The Fandom Monster

The Fandom Monster

I learned at a very young age that collecting soothes and sorts a scattered mind. In the chaos of my childhood home I built a sanctuary within the space allotted to me for sleep and solitude. I started with books – series like The Babysitters Club; Sweet Valley High; Fear Street – inexpensive little treats that added up quickly so that the pleasure of seeing their uniform spines lined up along a wall equalled the pleasure of immersing myself inside the stories. I also collected cassette tapes, VHS tapes and, most reverently and expansively: magazines.

Musicians, young actors and actresses, and models were usually my drug of choice. However, when Beverly Hills, 90210 premiered in 1990, I had the opportunity to collect on many levels. Young actors, both boys and girls, sold me fashion, beauty, music, trends and sex. Not only was I able to align my teen frustrations into organized well labelled stacks of VHS tapes but, because 90210 was a teen culture phenomenon, I was able to become an insane fully immersed collector. What were once simply shiny magazine pages from Teen Beat and Bop became buttons; stickers; collector cards; games; clothing; pillows; sheets; curtains; jewellery; dolls. My bedroom was a shrine with only space for me and my obsession.

With nothing but the knowledge of the fantasy world they have stepped inside, fandom that complete creates a fan mutant of a person. No longer a simple fan, the Fandom Monster will listen quietly and leap awkwardly on any opportunity to reveal their massive cache of knowledge.

Which is why, on the day the season two episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 was to air where “one of the gang” was going to tragically meet their end; I could not keep myself quiet when a girl on the bus said, with complete assurance: “Dylan is going to die, probably of an overdose.”

“First of all,” I interrupted, speaking with an authoritative tone that startled my usually reserved self, “Dylan is in recovery.” After getting that point out of the way, I explained that the week’s TV Guide ad (which I clipped each week and pasted into a photo album) featured David’s geeky friend Scott Scanlon in the cast photo and that Scott hadn’t been in ads all season.

“Obviously it’s going to be Scott,” I calmly observed. “He’s expendable.”

Never mind the fact that, at the tender age of 13, I had figured out how to discover TV tropes, I just needed everyone on that bus to understand that I knew what I was talking about, and they needed to listen.

The girl I was so patiently schooling shrugged and turned away, but I felt pretty great setting her and her friends straight. Felt even better that night when Scott shot himself in the face.

“I knew it!” I shouted into the empty room, my voice echoing off the glossy papered walls, the silent smiles of the 90210 cast gazing back, congratulating me for being their Biggest Fan.

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Stolen Love

Stolen Love

I could tell a story about my unique and beautiful relationship with each of these cover boys, but I’ll tell just one.

When I was 11, the fantastically white trash neighbours who lived next door moved out and a new family moved in. We adored the family that lived there because our family was also WT, but just a little less trash, so our bonkers front yard filled with broken cars, a barely functioning above-ground pool and cats (so many cats!) was largely ignored by the neighbourhood while the boy next door pulled shenanigans.

Luckily, when he and his dreamy brother moved away, an even more fantastically dysfunctional family moved in. They were glorious! The family consisted of two cranky smoking parents, twin blonde daughters whose names began with the same letter and three boys whose names began with a different same letter. The youngest boy was rambunctious and everyone said he looked like a real-life Bart Simpson, because it was the late-80s, you see. The middle boy was quiet and polite. I wrote my first poem about him. Its title was Love. The eldest boy was a half-brother, the result of some teenage romp the smoking mother had before she settled down with the smoking father. This boy was magnificent: slim and tall and plump lipped. A blonde, cruelly beautiful girlfriend had shaved one side of his head; the unshaved side covered one eye that I never saw. Maybe it didn’t exist!

I was obsessed with this boy from the moment I got over my brief crush on middle-brother until I discovered the Internet when I was 16 and also discovered it was totally cool to love ladies. He did not care for my bod, but was always very sweet to me, which actually led to more humiliation than would have resulted if he had simply ignored me. During my obsession I wrote my tender mono-eyed love many poems, one titled True Love, because my feelings had deepened. I also composed a many-paged love letter that I foolishly asked my brother to deliver. Instead of the confession being passed along, it was instantly opened, read, and laughed at by our siblings. When I peeked out my bedroom window like an awkward princess in a tower and witnessed my shame, my brothers and his youngest brother huddled around my painstaking verse, guffawing with wicked joy, my Gallant Knight’s eye caught mine and he silently snatched the letter out of the giggling boys’ hands and returned to his house alone, while I slid down the wall of my bedroom and pushed play on my Paula Abdul cassette. I can’t remember one word contained in that precious document, but a part of me still hopes he read it, and still remembers that at one time, a sweet eager girl adored him.

Sometimes the mother of my Sweet Love would visit with my mother. They would sit at our kitchen table to smoke and gossip. During one visit, they moved their cigarettes and sweet tea outdoors, and Smoking Mom left her purse hanging from a kitchen chair. I was a tremendously well behaved child, but suddenly overcome by my irrational desire, I dove into her wallet, released My Tender True Heart’s school photo from its plastic confines & scurried to my bedroom with my stolen treasure clutched in my palm. I couldn’t look at it though! I couldn’t have such intimate eye contact with my Darling Man-child. He never looked away, just stared at me soulfully, slouched impatiently in his grey flannel. “What was he thinking?” I wondered. Even though I couldn’t interact with the photo, I also I couldn’t bring myself to toss it; the thrill of committing a crime in the name of (true) love was too delicious, the evidence must remain. So I hid it carefully behind a pin-up photo I had hanging on my wall, above my light switch, of Tommy Puett. I don’t even remember what show Tommy Puett was on (Life Goes On, maybe? I dunno.) He was just a space filler, surrounded by more important faces: Saved By the Bell cast members; Johnny Depp; New Kids on the Block; Mariah Carey; Winona Ryder, but behind Puett’s stupid face hid my True Love, and now that mullet-clad boy is a part of my heart’s history.

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Floating Words

Floating Words

In “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” Jean-Dominique Bauby explains the alphabet he used to communicate with visitors after waking from a coma caused by a stroke, leaving him paralyzed with only the ability to blink his left eye. Visitors would recite the alphabet, in order from most popular letter to least, and Bauby would blink when they reached the letter he wished to use. According to the kind of personality each visitor possessed, he or she would interpret the language differently – some given to fits of frustrated emotion when they couldn’t decode his words, others committed to painstaking, meticulous transcription.

The recollection reminded me of 2010, when my Mother, after waking from a coma, was unable to communicate for a time. She couldn’t speak, but she could hear. I wasn’t with her, but I would call every morning so she could hear my voice. My Dad would hold the phone to her ear and I would talk for a few minutes – fill the empty space with frivolous words: first of love, then mundane details of my days, then more love. Sometimes Papa would pull the phone away and describe Momma’s reaction if she smiled or nodded and my voice, not knowing its direction, would fill empty space, never landing. Words like “love”, “hope”, “miss”, today” never reached a destination; are still floating in the atmosphere in a North Carolina hospital room.

As Momma’s voice returned, conversation resumed, but because it was a strain, she chose her words carefully, was her own editor, spoke only what was necessary. Now her words come rapid-fire, but still laboured, still interspersed by attempts at great gulps of air that never fill her lungs. That never deters her; she keeps going, keeps talking. She no longer edits, when we speak, she puts on me every detail of the events that transpired to make her day miserable; every word spoken by those who have wronged her. I try to slow her down when she coughs or gasps, but she speaks as if in a race, forces all the words trapped inside her and making her ache, out of her and onto me.

I rarely speak; I don’t attempt to fit my own words into the space between hers. I listen, mostly silent, a sympathetic tsk here, a confirmation that I’m still on the line there, but no words of my own reach her. Even if they did, she would let them float with nowhere to land, there’s no space for me, no time for my words. She speaks as if her breaths are numbered, and I understand how she must feel, surviving what she did, feeling as though death will fully grasp her around the throat one day soon and squeeze, finish the job it started when she felt its fingers brushing along her skin. I’ll absorb what she spills onto me, do what I can to keep her breath coming, but sometimes, at my most selfish, all I want is for her to smile as I describe my day.

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Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

Young Hearts Crying feels like one of those stories about children growing up. The stories usually begin with a cast of characters in elementary school and we watch them grow and change through high school, college and into adulthood. This story portrays our cast beginning in college, in their early 20s, and as they grow into middle-age, we see how each character chooses to change and evolve. The times change around them; some adjust, some resist. Success and failures in relationships, career, and personal health plague each character, each react by either accepting their limitations, challenging themselves to grow, or stagnating.

Stagnation is one of the most crippling fears that grip us as we age. Every character in the novel possesses a varying level of creativity: some are geniuses blessed with talent and success; some are clever minds who spark soon and fizzle, never able to grab hold of what they imagined would be a life-long career of creative success. My favourite character is a creative hobbyist. She throws herself into various creative endeavours: acting; writing; painting. She’s very talented at some art forms, only minimally talented at others, but she throws herself fully into each project, and falls out of each just as easily, her attempts to find herself felt organic and open more to experience than success.

Every character in the novels stays in contact with the others in one form or another throughout the course of the decades-long story. As they age, every meeting feels more forced and uncomfortable. It’s an excellent message I’ve been advocating for years: as we age, we change; we cannot always hold onto the passionate friendships from our 20s into our 40s because circumstance and experience will change us, fundamentally. We don’t stop changing once we reach adulthood; we do it our whole life. There might be people who you find when you’re young that stay with you for life, but chances are better that they won’t, and that’s ok. Live fully inside the time you’re in, and it won’t matter that this relationship that means so much when you’re 25 means nothing when you’re 52. It’s not a detriment of either person, whether in a marriage, friendship, or professional relationship, it all changes. Hold onto the people who are running along the same course as you, let the others go; attempt to do this without bitterness, and if you do come together again, years or decades later, your nostalgia will feel like a pleasant ache, and not as if admiring or loving this person from your past was a bitter mistake.

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Writing Exercise Answers, July 9th 2013

Prompt #1: I was born…
I was born first. My story was the most vivid; the most told; the loveliest; the easiest. I was a gift: easy to unwrap, well presented, just what was wanted.

Prompt #2: When I was five…
When I was five I had already amassed 3 years of memories. I started my record young, first remembering my brother at my mother’s breast, next my doll at my toddler chest. When I was 5 I was a mother for 3 years. My first memory is of wanting what she had; finding and seeing peace that existed only in that moment, only in memory. Now the rosy memory seems a lie. I want nothing of what she has.

Prompt #3: My mother’s father…
My mother’s father has no name. She can’t recall the name of the man who she belongs to biologically and the name my Granddaddy’s wife and sister used is a mystery. My mother’s fathers are nameless, they are titles: “my father” and “Daddy”. The first spoken as a statistic, the second with reverence.

Prompt #4: My dad…
My Dad is a pervert. My Dad is ill. My Dad is brilliant and creative. My Dad is embarrassing. My Dad is fun. My Dad causes both panic and comfort. My Dad is strong and weak. My Dad is Swedish. My Dad is strange. My Dad is tired. My Dad is not wholly loved by anyone.

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Writing Exercises

Writing Exercises

I’m going to start posting prompts & answers to writing exercises I’m currently working on. Feel free to take the prompts & write your own words!

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A memory I barely remember

A memory I barely remember

I was once roofied at a club. The usual roofie happenings didn’t occur. I’m not even sure why someone slipped me a mickey since usually a drugged drink is accompanied by something sinister. I was at a gay bar I often visited, on my second drink, and suddenly I was stoned out of my mind and stumbling out of the bar with a friend, who had also been drugged, to his car. Of course we didn’t know at the time that we had been drugged; we just thought we felt awesome. He decided that we should drive to his rich friend’s house out in the country and play video games. “Great idea,” I replied, before abandoning my sober companions in their boring sober vehicles and willingly jumping into the passenger seat of my stoned friend’s car.

To put this scenario into perspective I’ll share two facts about me: I have a strong constitution and I do not drive drunk, or ride in cars with drunken people: ever. When I was 15 I was a passenger in a car that was struck by a drunk driver and I was seriously injured, so I strictly abided the No Drunk Driving laws, even during the most inebriated years of my misspent youth. I did, however, love liquor, and it loved me, and 2 drinks had never caused me to misplace my judgement so severely. But judgment-free, I was, so off I went into the car, and off we went on a terrible adventure.

First, I think we sideswiped a truck. I’m not sure, we also could have thought we sideswiped a truck, but it happened fairly early in our trip and all I recall is giggling manically while either fleeing the scene of a crime or driving away from an imagined crime. Next, I blacked out. Then I woke up feeling as though I was flying. I was not. Instead the car was zooming down the highway at some magical speed and I thought to myself, “So this is how I’m going to die.” A peaceful feeling overcame me as I succumbed to what I imagined was my inevitable end. I remember this with perfect clarity. It is the only moment of the evening that I perfectly recall: smiling, leaning back in my seat and succumbing. Soon after this moment of horrifying Zen, I blacked out and didn’t awake until the car stopped suddenly, in a ditch, and my friend sleepily told me he couldn’t drive anymore and that he was just going to rest for awhile. I peered out the car window and noticed that it wasn’t just sleepiness that was deterring his desire to drive, but also that the front-end of his car was pressed against a street sign. It must have been the most gentle car crash of all time though, because I didn’t feel a thing, and he seemed to welcome the excuse to have a little nap.

A sluggish panic overwhelmed me and, instead of getting some shut-eye alongside my friend, I muttered something about needing to get out of there, stumbled out of the car, and began walking down the deserted highway. Again, my macabre Zen overwhelmed me and I imagined I was moments away from suffering a horror movie death, and I was fine with that conclusion. As I walked down the road, with no plan, no destination, I calmly considered who would murder me: a masked mad man; an escaped mental patient; a rabid wolf? I was cool with all these scenarios and I just kept walking, marvelling at how light I felt, how lovely it is to give in to whatever the future had in store. Either I was going to somehow sense my way home (which was about 100 miles away) or I was going to die. I was a willing pawn in fate’s Choose Your Own Adventure game.

Instead of welcoming the harm or help of a stranger, I grew weary. A sudden sleepiness overcame me, and like my friend resting peacefully in his gently crashed car a half-mile back, I decided now was a good time for sleep. So I lowered myself to the ground, curled up in my usual sleeping position, on my tummy, one leg cocked up, the other straight, head rested atop one forearm, and promptly fell fast asleep.

I was awoken some time later by a police officer. I have a vague fear of authority figures, even though it’s accompanied by an almost obsessive obedience. The police officer was kind. He asked me if I had any identification. I replied, “No, but I know my name.” He chuckled, led me to his vehicle and drove me to the police station. I don’t know what town I was in or remember much about this portion of my trip. All I recall is telling him about my sleeping friend (who I believe was arrested), and waiting a very long time for another friend to pick me up and drive me home. I can’t remember what I did while I waited; only that I had no outside stimulation for hours, and though my high was wearing off, I was content to crawl inside myself and live within that odd calm that only exists inside a drug trip. When I finally arrived home I devoured a ham and cheese Hot Pocket, climbed into bed, cried, and slept a dozen hours.

This happened 11 or 12 years ago. I remember it from time-to-time, usually when I’m exchanging anecdotes about odd youthful drug experiences with friends. When I retell it, it’s always comically with a shake-of-the-head sigh accompanying the tale that says, “Boy was I ever crazy.” Because, even though in that instance I did not mean to take whatever drug I took, I willingly swallowed, snorted and smoked plenty of substances when I was young, if only to have the experience, to give in to wherever the drug was going to take me. I sought this thrill in other aspects of my life as well. I suffered from terrible wanderlust, moving from location-to-location on a whim. I kissed many sets of unworthy lips and ignored the few that offered stability; kindness; comfort. I constantly sought ways to give in and lose control.

I am not that person anymore, and what I realized in my most recent recalling of this anecdote, is that I don’t know that person either. I feel as if her memories were implanted in my brain; they’re fuzzy, like an episode of television that you could once recite verbatim and now you only recall in pieces, and maybe those bits are mixed with other episodes, or episodes from other shows, or details that were imagined. She is me though. I am attached to her, always, everything that happened to her imprinted itself on me, and I would not be where I am today if not for the choices I made in my past. I can distance myself as much as I like, compartmentalize by decade, or relationship, but I cannot escape who I used to be. Attempting to hide from your past is like playing hide-and-seek in a big empty room with only folding chairs to crouch behind. You’re hiding in plain sight. This does not, however, mean that change isn’t possible. It is, in fact, necessary. You must change. You must accept who you were in order to love who you currently are.

If we’re lucky, we get to be a lot of people in our life; we live long enough and experience life enough to slide into many skins, walk inside them for a spell, and shed them when they no longer fit. The difference between who I was then and who I am now is that I currently love the skin I’m in, and I fight whenever some part of me tries to loosen it. I want to be where I am, head clear, feet firmly planted on the ground. What I fear though, is losing that part of me that accepts change, that lets life flow through me and lives in whatever moment I’m given. I have decided that, though I no longer want to be that confused dancing leaf fluttering in the wind, unable to keep a grasp on anything solid or permanent, I also have no interest in being the tree that holds the leaf, unable to do much more than stand strong, but still, unmoved by anything but tragedy, stalwart and unchanged, watching everything happen around me. No. I am a branch on the tree. I am still when the air is still, I move with the changing seasons, I allow the elements to sometimes pass through me, sometimes land atop me, and I gracefully accept these changing conditions while holding tight to something deeply rooted and strong. I reach out and hold onto the delicate, but pretty foliage; I watch it bloom, reminisce about its beauty when it leaves me, and embrace it when it visits.

words written: August 9th, 2012
photo taken: July 5th, 2013

Find me now on my new site Les Beehive!