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Tag: mental health

Eastercon Trepidation

Eastercon makes me nervous. I’ve been to a couple of them now, and I always enjoy my time encapsulated in the fannish bubble universe… but that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous about my time there. What I’d like to do here is to write a little about my trepidations, partly to just get them out there, and partly to seek advice and maybe gain some pre-con connections to follow up on whilst I’m there.

My fannish & congoing history

By many measures, I started going to Eastercons fairly late in life. There were no university societies on my campus when I was a student. They were all on the main campus, and were basically unreachable without a car as the public transport curfew for a return journey was at about 8.30pm. On top of that, from what I’ve heard, the SF society was of the “three people in a bedroom talking about Pterry” variety. I found a couple of fellow geeks on my own campus, and managed to get to know a few of them, but we were muddling through and knew nothing of cons.

But I wasn’t devoid of fandom. I got to know a lot of lovely people through being actively involved in the Tad Williams Mailing List (which existed before the Shadowmarch site came about) and went to (and hosted) a few TadMoots. But those were small and ad-hoc internet meetups. Cons were still strange and mysterious things to me.

A bit later still, after some encouragement from one of the tadlisters and with the accompaniment of my then-partner-now-friend Linette, I bit the bullet and invaded the university next door. They had an SF society. By this point I was a postgrad, and outside of the usual student social structures, so that was a very good thing. But it leads on to my current situation…

The problem?

The problem with meeting most of your fannish and geeky contacts through a student society is that they’re generally of a fixed age bracket… it’s always people of student age – predominantly 18 to 21, with a few postgrads. There comes a time where staying too involved with that group starts feeling a bit creepy. Similarly, most of the student crowd disappear every few years. The result is that my social circle is losing people to attrition as they move away, but not gaining as many through new folks arriving.

Part of why I like the idea of Cons is that I get to socialise with a whole new crowd and maybe meet some new folks. The problem is that in a loud, busy social environment, I suck at these things. Just walking up to a random person and starting to talk to them feels like an imposition, and when random people come up to me and start talking, I get that “rabbit in headlights” feeling and my brain starts reciting a mantra of “AAAAAAGH! New people! Don’t fuck up! Don’t fuck up! DON’T GET IT WRONG!” that’s so loud and recurring that it drowns out the actual conversation and I end up rambling or babbling somehow. I am my own worst enemy.

The other problem?

The other problem isn’t really a problem, but it makes me a bit nervous all the same… I’m attending (and sharing a twin room) with a friend of mine who used to be my ex. We’re still close friends, but I’m keen to not be seen as a gestalt entity with her. Whilst I’m not going to the con with the intention of pulling (that would be crass), I’m slightly wary of us falling into old routines and basically spending the con as a two-person unit. But it’s also only her second Eastercon (and her first as a full 4 day attendee) and I want her to enjoy it too.

I’m hoping that the more crafty / creative crowd will take her under their wing and that she’ll enjoy herself as an attendee in her own right. She’ll be dealing with a bit of similar weirdness on that front, I suspect.

Social Props

One of my common social props is my camera, so that if talking isn’t happening (such as if I bottle it in a busy room) I can put a camera in front of my face and hide myself. Or, what I usually prefer it to be is a reason to start talking to people. But even the question “do you mind if I take a photo with you in it?” requires social interaction. I love being able to take good photos of people, but cameras also make people nervous and scare them off.

So, for any Eastercon folks who read this… if you see me with a camera, and you’d prefer I didn’t point it at you, feel free to talk to me and tell me so! The camera will still have served its function as a social prop in that instance. I know there are labels that can be put on folks badges, but those aren’t always visible, so accidents will happen. I’m happy to delete stuff, and being asked nicely to do so isn’t a problem.


I have previously done a bit of tech volunteering at Eastercon, but I’ve decided I’m not going to do that this year. Tech is always stressful, and I’ve backed away from all of my other tech commitments except for the comedy nights for exactly that reason. I’m keeping my technical hand in, but not doing much that’s new. I’ve toyed with other volunteering, but don’t really know what’s what… and want to avoid too much stress, so I’m probably going to give it a miss this time.

Next time I might put myself down to help with green room, gophering or some of the at-con publicity (newsletters, etc…) but I don’t really know what I’m doing with that kind of thing. If there was an active social network back-channel, I might be tempted to volunteer in some capacity that relates to that kind of thing.

Path of Least Resistance

As mentioned earlier, I’m a bit rubbish at actually talking to new people. Once I get started, I’m usually okay… but it’s getting started that’s the problem. I’m an introvert and I’m frequently quite shy (which isn’t the same thing).

For me, the path of least resistance is usually to go to programme items and be a passive listener. This is still good and enjoyable, but I can’t help but feel that I’m missing out on the real con experience. I’d prefer to get to know people as I do that, and to get to know a few more people who go to these things.

The Negative Bit

I’ve generally found my con experience to be a little disappointing. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed them, though. It’s more that I’ve generally had the feeling that those who turn up in a group or already knowing a bunch of folks enjoy them more. Being at a con where you already know more of the other attendees just seems to be more fun. The conventional wisdom is that you meet people socially outside the program items, and that the con experience then starts to become more about the people you meet.

In my experience, the outside-the-programme atmosphere has generally been fairly cliquey. Which is fine – that’s what happens when folks use the con to catch up with old friends. But it’s hard to do the “catching up with old Eastercon buddies” thing if you never manage to make them in the first place.

I’m forever told that a large part of the Eastercon vibe is to be found in the bars. That’s nice, but a) I can’t physically fit in the bars as they’re full of long established eastercon attendees catching up with their mates. If you don’t know anybody else in there, it’s a socially hostile environment and b) I barely drink these days, and a human being can only contain so much lemonade or fruit juice without unfortunate digestive disturbances.

In short, to spend time in a bar at Eastercon you need backup. Preferably experienced and established backup. Whilst my elder sibling probably counts as experienced backup, he’s also got two kids to look after and his own Eastercon social circle to catch up with.

I’ve enticed several people into attending in the past through IFIS, but bringing along folks I already know doesn’t help a great deal with finding new folks. I’ve steadfastly failed to actually make new connections at the event.

Online backchannel?

One of the things that helps me with this
kind of thing at professional tech conferences and barcamps is the use of an online backchannel. An offical hashtag and a means to burble to strangers over the web from inside program items is a great help – it means you can start talking to people before the difficult face-to-face meetup. There seem to be some moves towards this kind of thing this time around, which is good.

The official hashtag seems to be #eastercon, by the way, and I’m on twitter as @the_eggwhite.

Hopefully I’ll get to chat to a few folks this time around and be a bit more sociable. If you’re in the same boat, feel free to ping me. Hopefully we’ll be able to fit in some kind of “tweetup” over the weekend, if there’s not one already scheduled. I’d suggest an impromptu one each day, rather than just one… then we can get the day visitors and folks who were busy as well.

So, what have I been up to?

So how’s life?

In general, things have been a bit odd. I’ve had a few personal ups and downs that I’m not going to go into here, and work has been a bit of a bugbear at times, but seems to be settling down now for the most part. Other than that, I’ve been trying to get myself out and about a bit more – meeting more likeminded folks and generally getting myself back to socialising again after about a year of choosing to isolate myself instead of becoming “the unreliable guy”.

This means I’ve been doing a whole bunch of things that I might not previously have done, and on occasion may have bitten off more than I could chew (such as what I’ll refer to here as “the time of many LARPs”). I’ve also been travelling further afield to socialise, and plan to continue to do so…

So, what have I been up to in general?


The first new thing I’ll mention is that I’ve started going to the Reading Geek Nights (also on twitter as @rdggeek) which have been fun and entertaining, but also tiring. It’s about a 45 minute drive if the traffic’s good, or about 2 hours if it isn’t (as I discovered the first time I went). I’ve spoken to a fair few people there and it seems like a decent crowd. There’s even somebody who, as it turns out, went to the same school as me, just a couple of years behind me, and is also a theatre type. It’s always weird when I bump into people from places where I used to live… but it seems to be happening an increasing amount lately.

One day I expect I’ll speak at a geek night, but I have no clue what about. This is the problem of being a dabbler in so many geeky things but not totally immersed in that many… and most of the things I’ve done just don’t strike me as being as cool as the stuff I’ve seen presented there already. Then again, I’ve never exactly gone for glamour and glory – I’m generally happier staying quietly behind the curtain whilst things I’ve set up unfold without my involvement. I prefer attention to be on my work rather than on me.

Topics I’ve seen covered at the geek nights have included how a cinema works, a detailed look into 3d stereo photography and making lo-fi physical versions of classic arcade games.

Comedy in the Green

For some time now I’ve been the lighting guy (and unofficial photographer) for our local monthly comedy night. For a comedy night taking place in a village hall, it really punches above it’s weight. We’ve had some pretty big names from the comedy circuit, and more and more of the acts are people who you might have seen on TV… No matter how rough I feel, or how unenthusiastic I might be for one of these nights before they start, they’re always a laugh and I always come away having enjoyed it thoroughly.

I’ve got something of a backlog of photos from these at the moment – I’ve got three months worth of them waiting to be processed and put up to facebook and flickr. With any luck, I’ll find the time this week to process a few and put them up… then I’ll also be able to add them to this post.

If you want to know more about these, have a look at the Comedy in the Green Facebook page.

Tabletop RPGs

For the past couple of years I’ve chosen to bow out of tabletop RPGs as I had too many other things going on to be a reliable player. I’ve decided that I miss it, so I’m going to be making myself slightly less available for other things so that I can get back into it. I’ve starting off by joining a Dark Heresy: Ascension game being started by Tylorva, who co-created the the Death Unto Darkness Warhammer 40k LARP. The first real session happened recently, and the party are already butting heads and arguing over jurisdictions, which I’m just staying out of. I’m breaking with my normal tradition of playing put-upon underdogs and obsequious lackeys (too much like real life right now!) and instead going for a meaty, desensitised killing machine of an imperial guard stormtrooper. Should be interesting to see how that goes!

The Time of Many LARPs

As well as that lot, I’ve also been busy with a LARP or two. In fact, the past two weekends have included three LARPs, which was a bit much, really, escpecially considering the amount of prep that goes into some of them.

Mortals Games

I run a regular supernatural investigation LARP on the sunday of the third weekend of each month. Sometimes these are lightweight and easy to run, sometimes… not so much. The September game was one of the “not so much” ones. It wasn’t a huge game, but it was a complex one. The players had gained access to a psychiatric facility that was associated with our big ongoing conspiracy plot, and were going in on a fishing expedition to find out what evidence they could gather… which meant we had to make two rooms and a couple of twisty corridors represent a whole building. I did my usual trick of constructing a couple of extra walls with bamboo canes and plastic sheeting, and we had an NPC team of four as well our usual Storyteller team of myself and Ross – we even had female NPCs. We’ve never had those before, because the idea of Ross or myself in drag is all the wrong kinds of terrifying.

We also wanted to have plenty of patient files for the players to root through, so we’d put the time in to create around 60 of them – about 30 of which were generic “this is a patient file” files, and the other thirty or so contained an assortment of plot hints, clues, calls back to earlier plots and occasional misinformation. Then we had the internal telephone directory for the location, and a number of different costumes for the NPCs… It turns out that medical scrubs are cheap and easy to acquire via ebay, and make good garb for orderlies. A labcoat made a passable costume for a nurse, and an NPC in black with a couple of props made a reasonable security guard. Anyway – making all of that paperwork takes a surprising amount of time and effort.

We also gave the PCs two radios, and the NPCs two two-way radios… and left them to sort out who was on which channel the hard way. Always good for a laugh.

The game was a little more chaotic than I’d intended, but it seemed to play out okay, and some of the information discovered lead to a couple of issues being forced. This meant that the October game could be a (much less stressful to run) talky game, allowing the PCs to work out their issues and find some common ground again after months of splitting themselves apart. Now it’s up to the PCs to see where things go in the future, and what shape the next few games will take.

LA Confidential Game

The night before the October Mortals game was the first session of Neil’s 1940s Noir Themed “LA Confidential” game. This was my first LARP as a player for several months, and only the second for at least a couple of years. I’m playing an FBI agent, newly assigned to the only big case in town… For various (entirely in-character) reasons I was finding it a bit difficult to wrap my head around, but I enjoyed it all the same and am looking forward to the next one, at which I should have a better handle on things.

A highpoint for me in this game was the casual corruption and racism of the other police officers – I was expecting to find it hard to trust other police, but these guys have made it into something special!

The “two core scenes” approach, where half the players are in one scene and the other half in another (with “offscreen” events if you move between them) is an interesting one, and I’ll see how it plays out over time. It was a bit difficult to get started in the scene I was in – partly due to being a method
ist in a catholic church scene, and partly because a body was found and I had no jurisdiction, so stepped back and let the other cops do their thing… Now I need to wait and see if I can make it my jurisdiction before the next game – I heard hints of a few ties to the case I’m meant to be assigned to, and that should be enough.

Death Unto Darkness

This one was the biggie, really. The weekend after the October LA Confidential and Mortals LARPs was the fourth Death Unto Darkness event. I’d crewed one day of the second event, but hadn’t been able to stay for the rest for family reasons, but this one I was there for the whole thing… and there were NPCs required for the Adeptus Mechanicus – the technology based faction in the setting. Being a bit of a tech-nerd myself, this was perfect for me, and I set to work building some kit to use… and when more of the plot came out (for crew eyes only, of course) I started planning to make my kit do a few things that might be useful.

Part of the plot involved the tech priests being compromised by Necrons. Tech priests have a general tendency towards red things… Necrons have a tendency towards green things. At the point I found out this aspect of the plot, I was working on building several independently controllabnle banks of LEDs to go in my backpack so I could make it glow and pulsate. It was no extra work at all to make some of those banks of LEDs red and some of them green, allowing me to fade from red to green at the point where I was compromised – just a little bit of slightly different programming.

For those who are interested, the backpack contained around 20 ultrabright red LEDs, 20 ultrabright green LEDs, 9 ultrabright white LEDs (driven by 3 TIP120 transistors) – with the whole lot being controlled by a Seeeduino (arduino clone) powered with a 9v lithium battery. I had planend to replace the Seeeduino with a custom built Atmel ATmega328 circuit, but I didn’t have time in the end, so I stuck with the overpowered prototyping board, which at least means I can upgrade things and modify them a lot more easily for future use.

I used a keyswitch on the front of the costume to provide the input to switch from red to green – I didn’t want it happening just because I brushed a switch against something whilst moving around! I did run cabling for two LED banks to be mounted on the front of the costume as well, but never had time to build any LED arrays to make use of them, and one of them didn’t seem to be working properly anyway… so that’s something else I can put more work into in future.

All in all, I didn’t get to use this costume much, but I think it still worked okay.

The rest of the time I played a mix of either personality-free skiitari or several fairly generic gangers. From my point of view, there was a particular high point to this game… on the saturday afternoon there was a long running building-to-building fight between gangers, local wildlife and the player party. I’ve not had that much fun in a long time. A particular high-point of that high-point actually happened whilst my ganger-of-the-moment was dead. I had been trying to flank the players and had been caught behind an isolated peice of cover with only one hit left (ie: if I took any more damage, I’d be dead). As it turned out, the top of my hat was poking out above the tyres I was hiding behind, and I heard a call from the players I’d been trying to flank – “black hat behind the tyres – bolt single”, so I immedialy collapsed against my cover, dead. But my hat was still visible, and the PCs spent the next few minutes trying to flank my slumped corpse… resulting in the inquisitor himself breaking cover to head over and discover that I had already ceased to be a threat!

Another moment of amusement came in my final scene as the tech-priest… when one of my Skiitari bodyguards delivered the wonderful line “Boss? Boss? You’ve gone GREEN boss…” in such a panicked tone. I couldn’t see a damned thing at the time, so I have no idea who it was, but the delivery of that line was just so perfect.

Barring some personal stuff that put a bit of a dampener on things for me, the event was awesome, and I’m already looking forward to crewing more of them. I’d like to play it at some point, too – as I think you can’t really crew a game effectively unless you’ve seen it from the player side. Once I’ve played, I’ll be comfortable with the idea of trying to contribute to plot, which is where I think my real skills lie.

Summing up

Work continues to be heading in the right direction, but with enough bumps along the way that it’s often frustrating and stress inducing. My personal life has been throwing me a few curve balls of late, and that’s been knocking me about a bit and hindering my ability to effectively relax and deal with day-to-day stress. My health has also been… annoyingly absent.

But that’s just the downsides. In spite of all of that, I’m forging ahead and getting stuck into things again. I sidelined a lot of my hobbies a while back so I could press on with other things, and i’m officially not going to do that anymore. If it means I’m a little less reliable and dependable, then I’ll deal with that. I’m fed up with always being the dependable one at the cost of my own enjoyment – the world can suck it up and put up with me cancelling at short notice or being late every once in a while.

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