Fandom Lenses

Life as viewed through silliness, Fandom as seen through Reality

Endings are Always Hard (but not in the way you might think)

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retractionI need to start this post, really the last one before Nez in Chicago, with a brief retraction (or at least a mea culpa). Back in August, in my review of the Tulsa show, I may have left the slight impression that I was 110% sure there was no-way-no-how those septuagenarians were EVER gonna tour again entertaining the outside possibility that this past summer may have been the end of the road for The Monkees as a touring entity, and wound up upsetting half of Tumblr a few friends in the process. All signs (including this interview from Micky) seemed to bear out my interpretation till the other day, when out of a clear blue sky …

Yes, we will tour again, I am sure…M & P are good guys, talented and fun to work with.

Michael Nesmith

You can see my full response on Tumblr (complete with Blanche Devereaux spit-take gif and a lot of stunned gibbering in the tags), but in a nutshell, I hereby pledge to stop trying to predict celebrities’ future career moves until the next time I do it.

Interestingly enough, until said Nez interview whacked me upside the head (as they are wont to do), this post was outlined as an early goodbye to posting essay here. I assumed that I wouldn’t have anything to say that was worthy of hearing after the Chicago show, and I feel my muse tugging my lead toward that novel thingy I was talking about the other day (though I still haven’t figured out how to approach the subject matter without it reading like a ham-handed imitation of Jodi Picoult to those for whom an echocardiogram wasn’t a midsummer tradition). But then I asked myself—Why am I, little miss Carpe Diem, antsy to close the book on everything that’s taken place here? The Monkees’ story may not quite be over yet (individually OR collectively). Even if they all retire tomorrow morning, I have a dozen outlined essays sitting in my dropbox folder (pretty much all NOT Monkees related, thank the gods). It’s not hard to work the occasional palate cleansing blog post in with the novel and the dissertation proposal, compulsive scribbler that I am. Then I realized that one of those queued outlines, about a recent tragedy in my own town, might hold a clue to my reticence.

My blessing, or curse depending on how you look at it, is that I NEED to keep growing. If I’m not making new friends, trying new adventures, and tackling new projects, I’m not a happy person. Back in late 2008 or thereabouts, I was bored. I’d finished my masters in 2006, and then spent most of the next two years redefining our marriage in the wake of a very chaotic four-year stretch that had culminated in the loss of Kevin’s dad. Kevin also changed jobs, and we built a house. But in 2008, the house was done, we had gotten used to being financially stable DINKs, and I was ready to find something new to fill the hours.  At that time in library land, there was a lot of conversation around Second Life and how it would transform education. I wasn’t sure I bought the PR line, but I was intrigued enough to grab a free account and sign up one evening.

This was a big step for me. I distrusted MMOs on general principles in those days, whether they were games like WoW or “worlds” like Second Life. As a college freshman in ‘95 I tried a VERY primitive online game—don’t even remember what it was called. A week or so into my experience I realized I had accidentally spent 12 hours at my chair one Saturday, not moving except for bathroom and snacks. I was sufficiently scared (and reminded of those two years of puberty I wasted hiding from the universe whenever I wasn’t in school instead of learning how to actually deal with other humans) that I quit cold turkey and avoided anything more all-encompassing than an IRC chat room. Around the same time, two boyfriends managed to flunk out of college within a few years of each other, losing lucrative full-ride scholarships because of their tendency to regularly play MUDs or MUCKs (think MMOs, but text-based) for literally 72+ hours straight instead of doing their homework (or, you know, socializing with their girlfriend). I wanted no part of that. Hearing similar tales of woe in years to come from friends who became obsessed with World of Warcraft or Everquest to the destruction of jobs and marriages strengthened my resolve.

Penny game addictYes, I knew that many people did and do play those games with no ill effects. In 2008 I was still not at all confident I would be one of them. However, I was curious, not to mention much older and wiser than that freshman in ’95. Plus I’d since married a guy who spent a couple hours most evenings hanging out with friends in an old school MUCK, and he was a good husband and hard-working provider. All in all, it seemed I might need to loosen my bun a bit and give second life a whirl—for professional development, of course. It would be an adventure. And for about a year and a half, it was. I met new professional colleagues and personal friends, built virtual doodads and thingamabobs, learned how to do basic scripting, set up a beautiful Victorian/Asian house on a cliffside, managed an orientation center for second life newbies, was a tall slim hoopskirt-rocking belle of all the parties. Heck, I even learned all about steampunk (which probably needs an essay here come to think of it…). I co-presented on Second Life librarianship at a conference—attending virtually, of course. The world didn’t come to a crashing halt, I balanced things nicely, didn’t hesitate to log off when real life called and didn’t look a thing like WoW!Penny most days. 🙂  But then…after a year or so, it wasn’t fun anymore.

sl parents in worldI wish I could tell you I was drawn away from Second Life by some epiphany or ridiculous flame war. Not really—at a certain stage it was just one boring dance after another with what always sounded like the same playlist, one meaningless bit of chitchat after another over trends in fashion or building or pornographic pose-balls. Here we were in this gorgeous alternate reality with opportunities to really get adventurous (in a virtual kind of way), and yet it seemed nobody, not even my friends, wanted to get beyond the surface of second life (and god forbid you ask about many of their real lives). Not that I think everything must or should be particularly deep (Take a look around HERE for heaven’s sake), but any community worth joining (for meat least) should allow you to connect with people at whatever level makes sense. For me, any real sense of connection was drowned out by the code and the prims and the music and the porn and the bling. I could listen to people vapidly trading tips on clothing designers at a club at home, without having to worry about crashing the router. I was, well, bored. 😉 I wanted more out of my life, and thought I had the ability to find it. And then I went to a recruitment meeting at work for a PhD program at the local branch of Oklahoma State, and, well, let’s just say the bling was off the virtual strapless sandal. I resigned my position as a volunteer librarian and moved on. I didn’t think about second life all that much, till earlier this month, when Fellow Tulsans (believe me, it galls me to say that) Elizabeth Pester and Mark Knapp were arrested for Child neglect and endangerment.

Watch the whole thing and read the related story, but here’s some key quotes.

Detective Danielle Bishop said the two were severely neglecting their nearly 3-year-old daughter.

“She weighs 13 pounds. She’s not able to walk. She’s not able to move, and she has very limited vocal skills,” Bishop said.

Apparently the parents dropped the kid off at the hospital suffering from starvation. She was initially in critical condition and had an uncertain prognosis, but according to the TV station’s facebook page is now out of the hospital, living with a foster family and gaining weight rapidly. When her parents brought her to the ER, they said they would be back in three days, and went home to log back in. Here’s what they were up to during earlier court-ordered nutrition therapy…

The affidavit says Pester told the therapist she wanted to have session in the afternoon, because she had a late-night DJ job, and needs to sleep in the morning.

The affidavit shows the therapist later determined that Pester was talking about being an online avatar DJ.

Police say the couple was immersed in an online fantasy world.

We found Pester’s picture on a Facebook page attributed to an avatar in the virtual world of an online computer game. The avatar’s occupation is listed as “DJ on Second Life.”

There are pictures of a virtual birthday party and a wedding, with a caption reading “THE MOST AMAZING NIGHT A BRIDE COULD HAVE I WONT TRADE IT FOR THE WORLD!!!”

When the posl parents in RLlice came to arrest the parents, they were, shock of shocks, playing Second Life. Apparently, one of them asked, “Are you here because she’s dead?”

For obvious reasons, I was and still am following this story closely. I’ll probably write on it again when and if they go to trial. When I first head about these self-obsessed little worms I became angry and frustrated. And then I asked myself, “Am I becoming that? Is Fandom Lenses and Tumblr and all of the squeeing about all of the meaningless pop culture crap an excuse to check out from real life? Maybe it is. Maybe it’s time for me to leave.”

But then, my childlike side turned to me and said, “NO. This time is different, and you damn well know it.” And I realized that I did know it.

Lizard DenoumentThe title for this post came from one of Mike’s closing lines from the Monkees’ 30th anniversary reunion special, which I watched again for the first time in at least 10 years (maybe even since ’97) to wrap up my factchecking project for Melanie. However, one could read that phrase in another way, if you yank it outside the context of episode #781 and bring it into real life. Endings are always hard… to predict. They sometimes sneak up on you when you least expect it—like Davy’s heart attack in a stable in Florida, or Anissa’s long-controlled epilepsy killing her in her sleep the night before opening night of the year-end play she was directing. But sometimes stories don’t end when you expect them to. Sometimes fifteen years of silence compounded with a tragedy becomes one presumably final reunion tour. Sometimes one tour becomes a second, and broad hints of a third from a surprising source. Sometimes the solo tour you know you can’t make gets extended, and you score a golden ticket wristband to boot. Given everything I’ve seen and survived in my life, I should know better than to write an early obituary to anything.

The times I left the fandom before, I was doing what I did when I logged out of Second Life and didn’t set foot in that or any other virtual world or MMO for almost 4 years (Circe and Christian, be flattered, your awesome concerts were the reason I bowed to my friend Amy’s reassurances, dipped a toe into VR3D and popped in a couple times since under the name “Camille Flenses” before Quals Ate My Life For Two Months). Both when I left my bedroom as a kid and when I left Second Life as an adult I was taking a giant step out of my mind into new adventures. But as I think back on the last year and a half, I realize that this time in an alternate world has been different. This tour of fangirl duty was in itself a new means of engaging in life, rather than hiding from it. I was learning things that I applied over the past 18 months to every aspect of my life. I learned how to grieve for a friend with a giggle, how to take myself and my work less seriously (but seriously enough), and how to embrace new friends while protecting my heart as well as theirs. And as I take a second, harder look at my current dissertation topic…I wonder if even it was slightly influenced by The Year of Our WTF.

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

–Cyril Connolly (and the motto of fanfic writing group Long_Title)

creative_writingI started writing for myself again when Anissa died. That’s what I do when I don’t understand. Story is powerful–possibly one of the strongest forces in the universe and likely the phenomenon that truly makes us human. All I know is that when I take the amorphous thoughts and worries and pains in my soul and turn them into clear words on a page, I gain perspective. Myself and my world start making a little sense. As you can tell if you read the early posts here, I sure as hell did not understand what was going on in my life in the second half of 2012—at least at first. But then something weird happened after I shared some of what I wrote with you. In the course of trying to make sense of the bizarre events swirling around me, I helped people to make sense of their thoughts and feelings. My stories, halting and confused as they were, resonated with my readers’ stories. I was reminded of the power of Story, which has become an increasingly important aspect of my professional life and my scholarly qualitative research. Fandoms, at the end of the day are stories about stories–real and imaginary stories. All stories, no matter how factual or fictional, no matter how personal or fantastic, can serve as maps for us to come to terms with ourselves and our worlds. and Sometimes, if we are truly lucky…our stories touch others too.  And there was my answer. I know better than most that a fandom can become a seductively dark story. Then again, it was the story of the Monkees that ultimately led me away from them and back out into the sunlight as a kid. I think Second Life lost me because there was no story where I fit. Elizabeth and Mark may have gotten lost in a story, and their daughter paid the price.

 For a long time I thought fandom was inherently (if mildly) dangerous–a milder version of MMOs but hazardous for the same reasons. Now I’m learning fandom doesn’t have to be. Every other time I was in the Monkees community before this, I was trying to escape something–my low social status at school, homesickness in my first weeks abroad, and later, a horrible but oh-so-lucrative dot com job. But over the course of the past year and a half I have been trying to embrace something, and in so doing just maybe dig out the spark of my storyteller, hidden under the inevitable flotsom of a decade’s worth of growing up. That’s why this time feels different, and that’s why it’s not quite time for me to move on from all things fandom, or even all things Monkees/Nez fandom. Possible third tour or no possible third tour, it doesn’t matter. I can dress it up in pretty words, but if I fade away from REAL friends and a REAL adventure before this particular story ends, I’ll just have found another excuse to hide in my bedroom because shit got too real. I love my work, now get along just fine with the three people I still know from 5th grade (either I got cooler or they did, it’s funny how that works) and my Dad hasn’t had a major seizure in almost 20 years. I don’t even have an excuse to hide this time. I owe it to Davy…to Anissa–screw it, to MYSELF– to see this story through to the last page, or I was a hypocrite about everything I said last week. Laughter is a necessary force in this universe, and I am stronger and smarter and more creative when I give myself a little space to play pretend. So, with Quals done I’m going to lower my shields one more click and pack for Chicago. I just saw that rain is forecast for next Saturday evening, and as you might imagine that makes me happy in a chaos theory kind of way (As a native of Moore, Oklahoma my thoughts go to those hit by yesterday’s tornadoes–help if you can…). Besides bringing an umbrella to the show I don’t know what happens next, but I do know I need to keep writing, keep giggling, and roll with the flow wherever—and for however long—it goes.

Next time: The Chicago review. Really. 🙂 I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to one more story time. 🙂chaos-butterfly

One thought on “Endings are Always Hard (but not in the way you might think)

  1. One of the blessings of our particular corner of the fandom is that we are all mature, responsible (hahahaha…gasp…) adults who will look after one another. If any of us starts wobbling at the wheels, the others will gather around and gently suggest taking a walk in some fresh air for a bit.

    Thanks for writing this – I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

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