Things to ‘Pack’ When You’re Prepping for a Con

This Thursday at dark o’clock in the morning, I’ll be lugging myself and two (hopefully not badly over-packed) bags to the SFWA Nebula Awards Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. Of course, I’ve yet to actually pack those bags, or arrange my house in a state where my children can be left with a sitter who won’t tear the place apart in a perfectly reasonable search for something innocent — say, their clothing — which will end empty-handed, with a side of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But I have been thinking about packing a lot, and not just because it’s Tuesday.

I’ve been thinking about the things I’ll be bringing to the Nebulas that don’t exactly fit in bags. The things in bags are on the whole pretty easy. Clothes, toiletries, ibuprofen, and Pepto Bismol, and I’m basically good to go. But you pack your self – your actual Self – differently with every professional con you attend, I’m learning. Here’s what I’m having to make space for this year:

  • Complicated anticipation. Not just the anticipation of attending the conference, or attending as someone with a book on contract (my super-sekrit status last spring), but attending as someone with a debut book to talk up, a project to publicize, a face to put forward. And yet, without ARCs to thrust into anyone’s hands (…yet) or other projects to sign at the mass autographing, I know I have to be ready to balance coming onto the scene with absorbing the scene. Balancing authenticity with networking is hard, but easier when you remember that if you’re doing the first thing well, the second naturally follows.
  • Amusing anecdotes! [insert audio of bustling, chatter-y cocktail bar] “Oh, yes, I read that! In fact, when I was on a train going into Chicago, there was this guy sitting next to me, and he kept trying read over my shoulder, but my Kindle screen was too glare-y, and so–  Wait, where are you going?” Okay. Probably a good idea to have a better one than that. Fortunately, I have both small children and students, so I have a ready supply of ways to share my daily embarrassments, for the good of the order.
  • Some gorram good ideas. Did I mention I am doing Office Hours at the Nebulas? Did I mention that I’m signed up for three time slots on Thursday and Friday, and I’m available for both walk-ins and appointments? And that I’m a pretty fast draw with a story concept brainstorm, flash critique, workshopping advice, and all other kinds of shinies? Of course I did. And trust me, I’ll have a handy haversack full of things to talk about, if you’re coming and keen for a chat.
  • Confidence. Not to turn into a motivational poster on you (to my students’ chagrin, the hall leading up to office is papered with these guys, so that should tell you my general opinion of potable affirmations), but confidence matters. I am, by nature, a deep introvert with performative extrovert skills. Most people I know through various social engagements don’t believe me when I say I’m an introvert. They’re too used to seeing me tell jokes, take bizarre risks in my classrooms, talk freely to strangers, and gather people into social circles to understand that these are actions I value and are pretty good at which run fundamentally counter to how I’m wired. I have to militate against the urge to seep into the wainscoting. One way I do that is by channeling false confidence, projecting exactly what I don’t feel in the presence of others. But just like I tell my students, both as advice and as a warning, if you tell yourself the lie enough times, you can make it become real. You just have to choose the lies that improve you.
  • Curiosity. Nobody wants to hang around with the person who can talk about themselves and their work endlessly but can’t be bothered to take an interest in others. That’s a cynical reason to cultivate curiosity, certainly, but the case for curiosity improves when you consider there’s no reason to show up to anything — a conference, a museum, a new job, a first date — that doesn’t in some way boil down to curiosity, the desire to explore an unknown and see what it holds for you.

Perhaps I’ll see you at the Nebulas in a few days — or at Readercon this July. I’ll be sure to pack a little extra of all of the above for you; we wouldn’t want to run out.

Oh, and I’ll be packing my banquet dress. If anyone has any advice about packing a satin, chiffon, and lace mermaid ball gown so it’s not a wrinkled mess, I’m all ears.


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