Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ending Eras in Geekdom

Yes, it was one of the content-lightest months here yet, I know. Not that I know how many of you are paying all that much attention to that, but then, hits don't matter. If they did, I probably wouldn't bother writing at all. It's all about chance - possibility - rather than obsessing over cultivating some base. At least, that's what I think. Giving people things to read that might be worth reading to stumble upon whenever, rather than trying to either validate yourself by getting a reader base who thinks you have something even slightly worthwhile to say or "MAKE MONEY ON YOUR BLOG!!!!111112" as one sees on blogging forums far too often. Everybody knows there's no real money to be made on the internet anyway. It's all a sham. Time to pack your bags and go home.

Anyway, my lack of inspiration when it comes to writing here as of late has channeled more into other matters anyway. I've got more than half of my novel 100% complete now - roughly up to 85-90% altogether counting the rest of the non-linear parts written - so good progress has been made in finishing the novel this summer and beginning the agent hunt once it's finished. (In addition to, obviously, finding some schools with creative writing grad programs with January admissions to try to get some applications out for then. I really don't want to be stuck at home next year.)

I've also been busy with that whole "real life" thing that people sometimes get caught up in and focus on over internet-related affairs. (Real life more important than the internet? Blasphemy!) I just spent this past Memorial Day weekend hanging out with friends at a hotel in Durham, attending the ever-geeky yearly Animazement convention. It's a local Japanese animation and comic (Anime and Manga) convention that's been held yearly since it originally started in March 1998. I've attended all 11 years, from the very beginning. I was 13 (Nearly 14) when the con started, and I'm 24 now that I've attended what will likely be my last one for a good long time.

I attended as a normal guest the first 5 years, and as a member of the press for the latter 6, having been working at Anime Dream for quite a few years now as a resident staff writer/reviewer and much-beloved slacker. (Every website needs their Gomer Pyle, you know.) Due to issues of transportation timing and less than ideal guest scheduling (I usually had a panel I could count on in the past with one major guest to record the audio from to add to my coverage. There weren't any this year, and the big guest, Kotono Mitsuishi, didn't stick around long, unfortunately.), I don't have a ton to write about in regards to my coverage, though I'll be getting a report up on the site sometime soon.

Aside from the guests, the biggest event to cover has always been the saturday night Cosplay (Costume Play - essentially when anime fans (Or "otaku," to use the correct vernacular.) dress up as anime and video game characters they like. Not unlike Trekkies dressing up like Klingons or Romulans or Starfleet officers. The kind of wonderful appeal by which you can just say "why only dress up on Halloween?" and enjoy pretending to be a character for fun. Of course, I've never cosplayed myself. I'm more of an observer, like I am everywhere else.) competition, and I've never attended that. I don't have a camera, so there wouldn't be much point. And it tends to amount to a big, noisy line crossing much of the hotel, both inside and out, while the cosplayers and otaku wait to get seating for the event. To me, being around that many people at once can be a very claustrophobic-feeling experience. I feel smothered when I'm around too many people at once, and overwhelmed. And it takes a good amount out of me simply to be around as many people as I am all weekend at the convention. Being an introvert, I'm drained by social interaction and exhausted by crowds, after all. Being alone energizes me.

I spent saturday with friends, and attended the major evening events on friday. The anime music video contest first, which is an extremely geeky event in and of itself - otaku edit together music videos out of clips of shows, games, etc. that they like with particular themes and various pieces of music to create their own music videos. AMVs have been a popular hobby - both in creating and watching them - amongst otaku on the internet for years now, especially since broadband internet access became mainstream, allowing far more easily for larger file transfers and movie streaming. (As we've seen in the mass success of YouTube and similar sites.) Astonishingly, the event wasn't choked with painful AMVs focused around ultra-mainstream games and anime (Death Note aside, anyway.). It was nice, not having to sit through anything Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts, Naruto, or Bleach-themed. Squaresoft angst wore thin ten years ago, and taking fighting shows way too seriously was pretty much played out by the time Dragon Ball Z stopped being as popular here - and that's essentially what Naruto and Bleach are, anyway, new incarnations of Dragon Ball Z style endless fighting.

Friday night was capped off with the definitive event that sets Animazement apart from all other conventions, as far as I'm concerned - Anime Hell. Anime Hell is an event that doesn't require a fondness of anime to enjoy. Several of the con staff spend each year tracking down the weirdest and funniest - often unintentionally - things they can find on the internet, then compile them into a two hour show projected on huge screens for the audience to enjoy - like the AMVs - while making comments along the way to transition from one video to the next. And they do go out of the way to find some of the genuinely strangest things you'll ever see. (As a warning, not all of these links are work safe.) I'm going to miss Anime Hell especially. I'm sure I'll be attending other cons in the future, but none of them will be the same without Hell.

Saturday largely amounted to hanging out some more and watching a few fansubs (Essentially the main way otaku get their anime these days - seeing as nobody seems to be too keen on actually buying DVDs and supporting the official translation companies and market here in North America anymore - legal semi-grey-area releases of episodes (Mostly through Bit Torrent) ripped directly from original Japanese television broadcasts or DVDs with subtitles applied by essential "For Fans, By Fans" translation groups.) there, including the first five episodes of the strange, dark, and enjoyable Soul Eater and the second Sgt. Frog/Keroro Gunsou movie. After all that and purchases made in the dealers room, we ended up going out to Pizza Hut for dinner, then watched my Paprika (An excellent work of Japanese animated cinema by Satoshi Kon, worth seeing even if you're not into anime itself. The three directors working in Japanese animation really worth noting in cinema beyond appeal to anime fans are Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, and Mamoru Oshii. Their works are all worth checking out if you're a cinema fan in general.) DVD before going our own ways for the night.

We spent a little more time around the dealers room on sunday, when the con ended, and took in its ambiance for just a bit longer before hitting a local Ragazzi's Italian restaurant for lunch. Then we parted ways for the last time for a long time, unless we manage to at least hang out for one more day later this summer as we hope to at some point.

Animazement has been a lot of things to me. When I was younger, it was a big part of my initiation into otaku culture and enjoyment of Japanese animation and comics. I got into them back in the mid-'90s or so, but didn't know many others with an interest in them. (Let alone video games.) It was overwhelming first attending the con when it was held in the North Raleigh Hilton for its first three years. It was a small hotel without a great deal of space for the convention, looking back. But at that age, I felt even smaller, and was overwhelmed by all that there was to see and do there. Those first two years really stood for getting into the geek culture as I spent a lot more time there each year, and not feeling so bad for being the awkward geek I was growing up (And I can admit it, I'm an awkward geek even now. I'll undoubtedly be dying an awkward geek one day as well.). Then I spent the convention with my first girlfriend back in 2000 at age 16, the first time she and I had met in real life. (And retrospectively, again - yes, internet relationships are every bit as terrible as you'd think. That one ended disastrously, though I hope wherever she is in the world now, she's doing well and happy. And also that I never hear from her again, personally, haha.) That was exhilarating and some of the most fun I'd ever had back then. It was a real experience just being with someone who seemed to actually like me in a romantic sense, and be attracted to me. (Though in the end, that wasn't true, and I haven't so much as kissed anyone since her. I'll be crossing the eight-year mark this July.) I spent the 2001 and 2002 conventions alone again, the relationship having ended by then. At first, it was a depressing reminder of the rather traumatic way things concluded. But eventually, I got over it. (The con's moving to the Imperial Sheraton in Durham in 2001 and having stayed there ever since no doubt helped. A much bigger hotel with even more to see and do.) I'd just finished my first year of college by Animazement 2003, and had friends that I hung out with some by then. And by 2004, I had a usual group - courtesy of a good friend's friends - to spend the con hanging out with when I wasn't doing press work at guest panels. Even with the friend who I usually hung out with wasn't around, having been in Japan during the con in 2007, I was still welcomed by his friends, and we had a lot of fun even though we generally never saw each other or kept in touch otherwise. (Oh, the fun of living in a city in North Carolina where none of your other friends from college do.) This year's convention was the last big one we'd all be attending. Two of them are off to Japan to teach English for an indeterminate amount of time later this summer. If I don't see them again later this summer briefly as we're seeing if we can manage, I likely won't see them again for years. As for the rest of my friends from college, we basically all lost touch by the time we started graduating. Socially, I'm practically back to square one now, in taking a very different path with my life than the others, writing novels and looking into a grad school in New England, rather than traveling across Asia and teaching English.

In the 11 years of the con, I went from a young teenager still learning who I was and passionate about anime, eager to get into otaku culture, to a jaded, cynical adult who's been damaged by experiences with love (Of course, who hasn't?) and not quite as fixated on the hobby, appreciating quality shows and comics and keeping more objective in looking at series for what they are - not their hype. I went from a kid about to finish jr. high school who felt very young amongst all the teenagers and college aged attendees to a college graduate in his mid-twenties who feels very old in observing all the crowds of teenagers that fill the hotel's halls. But it's hard not to feel a bit like a kid again, surrounded by all that energy and passion for such an ultra-geeky hobby. Even as I get older, so long as I have friends to attend these conventions with as we'll be arranging to hit others together years down the line, I'll never be too old for this kind of thing, I feel. (Hey, if the middle-aged guys with their own sets of Klingon ridges don't feel ashamed, why should I? The world can always use more geeks - more passion for a goofy, fun hobby like this, so long as you don't get obsessed as some otaku do.)

It's just good fun, in the end, attending conventions like this. I know I'll be feeling a bit lonely though, when Memorial Day weekend 2009 comes up - wherever I am, whoever I'm with, whatever I'm doing (Hopefully not stuck here, probably with no one (One'd hope I'd make some new friends in grad school, at least. I'm not going to hold my breath about my novel helping me to actually get into a relationship, what with the feelings I'm expressing through it, by then, though. I'll be lucky if Project 27 Days is published and on shelves by May 2009. Though I'd kill for it to be.), and probably just geeking it up over the weekend alone in my apartment, at best.) - I know I won't be able to stop thinking about what I'm missing at the con, friends, Anime Hell, and all. Hell, looking back, that con's been such a big part of my life, as the busiest and most unusual weekend of every year - such a big part of growing up in its own way - it's hard not to feel a little lonely now. Especially in having drifted as far apart as I have from my friends. I spent my jr. high and high school years largely being alone and being fairly friendless most of the time, utterly socially isolated save for conversations at school. (Go figure that one of the friends I did make back then would be the one I'd end up still in love with after all this time.) It wasn't really until after college now that I get to learn the pain of having had a number of friends in real life for once whose company I really enjoyed, then losing them while those I am in touch with end up on the other side of the globe. But such is life. It revolves around nobody. We've all gotta cut our own way through the brush and see what we can find, while hoping we don't run ourselves off a cliff. Life can be a sad, lonely experience, after all. No doubt a more selfish part of why people cling to each other so much when they fall in love - they fear losing each other, their source of stability, comfort, and loving support. Everyone needs those things in life. Personally, I've never had them in any relationship. But we can't exactly control our own luck, as I know well, likely heading towards my most epic failure in love yet with Project 27 Days. Knowing this, I still continue on. After all, even if it leads to nothing, as is most likely, what matters is the attempt. The same goes for continuing to seek love throughout my life - as far as I'm concerned, that's one of the real meanings of existence, loving, as sappy and out of character as that sounds for me - even if I end up nothing short of alone and miserable for the rest of my days. Cynical as I am about it and everything else, I've learned that you can't just quit or outright reject feelings of love.

Animazement's also inspired me in its own way. I have a novel loosely based on my con-going experiences in fairly early planning, which I'll no doubt write fully down the line. Probably my 4th or 5th novel (If not 6th), after I've successfully established myself as a writer (However long that takes.). I'm not expecting it to be a huge hit, after all, given that it's set within a pretty strange non-mainstream subculture. But I figure it's about time someone took a crack at it. And I'm trying to give the plot enough depth and overall dimensionality that it'd be enjoyable to people not in the subculture anyway.


8bitcity said...

Yea, having the focus to write can be frustrating at times. Congrats on having so much of a novel completed... I've only written outlines for my book.

What's it about?

8bitcity said...

Also, if you'd be interested in linking blogs, just send me a message, I can link you on 8bitcity.

Steph said...

Isn't it a wonderful feeling to make such great progress on a novel? Yeah, it's one I'm starting to forget because I haven't worked on mine in weeks. :P

Then begins the agent search and all good feelings vanish. Bah!

By the way, I found your blog on blogcatalog.com and since you're obviously into writing, I wanted to let you know about a new e-zine that me and a few writer friends are putting together.

It's called The Oddville Press.

We're just getting started so our website isn't completely finished yet. Still, you should check us out if you're interested--or better yet, submit something!

Thanks a bunch and good luck finishing up that novel of yours!

Benjamin Fennell said...

@8bitcity: Indeed, no kidding. Some days, it comes quite naturally. Others, not so much. It's basically about strangers on a train, in simplest terms. Set around a rather ghostly train traveling through an endless blizzard, passengers trade their memories to board and escape their pasts. The story focuses on these characters' daily lives and interactions as they gradually face recovering their memories and that no one can truly escape their past, while dealing with their own daily drama and ultimately getting developed more as characters, forming bonds, etc.

And sure thing, I can link you back as well.

Benjamin Fennell said...

@Steph: Of course, of course, haha. I've been meaning to finish this next chapter set since sometime in April now, and I'm just down to finishing the last of the edits on these chapters and the last chapter of the lot so I can finally send it out in the next few days now. Working on the middle part of a novel really is the hardest part. I'm looking forward to just getting through this and hopefully finishing by the end of summer. But I definitely know how the slow progress days can go. :P I've had many myself where I only end up writing a short paragraph or two, maybe a bit of conversation.

Indeed! Haha. The agent search is going to be hell. I'm expecting all kinds of rejection letters. "I'm sorry, but why do you think you can write? Did you hit your head? Or did somebody lie to you to make you feel better about yourself at some point? Because they were WRONG."

Ah, I thought I saw you checking my blog out on there a few times. I'll have to give yours a look too. Always nice to meet fellow writers. :) I'll definitely give that e-zine a look, at any rate. I've never gotten into stuff like that too much, but it's always seemed like an interesting idea.

And thank you for dropping by and commenting! I'll keep up the work. You do the same! :)

bunbungirl said...

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Your site is interesting for me
I want to often visit your site from now on.
If you are interested in Anime, please link to my site.
My site has information about Japanese culture
(For example, Japanese manga, animation, games, cosplay, Japanese foods).
Please add this site to your blog roll.

Val said...

Well said.

Benjamin Fennell said...

@bunbungirl and Val:

Thanks very much for dropping by and commenting!