Like Nothing I Expected: Arisia

When my friend Mark Oshiro, aka Mark Does Stuff , invited me to attend Arisia , a Science Fiction/Fantasy convention, with him, I was pretty nervous. I thought about not even going. It felt foreign, different, unexpected. Even though the con was less than a 12 minute Uber ride from my Boston apartment, I had a lot of anxiety about going.

I’ve only ever been to Harry Potter conventions, almost every year since 2007. And I’m used to that post con depression, and the post conference high. I anticipate that rush of inspiration and creativity after leaving a Potter con. I was convinced these feelings only came after my favorite convention, GeekyCon .

At Potter cons, I have a rhythm. I’ve met people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I have embarrassing stories that I love to tell over and over. When I’m there, I’m there and nowhere else. At Potter cons, I become a version of myself that I enjoy being more than anything else.

Attending a new convention felt like betrayal—like I was using loyalty as an excuse stay where I was comfortable, to remain within the expected. And Arisia was nothing like what I expected.

It was way better.

The People

I expected an older crowd. I expected to be alienated from the community because of my age or my lack of knowledge within the SciFi/Fantasy convention community, or the “ConCom” (if I’m using that term right). I expected the environment to be so far from what I recognized.

I would say the conference had about 4,000 people in attendance. And everyone was welcoming. Every person I met was eager to clue me in on years of inside jokes, and excited to introduce the world that had been built. The median age was nowhere to be found. The conference maintained a perfect balance: relevance to the young crowd, and matching expectations of long time attendees.

Maybe it was the power of Mark, and his uncanny ability to surround himself with the most beautiful, incredible, and inspiring people. Maybe it’s how Arisia position themselves to be one of the most inviting, accepting, and safe conventions that exists. But in the impossibly large environment, I was able to find people most similar to me. I met people that have already made a difference in my life, already leaving impressions on my creativity and confidence. People I already have plans with for the future.

The Parties

The biggest difference, by far, were the parties. At a SciFi/Fantasy convention, there are whole floors of open door parties, each with a different theme, different drinks, different food and different people. The attendees rotate through the parties, socializing and spending time with their friends.

It’s not what you’re thinking. It’s incredible. Some rooms were lounges, with treats and non-alcoholic beverages. Some rooms were decked out in Star Trek swag and you were carded at the door. There was a place for everyone and that was the point of it. To be inclusive, not exclusive.

The Programming

In terms of actually attending the con, I should have done more research. In retrospect, I should have decided on the panelists I wanted to hear speak, rather than browsing through the titles and descriptions of the panel themselves. You could have a really great panel concept, but it’s really the moderator and panelists that make it worthwhile.

I never attended much programming during past conventions because I was either lazy or volunteering. So my expectations were pretty low. Since my background and interests is in the publishing and writing fields, I attended World Building 101 and a panel called “GenreSoup,” which addressed how to market your novel across different literary genres.

It was easy to get distracted by the 101 aspect. I felt new and the panels labeled as 101 seemed safe and enticing, but World Building 101 was a waste of time. The panelists talked about their own books the whole time and never once gave tips or tricks on how to tackle the seemingly impossible task of world building. Perhaps I was expecting more of a workshop feel, but it was constant self promotion and self pat-on-the-back, and therefore, pointless for me.

The diversity panels I attended were the shining light of the programming. I wasn’t aware the many issues discussed in panels, and I felt educated, not lectured at. I left the diversity panels with tools and knowledge on how to be an ally to the community, which was the most beneficial aspect I took away from Arisia.

The Possibilities

After Potter cons, I feel unstoppable. I am exhausted in the best of ways. I am ready to transition back to “real life” and be better, try harder, write more. Potter cons are my sanctuary and I wasn’t expecting to feel the same after Arisia at all. But my stubbornness faded the moment I stepped into the convention space. I left inspired. Inspired to write articles and work on the stories I’ve had in my head since middle school. I left with a sense that completing novels were a real possibility for me because I was surrounded by people that were constantly chasing their goals. I left with confidence. I left with a desire to go back next year.

Were you at Arisia this weekend? Tell us what think in the comments. I’ll be attending ConQuest in May with Hannah, another Fantastic Fandoms writer. Will you be there?  What conventions have been your favorite? Let us know what other conventions to check out.


  1. Pecunium · · →

    One’s first GenCon ((general interest convention) can be overwhelming. Having Mark probably helped. I’m sorry your worldbuilding panel failed. Those are tricky panels, as it only takes a little failure on the part of the panel to end up completely derailed (to be fair, that’s also a panel where the attendees can bollix it up too).

    From a terminology/cultural standpoint: The ConCom is the Convention Committee, i.e. the fans who work (at the upper levels, At Arisia they are called Division Heads, but this varies from con to con) to bring the convention to fruition. The community at large is referred to as fandom (this is a holdover from before the time when we sliced fandoms quite so finely, though the terms, “LitCon, GenCon, and MediaCon, give the lie to those who like to pretend there was a golden age of comity when all fans are slans was the watchword).

    As a rule those who are at the convention are referred to as members; which is in part because we like to think the convention is a participatory event, and people are attending, so much as taking part in a joint venture

    I’d commend, the next time you come to Arisia (or any other such convention) looking into the “filking” (filk being the name of the folk musics of science fiction fandom).


    1. This is what I love about the fandom. Everyone is so willingly to explain every detail, like a proud parent. It’s awesome. Thanks for the read.


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