Coming Home Again

I have a Sensory Processing Disorder of the hypersensitive type. I am
easily overwhelmed by loud sounds, flashing lights, rough textures,
etc. Many years ago, at the last BayCon in the San Jose DoubleTree
hotel, I realized that we had so overgrown the space we were in that
all the quiet corners were occupied. There was no longer any safer,
calm space where I could decompress when I was overwhelmed. That year
was very, very difficult for me.

Then BayCon moved to a bigger space. Unfortunately, that bigger space
was also much, much louder, and I was totally overwhelmed within half
an hour of arrival. I could no longer be staff for the con, and
indeed, couldn’t functionally attend for more than a couple hours in a
day. It was, for me, like being exiled from home. I had been attending
BayCon  since I was 11 years old, and it was as much a staple in my
calendar as family Thanksgiving or the winter holiday season. But it
had, through no real fault of their own, become a place I could not be
healthy.

I pointed this out to my friends on the convention committee. I
predicted that with the increase in sensory input, and given how many
people in the fan community are on the Autism Spectrum, we would
likely see increases in people acting out, losing their equilibrium,
and otherwise demonstrating overwhelm. I suggested that it might help
to have a designated quiet space, where people could take a break from
the input, calm down, maybe read a bit. They liked the idea, but I
didn’t have the wherewithal to take the project on myself. If they
ever found someone to run it, I said, let me know, I’d love to help.

Years later, Paul had a compatible idea, totally independently, and
was in a much better place to make it happen! When he brought his
proposal to BayCon, several people remembered my previous suggestions
and immediately recommended me to him. Sure enough, Paul got me in on
the project as quickly as possible, and we compared notes on our
ideas. I was able to bring to the table many of the thoughts I’d had
before, under the auspices of Paul’s Oasis Project.

As a team, the Oasis Project is able to create a safer space for self
care and decompression. Attendees can come, relax for a bit, do
something calming or meditative, talk to one of us if they needed some
counseling, and even, space allowing, take a brief nap. We provide
them with the tools they need to take care of themselves, including
comfortable places rest, a full bathroom, outlets to plug in their
assistance devices, books, solitary games, meditative toys, snacks, a
first aid kit, and over-the-counter medicines to self-administer.

Thanks to our Oasis project, not only have I been able to come “home”
to BayCon, I have been able to contribute meaningfully to the fan
community again! I hope we can expand the Oasis to benefit more
community events over time.

Ember Cooke

The Need for Quiet Space

When Paul first mentioned the Oasis Project to me several years ago, I thought it was a brilliant idea. Having been to many conventions myself, of many different types, I know how stressful and overwhelming conventions can get. There are workshops, stuff to buy, parties, and so many other things, it’s hard to see it all in such a limited time frame. When I’ve gone to conventions, I have always made a quiet space in my own hotel room, but it would have been amazing to have had one that was supported by the convention itself. This would have given me a quiet space to be, but still feel a part of the convention. It also would have made a good rendezvous point for me and my friends if something happened.

In working the Oasis room, I realized, not only was Paul’s idea a correct one, all of the expectations I had for how the room could be utilized were correct as well. Not only did people come to relax, nap, and recharge, it also became a safe space for at least one person who was in a difficult situation. Not only were we able to hold the space for this person and their friends, it became a rendezvous point so that their friends could get them the people and help they needed.

The Oasis Room, by design, is a quiet place to be, and working in the room can mean periods of time where no one is there. However, this service is desperately needed at conventions because most of the time, convention goers are considered too weird, or non-spiritual, or not worth the time for this type of care. From what I’ve experienced, this is hardly the case. Con-goers are definitely worth the time, and conventions can add the Oasis Room as one more tool in their arsenal to ensure that their guests have the best weekend ever.

A Help In Time Of Trouble

I didn’t realize how important our ministry was until a good friend came into the Oasis room with his wife and a few other friends. He was mentally drained and physically exhausted, and none of them had the key for their room. They found a quiet, darkened area of the Oasis, gave him some snacks and water, and let him rest and listen to the meditative music in the background until he was finally able to pull himself off of the couch and slowly walk back to the main area.

I knew that convention goers could get overwhelmed, but I never realized how serious it could become. I’m impressed and flattered that we were the first place that his wife thought of to take him, as opposed to another con-goer’s room. The best part was that since his spouse and friends were there, all we had to do was monitor the situation and make sure there were no serious medical emergencies. They took care of the rest. I don’t know what would have happened to my friend if he hadn’t had the Oasis to go to, but I’m grateful we could be there for him. I’d like to continue this ministry in the future; it’s a void we were able to fill, and the community is happy we’re there.

A Staffer’s View

I helped in the Oasis Project on its first run at BayCon 2016. I had the morning shift – so I mainly interacted with people who lacked coffee & needed a quiet place to sit for a while. Everyone I saw said they were really glad that there was a quiet room to recharge in that wasn’t their hotel room. It made them feel like they were still a part of the convention while not being overwhelmed by the convention.

I really appreciate that the project had coloring pages, quiet games, small snacks, and calm background music for people to freely use as well as places to nap, lounge, read, or meditate. I utilized the room myself when I was off shift & enjoyed the ambience in between events.

There is good happening having this program around convention spaces. There seems to be less drama, less personal crises in general, and gives security time & personnel to deal with other things when the program is running. I highly recommend that something like this becomes convention mandate to help improve staff & guest convention experience.

Amber Magdael

The Oasis Project Origin

I’ve been attending fandom conventions ever since I was a teenager. Gaming Convention, Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions, Anime Conventions and Comic Book Conventions have been on my radar for a long time. As I entered Seminary, I also began working a few of these conventions as a staffer. Seeing the incredible work that goes into putting on a fan convention gave me that much more respect for the people I had come to recognize in the community.

I also noticed, however, that there was no place to get away from the convention when you were there. As an introvert who plays an extrovert as needed, I was easily enough worn down by the exciting, but significant social environment of the convention. I thought maybe, a room could be set aside for those who needed a space to get away from people for just a while to “recharge their batteries.” Additionally, I saw that conventions sometimes brought out moments of spiritual crisis in certain people, due to the extenuating circumstances and stress associated with attending or running the convention. Since this was my community, I wanted to help and serve. I conceived of the Oasis Project not only as a way to create the safer recharge space I desired, but also to allow there to be a clear place one could come for spiritual and emotional support during a convention.

As I built my interfaith team to help me run Oasis, they each brought their unique perspectives and ideas, and really made Oasis stronger. I wanted this to be an interfaith enterprise because some convention goers have been hurt by the church, and many come from faith traditions which are not Christian. I hope that by participating with this interfaith team, I can help many of “my people,” the attendees, writers, and dedicated fan staffers who make these conventions happen.

Paul Schneider