Fan Fiction: Writing or Reading

In the late 1990’s I discovered the internet and found a place for my nerdiness to come out. I was a proud member of The Sliders Fandom on the Scifi Channel’s bulletin board dedicated to that show. I came to the party a couple of seasons in, so the roles of advocate, villain, bad writer, good writer, and fan were all filled by multiple people. Nonetheless, I carved a niche for myself. I wish I’d read through every post and story before hitting submit, because my dyslexia and typing issues did me no favors. I learned so much though about people and writing. I’m in no way proud of anything I wrote during that time; I am so proud of the fact that I tried. My failures in establishing and following through on plot were embedded into my psyche and slowly addressed. I miss the people I liked and the people I didn’t like even though I only knew their handles and general locations.

Since the advent of the early pulp magazines, fandom has brought disparate individuals together by creating a community as real as anything we deal with in our lives outside fandom and the internet. I saw a great fandom self-destruct due to petty pranks, flame wars, and personality conflicts. A few years later, I saw the Farscape fandom lead the way for the Browncoats and Nutters to win more episodes or min-series (even a feature-length film) from the networks their shows were housed in. Recently, I’ve seen beloved shows revived on AmazonPrime and Netflix.

My dirty little secret is how much I love reading trashy fan fiction now. I get to watch people who aren’t my students, people who care so much about certain characters and worlds grow as writers. I get to read the work of the truly talented and the less talented. It is so special that places like LiveJournal and ArchiveOfOurOwn exist for today’s fans. I may not do more than push the kudos button or bookmark stories, but I so appreciate the risk these people are taking.

Writing is a difficult passion. At times writers just want a little love, acknowledgement of their ideas and the time it took to put them into words. Once writers get a little more comfortable with writing for public consumption, constructive criticism is valuable. Writers who really want to improve get to the point where they need someone to say “Hey, you misused defiantly” or “What happened to this plot thread?” Constructive criticism can be overwhelming, just ask some of my students. If writers can power through the blocks, the lack of readers, the lack of praise, and the inevitable backsliding in product, then they can become really good at storytelling. People aren’t writers just because they get a book deal or make money self-publishing on Amazon or defend a kickass Thesis. People are writers because they write.

That was one of the most important lessons I learned from the Oregon Writing Project at a time when I wasn’t sure I could keep teaching. My first five years in the classroom were incredibly difficult and disheartening. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m still doing it well into year twenty. So, I learned that writers are people who write. I also learned that the best teachers practice their craft. I can help students through writing a paper on a topic they hate or get past a block or finally get a decent poem onto paper, because I write. When I’m writing I’m at my best.

For the last few years my depression has stolen my desire to capture words and ideas. Instead of filling up journal after journal, I have half a dozen half-filled blank books. Instead of writing in and posting regularly anywhere, I’ve slept or read my life away. Reading is my escape and writing is my sanity. I need both to be a better version of myself. And I can no longer let my fears about how self-absorbed it seems to write and post my thoughts about not much stop me. Instead I’ll take a lesson from a colleague who runs a fashion blog with a strong and steady following. She truly cares about clothes, about the importance of looking the way we want to feel. She wants her readers to be inspired by fashion and passion the way she is. I’m not that passionate about anything right now. So, this is me finding my voice again. This is me being me again.

I don’t think I’ll be writing much fan fiction though.

I will keep reading.

A Ramble

The use of fanfiction, of any fiction, to illuminate a larger truth is so important. The older I get the less comfortable I am rationalizing away the celebrity obsessed side of our culture that seems to think its okay for people to make a living through aggressive stalking. I get that celebrities make quite a bit more than I do. And, when they are promoting a project, their public lives are fair game. But their economic structure is cyclical and the smart ones have to learn to invest and find other revenue streams. That doesn’t mean they deserve to be hunted so someone else can make a few hundred? thousand? dollars off of their private lives.

It’s not just celebrities who are targeted in our brave new world. We have Big Brother watching us in the guise of the NSA or cameras posted on our streets and algorithms that track us for various corporations. We Little Brother each other every time we post a recording or picture of an acquaintance, stranger, or “friend” online. Consent is so important in all aspects of our lives. We should be teaching our children, reminding our youth, and reminding ourselves that it is not okay to take away other people’s choices even in as simple an act as taking/posting/tagging a picture. In order to live with each other, certain rules have developed, some becoming laws and others relegated to “common courtesy”. This becomes ever more important as we are deluged with information and with platforms on which to express ourselves.

When I started teaching twenty years ago, my personal goal was to help my students learn to think for themselves and be able to communicate their ideas in a variety of settings and situations. Because I am a supremely flawed human being, there was a huge learning curve which reminded me that failure is an important part of the learning (and thinking and growing process). For the last few years my focus has expanded to include teaching my students to become smart consumers of information. Certain skills are vital to successfully wade through life and all the information available online and offline. My students still need to think critically, but I now try to teach them to look at the sources of information, how to check information, how to weigh and measure the information, how to take it in and incorporate it into their frame of reference, how to use the information, and how to (still) effectively communicate that. This is an ongoing process for my students and for me. One of the ways I do this is through the use of literature in all its forms.

Stories matter so much in our world. We tell them all the time. We absorb them as we move through our days. Some stories are true, some are truthish, some are lies, and some are fiction. We have all these stories to entertain us, to teach us, and to inform us. We share these stories for all sorts of reasons. And today I was reminded by reading a tumblr post by @jasminekor and a fic/response by @ionaonie the impact not thinking about all the stories we consume can have. This is why we read and watch and talk and write fanfiction and care about popular culture. This is why we discuss stories and poems and movies in classes. This is why we find lessons we can apply to our lives. This is why each person telling their story in whatever format is so important.

I appreciate each person who has taken the time to write for fun. I appreciate each person who has shared their joy and pain openly. I appreciate the passion people throw at bands or television shows or book series or fanfiction writers. I appreciate the fact that I won’t always agree or be entertained or get to see how it ends. I really appreciate it when I read something that shifts my perspective. I know I’m not alone in this as academics like @deleted-scenes analyze the where and the why of emerging communities and cultures and their stories.