I’ve been home from Dragon*Con for a little more than a week now, and I’m still trying to figure out how to describe this year. Like so many things, it was a hodge-podge of awesome and infuriating.

The ‘con is many things to many people. To me, it represents more of a family reunion than anything else. I’ve always been an “outsider” in that I live states away from some of the best people I’ve come to know over the last decade.

Jake and I used to make the trip southeast several times a year for gatherings and events to share with our southern brethren. Through a combination of life and priority changes for a number of people, this no longer happens nearly as often as we’d like, so we tend to seize the convention as the time when we catch up, drink, and be merry with friends — a family of choice, really — that we’re lucky to see once a year, albeit at an event that draws upwards of 40,000 people who are otherwise uninvited to our little soiree.

Some highlights of the week for me …

Jeremy (finally) decided to make an honest woman out of Vickie and proposed at ‘con. Congrats, you crazy kids!

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My friends Brian, Stephen, Crispy and Patrick won a Parsec Award — and deservedly so — for their podcast, WhatTheCast!

Working the stage for DJ Spider’s rave set in the Marriott Atrium ballroom was pretty cool, too.

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And of course, what’s becoming the annual Masquerade post-game party in the bowels of the Hyatt.

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But all in all, what I treasure most is the camaraderie forged with people that I only get a chance to see once a year, in one of the most stressful, fun, scary, amazing environments imaginable. It’s too much, it’s never enough — all at the same time. We fight sometimes, we yell sometimes, but at the end of the day we’re family.

* * *

Over the last few years, my ‘con experience never really ended. In the months leading up to each year’s convention and for weeks thereafter, I was committed to running our HR operations: getting new staffers on-boarded into our various systems, sending out communications, coordinating lists and everything that goes with it. After Dragon*Con 2010, I was unable to do this because my real-life job had a stranglehold on my time, and so work was reapportioned to others who had more time to devote to the job. There was no other choice at the time, really; work had to get done and it couldn’t wait for me to find a free moment.

Initially, I found this freeing. I’d been so burned out with not having any real off-season for myself that I relished not having to do everything, no longer guilty that I couldn’t devote the time that I would have if other things hadn’t taken precedence. Going into this year’s ‘con, I was worried that the consequence of this would lead to my being a tad unprepared when I arrived for load-in on the Thursday of ‘con weekend.

In a way, this is what happened. Having to play catch up in a maddening environment isn’t always preferable, but at dragon*con it’s generally the only option. This wasn’t wholly bad, however — not by a long shot. I arrived on-site fresh and relaxed and I was able to keep a cool head throughout the ‘con, which ultimately translated to a better experience than I may have had otherwise.

Things are always done best in moderation, however. In retrospect, I feel that I may have been a little too removed from the process that happens pre-con. So now the trick is to learn how to take hold of a fair amount of work that won’t result in burnout before I make it on-site next year. I think I’m more than capable of doing this.

We only have five days every year to make our mark at dragon*con. 2012 will be my tenth year on staff since Amy brought me into the wacky family that’s known simply as TechOps. I intend to make it my best.

Had I not been somewhat forced to attend dragon*con in 2003 for work, I would never have met such wonderful people that I count as friends — no matter where they live — and others whom are family. Without them, my life would certainly be different in ways that I’d rather not comprehend. These people — y’all know who you are — are what make me come back every year wanting more.

Thanks for letting me be a part of your world, if only for a few days each year.

Flickr: My fotos from Dragon*Con 2011