So much life – So much love – So much beauty

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Sometimes, when you least expect it, everything comes together in the most beautiful way. In my ten years of being a travelling fangirl, I have done some pretty crazy things – some of which I have yet to write about – but this latest trip to Phoenix Comic Con definitely made it to the top of the list. Earlier this year, I was already so very lucky to get to see Mary McDonnell, her incredibly talented daughter Olivia Mell and the great ensemble of the People’s Light & Theatre in Malvern, PA perform The Cherry Orchard (that post will hopefully follow soon). Until only a few weeks before it happened, I didn’t expect to go on another amazing adventure.

When it was announced that Mary would be at Phoenix Comic Con and my darling Texan twin decided to go, there was absolutely no way I could’ve pulled off another trip to the US. Maybe there is an angel for fangirls, because four weeks before the convention, things changed and what seemed impossible before was only sort of crazy and maybe slightly unwise. Since I am really big on being crazy, and the twin is a terrible enabler, I ended up booking the trip. Flying in on Friday and leaving on Monday to arrive back home on Tue afternoon (stupid time travel!). It sounds like a lot of trouble for just two days of convention fun, but it was so absolutely worth it!

By the time I decided to go, most of the details had already been worked out. The twin had booked a hotel room that, at the time, she was sharing with one other lady we both got to meet briefly in Malvern earlier that year. A friend who lived in the area had volunteered to play the driver. All that remained for me to do was book a flight and the tickets for the convention and the photo ops. And I had to find a way to tell my mother about that trip, because we had plans for a short trip only a day after my scheduled return from the US. To prevent any awkward conversations in case something went wrong on the way back, informing her could not be avoided. She took it a lot better than I had expected, accepting “meeting the twin” as a good enough reason. Somewhere along the line, after hearing many stories about the twin who got dropped off at the wrong house by a confused stork, she had decided to pretty much adopt said twin.

It is interesting how some things come together sometimes. As it happened, my two roomies for the weekend and I arrived in Phoenix within half an hour of each other, which was very convenient for our darling designated driver. The three of us had met before, so it was no surprise that it felt comfortable and familiar when we finally found each other at the airport. Although, the twin and I did scare our friend a little when we pretty much dropped our stuff and ran the moment we saw each other. I suppose that’s what happens when you put an ocean between twins.

The real surprise came when we met our driver, got into her car and started chatting as if we had done nothing else for years. I don’t think I’ve ever connected with people as easily as I did with the amazing ladies I spent that weekend with. Maybe this has something to do with being older and more comfortable with who I am, but my memories of other first meetings are full of awkwardness and doubt.

There was my dear twin Jen, Allison, who we had met before, Dee – the poor sod who had to drive us around all weekend, Krista, who decided to do a last minute road trip to Phoenix and ended up sharing our room, my wonderful beta Robin, and her friend Donna (aka HashtagDonna). Over the almost three days we spent together we had more fun than was probably legal, and even if the convention had ended up being a total let-down, which it definitely wasn’t, it would have been more than worth going, just to spend time with those ladies. We talked, we drank, we almost got lost several times (Donkey Kong Navigations is THE thing, people!), we drank some more, we laughed, and we played Cards Against Humanity. And yes, we also went to the convention and got to see Mary McDonnell, Edward James Olmos, Katee Sackhoff, and others.

As a wonderful bonus, Mary had brought along one of her Major Crimes co-stars, the sweet, funny Phillip Keene – much to everyone’s delight (especially Jen’s). In addition to that, we got to meet the amazing Stacey K. Black, who had decided to attend the con and took some time to chat with us.

So, Mary McDonnell…

With 10 years of convention and stage door experience behind me, I tend to be careful with my expectations for these kinds of events. It is too easy to come up with all these perfect scenarios in which the person you came to see spends long minutes talking to you, giving you their undivided attention and you’re actually capable of forming coherent and eloquent sentences. It is also way too easy to put people you admire on a pedestal, to always expect only the most perfect behavior of them. Doing that is a guarantee for being disappointed, however. Most often it is due to circumstances that expectations can’t be met. Too many fans, bad organization, bad timing, logistic problems or company policy can prevent an event from being what we imagined. And sometimes the person we dreamed of meeting simply has a bad day. They are human, after all, and thus just as entitled to bad days as the rest of us.

Maybe my reluctance to hope for too much colored my experience of that particular convention, but even thinking back, I can’t find a single thing wrong with it. The organization was better than at many other conventions. The time we spent standing in line was minimal, and even when there was a delay and we had to wait a little longer, it was fun. The lady who managed Mary’s line was absolutely amazing and we spent a lot of time chatting with her. She had a great way of dealing with the waiting fans, keeping everyone happy and in a good mood.

That very first time coming face to face with someone you’ve admired for a long time is rather daunting. I still remember very vividly what I felt like when I first met Kate Mulgrew and how I was incapable of coherent speech. To say I was nervous as I stood in that line would be the understatement of the century. And yet, when it was my turn, it was everything I had imagined and more. Mary was sweet and kind and took her time to chat. The program from The Cherry Orchard that I handed her for signing prompted a small chat about the play and how much we had loved it. She even connected us to a card she had received. Afterwards, it took a while for me to comprehend what had happened and that, contrary to my expectations, I had not lost my words.

A funny thing that came up whenever she saw me was the fact that she loved my earrings. They were just these cheap things I had found while shopping for clothes, but they sparkled so nicely that she kept admiring them.

I could fill endless pages with all the memorable run-ins with Mary and EJO and Phillip, but I was hoping to finish this entry at some point. Some things need to be mentioned, however.

  1. Mary really is the sweetest person alive and it was an absolute joy to get to talk to her. Also, her eyes… OMG, her eyes! *swoons*
  2. She is very appreciative of her fans’ artwork. She pretty much fangirled over Jen’s Darth Raydor art, recognizing it from a twitter post and she also admired the piece I brought for her to sign.
  3. Although her personality and energy hides it very well, she is an incredibly tiny person. Note to self: more workout before the next convention!
  4. Phillip Keene is even more adorable in person than I imagined. So many people hear me speak and think I’m from Australia for some very weird reason (I have never been there and I had very little chance to listen or talk to Australians), that it actually made me happy that he correctly placed my accent. An accent I take great pains to hide, mind you. Of course he recognized Jen when she mentioned her twitter name and seemed very excited to meet her in person. It was great fun talking to him!
  5. Stacey K. Black is awesome and I am convinced that she will accomplish great things. Also, check out her music! It is AMAZING!
  6. EJO has the most stunning smile and he’s such a charming guy.
  7. Mary and the podium = love!

Other useful convention survival tips:

  • Breakfast is for sissies. As long as there’s coffee, everything is going to be fine.
  • You will NEVER stick to the budget you set yourself, so don’t even try.
  • A bunch of ladies playing Cards Against Humanity while drinking rum might want to think twice about having their cellphones close by.
  • If, after the aforementioned happenings, there should be leftover rum, it must not be wasted. It makes for fantastic emergency courage and a really good breakfast. Simply remember to bring a suitable container in which to carry it.
  • Have a camera in hand when the kid snatches candy out of his mom’s purse and realizes that it is in the shape of a guy – and be glad he’s old enough not to be traumatized by the sight.

No matter how much you wish it weren’t so, at some point a weekend such as this comes to an end. The last autograph is collected, the last photo taken. Just one more walk around to catch one last glimpse of the people you came to see, a quick stroll through the dealer’s area with the realization that the world is full of too many things you need want, and then you find yourself at the airport, saying goodbye to your friends. It is this part of any such trip that is the hardest. You never know how much time will pass until you will meet again. It always hurts and, at least for me, there are always tears. It does prove one thing, however. Friendships that start out online are no less real or deep or rewarding than the ones you form in the “real” world. The only difference is distance.