Why I’m Risking Life and Limb to Attend VidCon

Colette and Shay Butler, as they appeared when I discovered their YouTube channel. They’ve both gotten older, and Shay has lost ~100 pounds since this was taken.

It’s to say thank you to Shay Carl Butler. And to his wife, Colette, as she’s every bit the hero that he is.

I discovered their YouTube channel, Shaytards (which, I assure you, is a name that has nothing to do with “the R-word” and has everything to do with the word “unitard”), in early 2011, which was a very critical time in my life: I was a freshman in college, in the last few months of a very harrowing year that had me fearing for my very survival due to a sociopathic roommate who constantly harassed me and eventually threatened to kill me. While my peers were going to parties and getting really drunk and having lots of sex, I was trying to figure out how to stay safe. I was also having a lot of problems at home, and didn’t feel like I could confide in anyone or have anyone to turn back to.

The Shaytards changed my life. They made a new video every single day, and the content was nothing more than fun family home-videos. When I began watching, they had just had their fourth child, and each video they made (called a “vlog,” or video blog) featured lots of shenanigans as the silly and fun-loving Shay and Colette raised their kids.

I had never even comprehended the idea that families could be so happy. Watching their videos caused a radical paradigm shift in me. I was super-depressed, and had been through high school and as a kid, and here was this family having lots of fun, day after day after day after day, and Shay sharing his fatherly words of wisdom like “happiness is a choice” and just constantly giving lots of, well, I guess, “pep talks” throughout the videos. And he was totally honest that, yeah, when the camera was turned off, sometimes the family would fight, and things weren’t always perfect– but when the camera was on, none of that was staged or faked. And that might have been hard to believe if there weren’t so many years of videos showing such an amazingly happy family. Not only was the family so often happy, but over the years we got to see Shay and Colette have their fifth child, Shay lose 100 pounds, and selling the family business (a YouTube enterprise called Maker Studios) to Disney, for 500 million dollars. When I first started watching, they were rather poor. This is one hell of a successful family, and they have really motivated me every day since I started watching.

Shay was a very involved and connected YouTuber, and I discovered many other YouTube channels, and became a very active member of the YouTube community, because of him. I’m subscribed to over 50 channels that I watch frequently and regularly today. At one point, I was subscribed to over 100 channels, but wasn’t watching them all so I unsubscribed from some to clear out what’s called your “subscription box.” What’s nice about YouTube is that you get access to an infinite number of channels and content, all for free, and can watch at your own convenience.

What’s also nice about YouTube is that, unlike TV, it’s a social media, somewhat similar to Facebook. Content creators like Shay are able to read comments made to them on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever other online platform that people communicate to them with. And they will respond to certain comments or questions in their videos. There is clearly a relationship between content creators and their audience. And it’s a very special relationship, especially with people like the Shaytards, who let you in to see so much of their lives.

So today, in 2016, I have been actively watching various YouTube channels for five years. Since 2007 or so, there has been a convention held every year, called VidCon, created by YouTuber/Entrepeneur/Renaissance-Man Hank Green. I’ve always wanted to go, and this year I am.

But I have had the absolute worst time setting up for this trip. The convention is held in Anaheim, California. I am currently living in Pennsylvania. Let me tell you about a few challenges I have had in arranging this trip:

It’s expensive.

This was challenge #1. Tickets to VidCon are over $100, and flights to CA are very expensive. Then a place to stay, whether a hotel or Airbnb, adds another few hundred dollars to the cost. By booking so early for VidCon, I did get a reduced-price ticket and flight, thank goodness. However, while I had enough money for the trip when I made the arrangements, recent events in my life have drained my bank account and income, so now I consider it very high-risk to go on this trip. And there have been additional problems such as…

Graduate school was in the way.

When I made arrangements to attend VidCon, I didn’t know I would enroll in some summer classes for my graduate program. And when I did enroll, and eventually got the schedule, I was basically told that I had to choose between taking the class or going to VidCon, as I wouldn’t be able to pass the summer class if I missed a single day, which my trip would have resulted in. Like any sensible person, I chose to take my class and drop VidCon. Maybe I could go next year or something, even though I had already made the arrangements and always wanted to go, just to thank Shay for everything he taught me. But then, later, major life events happened, the same life events that drained my bank account, which also had the effect of me dropping my summer classes. So I was able to go to VidCon after all. But then…

My Airbnb host cancelled.

This part sucked. I had booked well in advance a cheap and nearby Airbnb. It was a much better price than any hotel or anywhere else. But I was informed by the hosts that they would be moving during those days and could no longer host. It was the only affordable Airbnb in the area, but I didn’t want to cancel the trip. I was prepared to go with just a backpack and a small sleeping bag, and find somewhere to sleep outdoors each night. Yes, that’s how crazy I was about going on this trip. Luckily, this past weekend, additional Airbnb hosts opened up their homes, and I do have somewhere to stay now, though it’s farther away (3.5 miles away– so if I walk to the convention center and back each day, that’s 7 miles of walking a day) and slightly more expensive. This is something I was very worried about for a while. But my original Airbnb hosts weren’t the only ones changing things on me…

My flight changed this morning, and this was my first time hearing about it, and I booked the flight in January.

Yep. Originally I was flying out of Pittsburgh at 10 AM and returning at 8 PM later in the week, but just this morning, two days before the flight, I was informed, in no ceremonious way, that my flight was leaving at 6:30 AM on Wednesday and returning at 11 PM on Sunday. So, leaving much earlier and returning much later. Okay then. I had already made preparations with friends to drop me off and pick me up, and scheduled myself accordingly, but now I’ve had to make big updates to my plans in a really short time. What really annoyed me is that the email I was sent made it sound like this was a normal, regular, typical reminder email, as if those were the original times I had booked for. I was never properly notified that the flight changed. But I can be adaptable and move quickly. It’s a strength I have, thankfully. The worst problem is…

I am extremely sick and in a lot of pain.

Over the weekend, I took a shirtless nap in the local park, along with lots of other people in this town. It was such a beautiful, sunny day. Then I woke up, went home, watched Grave of the Fireflies and wrote a great blog post about it the next day, and then I realized that I had become severely, severely burnt. I had no idea that sunburns could hurt so badly. This morning, in addition to finding out about the flight changing, I was feeling very short-of-breath, and my throat really hurt. And my sunburn hurts A LOT, and covers a very large and wide area on my chest. I am in so much pain and feel totally awful. I can’t wait to get back in bed and rest more once I finish writing this post. I don’t know why I thought I could be in the sun for so long without sunscreen, or how I didn’t know that severe sunburns can actually make you sick. Sometimes, you just have to learn life lessons the hard way. But…

I am still going to Vidcon.

I have to thank Shay for all the profound ways in which he has changed my life. There are other YouTubers who I am so excited to meet, see perform, see present, etc. I’m volunteering at the event, too. And it’s going to be crazy, millions of people come to this thing each year. Each year it gets bigger, and each year tickets sell out. I am going to be really sick, walking 7+ miles a day, working all day, and running around to lots of different sessions and presentations to see my favorite YouTubers, and have spent an unsafe amount of money to make this trip happen, and the thing that motivates me to go through it all is the off-chance that I get to say thank you to Shay Carl Butler. That man is my role model and hero. If I get to thank him at VidCon, a place I’ve always wanted to go, all of this pain will be worth it.