The Fanfic Symposium
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by James Walkswithwind

Like the rest of us, sometimes I stop and ask myself, "What am I doing?" I thought that, for a change, I would share my reply.

I'm a writer. I quilt, I cook, and I take care of my family (sometimes). This is what I do with my life. Most of the time I'm delighted with the way my life is going. I consider myself lucky that I can do for a living what I love to do anyway, someth ing that I'm good at doing, on top of that. But sometimes I look at it all and wonder why. Why is this important?

What if it isn't?

I'm sitting there, piecing a churn-dash block for a friend. The pieces are going together fairly well, all things considered. My corners are lining up, my seams look right. I should be happy. I should be thrilled, given the way my machine piecing usua lly goes.

But I'm not. I'm wondering what the point is.

How useful is a quilt? How does having another -- yet another -- quilt, help anybody?

I guess I've been watching too many emergency rescue shows lately. I'm thinking that if I'm not saving someone's life, I must not be helping, must not be doing all I can.

I know we can't all be firefighters, we can't all be doctors or police or social workers or clergy. We can't all have our neighbors' lives or souls in our hands, to cradle and comfort and carry out of the depths. Some of us are teachers, builders, nurtu rers, artists. Some of us save lives, some of us feed souls.

But how do I know I shouldn't be saving someone's life? How do I know that writing these stories, these pieces of third-hand literature, is where I ought to be? How does fanfic save anyone's soul?

I remember watching TV when I was young. Hardy Boys, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica. Every cartoon known to kidkind, through the 70s and 80s. Typical US middle-class child, watching TV regularly, two or three or four hours a day.

How can I justify celebrating, in fiction, the time I wasted then?

I fully believe that television has contributed to some of society's ills, today. Too much time spent in front of the tube, brain switched off, parents in another room or another building not knowing how many deaths and crimes the child has seen. How ca n I write something which makes use of those very shows we are glued to, hour after hour?

I don't really have to justify it. I have already realised that TV isn't the source of ill. It's what you do with it that causes problems. I watch TV now in order to inspire myself to write. I watch it less, sometimes, but sometimes I still sit for ho urs, absorbing everything I see and hear. But then I turn it off and I turn it into something else: fiction, or conversation with someone about how they did this and why they did that. It becomes a forum, not an excuse.

But I'm still left with a question. How do I justify doing what I do? How does fanfic help anybody, except turn them onto another show, give them yet more hours to spend watching the tube, escaping and enjoying and being entertained?

My god, I'm an entertainer. How is that something to save lives?

I remember watching when I was young. Focused on what was happening in front of me, I could no longer see what was happening around me. For a few hours I could switch off my brain and I didn't have to think about what I was living in, anymore. For a fe w hours I watched TV and the pain went away.

OK, so maybe entertainment can save someone's life. I'm sure they didn't mean to -- does Gary Larson care that his show gave me the strength to escape into adolescence? Do any of these actors know they helped save my life?

I'm not going to stop writing. I already know that. I'm a writer; writing is like breathing. It's reflexive. I do it without meaning to; I do it sometimes deliberately, methodically, and slowly. I do it to meditate. I do it to survive, sometimes to thrive. I don't do it underwater without a lot of special equipment.

But how many people can I save with what I write?

I'll probably never know. One lady wrote me, told me that reading my stories helped keep her from getting bored ("going stark, raving bugnuts", a phrase I have stolen into my life) while she recovered from injury. I know how many stories I've read that changed me, helped me, saved some part of me I thought I would never find again. There aren't many, but I never would have found them had I not spent that time looking, reading a thousand stories for sheer enjoyment, to stumble upon the one that unexpect edly opened another door in my heart and shone a light on something lost.

I don't know that I've written anything like that. But I know I've written things that helped me. And you know, it occurs to me that my writing has already saved someone's life. It's saved mine. Poems and stories and notes to a friend to enter tain, carried me through those years of pain I wonder if I could have otherwise survived. Letting the pain leak out onto paper, it failed to consume me.

I don't write for that anymore; I haven't for a long time. I write now to make someone laugh, make someone cry, make someone glad they spent a few minutes or hours reading a story. I'm an entertainer, and I guess that's OK. I'm a quilter, which means I help decorate, help give gifts, help keep someone warm at night. They would have survived without the quilt. You folks would survive without fanfic.

You might not enjoy it as much.

Maybe that's why flowers and birds and everything alive comes in colours. If we were all shades of grey I bet we'd survive just fine. Insects could still camoflague themselves, plants could still absorb light. (OK, actually I'm not so sure about that o ne. Maybe my analogy would work better if I said "shades of green"? Well, whatever. Just go with me here. You can probably see where I'm going with this, anyhow.) Why bother with the colours?

Why bother with artists at all?

What happens when the firefighter has come home, exhausted and disheartened and wondering if he or she has the energy to go back again?

What if he turns on the TV and watches a game, forgets about the suffering and the stupidity and the bad luck for awhile?

What if she watches something that makes her laugh?

What if they read something erotic that makes them smile, laugh, cry, turn to someone and say 'let's get naked'?

How many lives were saved because the people responsible felt like doing it again that day?

I guess we all have our roles, all have our contributions to our worlds. We all have ways to make life better for those around us. I might not ever hold a bloody hand, dripping from wounds and shaking with pain. But if I reach out, I might find that I can hold a bloody hand, smeared from the day's chores, ready to be washed clean.

Is this noble? Is this arrogance? To hope that my writing can give someone the desire to push on? Ease them out of their pains for a while? Make them giggle? Why do we have colours, anyway? Couldn't we live just fine in shades of green?

I have a quilt, given to me when I felt as if I were completely alone. I don't know if she knew I felt that way, when she handed the quilt over. I'm sure my great-grandmother probably never dreamed it would do more than keep someone warm at night, when she made it. It never saved my life, but it made me feel loved.

So maybe next time I sit down to quilt, or sew another block, I'll remember that maybe, someday, someone will wrap themselves in a green and blue and yellow quilt and cry themselves to sleep, finally believing that someone who has never hurt them, also lo ves them.

Maybe a quilt can save a life. I suppose it depends on what you do with it.

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