Warning: Epically long post is epically long. (and was originally posted on my Tumblr)
It occurred to me this morning that there are two common threads that run through my Fannish interests over the years. First, rather than the aspirational Heroes and Royalty of whatever field, I tend to be most drawn to the quirky eccentrics, or at least the characters portrayed that way in their worlds, regardless of their levels of success. Willy Wonka (the REAL one, thank you very much). Bastian Balthazar Bux. Swooning over The Monkees rather than NKOTB (They had the better music, dammit!). Daria. Vanyel and Talia. Alton Brown. Both the Brett and Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmeses. Sheldon and Amy. Twilight Sparkle. You get the picture. I’ve always tended to be a little suspicious of fandoms that are too popular, but when I board the train early on something that eventually becomes big (I picked up on AB, TBBT, and to a lesser degree Harry Potter before they were mainstream), I’ve learned not to hold their success against them. 🙂
The second trait of my favorite fandoms is that many of the characters and/or storylines and/or lyrics encourage you to get out of your comfort zone in some form or fashion, grow, and engage more with the world while staying true to the things that make you quirky and awesome. The most obvious depictions of this would be the novel version of The Neverending Story (which influenced my bibliophilic childhood in ways I still struggle to understand and articulate) and Daria’s character arc in the later seasons. The Big Bang Theory appears to be taking this tactic with each of the characters one by one, which many in the fandom seem to detest. I actually think that’s been the key theme of the series from the first scene of the pilot, but that’s another post for another day.
In short, my favorite fandoms (which one could see as an echo of my soul in an odd way) all include the eccentrically talented-yet-underrated trying to stay true to themselves while engaging with the real world and/or helping others broaden their horizons in some way. This issue of balance plagues everyone of intellect/talent who wants to use those skills to better the world and themselves. Most gifted people want to be the change they seek in the world, but are terrified of losing themselves in the process.
There are a lot of ways I could use metaphors to discuss this dichotomy in each of us, but for a lot of personal reasons, Peter and Nez (or more accurately the constructions I’ve built in my head over 25 years and have given those names) encapsulate this struggle for me right now as I seek a new balance point between personal integrity and changing the world.
Of course, I’d probably be using some other contrasting pair of fannish icons if it weren’t for Melissa—sorry, I can only think of her by her fandom name, Anissa. Though if it weren’t for Anissa, you wouldn’t be seeing this post (or this tumblr) at all. Until a month ago, I thought I had outgrown fandom, or at least the interactive bits of it. I was still consuming, but I’d left the conversation. I was too mature and busy for such silly things. I’d probably be off working on my IRB for a planned research project this fall, not reconnecting with old friends and sharing bittersweet giggles once again.
(From L: Cin, Camille, Anissa, Mich)
This picture’s from the summer of 2001, the height of my “second wave” of Monkees fandom. These were my three best friends and fanfic collaborators from that era, the Frodis Femmes. Somewhere between 2002 and 2003, life and just plain maturity drifted us away from Monkee Fandom in varying degrees. We stayed connected on the mailing list, livejournal, and later facebook as we got lives, got hitched, and chased our personal, professional, and creative dreams.
And then Anissa, a high school drama teacher, died last month.
In her sleep.
At Age 36.
For no adequately explained reason.
On the off chance there’s a Deity, the first pointed question I ask will be about a childhood playmate of mine, who died at the age of 7 from a terminal heart defect. (I was 4, the first time I saw a dead body was her viewing).
My second question will be about Anissa.
Up until a month ago, I would have said that my personality most resembles Nez. While there are substantial differences, there are parallels. We’re both Redneck Geeks. I’ve got a quirky sense of humor, am focused (perhaps obsessed) with remolding my corner of my profession in the ways I think will best serve it, am a natural leader, can and do bend most obstacles to my will, and perhaps do not suffer fools as gladly as I might or should.
But there was a time—from about 1996 to about a year after that photo of the 4 of us was taken in 2001, that it was a different story. I was still a spiritual Seeker. I was more open, less walled. I was silly more often than I was snarky. I was certainly a hell of a lot more compassionate.
I think some of y’all can see where I’m going with this metaphor.
I’ve had a lot of losses in my life. But this is only the second time a friend so close to my age died—the first time I was of an age to fully comprehend what happened. Anissa made an incalculable impact in my (and Cin’s and Mich’s) life, and the lives of the students who packed her funeral. For the last 10 years, I had been busy building a career. Anissa had been busy changing lives.
The first thing I felt was shock when I saw Peter’s post on my wall. the second was profound gratitude. And then awe that someone could feel and openly share compassion like that for someone they’d met just a few times, at just a few concert meet-and-greets.
And then I just felt ashamed.
So shines a good deed in a weary world…
The only way I have ever been able to make sense from the strange juxtaposition of appallingly bad luck and good fortune that has marked my life is by turning bad to good at any possible opportunity. The way I’m doing it now is to continue to go about my goals, but with a bit more wisdom, compassion, and humor. I’m trying to be present more, and when the time is right to open up, to be fearlessly vulnerable in the service of myself and others. I’m taking more time to be contemplative, or to just Be.
And yet, I will always be a natural leader and teacher. My calling is not to help folks heal through my talents (noble calling though that is)—it’s to help them GROW and LEARN. This is why my own relationship with fandom, while necessary to keep me giggling and less serious, can be fraught at times. I see people use fandom to hide from the world and/or change and it Drives. Me. Mad. Yes children, at times fist-through-wall mad.
I think a lot of this irritation is really fear talking. I’ve felt the siren song of fandom. I used it to escape from the world once, and that safe coccoon first saved, then nearly smothered me. Upon emerging I vowed I would never go there again. Ever since I was 13 or so, every time I get a little “too” into something, I got scared I would re-embrace the addiction, and turn back into that mopey tween who spent 3 years hiding from the world in books and music and TV. That fear is a big source of my occasional lack of empathy, and one of my less lovely traits.
To become the human being, educator, and writer I need to be, I need to get over my fear of vulnerability, take a giant step if you will, and take things to the next level. Part of that, for me, is embracing the geeksquee (as nostalgia chick would say) and occasionally exploring it analytically, which is what this Tumblr will do for me. I hope you enjoy the journey, take something away from it, and engage me in the comments. Agree, disagree, call my ideas stupid, it’s all good. I’d just love for this site to become a forum for a conversation on all of these Big Issues. But at the end of the day, no flaming please. After all, It’s just fandom.
And I promise that most of my essays will be much shorter than this. 🙂