25 January 2010

Reflection 2: A Small Spark vs. a Great Forest

There are a few things I would like to say about Nekocon 2008: First, it felt like it never happened. Now I throw those words around a lot, like when I talk about the entire summer of 2002 or the latter half of 2009, but Nekocon is a mere 5 days of my life, and for some reason 2008 felt like it came and went without me. Some cons I attended last year (Boston, Anime Mid Atlantic and Otakon) went by without any definite memories associated with them, while others (Anime Next, Katsucon, Nekocon, Anime USA) stand out as major parts of my experience. Neko 08 was definitely a fly by, I remember getting there late, being drafted into helping a vendor set up and break down, and finding a Starbucks for coffee on Sunday morning, but that’s it. I know I LARPed, but I couldn’t recall what happened; I bought stuff in the dealer’s room, but I can’t exactly remember what; and I think I hung out with Greg Ayres, but since I see him at every single con, it might be memories crossing. But Nekocon, like a lot of my 2008, can be summed up with one major event: it changed my life.

I have some truly wonderful friends. We love to help each other out with things. I’ve known Nagi Oki for about 8 years now, she was the one who got me back into congoing after a two year absence. She’s also an artist and does a lot of Transformers related fanart. She has a booth she runs at various Artist Alley’s where she sells art and handmade crafts, and twice a week she shoots a photocomic called “A Talented Amateur,” which she posts on her Deviantart account. I count her among my closest friends and we have shared a lot in the past decade. (She also makes the absolute best Christmas cookies, but that’s beside the point.)

Well, on the ride back from Neko 08 I was starting to feel con withdrawal setting in, and it led to me being in a bit of a funk. I had been managing to get by in real life to that point mostly by looking forward to Nekocon, and now it was over and I had the future staring me straight in the face again, with no real way to escape or dodge it. So, somewhere around Baltimore, I started expressing my worries to her. I told her about how much England had turned me off to archaeology, and how I was now nearly three years into grad school with no direction. I had no interests I could pursue and the idea of a library thesis scared me and seemed like the ultimate torture (A library thesis is one that is done without field work- normally the student selects a theory or some other factor and analyzes it with intent to refute it or put their own spin on the idea, essentially creating a new one. They are ridiculously hard to justify and requires months of reading and cross referencing. Imagine your worst term paper from school, add about 50 required sources to it and bump the size to around 100 pages and you have the general idea). These fears I laid out in stark words, and looked to them in hope that they could give me an answer I had not thought of before.

Nagi looked at me and said, with something of a childlike innocence: “Well, what is it you like to do?”

My reply, influenced completely by my burgeoning post-con depression: “Well I liked what we just did, going to cons.”

Said Nagi: “Then why not study them?”

Me again: “Oh come on, there’s no way I could ever propose doing that.”

Nagi: “Well, why not?”

I looked back at her, mouth open and ready to reply when it struck me: I had no answer. Why couldn’t I draft up a proposal revolving around the study of conventions and convention attendance? I was an anthropologist, I did study culture. Cons have culture. The entire concept of fandom itself is just one giant alternative culture, rooted in something created and sustained by human ingenuity. Hell, the department had even green-lighted a project based heavily around leetspeak earlier in the year, one that I had given substantial amounts of my own time to developing. At that moment, everything started clicking. I began to have ideas about what I could do with data, what I could pull from attendees and what I could relate from my own experiences. It was all rough, mind you, and full of giant holes, but there at the forefront of my mind, waiting to be tended and developed.

I came home from that Nekocon with a dumb smile on my face and an idea I was positive I could swing by the department. It wasn’t easy, I needed to meet with a lot of professors beforehand, run ideas by them, talk to my fellows, read journals: it was a very intense time period that I still don’t fully recall, but I had meetings every week, coaches to contact and all manner of time spent fine tuning a hypothesis and research methods. I wrote it all down, at the behest of one of my advisors, in a lovely 15 page proposal that outlined what I was trying to accomplish, why it was relevant and how I would go about implementing my field work.

I don’t remember the date I went in to the Graduate Advisor’s office, but I remember being very scared. I was worried he might laugh at me, might tell me the idea was baseless and unacademic. I was Terrified I would end up back at square one, after all my hard work. I prayed, I hoped and I wished. I set the proposal down on his desk, sat in one of the chairs in front of him, and waited.

He opened the cover page, scanned the first few lines, and set the proposal down. My heart sank, he hadn’t even read it over. Then he looked at me, and said. “Do it.”

I wish I would have seen the look on my face then. I wish I could remember the feeling of relief that flooded through me and cooled all the fires that raged in my head and my heart. I wish I could have at least recalled how excited I was becoming at the thought of undertaking a project so dear to me. I asked him why he was letting me do it. With a warm smile, he pointed to the opening line of my proposal, and said that was enough for him.

That line, those ten words, would become the be all and end all of my life for the next year, even up until now as you are reading this. They grace my business cards, all my research, all my emails, even the top of this very page.

“I’m not Japanese, but I pretend to be on weekends.”

And so began the Con Year.

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