Returning to Dragon*Con

Posted by Thomas Gideon on 29 August 2015

I remember my first Dragon*Con. It was 2006 and I hadn't been to a science fiction convention since college, about a decade prior. I had been podcasting just a little over a year but still felt like more of a listener than a contributor. Many of the people I listened to mentioned Dragon*Con in their shows, especially the just formed podcasting track. I decided to go both to try out science fiction conventions again and learn more about how to podcast. In one of the panels I attended, when one of the panelists asked who was podcasting or wanted to, I remember standing, face flushed.  When the mic came to me, I made some self deprecating joke about being a technology podcasting cockroach. You know, being among the first and odds among the last to podcast too.

A lot of the panels were self reflective. More than once speakers and panelists recounted the creation of the new track. The year prior, the EFF program track had a bunch of podcast panels with some of the earliest podcasters. Since then, several authors interested in the new medium, chief among them Tracy Hickman, lobbied hard for a dedicated track. The track continues to this day. Many other conventions have added comparable tracks. As part of a science fiction convention, this area of programming supports independent creators and fans using the medium to foster their passions and connections with their audiences.

The following year, I volunteered to help with the podcasting track. I did so again for three more years, up until the last Dragon*Con I attended. That same span of time saw me become way more involved with podcast programming at cons closer to home. I was invited to speak or participate at RavenCon, Farpoint, and Balticon. I even was invited out to what still stands as one of my favorite conventions, Penguicon. Penguicon is a little more comfortable for me since it is a blend of a science fiction convention and a Linux fest.

This was the heyday of my podcast. I won an award in 2007, also at Dragon*Con. I was nominated and made it to finalist for another award three years later. I did a lot of public speaking, mostly on copyright and the technical side of podcasting. I had the means to travel quite a bit so my con season, which spanned from late Spring to early Fall, usually included about a half dozen conventions or conferences. I felt hugely connected to the larger world of podcasting, hanging out with the same group of podcasting authors for the most part. I was putting out two shows a week and still learning a lot.

My last Dragon*Con was 2010. I really didn't want to stop going. I had just changed careers, moving to a non-profit to pursue my passion for technology policy full time. The job change involved considerable financial sacrifices. Going to Dragon*Con, even with my membership covered as a veteran staffer, was just more than I could afford. I continued to go to Balticon but attended fewer and fewer conventions overall. My public speaking shifted to align more strongly with my job, speaking both on behalf of my passions and my employer.

I traveled a lot in 2011, as several social media nostalgia services have started to remind me. About this time four years ago, I traveled to Europe for the first time, for a gathering of international makers in Budapest. I returned to Europe once every month to month and a half, for the span of about a year. It was pretty incredible. One of the last trips I took to Europe, I was able to bring Andrea along with me for a few extra days of just vacation. Someday I hope to go back again. Paris, London, Brussels, Budapest--I loved them all.

In 2012 I took a promotion. I wrote last year about how that led me to traveling and speaking far less. By 2014, even though I had the means to go back to Dragon*Con, I was burned out. The advice about not making your passion your job has some merit. Since this time last year, I have struggled to find the motivation to keep podcasting. I had already ramped the show down from twice a week to once a week. Last year I admitted the show would come out when it came out, no longer on a regular schedule.

About a year ago, tragedy struck my family. I only recently wrote about this openly, or as openly as I am comfortable. Until recently, this has pushed thoughts of traveling for fun, let alone attending a convention, far out of mind. I did not attend Balticon for the first time in almost a decade.

Lately, things have felt better. The mental health issues that have touched my family have not gone away. They never will. We have been getting a lot of help. I have changed, I like to think, for the better. I have learned a lot, about myself, my family, and how to do a better job of being there for the people who need me most. I still worry since the mental illness involved is often terminal but I don't feel crippled by fear and anxiety. The certainty to plan travel months ahead may be long gone but we are learning to just take each day at a time. Letting go of expectations, we are more and more open to opportunity and serendipity. Maybe some plans will get disrupted but that doesn't make those plans impossible.

A few weeks back, we acted on the steady improvement as a family by booking a rental on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We found a really great house that fit in our budget, mostly by booking an off weekend. Better yet, the property allows pets. It is on fifteen acres or so and is right on the water. We were fairly certain we'd have a new puppy in our family by the time of the trip. We had no idea the pup would have such a strong affinity for water. He splashes all the water out of his bowl all the time. We have caught him more than once blowing bubbles. He is going to love the shore.

Just a couple of days ago, a friend mentioned they were going solo to Dragon*con this year. That meant having a room with two beds with just the one occupant and, as an invited speaker, an unused "guest of" badge. The offer of the space and the badge was made to a very small set of my close knit friends. I hemmed and hawed. Surely one of my other friends would take up the offer. We had just exhausted our travel funds on our upcoming family vacation. Could I go on my own, in good conscience? Could we afford for Andrea and I both to go, with the house, pet and child care logistics, not to mention the doubling of air fare?

One by one, each of these objections was resolved. None of my other friends could make use of the offer. Andrea gave me the nod to go on my own if I wanted (have I mentioned lately that I have the best life long partner ever?) I found a flight that I could just about cover from money I had been putting aside. My next tattoo can wait. My flight leaves late enough in the day that I can metro down after work. I won't even have to use any additional time off from work.

Life may still interrupt this bit of good fortune. I am learning that has always been true, even before the events of this past year. That isn't a reason to dampen my enthusiasm. If I need to take care of my family, I will. If things go to plan, I'll get to spend time with dear friends, re-connect with old ones, and re-visit a community I have drifted away from in recent years. This time next week, I will be in Atlanta, surrounded by thousands of fans, in a bubble of closer acquaintances geeking out about science, podcasting, cyber-liberties, and hopefully just having an all around fantastic time.

Does this mean I will be returning to travel, cons or a more sustained connection with that community? I don't know. Just for today, it doesn't matter. Taking joy in this unlooked for opportunity is enough.