I’m an introvert.
Two years ago, I went to my first-ever fan convention. It was loud and boisterous and I was alone and there were thousands of people and I had no idea how everything worked. I wanted to meet people who like the things I like, but to be honest, I was scared they wouldn’t like me.
I lasted only a few hours before becoming completely overwhelmed. I basically ran in, watched a John Barrowman panel, got his autograph and ran out. I had a ticket for a photo op with him, but I skipped it because it was all too much.
In some ways, this is a big change. I used to sing in front of people. On stages. Sometimes lots of people. And I loved it. It was freeing.
In some ways, I’m exactly the same. Lost in a crowd, navigating a big scary world of strangers who all seem to know each other and be confident in their own skins. Of course, I’m not unique in this feeling. But there it is.
Now, because of my handmade bag business, MarfDazeGeek, I go to at least one convention a month. When I’m ensconced in my booth, I have my own little comfort zone behind my trusty Singer sewing machine. I’m surrounded by all my creations and can watch all the convention goodness parade in front of me.
I’m thrilled when people drop by my booth to check out my bags. Often, these folks are in amazing costumes and we can bond over our love of sewing and sci-fi.
So many talented people.
But once I’m out from behind my table, I often revert to my Nervous Nellie Convention Newbie ways. There are people all around me who would talk to me if I just said something, but I stay quiet. The sad part is that I genuinely like other people and I’m interested in what they are doing, but I trip over my own feet.
Sometimes, I’ll go and get an autograph from a favorite actor. I usually practice what I want to say on the way over, but once I’m there, I’ll squeak out something fairly incoherent about how much I admire their work and then skitter away. It usually goes something like this:
Me: Hi! I enjoyed watching a character you play because blah blah blerg blop, blah blah.
Oh no, did I say blah blah blerg? That’s grammatically incorrect. I meant to say blah blerg blah. Also, wow your eyes are really blue/ sparkly/ big/ deep/ mesmerizing/ penetrating/ distracting in some way. Holy crap, am I blushing wicked bad or am I just having a hot flash?
Now you’re going to give me a picture of yourself portraying that character and sign it as tangible proof that we had this conversation. Then I’m just going to scurry over there and mentally repeat everything that just happened about 100 times and wallow in how awkward I am.
Me: Ok. Bye!
Them: See you later!
Sometimes, I just send in my much more socially skilled family members and friends and then grill them on what happened.
My husband’s an actor. I used to work in the theater professionally (not as an actor). I went to school with people who now show up in TV and movies all the time and I know these famous people are just human beings, too.
But that’s the problem in a nutshell. I’ve never met them before and there are fidgety convention-attendees in line behind me and why is everyone looking at me and what should I be doing with my hands and why am I still acting like a seventh grader?
It’s like that mega uncomfortable moment when you’re at a store and you’ve already paid and you’re hurriedly putting your change away because you feel like the person behind you and the cashier can’t get rid of you fast enough. Times a hundred.
But, then there’s James Marsters.
During a slow moment at Wizard World Raleigh, his normally super busy booth only had a few people, so I headed over, thinking I might be able to manage to talk to him without a cringeworthy incident. He was taking time to talk to each fan in depth. He asked follow-up questions and appeared to be genuinely interested in each person he spoke to, including the earnest student actor in front of me who was full of questions.
I asked him if I could take his picture with Irving, but he tried to convince me to be in the picture with him instead. I explained that I’m shy and Irving is my stand-in but he said I should be in the picture because I have a beautiful smile. (Ok, whatever, I thought. But still, it’s a nice thing to say. Thanks.) We talked about stage fright and singing and the power of eye contact until I didn’t feel nervous anymore.
And then he leaned in and said, “No really, I’m sure the camera loves you.”
I raised an incredulous eyebrow. And he raised an incredulous eyebrow right back. I felt like he was calling my bluff on my “shy schtick.” And for a second, looking into his eyes, I was over it.
I was calling my own bluff.
I could almost see myself getting into that picture.
And then maybe heading out on to the main convention floor and introducing myself to some friendly looking people and making new friends. And feeling like I could fit in.
Because this isn’t about feeling comfortable around famous people, which is not actually a necessary life skill. It’s about being comfortable around everybody.
Maybe I could do it.
Meanwhile, back in the relative safety of my booth and prescribed role as lady who makes and sells stuff, I’m happy to chat with whomever comes on by. And all sorts of people do drop in.
When I meet people this way, I’m much more comfortable because they are coming to my house and we can talk one on one. Even when they are a bit intimidating, like Nichelle Nichols, who saw me smiling at her, walked over, regally extended her hand and introduced herself.
So, if you are a Nervous Nellie Convention Newbie, feel free to drop by and we’ll commiserate until you feel at home, too. I admire you so much for just showing up and being yourself.
Next month, I’ll come full circle and I’ll be a vendor at Shore Leave in Maryland, with the one and only John Barrowman. Maybe, I’ll even get a picture… Perhaps I’ll even be in it.