Saying Good-Bye to a Friend You Never Met

I’ve written in the past about fandom, but I never really specified which fandoms I am a part of (though you can guess that I am in the Harry Potter fandom since I’ve written about it a few times). Fandom is, as I’ve said in the past, a community of fans who are engaged and invested in a text. They discuss and analyze and even produce their owns texts (fan videos, fan fiction, merchandise, etc.) based on the original text. They are a group of people, sometimes thousands of people, connected through fiction, but connected truly and deeply. This past July, one of the fandoms I am a part of was shaken when a lead actor in the television series it is based around passed away. Tonight, the show, Glee, is airing an episode in tribute to him, Cory Monteith, and his character, Finn Hudson. And honestly, I am a bit of an emotional mess about it.

Being a part of fandom means that by definition I have an emotional connection to Glee. I love watching the show, I feel for the characters, and I want them to do well and be happy. But even more so, I am connected to the cast. I support other work they do, I watch interviews with them, and I also went them to be successful and happy. There is an undeniable tether between an actor and their fans, an almost symbiosis. An actor moves their fans through their work, and the fans support the actor making sure they can continue that work and giving them motivation and support. And if that fan is more than a casual one, is a part of fandom, that tether is even stronger.

Glee has become a huge part of my life. The majority of my friends watch the show, and I have a lot of friends I only met because of the Glee fandom. When something good happens on the show or to one of the cast, we rejoice together. When something bad happens in the show, we rant or cry together. But this was an event that no one was prepared for.

I know exactly where I was when I found out that Cory had passed. I was in a hotel room in Chicago, it was 6am, and I checked my phone to see a text from a friend asking if I had heard. It was not a Glee fandom friend, but one who knew that I was in the Glee fandom. I was in town to see a show, and my sister was asleep next to me. One of my best friends, and the person who first got me into the Glee fandom, was asleep in the next bed with her sister. And after frantically checking Twitter to see if the news was true, I knew I would need to tell her.

Grieving as a fan is a strange thing. I never met Cory, though I know people who have. That first day I was a wreck. Part of me didn’t think I was even allowed to grieve. He wasn’t a part of my life, he was someone else’s family or friend. Why should I be crying, why should I be shocked and numb and breaking? Going online was even worse. The online hubs for fandom, like Tumblr and Twitter, were full of similarly emotional and crying fans. It was inescapable. And everyone was grieving in their own way, both for Cory and for his friends that we also felt connected to.

And then it hit me: my mourning for Cory was understandable and absolutely allowed. For one thing, sadness is sadness and it cannot be controlled. If I saw someone crying over a news story of a death in another country, I wouldn’t say, “hey, don’t do that, you didn’t know him!” Death is sad. But I was also, as I said, forever tethered to Cory. I knew about him. I’d seen him countless times, heard him speak and learned about him. I cared about him. I wanted him to do well, and I supported what he did. Even when his character was written in ways I didn’t like, I never stopped liking Cory. “I’m so mad at Finn right now. Still love Cory, though.” I was emotionally connected to him, and he was suddenly gone. I am emotionally connected to his friends and co-workers, and they are going through unimaginable grief. Of course I should mourn. When public figures die, when JFK and Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger died, the public mourned. And so I did.

But tonight, months after his death, Glee will pay tribute to Cory and to his character. In filming the episode, the cast and crew were able to properly say goodbye to their friend. The characters are able to rightfully say goodbye to their friend. But watching it is going to hurt more than I can even comprehend.

I have always personally felt that grieving is a private act. Everyone does it differently, and no one is connected to another person in the same way, so losing them is always private. And tonight’s episode, called “The Quarterback,” is not merely a chance for characters and fans to say good-bye. It’s not like when Joss Whedon kills of characters. Yes, I feel sad then, and I have shed a tear or two at the loss of a fictional person I loved. But the actor can do interviews about it later, can be in other shows, can even return in a new way or say, “nope, wasn’t dead!” This is something else. The people acting in the episode tonight are not really acting. Finn’s best friends were Cory’s best friends. Finn’s brother was like a brother to Cory after five years together. And Finn’s beloved girlfriend was Cory’s long-time girlfriend. I won’t be able to forget that while watching, and it’s going to be gut-wrenching.

Really, that’s also part of fandom. We learn to mourn together. It was weird for me to mourn in a group, and I was honestly not very comfortable with it. But that is what fandom is. You laugh together and you cry together. I’ve seen some fighting in the wake of Cory’s death, sure. There is always friction. But I’ve also seen countless fans come together to support Cory and his friends and family, holding vigils, showing their love, donating en mass to substance abuse centers and Cory’s charity of choice, Project Limelight.

Tonight is going to be hard. The past few months have been hard. But as always, when in fandom, you’re never in it alone.

Cory was a wonderful guy. Extremely talented, funny, kind. Never in the last five years have I heard a single negative thing said about him, which is rare. He was an amazing person, and he will always be missed. And even more, he will never be forgotten. 

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Autumn: the season for pumpkin spice and tv shows

It’s that time of year again, the time when we’re knee deep in new shows.

Since my schedule is pretty much just job hunting and dinners with friends, that has left me some time to check out some of the newest shows. Generally I try to wait until at least November to attempt this, since new shows are constantly getting canceled right out of the gate, and it hurts to fall for something only to loose it.

But boredom free time is a great motivator to watch tv.

Obviously I have not seen every new show, and a few have yet to even premiere (I’m looking at you, Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s Dracula, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and pretty much every CW show). But here are a few of my current favorites from the newest batch.

One other note: it’s also not great to judge a show right away, since they often take time to find their footing. But I’m generally looking at potential and immediate gut-reaction.

Sleepy Hollow (Fox)

I love shows with a heavy mythology, especially when it’s not overly complex (Lost was great, but also unable to answer half of their own questions). From Fringe and Star Trek writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the show is partially a modern retelling of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but mixed with Biblical mythology and just a hint of Rip Van Winkle. That last bit is because one of the main characters, Ichabod Crane, is a Revolutionary War soldier who woke up in modern times. He teams up with current Sleepy Hollow police lieutenant Abbie Mills to stop demons from destroying the world. The plot sounds a bit contrived, but the effects are great, the spooky tone is perfect for this time of year, and the chemistry between Ichabod and Abbie (played by Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie) is wonderful. He’s a sassy man-out-of-time with a great accent. She’s a takes-no-bullshit sarcastic badass. And the best part: despite being from the late 18th century, Ichabod barely bats an eye over the fact that his partner in world-saving is a black woman. Actually, wait, no, the best parts are when he reacts to modern technology. And when he discovers the prevalence of Starbucks.

The Michael J Fox Show (NBC)

First off, Michael J Fox does not age. Second, I am so glad he’s returning to TV. And he’s done it in a genius way. In this new sitcom, he plays Mike Henry, a well-known New York City news anchor who left TV after being diagnosed with Parkinsons, now returning after a five year absence. Art does like to imitate life. Thus Fox puts his Parkinsons out there, deals with it in humorous ways, and moves on. The show isn’t about his diagnosis. It is, like any good sitcom, about the quirky family dynamics. And while two of this three children tend to annoy me more than entertain, Fox and his on-screen wife (Breaking Bad‘s Betsy Brandt) are hilarious.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

Imagine the quirkiness of the characters of a show like Community or The Office (complete with cheesy life lessons, pranks, and incompetence), and put them in an environment where they not only have power over other people, but where they are necessary for safety and order. That’s this show, about the losers and lazies that make up a police department in Brooklyn. Led by SNL vet Andy Samberg, the cops in the show act more like overgrown children. Yet somehow this works. I expected to not like the show, but it does a surprisingly good job of balancing humor with heart, making sure that the characters always do the right thing despite still being slightly bumbling and even at time amoral. Though it is still early, I have high hopes for the rest of the show.

The Crazy Ones (CBS)

I love Sarah Michelle Gellar, but so far (after only 2 episodes) she’s the weakest part of this comedy about a Chicago advertising agency and it’s “crazy” employees. And if Buffy herself is your weak link, you must be doing something right. No surprises in that the best part of the show is Robin Williams, in his first lead TV role since Mork & Mindy. As Gellar’s character’s dad, and the head of the company, Williams is the “craziest” in the most hilarious ways. And his rapport with a copywriter played by James Wolk is comedy gold. Another example of a comedy that I feel will only get better with time and as the cast and writers find their footing together, The Crazy Ones has a lot of potential, but more than that it has Robin Williams acting insane and doing impressions. So basically, it’s a win.

Agents of SHIELD (ABC)

Did you really think I wouldn’t mention this one? Based in the same universe as the Marvel superhero movies (The one last seen in The Avengers), the show focuses on a newly formed elite squad within the spy agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D, headed by thought-to-be-dead fan-favorite Agent Phil Coulson (also known as the great Clark Gregg). With Joss Whedon at the helm, you can expect the normal Whedon fare: quirky characters, a lot of badass women, snark and quips galore, and meta commentary on the genre. For example, Coulson first appears by stepping out of the shadows in a trope shocking entrance, only to comment that he thinks a lightbulb has burned out. But unlike other Whedon shows, this one is backed by the extremely popular Marvel franchise, so it seems like a guarantee that it will not get canceled. Which means that while the show is still not quite what it could be, it has the chance to reach a point when the team of loners finally gets to the point where they can work together (think Buffy season 2) and we can move on to some awesome storylines. And hopefully those will include some lesser known Marvel comics greats (*crosses fingers and prays for Jessica Jones*).

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The New Yorker

The title of this post doesn’t refer to the magazine, but to me.

Guess who officially has a bed and a set of keys to an apartment in Manhattan?

I’m subletting a friend’s place for a little bit, but I’ve unpacked and I got a key and I live here now. After 6 weeks looking and and visiting from New Jersey, it’s surreal and awesome to be actually living in NYC. 

It’s a pretty picturesque first New York apartment: 3 girls in a one-room (plus bathroom) place in Hell’s Kitchen (which is a lot nicer than the name suggests) but that is decorated and adorable. Honestly, this place looks like it should be in a movie about a quirky New York girl, or maybe an episode of Friends or something. 

I’ve been fairly nomadic for the past few months, and it’s nice to have a little more stability. But I’m still not in a place of my own where I can really unpack and be at home. So, as always, there is something ahead to look forward to and work towards.

I do wish these posts could be a little more interesting, but not much has been going on. Though next weekend I’m attending the New York Comic Convention, or NYCC, so you can bet that I’ll have something to say.

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Haunted Rooms

When I was younger, I would sometimes (late at night or when I was home alone, of course) entertain the idea that my bedroom was haunted. 

I never saw anything weird, and nothing creepy ever really happened in the house. It was built in the mid 70s and we knew the people who lived there before us, so it’s not like it has a mysterious past. But my room is the coldest in the house, freezing even when the heat is on. And at night you can hear the house (and the porch swing underneath the room) creaking and settling, especially during storms when the noises got a lot louder. Plus, with the way the room was shaped, the shadows on the walls at night were very ambiguous and slightly menacing to my overactive imagination.

Obviously my room was and is not haunted. I’m just an overly imaginative person who is also terrified of scary movies and stories (even trailers for horror movies freak me out). But since I’ve been back in Ohio for a week, staying in my childhood bedroom that is now full of the boxes of my remaining possessions and empty aging furniture, I’ve realized that it is somewhat haunted now.

It’s weird to be home. I’ve only been gone a short time, but it feels like forever. I’m actually currently in Chicago for the weekend, seeing friends from college, and the haunted feeling remains. I’ve been gone from campus for 3 months, but it feels, again, much longer. 

I’m an “adult” now, as weird as that is, and my life is full of worries and responsibilities that I’ve never encountered. So being in places where I lived as a kid and an adolescent and college student is surreal. Just as with ghosts, I can feel and remember what it was like to be that person, but I am changed enough that the memories feel distant and almost otherworldly. 

Next week I go back to New York to begin a 3-month sublet and to continue my job hunt. As nervous as I am for the next step in my post-grad journey, one step closer to fully independent adulthood, it is almost a relief. I don’t fully belong back here, either in Ohio or on my campus. I’ve moved on, and my being here makes me the ghost: not fully present, a remnant of the past. 

So here’s to a semi-relaxing few weeks seeing family and friends (and glimpses of my past), but also to my impending future and quest to find my “present.”

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Blog Book Club: I can Fangirl, and so can you

One of the good things about not being in school anymore is having the time to read for fun. Not that all of the books I read in school were bad, but… Middlemarch (I will always cite this book as one I was assigned to read and loathed). 

Anyway, my most recent post-grad reading was the recently released Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. After discovering the author at LeakyCon in June (I volunteered at a multi-author signing and half of the line just wanted to see Rowell), I read her earlier YA novel Eleanor & Park in a day (seriously, that book is beautiful). I’ve been waiting since then to read her latest, though her adult novel Attachments in waiting on my shelf (YA always comes first).

Fangirl is the story of new college freshman Cath Avery in Nebraska in 2011. Cath and her twin sister are life-long fans of an insanely popular book series (and its film adaptations) called Simon Snow, a purposely thinly veiled Harry Potter stand-in. The two are “fangirls” of the series, meaning they are more involved with the text and its appreciation than the average person who enjoyed the books. Cath is a very popular fanfiction writer, meaning that she writes stories using the character of Simon Snow and his frenemy Baz, who she (and apparently thousands of other fangirls) see as being in love. To anyone familiar with the world of fandom, all of this makes sense. If you have no idea what most of these words mean, then you’re likely unfamiliar with the world of fandom, fangirls and fanboys, fanfic, and shipping. But I’ll get to that later. Cath’s first year at school is tough, with family drama and boy problems and the kind of sometimes crippling social anxiety that can come with that sort of major life change.

Writing this summary, I can practically feel people going, “ugh, another teen girl with boy drama. Who cares?” That would be the wrong response. Because I’ll tell you who cares: anyone who reads this book. Rowell is a master of the English language. She paints a compelling picture, using a flawed but endearing character that you cannot help but care about. Her descriptions of even the most simple moments are a thing of beauty. And, just as in Eleanor & Park, she writes first love like a work of art. The book is also interspersed with excerpts from the Simon Snow books and Cath’s fanfiction, making a layered story and creating a deeper connection with Cath.

When I finished Fangirl, I said something to a friend along the lines of, “this book feels like it’s talking about my life, but I also feel like it changed my life.” Meaning: as a self-described fangirl, I can relate so much to Cath and her life. But the way it is written and what Cath learns make the book feel… important. I think that’s the best word. I want to make people read it in order to understand me better, to understand my peers and friends and Millennials and the Internet and life. 

So fandom. If you have no idea what any of that “fan” junk is, I almost feel like you’ve missed out. Fandom is a place (not physically, obviously) for fans to come together to consume, discuss, and create texts. For Cath, this means reading and re-reading all of the Simon Snow books, watching the films, talking with other fans on online forums, sharing this with her sister, buying Simon Snow merchandise to cover her room, and writing tons of fanfiction using the world of Simon Snow or the characters. Fanfiction is a way to explore worlds and characters that the writer loves but has no ownership of. It is done for love, not for profit (except in the rare 50 Shades of Gray case. And also contrary to 50 Shades, it is not always porn). Slash fiction, like Cath writes, means putting two characters together, often of the same gender, who are not in a relationship in the original text (or canon). Cath “ships” (meaning wants a pair to be a couple) Simon and Baz, a similar pair to the popular Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy ship (I never shipped “Drarry,” but I found myself enjoying Simon/Baz). If shipping sounds weird to you, just know that it’s been happening for decades. Kirk/Spock shippers have existed in the Star Trek fandom since the 60s. Before the Internet they would write fic and mail it to each other. Seriously, look it up. Not to mention the obsessive fandom around the Sherlock Holmes stories when they were first published. They wore black arm bands when Doyle killed Sherlock, and then pushed the author until he brought him back years later. Fandom has always existed, they’re just louder and more accessible now with the Internet.

Fandom is incredibly important to Cath, and this is probably the most important paragraph of this review (which has gotten a bit out of hand. whoops?). Cath and her sister originally used the Simon Snow series as a form of escapism when things at home get hard. As the years go by, Cath’s connection to the story is her safe haven. Simon and Baz are sacred to her, their love representing something solid and constant that she can turn to in times of trouble. Fans have an emotional investment in texts. I speak from experience when I say that immersing in fiction, with understandable limits and a compelling world, can heal the soul. Like Cath, I have found solace and comfort in texts. And I have made friendships through fandom. I see people looking at fans, particularly teenage female fans, and belittling them as “crazy” (the treatment of boy band fans comes to mind). That is an unfair and unrealistic characterization. Just as die-hard sports fans involve themselves in fantasy teams, going to games, wearing gear or even painting their faces, fangirls and fanboys enact their love of texts in a similar way. All of this is for not only love of the canon, but love of what it stands for, and what it means specifically to each fan. Fandom, like any community, has its drama or stress, but in its very essence fandom is love. Love of the source and what comes from it. 

I love being a fangirl. I’m never bored or alone when I’m actively involved. I’ve made some of my best friends, people who are there for me in hard times as well as in “omg did you see the latest news?!” times. And I have dabbled in fanfiction, both reading and writing. To me, it is a way for consumers to take control of things they love and become producers. It’s empowering and downright fun, not to mention a great writing exercise (I urge you to look into what others have said on the subject, generally articulated better than I can, from scholars like Henry Jenkins to popular authors familiar with fandom likeJohn Green [that’s two links for John]). 

Fandom can even change the world. Just look at organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance, which uses the ideals of Harry and his friends to make strides in equal rights across the globe. That’s only one example of how love of a text translates into not only a better life for the fan, but for their community.

Well, this review has gotten a bit out of hand. Needless to say, Fangirl was great. If you identify as a fangirl or fanboy, you should absolutely check it out. If you don’t, but think that any of the fandom things I’ve mentioned seem interesting, then check the book out to learn more. If you don’t care at all about fandom, read the book anyway. I promise, it’s great.

Now if only those Simon Snow books were real so I could read those. Or at least the fanfiction for it…

 

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Life Updates

I haven’t written as many posts because things have sort of been up in the air. Things are still not completely settled, but I have found a sublet for October-December.

Cue applause.

Anyway, it’s sharing a studio in Manhattan, but it’s cute despite being tiny, and it’s a decent price for the city. Mostly I’m just excited to be able to be in NYC while I job hunt, and hopefully I can get a decent part time thing while I’m there. Plus, speaking to that soul-strengthening social life I’ve written about, being in the city gives me a chance to see friends and have a real life outside of the job search.

The other half of my current struggles is, as always, the job hunt itself. It’s hard, and it often feels like running on a treadmill. Or more like a hamster on a wheel. A lot of work but going nowhere. And I know that I’m not the only person in this situation. People are constantly telling me, “oh, I know so many people where you are right now!” “So-and-so looked for a job for 2 months.” “So-and-so looked for 4 months.” “So-and-so looked for 6 months.” “I won’t even tell you how long so-and-so looked.”

And yes, it is nice to hear that I’m not alone. That it’s not that I’m doing it wrong or that I’m doom to be unemployed. It’s a tough economy and a tough job market and it’s hard for everyone.

But on the flip side, it’s not completely comforting to hear that other people are in the same boat as me. I’m not sure the people on the Titanic looked around and thought, “well, at least I’m not alone on this boat.” It stinks no matter what, whether someone else is with you or you’re alone.

It’s only been 6 weeks, though. I’m nowhere near giving up, thus the 3 month housing commitment. I’m still in this, this weird post-grad New York adventure. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be, but that in itself isn’t a surprise. I guess the real surprise is how, even though it’s been so hard and disheartening, I’m still 100% committed. It’s nice when self-confidence is buoyed by actual real-world determination. I knew I could do this in theory, but it’s validating to persevere in practice.

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