Friday, December 4, 2015

Felicia Day Is My Spirit Animal: or, How I Learned To Stop Hiding And Embrace My Own Weird*

That one time I spent FOUR HOURS in a bookstore JUST for THIS MOMENT.
*In spite of the title, this post is going to be less of a creepy, overly-attached-fangirl, smorgasbord of flattery over Felicia Day, and more about how becoming acquainted with her has profoundly impacted my life.

I spend a lot of time in my head. Not doing anything productive, mind you, like trying to solve real-world problems or come up with the next leap in modern technology...

I make up stories. I create environments and characters out of thin air, occasionally basing them on certain actors I enjoy, who would be TOTALLY AWESOME at portraying those roles. I invent problems and then work out how circumstances fall into place to solve them. I imagine what it would be like to be published and get interviews, I consider what it would be like to be friends with celebrities I admire, or to work with them professionally—you know, in the off-chance that a bestseller I wrote gets picked up by an enterprising filmmaker for his debut...

In my head.

Nothing in my life actually happened like it did in my head... But I was so caught up in the allure of it that I "forgot" to learn what I could do to make it happen. 

My life has been far from anyone's definition of "normal" since the very beginning—but especially in the fact that I ended up obsessed with writing and stories, whether in books or visual media. I am the nerd who gets hooked on quirky shows with an interesting premise which they use well. I decided to give Warehouse 13 a shot. I could overlook lackluster graphics for the awesome steampunk vibe and entertaining characters (CLAUDIA DONOVAN WINS EVERYTHING!) and a profound sense of how different I was. It was also my "gateway" into Eureka--again, not without it's foibles, but I became more and more attached to the characters, as my brain began to acclimate to the somewhat bizarre and quirky premise. (NEWS FLASH LESLIE: The Syfy network is for crappy monster movies and second-rate, obscure TV series, not big-name, super-popular TV shows!) I watched Firefly and pronounced it "better than Star Wars" because it had all of the things that attracted me to Star Wars (gun battles, space ships, a ruggedly-handsome outlaw trying to win over a stunning "princess"...) and none of the things I didn't like (the Force, a "heroically struggling" Chosen One, and all those creepyweird aliens!)... But my siblings were less than impressed... They weren't as deeply motivated by sci-fi/fantasy concepts to look past the low-level special effects and somewhat cheesy scripting. I was the sort to read about a movie before watching it, but nobody understood that this enhanced the experience for me, they thought I was being a "spoilsport."
Even as I wrote more and more stories, people seemed less and less interested. Some might ask me "What are you writing?" But to be honest, I sort of got the feeling that they were more fascinated with the fact that I was writing at all, while the content of my imagination sailed right over their heads. 
So I stopped sharing. 

Me: Yep, still writing.
Me: It's going great.
Me: I'm fine, thanks, how are you?

I retreated completely from real-life interactions about my writing. I reasoned it was mostly fanfiction anyway... Or it was a story that meant a lot to me, but I knew nobody else would "get" it.

I retreated to the one place where I could be "me" without all the weird looks or the awkward pauses: online. It was still well within the "safe" boundaries, such as the heavily-moderated, password-protected forums used by the (online) college program I used, and not much else. The forums were my happy place, for sure. When I first joined, there had been only one haphazard attempt at a semi-writing-related thread. I started one of my own, finally giving vent to my over-percolated ideas, and enthusiastically goading others into sharing. To date, I believe the forums now house writing-related threads numbering closer to fifty. And my first thread was the mother of them all. 

The first person I talked to about my writing was a very dear friend whose daughter I tutored for about a year. She took me seriously; she believed in me, and most of all, she appreciated the sort of intensely creative soul that I was. I looked forward to our hour-long talks. I was not ashamed to talk about my ideas—and the more I shared, the more I was able to come up with fresh ideas. 

But when the job ended, so did this constant interaction. I began slipping back into the old me. I would binge watch multiple shows (and freak out when they were suddenly canceled), read stacks of books, and write copious amounts of stories that would confuse my family deeply if they ever knew about them. I wrote my first novel starting in 2009, it took me about two years to finish it, and I poured everything I thought I had into it. I thought it was heart-wrenching and poignant by turns; I gave it to two people whose opinions I esteemed without considering their value...

And watched that first novel positively crumble in their hands. I still have not touched that one since. 

After that, I knew I wanted to keep writing–the bug had not given up on me entirely—but it was time to do something about the fact that I had reams of stories sitting on my computer, I was either reading or writing at any given moment, and yet I was still so scarred after that first "editor" experience that I could not work up the gumption to think that my writing, as it was, could be publishable material. At least, not for the prices I was seeing on "self-publishing" vanity press sites... And the quality of the work for a far more reasonable price was lower than the first impression I wanted to make. Besides, why would I put that much money toward something if nobody else actually liked what I wrote enough to buy it themselves?

My dad encouraged me to start a blog. It is the single best thing I think I could have ever done. 

This blog has become a refuge for my writing. It has become a comfortable segue into letting strangers know who I am, into putting my writing out before an audience at no cost to me, with the potential getting the feedback I craved. It's much more comfortable to be able to say "I have a blog" as opposed to "I have a 100-page fanfiction based on a book series you don't even care about that I am devoting 80% of my mental energy toward even though it will probably never see the light of day and it will mean virtually nothing to my overall career if I ever have one." As for the fanfiction thing, starting a blog also gave me the confidence to set up an account on Fanfiction, and start posting what I had there. Between the blog and Fanfiction, I think the latter has gotten me way more feedback, which is totally awesome and at the same time understandable.

And it was during this early period that a few key events happened, to pull me out of hiding and quell my insecurities further:

1) My siblings all read and watched Harry Potter for the first time (one of the downsides of being homeschooled for "God reasons": the available literature has a stringent criteria, and things like any straight-up mention of "witchcraft" and other "inappropriate" things were deemed "unsafe" for good Christians... My youngest brother was about fifteen when we all realized, "Why exactly have we not done this yet??") marking our initial foray into the world of fandoms, where "fangirling/fanboying" was a legitimately recognized form of public expression, meant to be shared.

2) I became a huge fan of that awesome redhead who played Holly Marten on Eureka, and I would always keep an eye out for where and when she would show up. (I tell you what, I held out on watching Supernatural because "angels and demons aren't my thing"... But then a friend of mine posted "Top 10 Charlie Bradbury Moments" and I caved...)

3) Sometime later, I discovered +Geek & Sundry.

Joining the Geek & Sundry community brought me more insight into who Felicia was as a person, not just an actress. The kinds of things she did on the Flog, the way she interacted with her brother on CoOptitude... Everything about the way she conducted herself was pretty much how I envisioned my life might have turned out if I hadn't allowed my insecurity to isolate me. If I had used my fear of failure to motivate me to go out and keep trying, instead of choosing not to attempt what I could not guarantee. I saw a level of integrity and even consistency between the sort of fictional characters she portrayed in her television roles, the enthusiasm she put into every minute of her on-screen life, and the way she treated her fans. I noticed the caliber of the shows she participated in. CONFESSION OF WEIRD: I tend to be really picky about shows where either the acting or the writing is poor. I can even tell (sometimes) when the directing is "off" in an episode. 
But I couldn't help noticing that Felicia seemed to be in all the "good" shows: Eureka wins for "Best Show Finale I Have Ever Seen" and I am still waiting for a show, any show, to top it; Supernatural managed to make it into Season 11 without tanking, and I think we have Felicia to thank for that. (I mean, really... Everyone agrees Season 7 missed the boat... Season 8 was painful, Season 9 was almost worse... But what kept people coming back instead of packing it in entirely? Charlie the Honorary Winchester, that's who!) Good shows, with excellent writers, maintaining a core group of great actors without alienating them from each other or from the "management."

Most of all, following the Geek & Sundry community has revealed just what an inspiring person she is. With a skill set that is equal parts smart, savvy, creative and competent, Felicia does what she does not just to be in the spotlight or the center of attention all the time. She INSPIRES people. She inspired me.

The more I saw the way other people react positively to her "weird", the less insecure I felt about my own. YES, I jump up and down and squeal like a little girl when I get the chance to go to ComicCon (or see a fantasy movie in theaters), and YES I will cosplay! YES I write fanfiction—in fact, in this coming year, one of my fanfictions is slated to be adapted into the pilot episode of a webseries, and another is getting published in an anthology!! YES I am reluctant to sit down and actually learn an existing foreign language (though I will pretty much do anything for the person who teaches me Welsh!!) but I once devoted several hours to researching several Elvish glossaries for exactly the right way to say a total of ten lines I wanted to include in my Lord of the Rings fanfiction... And then a few years later, when I went back to rewrite that fanfiction into all my own work, I didn't want to give up those lines so I went ahead and FREAKING INVENTED MY OWN ELVISH LANGUAGE WITH A VOCABULARY OF OVER 300 WORDS. I am fairly certain I could translate just about anything. Try me! (In the event someone takes me up on this, I will state right now to use the hashtag #Andarian, and I will assume this is what you are referring to)
YES I obsess over actors and look up filmographies and the Trivia section on IMDb so that if I ever randomly encountered them at any point we could connect like REAL PEOPLE and be all casual like "Yeah, celebrities are people too!" and MAYBE I wouldn't be all star-struck and Little Miss Psychobabble.

I own my ownself now, and Felicia was one of the people whom I credit with basically "showing me how."

She made geeky look super-chill and knowledgeable. She tells it like it is but doesn't rub it in your face. She signed books for FOUR HOURS STRAIGHT at the one Never Weird event I went to... And yet she made me feel awesome and special by giving me a high-five when I dropped the "Always willing to support a fellow homeschooler" comment. Because the "weird" in her has made a point to recognize and acknowledge the "weird" in everyone she meets, whether they are "professional network connections" or not. She looks at you, not through you. She demonstrates how to fangirl responsibly. She uses her fame to give to others, not to get stuff from them. She is definitely a role model in a lot of ways. I went through my precious copy of her book with a highlighter, because there are SO MANY things I read that REALLY resonated with the deepest core of the person I believe I am.

Felicia, you inspire me to influence my world for good. You make "weird" look awesome. Keep that little spark of madness, and know that you have made a difference.

Catch you further Upstream!

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