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we_protect_each_other ([personal profile] we_protect_each_other) wrote2017-07-11 04:37 am
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A Fannish Autobiography: Part I

Part I: The Wonder Years

Yes, I have seen the TV show The Wonder Years. No, it was not my first fandom. I'm not quite old enough for that. I was born in 1991 to parents already in their 30s. We lived in a river valley in the Appalachian South but within two minutes of a city. We did not have cable. We had this large, cabinet-contained TV as I recall, and a bunny-ear antenna. We also had a black and white TV - my parents' first TV - that sat on top of the refrigerator which, very occasionally, picked up blurry PBS signal in addition to the big three networks we picked up in the living room. Given this situation, I didn't really get a strong saturation of a lot of whatever it was children in the early 90s watched if they had cable.



Instead, I loved VHS tapes. My parents collected them for me. Most of them were cheap, legitimate tapes - episodes of Sesame Street and the like. Others were bootleg copies of bigger titles from before my time my uncles made for me, because that was apparently a thing uncles did in the early 90s. I also watched the TV my parents did. Before I was in school, or around the time it started, I had watched Braveheart and Forrest Gump with my dad and liked them both. My parents' policy on movies I watched was that they covered my eyes and sometimes insisted I cover my ears during the "bad parts" if they watched them. More often, they fast-forwarded through them. We also watched Law & Order on TV.

When I was in second grade, on the playground, I remember asking kids to "play Law & Order with me." My teachers thought this was absolutely hilarious, but I didn't understand why it was hilarious. My parents chuckled, but they didn't try to stop me. I made paper police badges and court documents and such and tried and tried to get my peers to basically concoct elaborate roleplay games with me. The few who would listen would pretty immediately cut to the chase and determine that I wanted to play Cops and Robbers, a form of tag with added dialogue. I would sigh and go play alone or reluctantly join in, wondering why no one understood.

Even though my parents didn't have cable, my grandparents on both sides did. Particularly when I would visit my maternal grandmother, I was often allowed to watch TV while my grandmother and mother visited each other. I think it was slightly before I started Kindergarten or during one of the first summers of school that the dub of Sailor Moon started airing in the US. I somehow discovered it on Cartoon Network, and I was almost immediately hooked (to the extent a person who could only watch it at her grandmother's could be). It was unlike any cartoon I had ever seen before. I recognized that it had a continuing plot, in spite of its episodic nature, and it had nuanced characters who had problems and solutions and I was just so excited that it was something different from the other cartoons I had seen. I watched it every time it came on when I was around a TV that had cable. I remember asking my mom, when we'd go see my grandmother after school, to please make it so I could watch it at 4:30. Often, she did.

Getting into Sailor Moon overlapped with the Law & Order incidents, and I can't really remember being of school age and not knowing and loving Sailor Moon. I most-identified with Sailor Mars, and I began to identify with her and to imagine to be her. I explained the show to my cousin, who was my next-door neighbor at the first house in which I lived. She understood it somewhat and occasionally had seen it, but for the most part she didn't really get it. I loved her long brown hair and suggested that she be Sailor Jupiter, so she was when we played a game we devised based upon my retelling of the story.

Eventually, we moved away from my first childhood home. We moved into the city limits into a large but old two storey house. I needed to begin attending the neighborhood city school. I have never been especially good with change. During this time, I think my parents must have gotten an introductory deal on cable because we had full cable (about 70 channels then) for a while but it was something that was intermittent. During this time, I was still really obsessed with Sailor Moon. I also, during one of the time periods when we didn't have cable and I was lamenting that I couldn't watch Sailor Moon, discovered Digimon. It was another one of those life-changing things for me. It instilled in me my love of survival fiction and the one-blanket fic trope that abides with me to this day.

Sailor Moon and Digimon filled my thoughts at my new school during recess loneliness. I had never been the best at making friends. I was capable of running and playing, but I didn't really like sports or tag, so I often sat off under a tree or by a wall and would enjoy nature and feel sorry for myself. This feeling sorry for myself eventually gave way to intrusive daydreaming about my fandoms, even though I had no idea that there were other people who liked things as much as I did. Eventually, I made two fan-friends at the elementary school I attended in third grade. One was a boy who liked Digimon and had trouble fitting in, too. I don't really know what happened because, in high school, he was a really tough ROTC guy who was still fond of me but with whom I had absolutely nothing in common. Then, there was the girl who would become my childhood best friend. She was my age but had been held back one year so was a grade behind me. We met one day while waiting on parent pick-up in the school yard. I have always had a heart for underdogs, and as I dimly recall she was essentially throwing herself at another kid's mercy, just desperately hoping for a friend to stick around. I related to that and started talking to her.

Soon, we discovered that we were both really into Sailor Moon. She was the first person I had ever met whom I didn't have to explain it to. Because her family was upper middle class, she had seen even more than I had, and it was amazing to have someone who could shed light about it for me. She had dirty blonde hair, especially blonde in my early memories of her (I guess that makes sense since blonde can darken as kids age). She and I began to congregate together at the base of "our tree" every day after school. I was lucky if I saw her for fifteen or twenty minutes, but soon, waiting for my ride was no longer a chore. Parting was such sweet sorrow, as they say.

She and I eventually exchanged phone numbers and talked on the phone for as long as our parents would allow. She got AOL and I learned how to use my dad's dial-up connection around the same time. We began to arrange spending the afternoons or nights together sometimes. It would be a while before I discovered the magic of an instant messenger, but my childhood best friend (I guess we'll call her Ayu because of a name she adopted online) was ahead of me and told me about it. We sat side by side in a chair in front of a computer sometimes, showing each other fannish things we had discovered on the internet.

My earliest memories of what fandom-internet was like was that there were fansites for anime that were in English that had fairly elaborate "profiles" for each of the main characters. Looking back on it, it could have been completely inaccurate fanon, but for the most part, I think the core information was true. She and I began to learn more and more about Sailor Moon and its characters, the fact that it was something called "anime" which was from Japan, and that there were certain details we were missing because we were watching a sanitized dub.

And that was basically the beginning of a world for me. I remember having notebooks filled with transcribed information. We basically had this habit of concocting an oral history about these things we would read online or watch and we would spend our time playing outside making up stories and doing the kind of roleplaying-play that I had so desperately wanted to do with Law & Order. There were times when it even blurred the lines of reality for us. If I want to go into that, I will make a different post about it sometime, but for now I will just say that the majority of the magic of my childhood was with her. She was Sailor Moon, Serena according to the dub, and I was Ray/Rei, Sailor Mars, and we were one another's salvation in the midst of a bunch of other kids who had no idea what this nonsense we were talking about was.

My parents, I should mention, are not hyper-conservative, but they are conservative. I'm religious, but I do not share their socially-prescriptive views of things. Nevertheless, they were still pretty trusting and reasonable. However, sometimes they would hear the skewed views of those who were not and would adopt them as policy. I mention all of that to mention the fact that I was not allowed to watch Pokemon or read Harry Potter for those reasons as an actual kid. For a while, Digimon was banned in the house, but I already loved it so much that I consumed it like precious contraband in every way I could, and after some months, I eventually argued my way out of that particular moratorium. As I recall, their resistance to Digimon was that it sounded like "Pokemon" so it must be the same and that it somehow promoted parents being stupid because the kids were abandoned without their parents. ... Well, whatever. Parents are strange. I love mine, though, so that is just an aside I find funny and strange.

So, for me, fandom and being interested in fiction in a way that I wanted to immerse myself in was something that came very early and never left. I was an only child, and I can remember sitting on top of a dog house just to think sometimes (a dog lived in it, don't worry). And I just remember hoping, praying, singing, thinking, and wishing for two things. I wished for a friend, even if one just rose up out of the river, and I wished for something of the magic I felt in the stories I consumed and the stories I made in my head to actually be real, to actually matter, and in meeting Ayu that happened.

Over time, some of my cousins also began to genuinely share my interests. I met others who liked them, too. But at least in terms of my childhood acquaintances and experiences, I always felt like fandom was a part of my life and a part of me before I ever had the words for it. What little interaction I had with the internet was referential at best. If I ever came across fanfiction during that time, I didn't understand what it was really, and took it as gospel. However, I can remember writing my own fanfiction even before I had ever touched the internet.

As far as being a fannish writer goes, I remember sitting in my second grade class and writing a Sailor Moon fic on a spare piece of notebook paper. It was exhilarating when I realized, on my own, that "So?" as a response to someone's statement was a question. I had never seen it in writing, and it just occurred to me based on inflection. That changed my world, too, and from then on, I started writing fic. I had no idea other people did that, but I just wonder how common that is. I know that fandom existed in other forms before the internet became the source of interchange. I know it was happening around and above me even during these formative years. But I don't really have any experience with that. I just wonder how much fandom, as a community, codifies itself, and how much it is a grouping of a lot of people who did these things on their own, for themselves, without realizing anyone else understood at first.

And that's pretty much the pre-internet part of fandom for me. Then, I figured out how to use a computer, and the world changed.

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