Once Upon Another Time (Last Year vs. This Year)

This past weekend was Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I've been going to Dragon*Con since I was 15 years old, which makes this my 21st year of attending. This year was my first year cosplaying (I went has one half of the 80's wrestling tag team Demolition. If you want to see more pictures, you should follow me on Facebook and Twitter, cause at this point, they're EVERYWHERE). I also gave a five hour talk/screening of Akira, and the capacity crowd didn't leave even after the 2nd intermission. I made fun of bad Hollywood adaptations of Anime films with 140 other people and we laughed harder than I've laughed in a long time. I randomly gave Edward James Olmos a ride to a panel and shook his hand. I literally had the most fun I've had in 21 years.

So, this happened. 

Dragon*Con has become sort of a family reunion for me. Every year, I get to see friends and professionals that I like and care about very much. Some live in the city, and we get to see each other every so often. Others are out of town and only make it here once a year. But no matter how often we get to see each other, there's an element to Dragon*Con that makes seeing all these folks, all at once, very celebratory.

And it was that way this year, for the most part. I run with a few distinct crowds that attend Dragon*Con. I have cosplay friends, artist friends, anime friends, wrestling friends, gamer friends and science friends. That's how I've been since even high school. Associated with many circles, while not really adhering to one particular group. I like it that way. I get to know tons of different types of people, and learn tons of different and new things. The crowds I run with are absolutely families. These folks are intimately familiar with one another. They appreciate each others work. They fight. They love each other. They hate each other. But it's all passion and it's all in the family. And when shit goes down in someone's life, they hear about it and they care and they want to help.

That's what I experienced this weekend. Walking around the convention this year, I ran into friends I haven't seen in over a year, and some others who have only heard about what happened in my life with the divorce and my company failing because of my writings the past month and a half.

To a lot of people, this story that I've been living though is brand new. For me though, it literally started one year ago this past weekend.

Literally one year ago this weekend, during Dragon*Con 2012, I had a contract restructured with a vendor that ultimately led to disaster for my company this past April, I had someone I considered a good friend get really drunk at a party and say some horribly negative things about me, I had the followup piece to the infamous "Geek Girl" article killed by my editor at CNN which effectively negated my ability to prove I'm actually looking out for the interests of the community and wasn't just some asshole who fancies himself "The Rush Limbaugh of Geekdom" (as one misguided blogger called me in a response article), and I had the first ever irreconcilable fight with my soon to be ex-wife because of some stuff that ultimately led to my divorcing her. And the entire day started with a phone call from the building management at my office at four in the morning stating there was an emergency that had to be dealt with.

At the time, it was a bad day. Looking back on it a few months ago, I called it the worst day of my life. Literally everything I've lost this year has some sort of roots that started growing a year ago this weekend. Or, so I imagine... But the truth is, those roots go WAY further back, to my childhood in some cases. I want to think that it all started a year ago, but the truth is, a year ago is when the foundation I built my life on started to deteriorate in a way that couldn't be fixed. It was the day the faults in the core were exposed.

Today? I consider it the best weekend of my life. Because it showed me the whole picture. It was the day the infection began to show. The chipping of the dead tooth. The day the paint began to peel and the rust holes began to show.

Ultimately, every single thing that happened a year ago this weekend led to an awakening and an understanding of who I actually am, and more than that, who I'm not. It sucked. But so does marathon training. And nothing feels better than the second you cross that finish line, because all the hard work and all the pain and the missing toenails and chaffed nipples finally pay off.

Make no mistake: I do not wish that kind of thing on anyone. It's fucking awful. But one thing you learn as you grow older and try new things and explore life is that pain is an incredible teacher. And once you're through the hardest parts and you gain perspective, you can go to a place in your heart and your mind where you realize, much like cleansing and irrigating a wound, that the pain of scraping away all that dead and damaged and infected material is the only way to heal properly, recover, and get better.

Yep. This happened too.

That's the perspective I've had lately. So it was a little difficult to walk around Artists Alley and the Anime rooms and the Wrestling forums and the Science talks and see the smiles of longtime friends, normally wide and cheerful, bent slightly at the corners and accented with sad eyes.

"How are you?" They asked. They weren't asking how I am. They were asking "Are you okay?" and at the same time, saying "I really, really hope you are, because I am so sorry you had to go through that hell, and you're aces in my book and no one deserves that and you're probably miles away from okay and I can't really get into all that right now so I'm just going to ask that one question and hope for the best."

"Actually, I'm really good," I replied each time. And I meant it. And unlike the last convention I went to in June, I didn't waste much time trying to convince them I was actually okay.

"Good!" They say with the corners of their smiles still turned down and their eyes doe-like with  sympathy.

I felt like I was being pitied. But that's not true. What I was really seeing was compassion. These are my friends. They care about me. They don't want me to be in pain, they want me to be okay. And that's what they were trying to say with three little words and a painful smile. And it meant a lot.

Periodically, I had to surface for air and take a break. But not because I was exhausted. It's because I felt like my responses were becoming robotic and practiced. And I don't want to give that to people, ever. I wanted to see my friends, and I wanted to share with them the joy and the exuberance of our mutual passions for art and film and expression. And it's really hard to do that when one part of the party involved has gone through hell, and the other part cares about them.

It's like nothing else matters. What matters is, are you okay?

The answer is, yes. I am okay. More okay than I've been in literally years. Because despite everything that happened, I'm in firm control of myself and fully understand myself for the first time. Instead of distracting myself with what color furniture to put on the sun porch at the house I was redecorating to keep my ex happy, I focus on the next blog post. Instead of posting pictures of my newest art acquisition, I focus on doing my absolute best day in and day out at the gym and in competition. Instead of dinners out with everyone I know and distractions to keep myself from feeling lonely, I've been spending time writing the new book and enjoying making my own meals.

I am okay. Good, even. And I really, really thank you for asking. This is not a "Jesus, shut up!" post. This is a genuine heartfelt thank you. And not just to the artist family that for some reason lets me hang around, but to everyone. You've all been so very supportive, and you're all my family. Readers of this blog, readers of my Twitter and Facebook and Instagram feeds, readers of my books and articles -- all of you, family. Anime fans, attendees of my Akira talks, visitors to my exhibit: family. Folks who show up to my open mic poetry readings, supporters of my videos, people who send me emails and letters and texts of support, artists, film folks, writers -- family.

I am overwhelmed with how much support you have all given me. And sometimes, I need to process it all and absorb it and take a breath. So when I do, don't ever confuse that with being upset or angry or hurt. It's a lot. You have no idea how much effect you've had on peoples' lives until you need them, and they show up in droves. And when that happens, it can be so overwhelming, it spills over the sides of your heart and you need a minute to process.

So I took a minute to process all of it on Sunday, between visiting Artist's Alley for the first time in a year and giving a talk to the Anime folks on bad Hollywood remakes of classic anime films. And during that time, I realized that my life is literally the polar opposite of this time last year, in the best way possible.

I've been through a lot, and am still going through some more. But I'm happy. And getting happier by the day. There are definitely hard days, and there are definitely moments of sadness and anger and frustration. But my life is genuinely better. I don't have ANY of what I had last year in terms of money, possessions or the trappings of modern life. But I do have a sense of self that started showing up about two years ago, was put to the test, and won.

I went through hell. And I kept on going. I proved to myself that I will make it. I may slip up. I may completely fall down. But I'll make it, because I've not only got myself to rely on, I'm surrounded by amazing people who will lend a hand. And more than that, I've got genuine, real life no kidding love in my life from some of the most amazing people on the planet. I hope you NEVER have to find out just how much you're loved through tragedy and loss... But if you do, my next hope for you is that you're paying attention. Because it matters.

Once upon another time, I was a financially stable married homeowner who had every toy and comic and art book and collectable I ever wanted. And I was sad.

Today, I'm literally the opposite of all those things. And I'm happy. Satisfied? Not even close. But happy? Yes. Because I've found out where all the things I ever thought I was and wished I was end, and who I am and who I want to be begins.