fans–”
“You have NINE KIDS!?” he exclaimed in his awesome Scottish accent.
Oh, how I wished I could have recorded that and made that as my ring tone. “You have NINE KIDS?! You have NINE KIDS?!”
“I do!” I exclaimed back. “And they’ve all helped design and make this clock. They would love for you to have it, if you’d accept it.”
He took the clock and smiled at it, saying. “It’s lovely! It’s beautiful. Thank you!”
As he read what each number represented from Middle Earth, and I sighed in satisfaction that I’d done more than I anticipated. I started to leave when Mr. Boyd surprised me with, “Is that the clock you want me to sign?” He was gesturing to the one tucked under my arm, the Harry Potter intended for Luna Lovegood.
Stunned by that, I said, “Actually, this is for Evanna Lynch. I don’t have one with me for you to sign. I really just wanted to give you that one from my kids.”
“Well then,” he said, “run back to your shop, get another one, and bring it back. I’ve got only five minutes before I have to do photo ops, so when you come back, jump to the head of the line, and I’ll sign it.”
I really wasn’t expecting that, and, with some embarrassment, I said, “But I haven’t paid $50 for your autograph.”
He looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t care. Run and get it.”
Pippin always was my favorite hobbit, now more than ever.
“Really?” I said (or maybe shouted.) “All right! Thank you so much!” and I took off running.
I’m not a sprinter, by any means, but I went as fast as I could, occasionally elbowing people in my way. I was nearly dry-heaving in exhaustion when I grabbed another clock at our booth and gasped to my daughter, “He’s going to sign this!” Then I ran back to get to his table again, propelled by so much adrenaline that I didn’t come down from it for about six hours.
Billy (we’re on a first name basis by now) was talking to some other people, so I had a minute to catch my breath and try to regain some composure.
He saw me, smiled, and I told him as I approached, “You’ve made this middle-aged woman run faster than she ever has. My kids are going to freak.”
He wrote quickly, because he already knew what he was going to write—he’d been thinking about it! Under Towers for 2, he wrote “Second Breakfast.” Then he signed it, “With love, Billy Boyd, Pippin.”
“Thank you so much! You’re just wonderful to do this.” I told him, and he did a little “Ah, gee it was nothing” shrug. “It’s going up on my living wall tomorrow,” I told him, then I bounded off.
I probably could have gotten a hug from him, too, and I’d seen him do selfies with others, but I hadn’t gone with the intention of taking something from him, even though he freely offered it. I already had a signature on something we made—a one-of-a-kind item. Somehow asking for a photo would have changed the moment, and I wanted it to be just as it was. Evanna Lynch was already gone, but I didn’t care. I’d gotten more than I’d expected.
I thought then what would have happened if I had given up halfway through Comic Con, if I’d let my anxiety and worry win, if I’d left and never came back. That’s when I learned . . .
21. Success isn’t always measured in $$$. That’s what God was trying to teach me, I realized toward the end. We did, in fact, cover our booth costs, along with advertising, parking, and food, which meant we didn’t lose anything but gained a lot in exposure. But more importantly, I think we were successful in who we reached, like the timid Doctor Who expert and TwoFlower, who was sure no one would appreciate Discworld.
I met several old friends from high school, and made some new ones.
I discovered I can do really hard things, and my kids learned more about business than they ever will any other way (my excuse for letting them skip school).
I also met people I never would have before. For example, I carried on a fun conversation with a transgendered couple, discussing Alice in Wonderland, clocks, and how difficult it is to walk around with branches in one’s hair (eye-poking hazards for those who follow.)
Had we met casually on the street, I doubt we ever would have chatted, sensing too many differences between us. But barriers come down in events like this, and we find ways to connect through common interests, and parted as friends who have shared compliments and a laugh.
And, I have to confess, I enjoyed the ego stroking. As a writer and Etsy shop owner, my world is pretty much what goes in and comes out of my laptop. Occasionally I get feedback from those who have read my books or purchased my goods, and those are magical days indeed when they tell me they liked my stuff. But rarely have I met the actual people behind the words. (And that’s fine; we introverts communicate best through writing.)
I admit that I teared up when, one afternoon, I realized there were five different people in front of my booth taking pictures of my signs and clocks. Many times the aisle in front of us was blocked by those stopping to read and chuckle. And when someone mentioned, “That’s clever,” or “No one is doing anything like this,” I felt validation. I’m embarrassed to admit that I needed and wanted that, but then I realize that’s all that everyone wants—assurance that they’re doing something good, something that brings others joy.
22. I wish I’d done more of that for others—given more compliments and reached out more to strangers—although my introverted self had stretched further into extrovert territory than I ever had before. There’s nothing better than to see someone light up when I tell them I admire the creativity they put into their costume, that I appreciated their work.
Even though we plan to move across the country next year, still my mind is reeling with ways to make it to the next Comic Con or FanX convention. Because now I know what to do, and how to make it even better for everyone with me.
Plus, it’s a great way to lose five stress pounds. Two months of this, I’d be down to my dream weight.