An Experience I'll Never Forget: My Trip To The Arisia Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention In Boston As An Artist Guest-Of-Honor
I almost deleted the e-mail.
What e-mail? Just the one sent by the con chair of Arisia nearly seven months ago asking me if I'd like to be the Artist Guest Of Honor at a sci-fi and fantasy convention in Boston, Massachusetts.
Let's start off simple...I've never been to the East Coast before. While I've traveled all over the West Coast throughout my childhood, my stomping grounds were still limited to California, Idaho and Washington (with a few visits to Utah, New Mexico and Oregon). I mean, I've heard of the East Coast, you know? A land of sea breezes, congested traffic and Jersey accents somewhere off in Somewhere Else-ville. Its impressive (read: gutwrenchingly horrific) winters. Its seafood. Its accents. Yes, the East Coast was known to me, but forever held at bay by hundreds of miles, the day-to-day hurdles of classic Millennial woes and poverty. Womp!
Anyway, they'd seen my work on the cover of Power & Magic Press and were keen on helping promote up-and-coming artists in the industry -- they would cover my hotel stay, pay my airfare and help me sell my work. To say I was flattered as hell is to put things mildly, and that's before I came face-to-face with my own constant whinging for months about how I totally need to get out of my city and see some sights. I contact my friend and ask her if she wants to go...and we get to business. The following months would be constant back-and-forth between me and the convention coordinators as we discussed which prints I would be bringing, what panels I wanted to be on, even what food we wanted to eat at the hotel.
Now, this steady build-up wasn't without its bumps. I had to renew my state ID, only to have my first request get lost in the mail two weeks before my trip. Cue me re-ordering it and crossing my fingers for it to arrive on time for me to catch my plane. Top that off with my friend also getting a last-minute note from her boss that she might not be able to take a week off to go with me, despite her putting in a notice months before the fact, and I was actually convinced such an awesome opportunity was going to slip between my fingers. Thankfully, my ID arrived on time, my friend got the time off...and I got to usher in 2018 in style.
Here's the first part of my week-long trip to the Arisia convention in Boston!*
*that'll end in some extremely discounted leftover framed and unframed prints from the show, too, if you're interested...
On The Way To Boston + The First Night
I barely got any sleep the previous night. Not with the pre-travel jitters! After some deliberation I decided to wear my favorite big flower sweater with some leggings. I wasn't exactly interested in the grooves my skinny jeans would leave in my legs by the time I arrived. Yes, even sitting in a plane for hours on end warrants a critical eye.
My friend and I watched Dunkirk to pass the time -- she saw it in the theater when it came out, while I caught it on DVD a little while later -- and it was interesting going through the motions of the film side-by-side for our second viewing. The film is already minimal when it comes to dialogue, making it a perfect choice for sharing earbuds. We then watched some extremely gross episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and America's Funniest Home Videos. I am not going to go into why they were gross, but trust me. I wish I hadn't.
Oh, my ears were killing me when we arrived. I was convinced my head was going to pop right off my shoulders and float off with the birds. I haven't flown since I was a teenager, you see, so my body had to go through a whole lifetime and a half in the span of a handful of hours between Washington and Massachusetts. By the time I met up with the convention coordinator my ears were still muffled and I couldn't hear people behind me or catch half of what was being said. It was a lot of fun getting a crash course on Boston's history on the way to the hotel, though. Peering out the window and actually taking in the city for the first time was a breath of fresh air in more ways than one.
...the hotel, by the way? Absolutely gorgeous. Stone walls covered in ivy, polished wooden floors and pillars, extremely friendly staff and complimentary bottles of water as far as the eye could see. I also haven't stayed in a hotel in a few years, being the hermit that I am, so to say I was a little overwhelmed is, again, putting it mildly. We were gifted with some local beer (pale ales, hard ciders, dark beers, the works) and a big gift basket of treats to enjoy over the weekend. So sweet!
We went to the City Bar (in the upper-right corner there) and I bought myself the most expensive margarita I've ever had.
Together we made a toast to our long weekend with a hefty dose of gushing about fanfiction on the side. Like you do! I didn't get much sleep that night, either, but that was the jet lag and the sheer expectation of what lay ahead of me.
First Day In Boston
I was wide awake for hours after the plane flight despite being completely exhausted and had to dip into some serious self-care (it would end up making for some great topic conversations on my panels). Before the convention started, however, we had an entire day to mess around Boston.
You're damn right we took advantage of that!
The weather was fantastic. Sunny and breezy without being too cold. We stopped by a few places to browse, only to spend a good two hours in a really cute, super-thrifty clothes store. If you need to know anything about me, it's that I fucking love fashion and will derail an entire day in search of a good outfit. Don't even test me.
I proceeded to get myself a pair of maroon skinny jeans, a pink sweaterdress with a built-in neck collar, a pair of plum velvet ankle boots and two pairs of metal cat-ear headbands -- one rose gold, the other gold and white! My mother bought me some adorable knitted ankle socks for Christmas, too, so they made every outfit of mine over the weekend that much better.
We then dropped by a downtown pub and had some Boston-quality food -- friend got a burger and fries and I got the best fish and chips I've ever had in my life. Hot, flaky, salty...on top of being a massive portion! I felt completely spoiled (on top of, of course, everything else). My friend isn't even a fan of fish and she was asking to have a bite.
We followed the Freedom Trail afterwards -- a trail of brick that leads you to major landmarks throughout downtown Boston -- took some photos and enjoyed the sights. Being cooped up in one town for years with only the occasional trip breaking up the monotony can make something as simple as strolling the streets of an East Coast city with the breeze lifting your hair feel magical.
Friend and I wound down the night with some tasty beers at Beacon Hill, where Cheers was filmed on-location (I never really watched that show growing up, except when I accidentally caught it on late-night reruns, so it was sheer novelty more than anything). I got to try some new drinks on tap, including Samuel Adams Brick Red (delicious) and the UFO Winter Blonde Vanilla Cold Brew Ale (literal heaven in my mouth). If you're a fan of beer and want to try something new, I highly recommend both.
It's been so long since I took a long vacation, much less one outside of my city. Feeling the world temporarily lift off my shoulders is something I need to experience again soon-ish. I was at a science-fiction and fantasy convention, though. As the Artist Guest Of Honor. My character-building session and escape from the humdrum drudgery of daily life was only just beginning.
Second Day In Boston...And First Day Of The Convention!
Didn't get much sleep again, but it wasn't for lack of trying!
Can I just say that the hotel mattress was one of the best I've ever used? Despite my uneven sleep schedule come morning the chronic lump in my right shoulder is gone and I feel like a newborn. Honestly, I had no complaints about the hotel. Even the noise levels were pretty good, considering the place was packed and filled with excited geeks, families and kids. The bathroom was bigger than what I was used to, with a mirror that filled up most of the wall, and great lighting. Of course, the most important element was the mini-fridge to store all my gifted local beer and snacks. Arisia treated me right.
I had a short interview at the art booth, which was startling...and quite fun! I knew I was going to be presenting my work, but I had no idea I was going to be leading a group of people on a tour of the art show. I proceeded to wing it with the aid of a Mad Max: Fury Road cosplayer. Again...like you do!
The art show was filled to the brim with impressive work. Massive fantasy paintings, adorable owl ceramics, one-of-a-kind stone jewelry...I was just glad I got anything together whatsoever. The art show coordinators were unbelievably patient as they walked me through the process over the months and it all turned out even better than I'd hoped. A major shout-out to my friend for helping me package, price and frame my prints before the convention. Gave me a whole new appreciation for all the hard work gallery directors go through!
My very first panel (not just in Arisia, but in general) was 'The Power Of Finding Yourself In Fanfiction'. Funnily enough, even sitting down in front of a full audience I thought to myself I should've signed onto a few more panels. What other wonders could I be missing out on? I shared my schedule with the other panelists and they went, "Oh, shit. That's a LOT." Womp! I don't regret a thing, though. There were just so many great options and I was completely remiss to choose.
sadly I neglected to take photos of nearly all my panels, I swear I didn't just make these up!!!
We talked about why we read/write fanfiction, our regular fandoms, favorite tropes, the works. A particularly good question provided by the moderator was how we incorporate our identity into our writing. A moment I'll hold forever dear in my heart is when I shared my experience with maladaptive daydreaming (a condition I'm pretty sure I've had since I was a girl). I was asked to elaborate on what exactly that was and once I did? It was like a light switched on in the room. Soon people on the panel and off the panel were going:
"Wait, I do that, too!"
"There's a term for that?!"
"Oh my god...I might have that."
It's one thing to go on forums and Slack groups to talk about what you're going through...and another thing entirely to talk with people face-to-face and see that you really aren't as alone as you think. That's not to downplay the access of online resources, of course, I still rely on them quite a lot myself...but this panel really made me see just how isolated I've been this past year and a half. This is was an hour and fifteen minutes I'll be looking back on with aplomb, I can just tell.
It was doubly surreal having people ask me to sign their Arisia pamphlet (where much of my artwork was featured as well as a beautifully written biography about my work written by the amazing Joamette Gil of Power & Magic Press). I mean, people asking for my autograph? I better hurry up and become world famous so I can see that shit on eBay.
The 'Fans Of Color Social & Safe Space' was a refreshing glass of water on a hot day, due in no small part because of how frustratingly homogeneous my home city is. Ahh, to not being the only brown person in the room! It was a casual get-together, all in all, and I got introduced to some cool people I would end up seeing again in later panels (and adding on Twitter, you know who you are!). Then, of course, there was gushing about A Wrinkle In Time, Spiderman: Into The Spider-Verse and Black Panther! So far I've seen two of these movies. 2018 is really shaping up to be a great year for film buffs and we're not even halfway through.
We stopped by an Irish pub located in the hotel and ran into some friendly cosplayers. Can I just say eating delicious onion fries and drinking cold beer is that much better alongside gushing about fanfiction, tropes and Mass Effect? Because it is. I highly recommend it. We end up winding down the rest of the night in the hotel catching up on social media and chatting over some snacks.
We were, however, only getting started.
Third Day In Boston And Second Day Of The Convention!
I finally get some deep sleep and wake up both wanting to go on adventure and lounge in bed all day long. A newborn's newborn. I had to be woken up and not-so-subtly told to get my ass out in Boston.
We decided to get a little bit of walking on, even though the weather was definitely taking a turn for the worse. It was incredibly sunny, but the winds picked up something fierce and had us shivering like leaves even under our bundles. We hit up a rather lovely little hole-in-the-wall deli with an impressive selection. It was a touch on the pricey side, but totally worth it for the best egg-and-bacon breakfast sandwich I've ever had in my life. I was unable to finish the last bite because my stomach was still flip-floppy after the past few nights' restless sleep and I was over excited for the convention to continue. Speaking of which...
'Designing The Impossible' was a great way for me to gush and vent about all the wonderful and difficult things about sci-fi/fantasy art. People asked interesting questions about balancing reality with fantasy -- technical skill with artistic vision -- as well as how I use references without directly copying. It's awesome to share what I've learned. There's knowing something...and then there's actually repeating it to someone else for them to understand. I learned about myself along the way, as all good journeys should do.
'Internalizing Creative Suppression' was my next up. This was a full audience in a smaller room, which the moderator apologized for after the larger hall was taken. As far as I was concerned it couldn't have been a better accident -- this panel was one of the more vulnerable hour-and-a-halfs, exploring all the mental and emotional difficulties that get in the way of solid art production, and the smaller room made it feel less formal and more like a therapy session. The audience was attentive, patient and asked great questions.
I would later have audience members approaching me and thanking me for my honesty. Even typing this weeks after the fact is making me squirm in mushy-gushy joy. Struggling with mental illness is never an easy journey, but it's made just a tiny bit easier knowing that I'm helping others be honest about their symptoms and feel less alone in it all. I also got to share some personal advice on starting a career in freelance writing, which made me take a step back and go...wow. I actually have some experience to share now!
'50 Panels In 75 Minutes' was incredible. Easily my favorite panel (and there was strong competition). It's exactly what it says on the tin -- the moderator draws topics written by both the panelists and audience for us to talk about for just two to three minutes each before switching to the next, with the goal to get in at least 50 in the timespan. We ended up getting well over that! There wasn't a single empty seat and the audience was lively, attentive and throwing back as many jokes as we were spitting out. Jason Momoa became a running gag and, no matter how mundane or fantastic the topic became, we would always work him (or Aquaman) back into the conversation. The questions I added into the mix were, "What are your favorite villain tropes?" and "What's a movie you wanted to love but ended up hating?".
There was also a short debate about which cartoon cereal mascot is the sexiest. Never let it be said a sci-fi and fantasy convention isn't a great place for firsts.
Friend and I braved the night's cold (and it was very cold, I felt like my ears were going to fall right off my head for some poor Bostontonian to find) to get some pizza at a hole-in-the-wall Italian diner. It was delicious and crispy, though dripping so much oil my lippie didn't stand a chance. The waiter was quite cute and didn't waste any time hitting on my partner-in-crime.
It was so nice getting back to home base, with the hotel buzzing with activity and cosplayers still clustered into groups and chatting the night away. All I could think about after such a wonderful day was my cozy bed. Some things will never change.
The last few days (as well as some cosplay photos and the list of discounted prints for sale) will be continued in part two!