Everything I’ve said so far this week on the topic of fanfic is, of course, either an oversimplification or an exaggeration. The fact that I’m snarkily prone to exaggeration should come as no surprise to anyone, and the oversimplification can be attributed simply enough to the fact that I’m trying to get these posts to clock in around 1000 words apiece, not 10,000. But that doesn’t change the fact that by breezing on through I am perhaps being overly reductive.
Just like, basically, every other freaking thing under the sun, fanfic can be nuanced and taken as a whole has inexhaustible complexity. For every person writing graphic accounts of what actually happens when the source material tastefully fades to black, there’s someone else writing a legitimately interesting (yet still PG-rated) twist on an old idea. For every delusional diva who demands comment-thread worship for staging elaborate puppet shows using someone else’s toys, there’s a counterpart who’s humbly grateful to have any likeminded readers at all. For every obsessive who takes the reverence of sacred canon way too seriously, there’s a casual fan who knows it’s just a lark. Like I said, this makes fanfic no different from any other hobby, especially the hobbies that fall outside of mainstream pursuits like “watching movies” or “listening to music”. Model railroads, societies for creative anachronism, whatever – they’ve all got their enthusiasts who keep it all within the perspective appropriate to a fringe hobby, and they’ve got their zealots who take it all a wee bit too seriously and can be a mite offputting to everyone except those very much in lockstep with them.
I enjoy reading fanfic, and I enjoy writing it, too. Unsurprisingly (and despite trying to throw in as many examples this week as I could from novels and movies and tv) I gravitate exclusively to the comicbook superhero flavors, and more specifically fanfic as opposed to slashfic as I’ve already explained. I’ve been into it more or less consistently since about 1999 or so, which not coincidentally was not the greatest year for me. My first marriage was on the downward decline and picking up speed towards its inevitable end, and I had started a new job which I was really uncertain about (in retrospect it was the first step along my current career path, which seems to have turned out fine, but at the time it made me feel wobbly as hell). I was (this may sound familiar) undertasked and stressed during the days in the office, and overwhelmed and stressed in the nights at home, and I desperately needed some kind of lifeline, escape hatch, release valve, call it what you will.
It’s hard to think of something else that would have been more perfect in those circumstances than fanfic, which I discovered quite by accident while surfing teh interwebs at work. Reading and writing comicbook fanfic gave me something mentally engaging to do at my desk besides waiting for assignments to trickle in and wondering if I had made a big mistake employment-wise. In the relative privacy of a cubicle with a computer that supported an internet connection, a web browser and a word processor, I had everything I needed to engage fully in the hobby, and to any co-workers passing by I looked legitimately busy. Every time I finished another story it gave me a feeling of accomplishment, which was obviously sorely lacking in the other big areas of my life.
And writing (for me anyway) is just as much fun as it is hard work, so working on fanfic was extremely pleasant escapism. But on the flip side it was easy, way more fun than hard work, because half of the work was already done for me. Establishing personalities and character traits, setting up backstories that lent resonance to current developments – all conveniently handled by the mountains of comics I had grown up reading, which meant I could borrow all of those elements liberally and get right to the high notes, the one-liner zingers and the F-YEAH! climaxes. I conceivably could have spent my time writing on highly personal, 100% original dare-I-say-it art which has its own capacity for catharsis and release of pent-up energies and so on but the needle would have been much further to the hard-work side in that case, and I sincerely maintain that wasn’t what I needed at the time.
Stepping into a fanfic community was just icing on the cake, since I was feeling so isolated at the time (another side-effect of the unhealthy demands of a floundering marriage) – not that I unburdened my soul to these people with whom common ground consisted solely of appreciating the scripting abilities of Kurt Busiek or John Ostrander, but just having any kind of camaraderie at all was nice. Did I mention 1999 was bad times?
So it was the right combination of mental exercise and creative expression and fantasist entertainment and cyber-tribalism all at once at exactly the right time for me, and I didn’t meet but a handful of divas and hardly any pervs (oddly enough slashfic seems to be almost entirely the domain of female writers, and everyone I came in contact with who was writing straightforward prose versions of modern comics were dudes) and then I kind of got addicted to the whole enchilada which probably explains why I still do it today, long after the desperate need for it has passed. And all of the pros make sense and the cons are neatly sidestepped, but notice that it has taken FOUR DAYS for me to satisfactorily allow that to happen. So then that’s why I’ve never casually mentioned my own fanfic adventures: waaaaay too much caveating and caviling required.
I’m also not quite done with the personal shame yet, either. Dismissing slashfic as completely separate and way-over-there from what I do is one thing, but there are still other elements not so easily ignored because they totally do, in fact, apply to me. Yet here I am pushing 1000 words again, so we’ll save that for the big finale tomorrow.