How fandom loves: Let’s be weird together

The weirdness in me honors the weirdness in you - Supernatural fandom

{Author’s Note: This post expands on something I said at an Ad Astra panel that I felt needed to be shared. There’s so much grossness out there regarding mental health and fandom, separately and together; I figured we could use a little love. Enjoy, comment, share. Mwah.}

From the outside, fandom can look stupid and awful. It can look like a gaggle of overweight, undermatured collectors who read too many comics in their mom’s basements. It can look like codependent interneters with nothing better to do than whine about their depression. It can look like oversensitive idealists attacking the “real world”’s views of gender, sex, race, and ability. A misanthropic mess of squabbling, nitpicking, ignorant children. It can look like a lot of things. not many of them good.

But from the inside, the view is remarkably different.

First, we first fell in love with a story. Before we Tumbled, cosplayed, or fanficced—maybe even before we shipped—we saw something beautiful on the screen or on the page, and we absorbed it into the fabric of our being. Not long after, a little voice inside whispered, “You are not alone.” And because we were outsiders, treated as less-than, othered, marginalized, we didn’t believe it, but we kept watching and reading and crying and laughing and soon we wanted to believe it. We needed to share our love of the story. That’s when we took those first tentative baby steps into the world of fandom. We sought out places where others gathered, unsure if we belonged, clutching our dearest plush to our emblazoned T-shirts, eyes widening at the wonderous temples that have been built to the stories that showed us who we are.

And then we fell in love again.

As we started goobing out with other story lovers, we got to know each other. Over time, we discovered that the thing(s) that make(s) us weird, awkward, different, broken, flawed out there were not only common in here, but normal. They had them, too. We were shocked to be seen and welcomed, heard and validated. To realize these people cared about us because, between the stories and the struggles, we’re the same. People who love us.

Our people.

This is the special beauty of fandom. It’s an understanding that connects us in ways we may never experience outside the community. It creates an organic support structure—a way to help without pretense. If you struggle with hyperfocus that makes you forget to eat, and I struggle with anorexia, we can have lunch and swap theories about Neville being the Chosen One. If I’m lost in depression, you can come watch Guardians of the Galaxy with me so I feel loved without having to talk. We’re afforded endless opportunities to see and support because we have this framework of storylove around us.

No, the fandom community isn’t perfect, and yes, there are problems. But that’s true for any group. What makes fandom so precious is that, even when it’s tense and feelings are hurt, the core of our relationship is always the love of a story. We’re on the same team.

We’re fans. Fandom is about love—for our stories and for each other. As long as we remember that, no power in the ‘verse can stop us.

Limited back of the month - fandom crossover - slippedstitchstudios


Ad Astra 2015: I didn’t totally embarrass myself

Ad Astra 2015 - Toronto

I went to Ad Astra last week. And it was good.

THE END

What? Whaddya mean that’ not a good story? Ugh. You people and your expectations. You must think I’m some kind of writer or something.

*checks occupation line on tax return* Oh. Well. Huh. Okay, fine. I’ll “try” “harder.”

Last weekend, I returned to Ad Astra, a nearby SFF con where my lovely cover artist, Desiree Kern, runs the art show. These folks regularly host high-caliber creatives as guests of honour, and for them to invite Little Guy me in to speak as a “professional panelist” (as opposed to last year when I did a pity-reading at 9pm in the basement on the first night) was kinda-sorta a big deal for me.

Although I popped my convention cherry last year, attending ConBravo in Hamilton and FanExpo in Toronto, I wasn’t there as a guest–I was a vendor, sharing a booth with Alexander Dundass, a local hardcore sci-fi author. Which was great! I broke about even on expenses, met some other creative folk, and had great conversations with new people. It taught me a lot. But it’s a whole different animal than being an official guest.

As a panelist, you’re presented as a person of authority. You’ve got an audience expecting you to divulge secret wisdom worthy of the time they’re spending with you. It’s a big honor, but also a big responsibility. I’d applied for over a dozen panels, mostly about fantasy writing, and I ended up with three.

But when I saw who I’d be speaking with, my extremities started sweating profusely. Seriously, I had to change my socks.

On Friday, I joined Lesley Donaldson and Jim Gardner for Inventing Real People for Alternate Histories (alt myth is pretty much the same thing, right?). There was a lot of discussion with the attendees–which I love; topics ranged from “Should you ever go back in time and kill Hitler?” (no) to “How do you put words in a famous person’s mouth?” (research + don’t be precious). I loved hearing how passionate Lesley is about Elizabeth I, the subject for her upcoming spec-fantasy, and Jim’s intricate ideas for different realities, like if the discovery of Rh+/- had been taken as blood markers for sin/salvation instead of science.

That panel eased me into public speaking (fear of which made me quit my Master’s program), so I was prepped for my reading on Saturday night. I shared space with Catherine Fitzsimmons, whom I’d met briefly at ConBravo, and she read from both Enduring Chaos (fantasy) and Halcyon (sci-fi thriller) to much applause. Personally, I couldn’t remember what I read last year, so I chose Cora Riley chapter 4, where Jack swears to Ishtar and Cora tries to rescue him; always a hit.

But by Sunday morning, I was so nervous I could hardly talk. I was short of breath and tunnel-visioned from anxiety. My next panel, Fairy Tales: Rewriting Grimm, Anderson & Aesop, featured two of the guests of honor: Anne Bishop and Charles de Lint.

NO BIG DEAL.

Going in, I already didn’t know why they’d assigned me to such a prestigious panel; by the time Alisse Lee Goldenberg and Marie Bilodeau joined the table, I was positive there’d been a mistake. These are all highly-respected, accomplished masters of their craft, bursting with experience and knowledge. I’m a self-published newbie with delusions of standing; what could I possibly contribute? So I put myself in the worst possible seat, furthest from attention, and hoped I didn’t elbow Anne Bishop hard enough to bruise her.

Then a beautiful thing happened.

In absence of a moderator, we asked each other questions and responded to the audiences’, which made for more material than we could cover. We discussed the pros and cons of Disneyfication, why we need fairytales as adults, what should/not be modernized, the challenges of adopting stories from other cultures, and changing the “damsel in distress” narrative. Not only did I start to realize I wasn’t out of place on the panel–I noticed how great it felt to talk with openly and passionately about my work. For the first time since I began writing the Forgotten Relics series, I felt like I wasn’t boring people with how the belief system works or Cora’s view of fairytales as life lessons. People asked me questions, nodded their heads at my answers, laughed at my jokes. For a fleeting moment, I felt like a Real Author. And it felt so. good.

By the time we ended, I was soaring on adrenaline and endorphins that carried me to Mental Health and Fandom. Of the panels I’d been assigned, I was most excited for this one (barf-inducing panic for the fairytale panel doesn’t count as “excitement”). I made a huge list of TV shows, films, and books I wanted to talk about in regards to how they handle depression, anorexia, suicide, autism, mania, and psychotic breaks. We did cover those things, but not how I’d anticipated; instead, the panel turned into an incredible session of folks sharing their own struggles.

Ada Hoffmann talked honestly about life on the autism spectrum and her views on society’s handling of those folks. Max Turner discussed the obstacles of identifying who’s having trouble and how to be a good ally. Patrick McDonald gave a harrowing view into the psychiatric system of the 70s and 80s–from the inside. I spoke about battling anorexia, depression, and mania. Audience members revealed intimate stories of how their lives have been touched by mental health issues, too. We encouraged and validated each other. It was intense–in a great way.

I walked away from Ad Astra 2015 with a lot to chew on. I’d met some incredible people (both behind the table and in front of it), successfully exercised my nascent extrovert skills, and gotten a taste of confidence in being an authority. But I’d also succumbed to anxiety, despair, and fuckitallitis a couple of times during the weekend; after all, I only sold one book, and all the industry info I got didn’t apply to “author-publishers.” A bit of a rollercoaster.

I drove back to Hamilton in my rented Jetta, though, I couldn’t ignore the tiny flame of hope down in my cold, black heart. Despite what my fear tells me, I’m actually good at conventions. I’m funny, curious, and grounded; I see people when I talk to them; I love encouraging aspiring writers; I want to hear about your character. Not because it makes me look good, but because I care, dammit. And, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m a good writer. My work is interesting and inventive;  I just have a marketing problem. What Ad Astra showed me is that if I can relax and keep doing what I’m good at–maybe with a couple tweaks–the doors I’ve been pounding my head bloody against will open up.

So, like I said at the start: I went to Ad Astra Toronto. And it was good.

THE END

Depression lies: Robin Williams, the tyranny of silence, and asking for help

Robin Williams - Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams passed away tonight.

One of the greatest comedians of our time took his own life to end his battle with depression. It was a known factor, but he seemed to have it in hand. He’d been clean and sober for 20+ years. He’d signed new movie deals, and Night at the Museum 3 is out soon. He’d even checked into a facility in July, saying he hadn’t fallen off the wagon but was worried his mental state would take him there.

It wasn’t enough. There were still demons that visited him in the night. Demons that eventually won. And now we grieve.

We get all verklempt when a celebrity dies – even more so when they commit suicide. And with good reason: it reminds us of our mortality. If these giants, these modern-day gods can die, so can we.  What we tend to forget is that depression extends to us, too. It doesn’t just strike the rich and famous; it’s not a disease of leisure or ennui.  It’s a monster attacking ordinary people, people you know and love, right now, right this moment.

And you may never know.

The person it’s attacking could even be you. And you may never ask for help.

That’s what shakes me when depression puts out another light: That there are people suffering under the lies of the disease that stay hidden – from shame, from fear, from embarrassment – their entire lives. They mask it with humor and anger and silence and partying and lies, and then one day, they’re gone. And everyone’s standing around wondering what happened. What they could’ve done to help.

I’ve never been quiet about the fact that I struggle with depression. I have for 15 years. I’ve been on and off medication, in and out of counseling. Some things help. Some things don’t. It’s a constant dance, and these days I’m winning more than I used to. “How” is another post.

The point tonight is to tell you that if you’re the one hearing the demons in the night: You are not alone.

I’ve had those thoughts. I’ve wanted to run my car off an icy overpass. Wanted to jam a pencil in my wrist and drag. Wanted to slip into darkness to spare other people my awful existence. Wanted to die. Wanted to scream out for help when I couldn’t help myself – when all I could do was weep and babble and drool on myself, balled up on the floor – and physically couldn’t speak the words.

And so has my mother.

And my brother.

And my best friend.

And so many other people I cherish.

And so many other people I don’t know well but confided in me.

And so many other people I’ll never meet.

Millions of them.

Depression is real. It’s pervasive and invasive and evasive. It’s insidious and clever. It’s organic and situational and triggerable and perpetual. It paralyses and controls.

And it lies. Depression tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, worthy enough, enough, enough, enough. It tells you that your presence is painful to others and they’re better off without you. It tells you that if only you were richer or married or childless or white or skinny, then you’d be happy. Then all your problems would go away.

And then it says that you can’t ask for help.

That is 100% pure bullshit.

Yes, there’s probably some awful shit happening in your life – past or present – that has you under its thumb right now. Trauma and wounds both utterly real and completely fabricated from depression’s library of pain.  But you can and will overcome it.

Because you are better than depression.

There is more to this life than the dark, helpless forever that depression wants for you. Do not let this demon win.

You are a brilliant mass of stardust and love that has incredible gifts and talents to offer. There is power locked in your heart right now that will shake the world. You are loved beyond your wildest dreams. Your life is precious to someone, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. You are light.  Darkness does not define the light; light defines and dispels the darkness.

My dearest darlings. If you are battling depression, particularly to the point of suicidal ideation or attempts, please reach out.  Even if you think no one could ever understand your pain, someone does care. Give them a chance to show it.  I know it can be the hardest imaginable thing to ask for help when you’re in the hole, and we’re shamed into thinking we’re weak and pitiful to say you’re drowning inside.

You are not weak.

Asking for help takes a strength that I promise you have. I know because I found it in myself when I thought I had nothing left.

Ask. Call. Speak up. Share. Love.

We can overcome this – together.

Rest in peace, Robin.

Bangarang.

Resources
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: US only, open 24/7, 1-800-273-8255
I’m Alive: online crisis counseling network
International Association for Suicide Prevention: worldwide connections to help