So, listen. I want to write something about MaxFunCon East, which was my first of these events, with a community I’m quite new to and where I really don’t (didn’t) know anyone at all. Even though it only just ended earlier today and normally I’d wait longer to process it, I just want to jump straight in. I’m not going to talk about the experience per se, but rather what I thought was the most important thing I got out of it (beyond the precious commodity that is just being able to have fun with interesting, kind people).
On the surface, it was a very impulsive decision. In reality, I’d had back catalog podcasts quietly whispering to me late at night for quite a while, via ads, that it was a Very Good Idea. This, of course, is the job of an ad. But they were so in earnest about it being special, being inspiring, being a profound creative experience. The dream that we all have about what a “convention” means, which is simply that it does mean something.
I haven’t really talked about being in creative crisis, because that’s Unprofessional and probably bad for Business. Doubt doesn’t sell; even though I’m sure a little is a prerequisite of the creative lifestyle. But you also have to recognize when it’s not doubting what you CAN do, but what you ARE doing. That’s an especially private and challenging kind of grief because it looks too similar to something else. It’s not just the tide of doubt that ebbs, it’s a rip current. It felt like someone throwing me a rope when I was desperate for one.
So I bought a ticket to MaxFunCon, and packed myself off alone to the Poconos and into the unknown, because I believe if you’re not afraid you’re not doing anything worthwhile.
I’m not going to recount all the minutiae, about what I expected or what happened. Presumably, I was hoping for a Big Moment, the kind of thing you hope for to crystalize a need for change into anything concrete. A sudden illumination of small moments to reveal a grander design. We all want to draw the extraordinary out of our ordinary lives. But what you want and what you need often diverge.
I decided to go to MFC when I was at San Diego Comic-con, where some folks who were guests at last year’s MFC East (*cough*McElroys*cough*) were a pretty Big Deal, even at an event of that scale and scope. I saw them on a stage in a big sold out theater, and was nearly crushed in a crowd at their signing. Maybe part of the decision was hoping that they’d be at this con, too, and that meeting them would somehow achieve something larger. Or that meeting any of these abstract voices who talk to me on long, lonely work nights would. We ascribe so much power to people we admire; some of it earned, and some that we take away from ourselves.
My revelation in the end didn’t come from the inspiring words of any celebrities, not that they didn’t have any. It came sitting in an audience of 125 listening to a podcast record (The Greatest Generation, already a listener, do recommend), in the exact same room where the people I’d seen a stampede over had been the year before. I’m not sure if it was something they said about the podcast having started more as a joke that flipped a switch, the commonality of simultaneously loving and ridiculing Star Trek: TNG, or the easy intimacy of the room; but this thought crossed my mind like a bolt out of the blue: “…holy shit, podcasts are just some dudes with microphones”.
I don’t think we’re aware of how insidious our idea of fame is. Some of it comes from necessity; MaxFunCon chooses, and is able to, remove many of the barriers that other events construct. Those barriers aren’t a fundamental problem. It’s the division we use them to create in our heads even when they aren’t there. You see someone on a stage, and even though they’re completely indistinguishable from – and, at least at MFC, ARE – the people sitting next to you at dinner, they are Different. You couldn’t do that. Even though all of these people said at one point or another that they had the exact same fears and insecurities about what they were doing and their right to be there as the attendees do. They are extraordinary people, but a healthy percentage of that is having these same doubts and still going out and doing what they do anyway. They’re not at all diminished by fame being ridiculous. The point is neither are you. And I don’t know if you’d notice that anywhere else but at MaxFunCon. Fame as a commodity is useful to conventions, but you’re not really selling guests if no one knows who they’ll be (mostly) in advance.
A velvet rope, a stage, a signing table, a microphone, even a follower count – we build upon the necessary parts of the illusion of difference to make an impassible barrier between us and what we want to do. It’s an excuse, it’s a goddamn terrible lie you’ve been telling yourself, that these aren’t just some dudes with a microphone and an idea. (Or a camera, or whatever.) (Also, you do not have to be a dude, which is shocking news.)
Did you know you can walk straight into a Best Buy and buy a damn microphone? That you probably have paper and pencil lying around your house? That you can type words into a computer whenever the hell you want? So why tell yourself that there’s something fundamental, something insurmountable, that makes these people different from you? Not because the talent and the work aren’t important, but because you can’t find out what you’re capable of if you’ve drawn an imaginary line in the sand you can’t cross. The velvet rope is only there because you believe it is, and you’re convinced you know what side you’re on.
I came to this con because I was looking for a signpost, a place to pivot. Maybe we’re all looking for permission, for opportunity, for a lightning strike. No one, famous or not, can give you their benediction if you don’t give yourself permission. If you give yourself room to fuck up trying, that’s when you find the people who’ll catch you. There’s no magic. There’s no moment. There’s just this constant series of decisions, an endless string of moments where you choose to take the uphill path. Trying to pin so much on one idea or one instant, or one person is a mistake. You’ve got to leap into the dark every single chance you get. It’s a trust fall with yourself that you can create a parachute on the way down.
Don’t go through life wanting to make something beautiful and not doing it because you’re afraid it’ll be stupid. Go out into the world and do something stupid so it has a chance to be beautiful.
Addendum because I don’t have a good place to put it:
I could easily write a separate post on the good folks at MaxFunCon, top down and everywhere in between. But I at least want to give credit to this specific community for being far braver at facing their fears and uncertainties than most. They especially didn’t just put themselves in social situations they were intimidated by, they rode out to meet them with banners raised. Too many of us in fandom have become comfortable in our corners and our cliques, and I’m not sure we put in as much work as we could, especially as pop culture conventions have become simultaneously more massive and more fragmented. If you don’t have to quest for community, maybe you don’t reach out to make it better. But I’m absolutely sure that we can do more building the communities we’re in than trying to somehow get in with the upper echelons of the celebrities or even the geekerati.