This year, Mr. BooksandTea and I went to Can-Con for the first time since before the pandemic. Like many things over the past few months since pandemic restrictions have dropped, doing this for real for the first time in a few years felt weird.

This is not Can-Con’s fault. In fact, compared to many other in-person social and professional events that I’ve seen shared on social media, Can-Con had a fairly robust set of safety protocols:

  • They offered both virtual and in-person sessions. The virtual panels were pre-recorded and available on YouTube; the live readings through Zoom.
  • They capped the number of in-person attendees to 250.
  • They required attendees to provide proof of being fully vaccinated when checking in at the registration desk.
  • They required all attendees to wear masks on-site in public except for when eating or drinking.
  • They offered colour-coded wristbands to let attendees indicate what level of physical contact they preferred from others (red meant maintain a social distance of 6 feet; yellow meant limited phyiscal contact; green meant handshakes/hugs were welcome)

Even so, it took some time for me to get comfortable with the idea of socializing again with so many people. In the Before Times, I had no trouble being a social butterfly for a weekend. I’d have a huge crash the day after getting home, of course, but still — I was able to keep that flip switched and stay “on” for a few days while chatting with new people, talking on panels, and trawling the dealers’ room.

This year was not like that. On Friday evening, in particular, after the initial wave of saying hello to people, we holed up in our hotel room and skimmed YouTube and Twitter instead of trying to talk with anyone in person. Eventually we were able to shake this off and get some takeout for dinner, then attend a panel.

It was only when I attended that first panel on Friday night that I felt comfortable getting into that old groove: Oh, this is why I’m here. To hear smart people talk about interesting things.

The rest of the weekend was filled with a similar combination of trepidation and recognition: I forgot how many stores are closed around the hotel over the weekend. Man, there’s some really nice stuff in the dealer room; I need to be careful about what I purchase so I don’t blow all my money at once. There are 2 things happening at the same time that I want to go to, but I don’t know which one to choose. Oh hey, that cool person from that panel on Friday night is sitting right in front of me, I should chat them up! Oh hey, that person is sharing a room with my friend and I saw them speak on a panel about Gothic fiction; I should tell them that I, too, have Lots of Thoughts about “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier.

I bought my fair share of books and trinkets from the dealers’ room in the end. I got some pretty gaming dice. I got a knit headband from Jen and Eric. Also, after attending a reading where Avi Silver described his books as “How to Train Your Dragon meets Princess Mononoke“, I bought both of them.

…And then I came back on Sunday to buy Sienna Tristen’s The Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming, because Avi had described it as “no plot, all vibes” and “about a guy learning with his mentor about how to deal with anxiety. I didn’t know I needed this book in my life, but after downloading the free preview from Kobo, I decided that yes, I did, and that I wanted the author to get my money directly, rather than through a third party, even though the eBook was cheaper. So: Avi Silver, you are very good at hand-selling.

Of course, I also visited my favourite tea shop in Ottawa to get more of that good stuff. I was all out of Lao Shan and I wanted more of their Bi Lo Chun to offset the small (and extremely pricy) quantity I bought on my trip to Montreal.

Despite all these lovely interactions, being at Can-Con this year felt different, like the volume was turned down. I took part in fewer spontaneous conversations and I didn’t run myself ragged trying to Attend All The Things. I doubt I was alone in feeling this way. Presumably, this will change as we all get used to attending events in person again, but I’m wistful for how things were before.