Aside from my current situation, life has been moving along. As I wait for things to pick back up, I find myself following a rudimentary schedule within my apartment complex consisting of personal projects and occasional diversions to the mall, along with its surrounding shops across the street. The routine itself is not particularly productive, but it helps me keep my sanity and social bearings; I actively try to avoid the tailspin that people in situations similar to my own fall into where they completely lose track of the time that passes in limbo.
From time to time however, I get the opportunity to stretch my legs a little and flex some of my skill-sets that lie dormant these days. Whether it be a job interview, an entrance exam, or even an opportunity to scope out a new school, such opportunities provide refreshing changes in pace from my normal routine; they are a part of the professional world I am accustomed to. So when I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at a local anime convention, I was not expecting to gain anything more than a somewhat more involved addition to my typical itinerary of leisure activities throughout the day — as one might expect, I got a little more than that out of the experience.
I have only been to an anime convention once before, as an attendee. Since the atmosphere was completely new to me, I had a wonderful time which was only amplified by the attendance of a friend whom I had the opportunity to meet for the first time in person. Needless to say, it was a very memorable experience that I felt could not be replicated any time soon. Especially due to the general lack of priority I gave to anime during the two and a half years since, I was not particularly interested upon hearing that a new anime convention would be taking place in my city. Considering that 2014 would mark only the second year of the convention taking place, it was undoubtedly on the smaller side (which I was not even sure that I would enjoy) which made me doubly hesitant to purchase a badge. (I was not sure whether I would even enjoy a smaller-scale convention than A-Kon.)
Though my curiosity kept me from dropping the matter altogether, I opted to apply for a volunteer badge… it was not as if I had much else to do anyways. This setup allowed me to experience the best of both worlds: the inner, technical workings of the convention while volunteering, and the convention itself while not on my shift. Since the convention was taking place about fifteen minutes from my apartment, I had absolutely no qualms about working morning shift, graveyard shift, or anything in between.
The convention itself generally played out as I imagined it to. I am out of touch with most recent anime series and consequently did not recognize many of the cosplays and panel topics. The Dealers Room showcased the most familiar content to me (older anime and manga merchandise) and would often captivate me with its array of overpriced merchandise. Even so, I found the scaled down presentation of the convention to be charming; I was given plenty of opportunity to converse with both cosplayers and panelists. Despite my familiarity with only a fraction of the costumes, I still had a lot of fun conversing with many of the cosplayers regardless of whether I knew who their character was or not. In general, I found most people to be approachable and happy to talk about their character, especially if they created their costume themselves.
In this regard, my status as a volunteer also helped quite a bit. As with most jobs, I tried to carry out my duties with enthusiasm and innovation, often entertaining the attendees waiting in line to help keep the mood a leisurely one. In fact, due to my double-shift in front of the “main event” doors, I am certain that I got to see practically everyone at least once (including a mini cosplay parade while letting the cosplayers in to prepare them for their costume contest). This attitude persisted even outside of my shifts where I would “jump in” when seeing people playing alone in the game room or when seeing people sitting alone on the benches. I even encouraged people to “dance” (if you could call it that) at the rave because I had seen the same scenario so many times in my life — that sort of hesitant loitering people do when they want to be a part of something, but cannot bring themselves to jump in without a nudge from someone else. It felt great to see how people were appreciative of my company (I was a semi-familiar face around the con after all) and a few of them sought me out over the course of the convention to talk to me some more.
Personally, I have always enjoyed wielding the power or responsibility that comes with positions of authority (no matter how small) as a means to reach out to others. As a guild leader, I would engage my members and create exciting new events for them to partake in. As a teacher, I would involve my students and try to explain intangible concepts in down-to-earth, humorous terms. As a medical student, I would try to educate my patients in simplistic terms so that they know what is happening in their bodies. I believe that this action of reaching out leaves an impression on people, so I was rather thankful to once again be in a position to offer it, even if I could only do little things over the course of the weekend. This was the most significant reason why I enjoyed my time at the con.
Aside from the atmosphere itself, I also spent a good deal of time with my co-volunteers. Since my shift was during the night time when the crowds had thinned, I had a lot of downtime to bond with William, the other volunteer during my shift. This guy was solid. He was only seventeen and had dropped out of high school because he could not deal with the immaturity there, but he was solid. A great, rational person who was volunteering to broaden his job prospects. William and I certainly experienced our fair share of excitement through the night though. Highlights include the 18+ Hilarious Hentai Dubs panel’s audio being loud enough to be heard clearly in adjacent rooms (which contained attendees who were under eighteen), a textbook example of an obsessive otaku having a breakdown because a panel ended ten minutes early, a “Deadpool Party” getting out of hand, among other things. Things were not particularly dull.
Most of the volunteers were around William’s age group (i.e. high school, under eighteen) but there were a few who were also older than me. There was one person who was an aircraft engineer… a very cool person to talk to. It was insightful for me to see someone in a higher-tier job who was still in touch with his interest in anime and video games. He did lament the fact that most of his coworkers only talked about sports and the like, but he fit in pretty well amongst the crowd and I had a lot of respect for him because of that. The staff deserves mention too — in particular, a guy who went by “Bear.” I absolutely adored Bear because he was the sort of person who took care of you and would see things through. I felt that his jolly demeanor sort of grounded the staff in the spirit of things since some of them would have doubtlessly driven themselves insane with all of their responsibilities.
Now, truth be told, I would have expected to end this post around here if the con experience had played out the way I had anticipated it. Instead, as I hinted above, I was unexpectedly given a chance to observe a few things that I was in fact able to tie into my current academic situation, despite trying to legitimately treat the convention as pure entertainment.
I mention the volunteers and staff members I enjoyed being around because I did not feel the same way with just everyone. See, the dominant demographic among the volunteers was, as described with William, the high school age range. Among the con-goers, this age range was higher but still generally followed the profile of late high school / early college liberal arts students, some of which were shy or awkward in real life. Obviously this does not describe everyone and certainly was not in itself a factor in my inclination to converse with someone. However, being decidedly older than a good chunk of both the volunteers and attendees, for the first time in my life I got to observe what a difference education makes.
Once again, I never judged anyone for their age or educational level and generally avoid doing so. However, I was somewhat… surprised at the disconnect found when talking with younger or less educated patrons. Honestly, the term “disconnect” is the best way I can describe it — on the surface, there is nothing wrong with the conversation, but upon closer inspection, some of the meaning is lost during the exchange. In serious conversations, it is more difficult for a less educated person to provide insightful points unless their education is compensated with applicable experience. It is tougher to reference or draw upon more abstract concepts in a conversation if one person does not understand said concepts. Even the tone of the conversation can be altered due to the mindset people may have as a result of their age or education (such as victim complexes, apathy about certain subjects, etc). The resulting disconnect brings about a sort of conversation dynamic where one person is raising points they deem insightful while the other is internally thinking, “well yeah, obviously…” while humoring the speaker; the chat never particularly rises above small-talk.
Perhaps this phenomenon is obvious to others, but it was a little unexpected for me since I had never really thought about the implications of conversing as such. I have always been in school or in university-type jobs where I never really got the chance to go “backwards.” I do not even have any siblings or cousins who are significantly younger than me. Again, I was in no way judging or looking down on the people whom I had encountered this disconnect with — I just found it to be unexpectedly… unfortunate. It was an eye-opening experience to me that showcased how education and maturity do matter.
After one of my longer shifts, I decided to check what panels would be starting soon and noticed a speed-dating event. While I was not interested in actually finding someone to date, I figured that it would prove to be an interesting circumstance to make friends at the con. Shrugging as I walked in, one of the other volunteers saw me and decided to follow me in, determined to prove to me (for whatever reason) how many girls he could pick up. He was the typical creepily immature high school kid who took his image way too seriously. Somewhat brushing him off, I took my place in the circle. The way it worked was that there were two circles: the girls would sit in the inner circle and the boys would sit in the outer circle. Each person was given a name-tag with a number on it and a score card with the numbers written in triplicate. If you enjoyed talking with someone, you would punch their number on the card. After short intervals, the outer circle would rotate to give the give everyone a chance to talk to one another. The rule was that if two people punch each others’ numbers three times on their score cards, they would gain access to each other’s “personal information” (a card you filled out before-hand with whatever means you felt comfortable letting others contact you by).
I actually had a pretty fun time during the event. I found that once again, I had more pleasant conversations with more mature, educated people (such as a chemistry major who was present) while hovering around the generic small-talk level with some of the younger population. (Interestingly, many could not pinpoint how old I was.) Hilariously, some of the boys punched every single number on their score cards out of desperation, including numbers that did not correspond to anyone, so they had to be disqualified. To add to the hilarity, my co-volunteer Mr. Pickup-Artist, failed to get a single person’s contact information. I myself obtained the contacts of two people.
But at the end of the day, to me, it was mostly a game — another social observation among the many that unintentionally took place that weekend. The entire experience inadvertently reminded me about how much I value my education and the circles I feel at home in. That’s the take-home message that resounded within me the strongest.
I never ended up contacting the two who left me their contact information.