LadiesCon and My Creative Self

This past weekend I went to a new-to-me (and over-all relatively new) con called LadiesCon, held by The Ladies of Comicazi at the Sommerville Armoury.  It’s lamentable the first con I’ve managed to make it to since Arisia this past January, despite my best intentions to get to Boston ComicCon (I almost, almost, almost made it this year!  It fell a week after Friendcation, though, which ate up a sizeable chunk of my budget, so I thought it’d be best to hold off on BCC one more year.  But, I digress).

LadiesCon had the effect that every convention in my con-going life has had on me, and that was the overwhemling desire to be more active in both the fannish and creative communities, and the overlap between the two.

The focus of LadiesCon was on female, LGBTQ, non-binary, and POC creators and indie artists.  As someone who falls at the crossroads of a few of those labels, I was thrilled to be among people who have been able to make a commitment that I am still working towards – a commitment to being their authentic artistic selves.  The variety – stylistically, thematically – of media present was a testement to the diversity within our communities.  There were sprawling space operas comix series, supernatural feminist steampunk novels, Lovecraftian-inspired jewelry, chainmail, knitting, handprinted micro-zines about growing up queer, and standalone visual novels about lesbain mermaid superheros.   Art styles varied dramatically, as did production values, but it was clear that every piece present was a true passion project, and choosing what to purchase (on a super tight budget) was an over-whelming experience that manifested intself in a legitimate anxiety headache.

I set out at the start of this blog – now almost a year ago – with the intention of track goals and chronicling the progress of my ambitions.  This has not turned out exactly as I had hoped.  I’ve been busy this year, and more social than typical (which was a goal in and of itself, and which I can’t actually complain about), but I have accomplished far less than I had intended to at the start of this year.  In the last few weeks, I have gotten better at this, but I have so, so far yet to go.

I need to find what I love to create, and I need to accept the fact that it doesn’t have to be any number of pre-conceived notions I have of art.

It doesn’t have to have a “deeper meaning.” It can be silly and kitschy and exist solely for it’s own aesthetic sake.

It doesn’t have to be thrilling and bombastic.  The best graphic novels I read in the last few years focused of very quiet slice-of-life and coming-of-age moments.

It doesn’t have to be polished.  People were snatching up those handprinted zines because of the the ideas inside of them, not because they hade really glossy covers or nice binding.

It doesn’t have to sound/look/feel like what everyone else is doing.  People will consume what I create if I create something that resonates with them.  There are billions of people in the world.  I don’t have to speak to all of them.  I need only speak of myself, and someone out there is bound to say, “hey, me too.”

This was LadiesCon’s second year, and I already eagerly await their third – hopefully including more panels (and a second day, which I know is really asking a lot, but I can hope??)  The next con I’m attending is the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo on October 22nd, and then nothing, lamentably, until Arisia in January.  

Hopefully I can that one, at the very least, as someone already immersed in the culture of creation.


I May Have a Dollar Tree Problem

There are two things you should know about me right off the bat:

1.  I have elevated the act of on-line procrastination to a high art, and

2.  I have a borderline pathological obsession with the Dollar Tree.

These are essential points to understanding how I have wasted a sizeable chunk of my allotted monthly budget and most of my waking hours over the last two weeks watching Dollar Tree haul videos and making “little stops” at Dollar Tree.

Since our move in the Spring of 2016, I am now a three minute drive away from our local Dollar Tree, and honestly this has been both the best and the worst thing that has happened to my life.  I grew up more or less without money; my parents worked to put us through school (putting three kids through private prep school costs just as much as you’d imagine), so I grew up with a deep respect for good bargains.  I never quite understood friends – and there were quite a few of them – who turned their noses up at flea markets, thrift stores, dollar stores, and their ilk.  Meanwhile, I trawled clearance racks and secondhand stores to cultivate whatever look I was currently into, and was smug but silent at their inevitable compliments.  It made me love my little hobby even more, knowing I could be the envy of my friends while spending nearly nothing.

I’ve got friends breathing envious sighs at one day hoping to furnish their homes at Anthropologie.  I dream of the day where I purchase and upcycle all my decor from Dollar Tree and the local thrift shop.

So, it was inevitable that I eventually stumble upon Dollar Tree haul videos.  I dont even know where I found my first one – I’m a member of a Dollar Tree craft group on Facebook, so there’s a decent chance someone posted it there – but I’ve been watching them obsessively ever since.  They combine a few of my favorite things – the strangely voyeuristic pleasure of essentially looking in someone else’s shopping cart, the thrill of finding good bargains, and the challenge and reward of buying something cheap and tranforming it into something that looks like it cost a premium.  My favorite channel so far is Bargain Bethany (I think she’s cute as hell, has a good sense of humor, and I like a lot of her aesthetic (even the super “girly” ones, which might not be for be, but are things I could gift to friends and family), but I’m trying to find some other worthy channels to subscribe to (I know they’re out there, I’ve just spent too much time watching all of Bethany’s videos to do any real digging).

The problem with the Dollar Tree addiction is, “only a dollar” is “still a dollar,” and even those singular dollars add up.  It’s taking more will power than I’d care to admit not to go there and blow through half my monthly budget on the first day, but I’m doing my best.  As far as vices go, it’s probably less costly than most.  And it leaves you with a lovely tableu for your corner table.

I’m always on the lookout for good DIYs to tweak and incorporate into my home.  Anyone have any videos or websites to recommend?

W is for Welcome to Night Vale: #AtoZChallenge (two days late)

For people who’ve only popped in to visit, it probably seems strange, but to me, Night Vale is home.

In my little insular fandom bubble, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember that there are stillpeople who don’t know what Night Vale is, but of course, Real Life Me understands that, so – Welcome to Night Vale is a twice monthly podcast, now in its fifth year that has been described as “Lake Wobegon as seen through the eyes of Stephen King or David Lynch”, or “NPR meets the Mothman Prophecies.”  It’s Pythonesque, it’s Lovecraftian, and it’s a beautiful mix of meaningful and nonsensical, creepy and comical.

And it feels like home.

I got into Night Vale around the same time everyone else did – I don’t know why, but in mid-to-late 2013, the show (which had been running for 35+ episodes already) suddenly exploded on Tumblr, and the cryptic posts made everyone need to find out what Night Vale was.

At this point, you sort of have to take the plunge and just listen to the damn thing.

I held out until December of that year, and got hit massively by the flu just after Christmas.  It was on one of those sleepless and feverish nights that I decided to listen.  The experience was interesting: I was drawn in by the writing, by the strange mythology of the town, and intrigued by where it was going – but I was also soothed by the narration.  I fell asleep listening to it every night of my illness.

The night I listened to the eighth episode, I surfaced just slightly from my feverish sleep for the first few chords of the Weather, which for that episode was Danny Schmidt’s “This Too Shall Pass.”  There was something about the melancholy of that song, paired with the weirdness of the show, the calmness of Cecil’s voice, the developing evidence that this show was going to have a canonical queer couple as its central figures (and it does), and the groggy fever dream state I was in – everything felt a little surreal and a  little  beautiful.  After that night, Night Vale became a minor obsession for which I ran a blog, drew fan art, and, and in February of 2014, began attending live shows.

I was at Arisia in January of 204 – at a Night Vale panel, in fact (which was literally standing room only) when I heard the Boston tickets for the live show the following month had sold out.  Devastated – and knowing I had to go – I told my husband, who got us tickets for the show in Northampton.  It was General Admissions seating, so we got there early and had a two hour line party with a bunch of other fans, and when the doors opened, we practically sprinted in to get front row seats.

The live show had an entirely different energy, one that I have always loved in live theatre, and when the show ended and we filed outside, someone told us it might be a good idea to stick around.  Sure enough, about twenty-five minutes later, someone came out yelling that they cast were in the lobby.  My husband and I got everyone’s autographs, and I got a great photo with Cecil (like, really great.  Cecil is looking dapper AF and my hair and makeup are were on point).  We’ve made it a point to go back every year, now; we saw our fourth Night Vale tour earlier this month, and should they grace us with another show next year, we will see our fifth.

A month after that first live show, I found out I was pregnant.  Night Vale got me through the pregnancy insomnia (blessedly the only real “symptom” I had), and when I left my obgyn’s office the day she told me my son was finally able to hear thing outside the womb, I started playing Night Vale at an even higher volume, with the Kindle nestled against my belly.  When I wrote Cecil my a fan letter last year, I told him something that I honestly hold true – there is every possibility that, aside from my own and my husband’s, his voice is probably the first voice my son recognized.  I look forward to when Night Vale is a pleasant place for my son to visit as well, instead of just a soothing memory of a voice from Before.

Is there a book, movie, show, whatever, that feels comfortable and homey to you?

L is for Les Miserables: #AtoZChallenge (a day late)

Y’all might not know this, but I have a little bit of a Lin-Manuel Miranda Problem, and by “problem,” I mean “all-consuming obsessive crush.”  It also means that I’m a Hamilton obsessive, and have wasted more hours than I’d care to count trying to find tickets at a price lower than our mortgage.  Turns out, it’s just a wee bit difficult to secure tickets for that particular show.

So when Broadway in Boston announced that Hamilton would be part of it’s 2017/2018 season, we did the only thing that made sense and could guarantee us tickets – we bought a season subscription.  So, guess who is seeing, like, eight shows – including Hamilton! – in the next year?

I’ve always loved musical theatre.  When I was in high school, I watched and listened to musicals voraciously, starting with Les Miserables in 1996.

It wasn’t the first musical I’d heard – my parents owned the original London Cast recording of The Phantom of the Opera (which I’m finally seeing this year!), but Les Mis was the first one that I ever saw live, and an experience I walked into utterly blind.  I had no idea what the story was, and I knew none of the music.  The Passport Club at my high school was offering the opportunity to go, and my best friend (who was a Drama Guild kid and already theatre obsessed) insisted I go with her.

I don’t know what most struck me about the show; of course it was the music, the singing, how surprisingly quickly I fell for the character of Javert (still my favorite in the show), but also, just everything about that night.  A rainy, late night in Boston with a few of my closest friends.  The electric thrill of live performance, of anticipation – there are few moments more perfectly joyous than when the lights go down and the curtain rises on a show, and few pleasures greater than sharing an experience like that with others.

The show ate it’s way into my brain the way nothing else had before, and which (if I’m being honest) nothing has since.  That summer, I collected four different versions of the soundtrack (including one in a language I didn’t speak); joined an online fan club; and picked up a half dozen pen pals (pen-and-paper penpals, that is) that I met on Les Miserables message boards on AOL.  We traded audio tapes talking about our lives and singing our favorite songs from Les Mis and various other musicals.  We made period costumes and staged tableaus of various scenes from the show and sent them to each other.  We ran on-line chat room role-playing in character.  We wrote fan letters and cyberstalked (in an innocent sense) the touring cast.  We continued those exchanges and those activities for a solid three years.

Nothing had inspired me, in such an earnest way, to be so enthusiastic, and so unashamed and unabashed at my sheer love of this silly little piece of theatre, and nothing had inspired me to be so freely creative.  The summer after I saw the show for the first time, I started writing fanfic.  My longest finished piece of writing, to this day, is a story I wrote while in Les Mis fandom at 15 – a 35k Enjolras/Grantaire romance called (not super creatively) “The Skeptic’s Account.”  I wrote over a half dozen fan poems; another epic length fanfic; and a huge, fully illustrated, partially collaborative (with my sister), and ultimately incomplete self-insert fanfic which was (in a literary sense) awful, but some of the most transcendentally fun writing I had ever done.

Nothing compares to that anymore.  I mean, getting a hand-written postcard from Lin-Manuel Miranda was pretty amazing, but even though it kicked me back into making an effort to be creative again (and I’m not trying to minimize the importance of that), it was no Les Mis.  I rode high on that for literal years.  I’ve never had a fan experience like that before, and I likely won’t again.  But I’m open to it.  I’m hopeful.

Has a piece of media – however silly – ever had a profound impact on you or your creativity?

F is for Fandom: #AtoZChallenge (a day late)

This is a crazy weekend. I wasn’t home at all yesterday until 10:45 last night, which meant that the #AtoZChallenge entry for yesterday never went live.  But I’m determined to  see this Challenge through to the end, even if I’m a day or two off (Sunday’s off make a good buffer; I’m super busy today, too, so I can do G tomorrow if need be and be back on track Monday!)

Fandom has been a huge part of my life probably all my life, honestly; I just didn’t have a word for it in my earliest years.  When my family finally got wired into the internet in 1996, I was thirteen years old and pretty much ready to find my tribe, because I sure as hell wasn’t finding them at school.  I logged on and dove in.

And the internet embraced me with open arms.

I’ve run through quite a few fandoms over the years, and played a number of roles in various fandoms:  fanfic writer, fan artist, icon/avatar maker, blogger, commenter, lurker, moderator, vidder, con goer, cosplayer, etc.  

But while the objects of my affection and my means of participation have evolved and changed over the years, two things have not:

  1. the unbridled enthusiasm with which I approach all my fandoms, and
  2. my absolute love for slash pairings.

I realize this is the internet in 2017, but for the few of you who might not know, slash is the pairing of two same-sex character in a romantic/sexual relationship that usually didn’t exist in the source material.  Again, though I didn’t have a name for it, I’ve been doing this in my head since I was about eleven years old.  Imagine my relief and joy when I discovered it’s one of fandom’s favorite past-times.

I don’t think I’d be capable of truly ordering them (like, in a “most-to-least favorite” way), but – in no particular order (aside from being my top five), my Top Five Favorite Slash Pairings (because who doesn’t love a list?)

  1. House/Wilson (House):  My friends and I built entire evening around watching House.  This show, and especially this pairing, was my religion for six years.  You know how bad it was?  When 97 Seconds aired and House told Wilson, “I love you,” I had friends texting and emailing me telling me how happy they were for my ship. Ok?  I was in deep, guys.  I still go back and read well-love fic for this pairing and occasionally seek out new stories, and nothing – nothing – will convince me this wasn’t canon by the end of the series.

  2. Sherlock/John (Sherlock):  A bit of a cop-out, since the dynamic and source material are basically the same as House/Wilson, but this pairing was so near and dear to my heart that I actually sought out strangers on the internet to meet-up with.  I gathering of about 20 of us met up in 2012 (after The Reichenbach Fall) and canvassed Boston Common in I Believe in Sherlock Holmes/I Fight John Watson’s War posters.

  3. Hannibal/Will (Hannibal):  I had not expected to fall so fully down this rabbit hole, but the show was so beautiful and everything about it was so sensual, and twisted, I just couldn’t help myself.  No, mind you, I don’t see this as an aspirational relationship – it’s sick, and unhealthy, and manipulative, etc. – but it’s also beautifully portrayed and incredibly intriguing, and oh my God, some of the fic.  Some of the fic is exquisite.

  4. Dean/Cas (Supernatural):  I haven’t watched Supernatural since the start of Season Ten, and I have been burned by this ship enough times that it would make perfect sense for me to abandon it entirely, but I can’t  I can’t, you guys.  If I see it trending on Tumblr, I still have to go check it out.  Dean and Cas are both so damaged and both so clearly love** each other, I just can’t shelve this one entirely. Even if it hurts to look at it.

  5. Cecil/Carlos (Welcome to Night Vale):  THESE GUYS ACTUALLY ARE CANON.  This is notable both for my proclivities (I tend to ship characters that aren’t canonically together) and because it’s still pretty rare to have canonically queer characters in queer relationships as the centerpiece of your media of choice.  As a side note, I’m seeing Night Vale Live tonight and if you are a fan of the podcast, I recommend you you the same if you get the chance.  This will be the fourth tour we’ve caught them on, and they are always wonderful.

Are you involved in fandom or shipping?  Who are your favorite characters or pairings?

** I would just like to mention a problem I have, particularly in the SPN fandom: the idea that you can’t ship a character in a same-gender relationship because they have only even been in opposite-gender relationships.  

Firstly, you can ship whomever you want with whomever you want – just be respectful to people who have different opinions on the matter.  

Secondly – bisexuality exists.  Pansexuality exists.  If you personally don’t read a character as queer, that is completely and totally okay.  But don’t tell other people – particularly other queer people – that having been in straight-coded relationship means you have to be straight.  It doesn’t.

Back from Arisia

Admittedly, I’m not super active on social media to begin with (something that I should probably aim to change), but I feel like I’ve been especially conspicuously absent the last few days.  In the last week or so, there’s actually been a legitimate reason for that.

For the fourth year in a row, I spent the long weekend at (and the subsequent time, recovering from) Arisia, a Boston-based sci-fi/fantasy/general nerd convention.  Arisia is my favorite of the admittedly limited selection of conventions I’ve gone to in my life – it falls at a wonderful crossroads of cerebral and silly – as a celebration of media, of reading and writing, of performance and creation, of science and social issues.  I’ve yet to attend in a year where most of my core passions or interests weren’t represented, even though I am not, primarily, a genre fan (though I do enjoy sci-fi/fantasy).

For me, though, Arisia is all about the celebration of creativity, enthusiasm, and fandom.  Every year I leave Arisia having created something new (this year it was a hand-sewn plushie and a steampunk-style hat), having learned something new (this year, flow arts and leviwand techniques) and thinking about writing – and fandom – in a fresh, new way.  

For someone who doesn’t really have a “tribe” in real life (I have very few friends, and even fewer friends who are creators), being in an environment of people who thrive on creating things is refreshing and inspirational, and for someone who’s earliest (and most often forgotten) passion was in writing fan fiction, it’s a rare and unspeakable joy to be around people who consume, create, and appreciate transformative works.

I started writing fanfic when I was eight years old, though at the the time I had no name for what I was doing; I liked certain books and shows and movies, and I liked exploring what those characters I loved did when their “official” stories ended (or before they began, or of the story had gone slightly differently, etc.)  The first time I knowingly wrote fanfic (and could name it as such) I was fourteen, writing stories in the Les Miserables musical fandom (a fandom that I was thrilled to see had a fandom/fanfic revival when the film came out a decade and a half later).  While it remains my most prolific fandom – two completed novella length fics, plus a dozen fan poems – I have since dabbled in writing in a number of fandoms, from small works of literature, to massive media franchises.

Post-high school, and especially post-college, my devotion to writing fanfic has fallen by the wayside.  While my experience has proven otherwise – and while I will adamantly defend the act and product of fan creations, there remains a shameful and stubborn part of me that, over time, came to regard my transformative fiction as somehow lesser.

That inclination, which I steadfastly stand by as being entirely false, is nonetheless insidious, and hasn’t exactly come into existence within a vacuum.  For every supportive creator/observer/casual fan, there have been dozens of people, both within academia/the creative community and looking in from the outskirts ready to deride it as garbage.

And some of it is.  Maybe even a lot of it is.  But so is some original writing.

So is a lot of original writing.

There is so much that is wonderful about fanfic, both as a consumer and as a creator, and both as someone just starting out in the world of writing as well as someone who has been writing for years.  It has allowed me to explore gender, sexuality, and story in ways that no other form of writing has been able to do – it gives me a cast of character that I am already emotionally invested in, who I already know and understand, and allows me to explore my own stories, themes, and ideas through them.  The fact that other people are writing stories using the same characters means we can converse through the narrative – we can talk motivation, if it rang true for the characters, because we are – all of us, creators and consumers – have a shared history and mutual understanding of said characters.  

And I am fascinated by the way one person’s idea becomes another person’s headcanon, becomes the general fandom’s accepted belief, becomes fanon.  How did the WTNV fandom collective decide that Cecil was covered with tattoos, despite never being given a physical description?  I’m fascinated by the way fandom borrows from itself, how we create not just augmentative, but parallel worlds, drawing from, building on, but ultimately deviating from the source material.

And as a result, we are freer; we are more diverse (in gender, race, ability, neurodiversity, sexuality); and, hell yeah, we are kinkier.  We have touched on tropes and plot lines that the canon would never even come close to, especially those in more mainstream media fandoms.

So I’m thinking of diving straight back into fanfic for a bit, especially while the seeds of my other creative projects germinate and I wait for them to break ground.  There are certain sandboxes that I have definitely missed playing in.

Do you write fanfic?  What fandoms do you dabble in?