My Annual Science Fiction Convention Angst, or, Is it Normal to Not Fit in Anywhere?
This weekend, my family and I are heading to MarsCon, a local science fiction convention. So it’s time for my annual “I don’t fit in anywhere” existential angst.
So, here’s my experience with sci fi conventions. They’re fun. They’re more my husband’s thing than mine, since he’s the true fan. I am only a lowercase-f kind of fan of some science fiction books, movies, and TV shows. I am not a true part of “fandom,” the subculture (and in some cases, the lifestyle) that’s formed around the love of this genre.
So I go to sci fi conventions, and sometimes I have fun. And a lot of times, I feel sad because I don’t fit in. Here’s a subculture that many people gravitate towards because they feel like they don’t fit into mainstream society. After feeling like outcasts in high school or work or wherever, they’ve found a group where they do fit in. So here I am, wandering amongst the outcast subculture, feeling exactly like I did when I was in middle school—like an outcast.
I do have friends in fandom, and I’ve met some great people at conventions. I’ve also encountered people who have been standoffish towards me—in some cases because they lack social skills, I suppose, but in other cases because they feel like I don’t fit into their “I don’t fit in” culture. I’ll never forget sitting down with a group of people at a convention, and an acquaintance said to the group with genuine disdain in her voice, “She’s more normal than the rest of us.” I was officially snubbed by the geek in-crowd.
The thing is, I don’t particularly feel like I fit into mainstream culture either. These days, I have the outside trappings of fitting in. I’m married, I have a kid, I’ve ditched my academic career and now work in corporate America, and I even have a house in <gasp> the suburbs. (It’s only a mile from the Minneapolis border, I keep trying to tell myself. But who am I kidding?) I don’t have tattoos, I own a Fossil purse, and I have 18 zillion pictures of my cute kid on Facebook. I even drive a Prius. (Not a minivan, I keep trying to tell myself. But again, who am I kidding?)
But I don’t feel mainstream. I still feel like that high school “late bloomer” nerd who grew up with plenty of bullying and loneliness. I am an agnostic Jew with political views that differ from most Americans. I find myself constantly critiquing the norms of my culture. I’m friendly with assorted cliques that have formed at work, but I’m not part of these cliques. I feel welcomed but out-of-place among my more traditional extended Jewish family members and among my Christian in-laws.
So here’s where this blog post gets less whiny and more optimistic. A few years ago, I came home from a science fiction convention, full of my annual angst. I posted on Facebook, “I don’t fit in anywhere. I feel like I’m too weird to be mainstream and too mainstream to be weird.”
And the thing is? By the next day, there must have been 25 people who responded, “I feel exactly the same way.”
So I’m wondering: has it actually become normal in postmodern American culture to feel like you don’t completely fit in anywhere? Do I fit in because I don’t fit in?
It used to be that people lived in the same communities all of their lives and had a set “place” in society. My grandmother had the same group of friends her entire life. She fit in and was happy. But then I think of my parents who also grew up in tight-knit Jewish communities and found this incredibly stifling. To them, it was liberating to break away and develop their own identities. So when I feel nostalgic for my grandmother’s era, I quickly remind myself that a society where people have a “comfortable” place can also be filled with oppressive rules and judgmentalism.
And the thing about not “fitting in” means I’ve had the opportunity to connect with many different people. Here in Minnesota, there are a lot of insular people who make friends in kindergarten and aren’t interested in inviting new people into their circle. I may envy these people at times, but truly, that’s not the way I want to live my life.
I don’t have an inside circle, like my grandmother did, but I can blend into a lot of different circles. This week, I’m going to a science fiction convention. Last week, I went to a Purim party at the Jewish Humanist congregation we joined last year (one of the places in the world where I do fit in). Afterwards, my daughter and I went to a Girl Scout event. My Facebook friends list is full of Jews and Christians and academics and writers and sci fi fans and people who lived in my fabulously weird college dorm and all kinds of people from the many corners of my diverse 42 years on this planet
And of course, I suppose I do have an inside circle, albeit a small one. I don’t have a huge social life or a clique, but I have some amazing friends and family members. And I am lucky beyond belief to have an amazing husband and daughter, with whom I will be attending a science fiction convention this weekend. Perhaps we will see you there.
I’ve always thought it’d be fun to dress in costume and go to one of the cons we have here. I used to work with a guy who was very involved (along with his mother and late stepfather) in some of the cons and he would get a room there and host karaoke parties. I think he called it Karaoke Joe’s or something like that. For what it’s worth I don’t seem to have an inner circle either.
Even though I read the books, watch some of the shows, play some of the games, and go to a convention every year, I still only feel peripherally attached to “true fandom”. There are plenty of people more dedicated to these things than I am, who define more of their identity in that scene than I do, and who loudly proclaim themselves “geekier than thou”. Of course, that may just be their way of trying to convince themselves and others that they really belong.
I’ve been reading Old Man’s War (and the following books) by John Scalzi, and have really enjoyed them. My bf is trying to get me more into Sci Fi and that was his first pick. I don’t think I will ever be a fanatic but certainly I can appreciate the genre.
As to fitting in, I never felt like I truly fit in in MN (apart from when I was at college), particularly Alexandria. I feel like I fit in more here in Dunedin, but at the same time I am still often aware that I am an outsider.
The US is tricky these days because there are so many different groups of people and as you said, people are more mobile than they used to be (more different types of people mixing together – which ultimately I think is a good thing). But on the other hand I know if I moved back I would struggle to feel like I fit in!
I think it is those of us who question the norm and the conventional, and will never feel comfortable being totally “mainstream” – who live on the periphery of normalcy, if you will – who will always feel like we never fit in. Part of us wants to be mainstream (because that is human nature), but the other part doesn’t (likely because we have a strong sense of self or individualism). And not everyone is willing to admit they feel this way, but I suspect a lot of us DO, especially those people that we are friends with (as suggested by your experience on facebook!).
One final thought. My dad always told me that the nail that sticks out is the one that gets pounded down. I’m holding out to be the nail that breaks the hammer…
First, love the Dalek! The boys wanted to dress as Daleks for Halloween so I made them the costumes. We had fun!
Remember Woody Allen quoting Groucho Marx: I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member.
Do you REALLY want to join the mainstream? Then what would you “muse” about? 🙂
P.S. Have you read “Orbiting the Giant Hairball”? It’s kinda related to what you wrote here…
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