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we_protect_each_other ([personal profile] we_protect_each_other) wrote2017-07-11 03:38 pm
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A Fannish Autobiography: Part II

Part II: GeoSites, because I swear that's how you say it

When I was in third grade, several fateful things happened. The most solemn of these was that the shooting at Columbine High School happened. Between this new fear about the conditions teenagers faced in public school, my parents perception of my early-adolescent symptoms of depression, and other concerns about my education itself, my parents decided to home-school me. This had pros and cons, and to this day, I will argue with my fellow proponents of public school that home-schooling isn't all bad. When it is done by a caring, intelligent parent or individual, it can be a very rewarding experience that allows an individual child to pursue his or her own interests and strengths, academically and otherwise. I got to volunteer in the community and to participate in programs to get me around kids my age and other things like that, so I wasn't all alone. I wouldn't say that I wasn't lonely quite a bit of the time, though, and envious of my peers who got to see their friends every day. Like I said, there were pros and cons.

I'm not really sure, from a completely objective standpoint, whether or not the opportunity to become a part of fannish life at a very young age was a pro or a con. It was, in either case, a therapy for my loneliness. There were good and bad things to come out of it, heartbreak and joy, but I think I did develop certain kinds of perception and reading and writing ability that I would have otherwise taken much longer to approach. We had a single PC in the house in my dad's office room, off my parents' bedroom. There were times, during those early years, when I would very, very quietly crawl across my parents' floor while they were sleeping, slip past the curtain, and get online in the middle of the night. I knew which floorboards squeaked, and I don't remember if I ever got caught out of bed. I'm sure I got in trouble at that young age, if I did, but I remember doing it semi-frequently when I couldn't sleep. This was even with the risk of the SCREECHING DIAL-UP NOISE waking them up, so I must have found it very entertaining.

Otherwise, I was able to get on the computer for a couple of hours most days. The thing about home-schooling is that if you have a capable student and only one, it doesn't take 8 hours a day. I had a lot of free time, which tended toward loneliness but was also a wonderful gift for my imagination. Especially during the days of dial-up, I would argue, the internet was a better place for text-based creativity because things were slower, more deliberate, more plain in their formatting, and that seemed a lot more conducive to reading and writing and contributing in that way.

My dad taught me a few things about the computer, for better or worse. Then, I taught myself how to type with a Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing program because I didn't really have many "games" for the computer. I used that and a cookbook on CD to entertain myself a lot, too. I became a very fast, very accurate typist in a matter of weeks, and that removed yet another barrier from my interaction with fandom and other people online. Around the same time, my third grade "boyfriend" and I tried to keep in touch and talked on the phone some. That didn't last for a long time because our interests diverged and timing was difficult, but he did have one important impact on the course of the rest of my life. I complained, one day, when we were on the phone, that when I called there was a busy signal most of the time when I could talk. He explained that this was because of the line being tied up by the internet. He explained what AOL Instant Messenger was to me, and he was able to talk me through downloading and registering for it because we had two phone lines in the house due to my dad running his own business. I don't really remember how this didn't interfere with his business phone traffic; I hope it didn't, but I think I maybe dimly remember there being some way for the calls to bypass to the answering machine when the line was in-use.

Anyway, my third-grade-boyfriend talked me into getting AIM, but we honestly didn't talk very much. Our friendship faded softly and it was a bit sad but not something I grieved terribly. I did, however, grieve my loneliness and started looking for ways to amend it. I began to use AIM's buddy search system that was based on a handful of interests, and I met a handful of people I talked to. I have no idea if these people were telling me the truth about themselves; I wasn't savvy enough for that yet, but of the more colorful personalities I remember a Hungarian rock-music-"Satanist" and a very emotionally volatile, goth/emo, in-a-band Nova Scotian teenager who lived with his grandmother. Over time, I lost touch with these people, probably for the best. However, I continued to learn how to find people online and how to meet others with similar interests. I never really maintained relationships for more than a few months, though, until another event happened.

Sometime during this period, my mother's sister decided to home-school her son, too. Her older child, a daughter of 18, had become pregnant and married the child's fifteen-year-old father. She was concerned about her son's future and, I guess, wanted to shelter him. While I know she was well-intended and my cousin turned out okay, this was an example of the bad kind of home-schooling. In some ways, I almost thing that there was an unacknowledged motive to simply reduce time-obligation toward my younger cousin. I often felt that he was ignored and left to his own devices, rather than being actually schooled in much of anything. My aunt would go through phases of taking him to the library for a few hours a day to instruct him, but while she was helping with her young grandson and her daughter's needs and concerns, their home was a noisy, chaotic mess. Meanwhile, my cousin mostly educated himself through reading for entertainment some. Then, he also learned to entertain himself on the internet.

For him, he started to play Unreal Tournament online and made friends through gaming "clans." As a result, he also started using AIM, and we talked to each other some that way. But I was still pretty lonely, not having a game to take up my time and attention. We both started attending the Boys and Girls Club to get some real-life person-to-person peer interaction. My cousin befriended a friend I had had in third grade, and the two of them also began to interact with the internet and computers, learning more about them than I cared to know. My cousin bought the first few issues of Shounen Jump when it began to be published in the US. He was interested in it due to being somewhat interested in the story of YuGiOh. After he had read them over and over an scored the covers by using them, violently apparently, as mousepads, he bequeathed his small collection to me. He told he had basically read them over and over until he had memorized them and that I seemed to like them even more than he did. I started to collect the books myself, and I read YuGiOh, primarily.

I couldn't get into Naruto. I don't even remember what else was in it. But then, flipping through the three or four issues I had accumulated at that time, I found a rather fascinating but gruesome picture that caught my eye. It was one of the first few panels of YuYu Hakusho, the opening scenes of which involve the protagonist getting hit by a car any dying. That caught my morbid fascination, and I began to read it. Soon, I cared more and YuYu Hakusho than anything else that was in my life, fandom-wise, at the time, but my cousin was the only one I could even begin to talk to about it, and he wasn't as into it as I was. Once again, I turned to the internet. I began to read fanfiction, and I would say that that was the first point at which I began to understand fanfiction for what it was, to understand its categorization, some of the terminology, and how it was archived at the time. However, I still couldn't really find anyone to gush about it as much as I wanted to with. I tried to get Ayu into it, but to only a little avail for quite some time. She only really got into it when she started watching the anime.

Anyway, my cousin continued to talk to other people online who ran in different circles. Then, he once met a girl whose screenname invoked Hiei, one of the characters from YYH. He recognized this and said he'd talked to her a few times. He passed her screenname along to me with the hopes that maybe I'd finally have YYH friend. I talked to her a few times, quite enthusiastically trying to win her friendship. However, she apparently found my enthusiasm a little too enthusiastic and was suspicious. She was polite, but distant, and invited me into a groupchat with several friends she had made on the website, GameFAQs.

I was 12 around this particular time. The girl was 14. The people in her group chat ranged in age a little bit, but it quickly became apparent, even to naive, trusting me that they essentially thought that maybe I was lying, maybe I was a predator, maybe I was a stalker. I'm not really sure what I had done to give the Hiei-girl this impression, but I certainly hadn't intended to do anything inappropriate. Nevertheless, some of her older friends tried to somehow break through to the Truth about me. But it didn't work because I am one of the most genuine-to-a-fault people in the world, even more so then than now.

This resulted in my meeting two boys, both age 17, one who lived in Louisiana and the other who lived in England. They were close friends but have a vitriolic relationship at times. The friend from Lousiana is still my friend, a friendship now ranging more than half my life. There was a period of time where he was my online "boyfriend" before I was old enough to have one, but it was done in innocence and a striving to belong. My friend has Asperger's Syndrome and to this day admits that while he does mature that it takes him a little longer than his allistic counterparts. The friend from England and I shared a different fate. We were very close for a long, long time, but only in a platonic way. We talked almost every day, and he was the person who initially mentioned Doctor Who to me which has become something of an anchor and stabilizer in my life. I know, therefore, that we were still pretty good friends up into 2005, but later in my teen years our relationship became toxic and fell apart. He began to suffer from chronic pain which, even with socialized healthcare, was never especially successfully treated. He also suffered from bipolar disorder, and while he, I think, really cared for me at one point, he began to take real-life obligations and interruptions as betrayal and arrogance. After a while, his hostile phases would last longer and longer, and by the time he seemed to find some kind of stride in his life where I think he was feeling better, he didn't like me anymore. So that friendship ended, even though I think it was real for a long time. The two of them, then-known to me as TfP and Mikari, became the foundation of my online social life for many years, though.

Meanwhile, in real life, back when I still had local friends, I was figuring out the internet and sharing Sailor Moon, YYH, YuGiOh, and other anime we came across with Ayu and my very enigmatic neighbor-friend. Around this time, I also met a girl from Delaware who forever gave me a complex about my Southern accent but who was also a formative, couple-years-older friend who was also into Sailor Moon. She taught me a few things about web design, and she and I shared the hobby of keeping detailed journal logs about each of our fandoms. In an era before Wikis were common, I think that was basically what we were doing -- creating decorative wikis in written journals from memory. Sometimes, they served as fanfiction and make-believe reference. Other times, I think the process of making the journals themselves was something like an act of devotion and fanning itself. We'd compare notes, keep them, print pictures, recolor them, and so on.

I had discovered GeoCities on my own. I didn't really understand it, and for some reason in my mind I was completely determined that it had to be pronounced Geo-Sites, however it was spelled. Neopets also came along around this time, and we played that, too. And it was basically a halcyon time of my having both friends in my actual locale and friends on the internet. Oh, how I long for those days.

Ayu and I made a freewebs website during these earliest fandom days, which still lurks on the internet here: https://web.archive.org/web/20050306125930/http://www.freewebs.com:80/botan/

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