Monday, July 8, 2013

A Trip to Nerdvana

I am old.  I roamed the earth as a child with dinosaurs as companions.  Electricity was a latecomer.  I say this as a disclaimer for what is to follow.  I was a Nerd before Nerdism was cool.  I was a Nerd before it was mainstreamed and there were Nerd gatherings on a large scale.  That is why I am jealous.

I recently attended LeakyCon in Portland Oregon with my teenage daughter (because none of her friends could afford to go and I was not going to let her go by herself).  For those of you out of  the know, LeakyCon is a gathering of fans of the Harry Potter Novels (Potterites).  They have quite kindly opened their doors to fans of Supernatural (Supernaturalists) and fans of the Doctor Who series (and its spin-offs) (Whovians).  Thus it has become a polyfandom of epic scale.

I found myself, one Friday morning, surrounded by approximately 4,000 people much younger than I.  They were attired in fan t-shirts, Etonesque black robes with fetching accessories of appropriate House Colors, Fezzes, Bow Ties, grey wings and robes, wands and Top hats with goggles.  Many roamed the place in duplicates of the school uniform that, as a British schoolgirl in the ‘70’s I would gladly have burned if given half a chance.  They admired each other’s regalia with an eye to detail and much complimenting.  I haven’t seen such fashion scrutiny since Milan, but these children (yes, to me you are children) were so NICE to each other!  I watched.

Part of LeakyCon is seminars and meetups.  They are first come first served, so you stand in many lines.  Any line of 50 or so people generally visits among their immediate party (also standing in line), or leans against a convenient wall, waiting for the cue to enter.  Not this crew.  They all talked to each other, they sang songs from their particular fandom (helping others who were not as familiar with the words), they compared notes on episodes, movies or how the book was better.  They staged wand and sonic screwdriver battles.  They snuck up behind you and raised their angel hands in menacing pose so your friend could snap your startled expression on their smartphone.  It was a barely controlled riot.  However, even the people in the seminars (who I’m sure could hear the fandom in the hallway) were not upset.  When their seminar ended, they exited the room and joined the fray with smiling faces.  When the doors opened, our hallway gathering entered in a scrum and found seats next to all our new friends.

I am a good judge of people.  I can spot an apoplectically shy person a mile off.  There were lots of them in this room.  People who would no more raise their hand in class than fly up and bounce off the ceiling.  But THIS is LeakyCon.  These fragile egos leapt from their chairs and shouted ideas across the room to universal applause.  When there was a lull they chatted among themselves like old friends.  Well, I guess they were, as they had met ten minutes ago in the hallway.  A girl with blue hair, a tie as a headband and a Whovian t-shirt spent 10 minutes chatting with my daughter about Silurians.   

Some of the meetups (which are not lectures but guided discussions) for various fandoms were just a comparison of ideas for new adventures your favorite book characters, tv or movie stars could have.  There was universal condemnation for one tv writer who has a penchant for killing off female characters.  “Don’t remind him that Rose is still alive, although in an alternate universe or he’ll find a way to kill her off too.”  There were costume contests within the meetups, with applause as the gauge.  I still have no idea who won, as everyone got enthusiastic applause.

We went to a seminar given by an internet personality of universal appeal, Hank Green.  He and his brother have developed YouTube videos watched by everyone (except me, remember?  I am old).  He walked to the podium and asked.  “How many people were in line at the autograph signing that didn’t get my autograph?  Raise your hands.”  He then walked around the immense room to those with their hands up and signed an autograph for each one.  There was no grumbling that we only had an hour of his time.  The universal warm-fuzziness was that he was SUCH a NICE GUY for doing that.  Remember, I am surrounded by mostly 14 – 25 year olds, a demographic group not known for kindness or patience for others.  He then proceeded to entertain us with rapidfire humor, questions about why the internet is the way it is and why the information age has not really embraced the topics we need information ON (Good point Hank).  Like sex.  Wow.  We sang songs and he reminded us DFTBA.  (More on this later)  During the autograph signing, I had a discussion with the young lady next to me about my daughter’s scarf, my own knitting, and where we got the sonic screwdriver my daughter was packing.   She gave me her name and email. 

The vendor mall was an experience.  I was glad I had a guide.  I do pretty well with Potterite stuff.  I am an ancient Nerd, so I had each and every Potter novel delivered to my door by 8 am on the day of release (having a job and money has some percs), and had read most of them by the next day.  Then I loaned them to the kid next door so he didn’t have to wait for the Library copy. 

I am well versed in wands, Houses, hats, house elves and Quidditch.  By the way, they had duplicates of my old Prefect badge for sale for thirty five bucks.  When my daughter figures out that my ancient Hanoverian Prefect badge is the perfect Hufflepuff yellow she is going to DIE!!!!  However, my Whovian knowledge has gaps as I stopped watching at four and did not start again until nine.  If you don’t know what that means, it’s okay.  It just means you are a normal person.  Also, I had never watched Supernatural.  This is a problem which I have now corrected through the miracle of Netflix streaming.  Now not only am I afraid of the dark, shadows, stone angels, astronauts, water, spiders, clowns and duct tape, but I carry salt with me wherever I go.  I guess it goes with the pepper mill, but it serves an entirely different purpose.

On the train going to LeakyCon the following morning, I spotted three people with purple wristbands and/or large neck badges that identified us as LeakyCon attendees.  We gave each other the Leaky salute (Tag or wristband rampant) and were immediately besties.  We helped out-of-towners with directions and discovered a heretofore unknown Whovian hangout in Portland. By the way, do not assume that LeakyCon only attracts the uniquely Portland brand of Nerdist.  No.  I met people from Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, California, Florida, Montana and all across Canada.  All had paid train, airfare or gas money to get to LeakyCon.  Not to mention the entrance fee.  These are dedicated people.  One recent High School Graduate who will be attending Art School in Philadelphia and has her eye on Pixar as a career sat next to me in a seminar.  If Pixar has any sense they will get her name and email address immediately.  She is driven.

One of the LeakyCon events was an attempt to break a World Record.  No large gathering of humanity is complete without this.  We were told that the attempt to break the World Record in Number of People Simultaneously Wearing False Moustaches was in our sights.  Three pm.  Be there.  So, we were.  So were approximately 2500 of our new best friends.  We joined the line which wound from the door of the assembly hall, through the rotunda of the Convention Center, around to the other side, up the escalator, back around the second floor of the rotunda and out in to the upper hallway of the Convention Center.  Volunteers passed out wristbands and gave us directions to hold our wrist up so the camera could see the band as we entered the hall.  At a prearranged signal, we all donned our moustaches (provided).  We sat and sang Nerdist songs and amused ourselves for five minutes and then beat the record by about 1,000 people.  The Guinness people have yet to confirm, but we totally did it.  Then another mystery was solved for me.  I discovered who StarKid was/is/are.  StarKid is a group of people who created “Harry Potter, The Musical”.  They gave us all a concert after the World Record attempt.  There was much singing along and swaying.  Everyone seemed to know all the words to all the songs.  I had no idea there even WAS a Harry Potter, the Musical, but the music was great!

The organizers of LeakyCon provided comfy chairs around rugs in the Vendor Mall for when you just wanted to sit and watch the weird world go by.  This was convenient, as it gave me an opportunity to sit and observe.  I was stopped and asked where I got my lunch, what I was knitting, where my daughter got her scarf, where the Quidditch Match was and a young man sat and chatted to me about the various merits of The Lord of the Rings versus Potter fandom.  We both agreed that if you can get through all 7 Potter novels that Tolkien should be a walk in the park.

I learned a lot at LeakyCon.  I learned that what I was as a child and young adult was and is okay.  And even though I now have grey hair and am old enough to drink in all 50 states and every country in Europe, I can still have a good time surrounded by other (much younger) people who now have a support group for their Nerdiness.  They are validated in ways I never was.  I learned that there are people who will buy t-shirts that boldly state “THE BOOK WAS BETTER”.  I found out that an artist with a Badge-a-Minute can make a mint selling badges that say “Friend of the OOD” and “The Angels Have the Phone Box”.  I also learned the Nerdfighter Salute and what DFTBA means.  I learned the meaning of support group (4,000 of your closest friends in a Convention Center).  I was a marginal presence, but never felt excluded, even though you can reference the grey hair and dinosaur comments.  I learned I was born 40 years too early to be a Nerd.  I am so happy that the Nerds have finally embraced their fandom and become Nerdfighters.  Thank you all for the experience of attending LeakyCon.  Don’t Forget To Be Awesome (DFTBA)!