I had a now-deleted discussion on FB the other day, about somebody doing a lot of conventions and coming back from a convention to find an unexpected expense that wasn’t taken care of because of being away doing conventions. The details of the conversation are now lost, but it bugged me. It bugs me because I’ve been there and it doesn’t end well. It ends with unpaid bills and angry roommates and lost jobs and a big chunk of time in your life that you don’t get back and you have nothing to show for.
I spent a lot of time on conventions in my life. I started AWA and that meant at least one con-related function a month for ten full years. I did Anime Hell at Dragoncon, at AWA, at Animazement, at Sugoicon, at Anime Central, at other shows here and there. I went to A-Kon for ten years. I think in my busiest convention attending year I went to eight shows - that’s eight shows involving hotel rooms and travel to other cities and time off work, and food on the road, and gas, in exchange for unpaid labor entertaining strangers in hotel ballrooms. That’s a lot of time. When you’re working where I was working at the time, that meant my single week of paid vacation was gone by May. I was begging UNPAID days off from the job that paid my rent, my car insurance and my grocery bill and my everything else.
It took me years to break the addiction. In July ‘04 we moved up here to Toronto. I went to Anime Central that May to do Anime Hell; Hell started super late because of the “rock superstars” that went on earlier and were so super professional they couldn’t start on time. I spent most of one day trying to get reimbursed for my plane tickets. It was a convention I shouldn’t have done, that didn’t need me there, and that killed five days of time I desperately needed to get ready for my move. In November after the move, I drove back down to Cincinnati to do Anime Hell at Sugoicon. The car’s transmission started to fail on that trip, Hell started late because the staff had no idea who I was or what I was doing there, I knew basically nobody at the convention other than Neil, and I spent the entire weekend in a state of low-grade panic worrying I’d be stranded on the side of the road somewhere in rural Ohio after my car died. No, I didn’t have credit cards, I didn’t have any money in the bank for emergencies, I didn’t have a cell phone. I had zero backup for this trip, which served no purpose other than to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
Since then, I’ve quit using my vacation days to deliver unpaid labor to strangers in hotel ballrooms. It is absolutely not my problem if people are entertained or not, if they get to see a panel about a cartoon show or not, if the main event room gets filled by someone whom the convention can’t even reimburse in a timely fashion or throw a per diem at.
Oh yeah, I’ve done conventions since then, conventions away from home; and I make sure my airfare is paid for and I get something for my time. I learned to stick up for myself and my own peace of mind. Nobody else is going to.
I’m one of the lucky ones. There are plenty of fans who are in their 40s (or 50s or 60s) still working minimum wage jobs, still bouncing from paycheck to paycheck and crisis to crisis, never able to get out from under, who can’t see that spending their money and their money-generating time on fan conventions doesn’t pay off. Fan conventions are dessert. They are special occasions, meant to be enjoyed when your homework is done and your bills are paid and your laundry is folded and the car insurance is paid up - not before.
I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. Fandom doesn’t come with health insurance or a retirement plan. Like they say on airplanes, “make sure your own oxygen mask is secure before assisting others” - make sure your own life is secure before securing fandom’s life. Fandom will not do the same for you.