The cons of anhedonia

I go to comic conventions. And for the past couple of years (at least), I’ve been experiencing a condition called “anhedonia.” These two things make for odd bedfellows. Anhedonia is the inability to experience pleasure. Comic cons used to be a sort of pleasure overload for me.

Since I started going to cons seven years ago, though, I’ve experienced something darker about them: while they do overload my pleasure circuits, they have depressed me terribly.

In 2008, I had just moved to Southern California. San Diego Comic Con had been a shrine to visit. In 2008, it wasn’t difficult to obtain badges. I just bought them online a couple of months in advance of the con. I think I knew something of what to expect at SDCC but the full scope of that con is too vast to understand until you’ve been there. It’s enormous and a bit incomprehensible — depending on what you’re there for, you may have a completely different experience than another attendee.

At my first con, I had no desired goals, no things to see or obtain. I drove down on Thursday and barely got my badges and one walk through the floor before it closed. Friday, I met up with a friend from Nashville for lunch. Then I was on my own. Literally. I’m tempted to say I’ve never felt so lonely, but I probably have. But certainly never in such a crowd. What I felt really was disconnection. Everywhere were “my people” — geeks and fans of all stripes. And all I felt was separate from them.

I’m a man without a tribe. I always have been. But for most of my life, I’ve shunned the spaces where tribes gather. Comic Con was one big pow wow of all the tribes to which I could have belonged and I was lone wolf-ing it. This is not to say San Diego Comic Con (or any comic con) practices exclusion. Cons are wonderfully inclusive places. But the inclusion I’ve felt at cons has been that which I’ve brought myself: my friends. At that first con (and a few since), I haven’t had my friends in easy reach.

Blame my age, my emotional state, my personality quirks, or maybe my goofy religion — it’s me, not you, cons — but I’ve never found my tribe in the years since and I’ve averaged about 3 cons a year.

In 2001, I started having panic attacks and I quit my band which was just starting to find its feet. I wouldn’t perform in public for almost 6 years. Months later, I attended one of my former band’s shows. I was standing in the audience with my friend Mike. He asked me if I missed playing in the band. I said it was like watching pornography — it’s exciting and arousing but I don’t necessarily want to participate in what I’m watching. The anxiety. The messiness. That was too much of a burden then.

Comic cons held the same allure. I had no tribe. I had no fandom to feed when I went. The excitement was intoxicating. But it was behind a screen. I was an observer not a participant. Eventually, the screen came down. My fandom became my fandom of cons themselves. I do love comics. I do love comic art. I love the expression of cosplay. But I’m a minimalist who calls himself a “lapsed Buddhist.”

For almost ten years, I’ve been practicing dropping my attachment to things, ideas, and yes, fandoms. Not that I was ever the best fan. Whenever I’ve adopted fan behavior, it’s been — how do I put this? — phony. I love what I love. But I don’t need to collect it. When fandom was a purely physical collection, I went through the motions. (I have so many goddamn obscure singles from the music collecting days.) But once I could consume through intangible means, I didn’t miss the things. I don’t want boxes of comics in my house just like I don’t want shelves of records or books.

When I found cons, I bought collectibles — prints, toys, comics — that often remained in state until the next con when I saw the artists and remembered I’d bought from them previously. Once I removed collecting from cons, I guess I lost that attachment to them.

Or likely, the anhedonia has nothing to do with cons and just prevents me from caring about the collecting.

The times I enjoy cons the most are those when I can get out of myself. When I force myself to be a cipher (like when I’m carrying around a big ass camera or engaging creators in order to photograph them), I collect an experience I can’t force through purchases or panels. It’s a lesson I’ve learned in performing music as well. My best shows are when I’m not there. Ask anyone. (Zing.) But seriously, when I’m well-rehearsed and can stand onstage and not think about lyrics, I channel the music into a better performance than those times when I’ve planned and tried to execute a “great show.”

It’s like American Music Club said when imagining Johnny Mathis’s advice on performing (told to me through the Divine Comedy on some obscure bonus CD I collected): “You gotta learn how to disappear in the silk and amphetamine.”

I was at WonderCon last weekend. I was watching through the screen but this time there was zero connection. I appreciate the artwork, drawn and costumed. But I couldn’t disappear in the lycra and dopamine.

Perhaps I just need to stare at a wall and practice releasing my attachment to pleasure. Maybe it’ll work. Either I’ll release the anhedonia or my capacity for pleasure will return. I’ll still be a brave without a tribe, a student without a sangha. But possibly, I’ll start buying Catwoman wall art again.