This past weekend, my two Eldest Minions and I attended a family reunion with over 70,000 total strangers.
We went to ComiCon Salt Lake City. Three days of nerdtastic fun. Crowded exhibit floors (on Saturday, the Fire Marshall got out the clickers and instituted one-out, one-in policies). Amazing costuming (seriously, amazing). And a whole lot of geek family adoration.
Some beautiful things happened that made me a little misty, and a lot proud, and I didn’t expect them at all. It’s the unanticipated graceful moment that has the most depth, some days.
For instance, I never knew that the energy from a crowd of 50,000 people in one spot could be energizing. I’m a hermit, and married a hermit, and birthed hermits. We tend to not like crowds. But when you put 50,000 hermits in one space, everyone has that same “don’t invade space, don’t invade space” attitude, so even when the crush is a bit tight, everyone is keeping their own energy mostly to themselves, and it’s not exhausting. It was… oddly invigorating. There were a lot of people, and they were all happy to be together.
And speaking of happy to be together: when one nerd recognizes the nerdness of another, and appreciates the level of devotion one person can have for a fandom, it is a beautiful thing. Normally shy, at events like ComiCon, a person can spot another in a similarly-themed costume, and holler “Hey, Pith buddy!”—and then get together for a snapshot that, judging only by the expressions on the faces, is of long-lost best friends finally meeting up. It’s happiness. It’s comfort.
There’s a sense of community in shared fandoms. There’s the delight when another human being calls out really random quotes or references to minor elements of a favorite book or show, and they fit perfectly, and are understood completely, and responded to with the appropriate line or gesture.
There’s an instant kinship when someone sees this:
… and shyly asks, “Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters, right?” Because only a kindred spirit recognizes the cues that make a costume one genre versus another. And when those cues are recognized, there is instant camaraderie and delight.
I didn’t expect to get emotional seeing entire families in costume, or to tear up when a large man in spectacularly-rigged Darth Vader costume knelt down to be in a picture with a tiny Jedi or Leia. I didn’t expect to leak a bit from my heart watching adult cosplayers ask to shake the hands with children, and be in a picture with them, or genuinely compliment the bitty cosplayers on their work.
I’m from that earlier generation of nerds, hermits, and geeks who spent a lot of time at the library, and read sci-fi and fantasy books during lunch, and if we were gamers, we were quiet gamers who didn’t talk a lot about it outside our own game, because that was setting ourselves up for ridicule and pain. And here we were this weekend, with entire panel discussions on the thematic relevance of games in modern society, and formal gaming groups right there in the exhibition hall. It was… liberating.
These sorts of people do “fun” a little differently than most, perhaps. There was standing-room only for panel topics like “HP Lovecraft: are his works thematically relevant in modern society?” and “Paradox: the physics of time and multi-dimensional travel.” Only certain types of people get excited about modifying and hacking cell phones to control digital servo-motors to animate clockwork wing assemblies.
There’s a cross-generational re-seeding and regeneration of fandom… such as the gentleman with a Wheel of Time Heron Blade, who had to get a picture of the kid in the Stargate Atlantis uniform, who recognized the blue silk sari of his own fandom on one of our young companions, and reminded me that there was an entire epic fantasy series I have yet to share with my kids.
The genuine joy that was manifest when groups of similarly-themed people posed for big pictures was… cool. Only “cool” doesn’t go far enough. It was the joy that comes when we find a whole new family that feels as passionately as we do about something.
ComiCon is perhaps unique in that everyone is both an active part of the show, and an audience member, all at the same time. Having been complimented on her own costume by a very well-done adult cosplayer, my Eldest felt entirely comfortable expressing her delight and admiration to younger cosplayers, and posing just as graciously with them as her heroes did with her.
When a tiny princess asked for a picture with “her Maleficent”, the Eldest felt compelled to reward her bravery with one of her pixie-people… because that’s how fairy tales work. When bitty girls whispered and pointed, wide-eyed, the Eldest was comfortable kneeling down to chat and reassure them—and then they all squished in for a picture with “The Nice Bad Lady.”
And there was the most wee of all tinykin girlies, with huge brown eyes, who, when asked if she had a favorite costume for the day, pointed at my girl, smiled and said, “Her.”
To the other four Maleficents who were just as eager to have a picture with my Eldest as she was to have a picture with them: thanks for being part of my happiness.
To the impressively-dressed men who didn’t just pose for a picture for my Boy, but who pulled him into the picture with them, and chatted about the mutual fandom, and were genuinely eager to ask about how he put various parts of his costume together: thanks for being new members of our nerdly family.
To the artists who were delighted to speak intelligently about inspiration, materials, techniques, and the work of being an artist: thank you for seeing my kid as a peer, not a consumer.
To the actors who were so genuinely delighted to meet us: thank you for being real. You are a delight to us.
To the grandparents who read Asimov and Tolkien by flashlight under the covers, to the parents who read Jordan and Brooks and Herbert, to the young parents who developed graphic novels and webisodes and cosplay, and to the rising nerdlings who inherit all the splendor and imagination and wonder we can impart: let your nerd flag fly, my brothers and sisters! We’re a grand, weird, delightfully odd and beautiful family, and I love you all!