I have a lot to thank seananmcguire for. Of course, there is the usual: her art moves me, delights me, entertains me; from her novels and stories, to her blogging, to her music. And if I’m telling the truth, there are numerous other writers whom I appreciate for their art as well in equal measure (though, ah, less so in the music department for some of them ;-)).
But Seanan McGuire has done something else for me. I don’t know what to call it; there must be some word in some language that means, “returns to me the fun that was had in previous activities that I had allowed myself to be shamed away from.”
A long time ago, I used to write fanfiction. This was back in the age before the internet had really taken off, and one of my works was deemed good enough to be put into a print zine. I still don’t want to tell you what fandom that was, because it was another country, and I was another person (I mean that literally). But after the divide of old me from previous me, and after I got my first industry job, I stopped doing it because supposedly engaging in the act was damaging my ability to write. That fanfiction was nothing more than playing with Barbies: crass and uneducated.
Speaking of playing with Barbies, that was another activity I was shamed out of. Not only because fashion dolls were a girly thing, and being a girl was so derogatory, but because supposedly fashion dolls warped the minds of women into believing they should be thin. I had never thought of the fact that no one points at action figures and say that they’re encouraging boys to engage in reckless behavior. Because boys can separate reality from play, and apparently girls can’t. (Similar arguments for Twilight exist.) And anyways, aren’t we supposed to put toys away when we are older and adults?
And speaking of girly things, because I worked in digital hackery, girly things (fanfiction, dolls, explicitly saying that you engage in stereotypically girly behavior like shopping) were looked down upon by the largely (almost completely) male population. So I stopped.
There were a lot of things that happened later in my life that encouraged me to pick up the mantle of being female and not as ashamed again (though if I’m telling the truth, and I am, I’m still a little ashamed, and that part of me burns because I know it shouldn’t be true). But nothing really attracted me back to dolls or fanfiction. Oh, I started having friends who were stars in the fanfiction world, but I had been one, too, once upon a time, before fanfiction.net was a glimmer in someone’s eye.
I started reading Seanan McGuire’s works out of curiosity. What was all this fuss about? I can’t stand horror, so her Mira Grant works are not within my safety boundaries, but her works as Seanan McGuire intrigued me. I started with Indexing from recommendations at Mark Spoils, and found that I really enjoyed it. And… I didn’t pick up another one of her works for months afterwards.
Life, as it does, changes. I found myself in a tough spot, in an organization that had lost its way, that turned out to have problems with women (and when the Company deems that an org has problems with women, you know that org has deep, deep problems with women that go beyond the usual problems with women that most of the orgs of the Company have). And then I ended up under a manager who did not have my best interests at heart, shall we say (to be fair, he doesn’t have anybody’s best interests but his own, and that eats away at the heart of someone like me, who of all things needs to be able to trust the authority figures in her life, because otherwise everything starts to trigger her about the things her father did to her).
So I did what I always do in situations like this: find an author and read the fuck out of their works. I’m still doing so with McGuire’s corpus, as she is hella prolific, which can only mean good things for me and my needs for distraction from the daily terrors of life, from the hell that work has become to the general gauntlets I run during summer and winter when my PTSD is triggered for weeks or months on end.
What’s more is that I respected her. I found myself respecting her far, in fact, more than various male authors, members of a gender which I had always been taught, implicitly and explicitly from my literature courses, to respect above the “weaker sex” (and implicitly all other genders). And while this unfortunately recent past of mine says terrible things about me, and while it shouldn’t take this kind of epiphany to move me towards actual fairness in my mind’s consideration of these kinds of things, and while she wasn’t the only factor in my gradual enlightenment… I must say, I am still grateful, even if the enlightenment tends to be painful for my ego.
But let’s get back to lighter subjects.
Fanfiction: I started reading it again when I learned that McGuire got her start there (please correct me if I’m wrong, as I have been severely scolded in the past for assuming this about an author, another factor in demeaning fanfiction in my eyes). And… I enjoyed it again. I enjoyed it as something beyond a guilty pleasure, as something that was a legit gratification. And I began to learn that fanfiction can fix things about a canon, exploring crannies the canon never bothered with defining, or had defined in an unfortunate way. (Before I had assumed, and it had been enforced in my old fandom, that the only fanfiction that should be respected were ones that stayed within canon.)
And… if Seanan McGuire wrote fanfiction, and it didn’t damage her ability to weave a story in the slightest, then I could, too. I didn’t have to condemn myself to a life writing invalid things, because fanfiction is a valid art. And as I dig into my own Harry Potter AU, I’m finding the challenges there to be as engaging as the ones I had faced in original writing. Yes, people claim that having your own characters elevates non-fanfiction, but do you know how hard characterization is even when you supposedly know your originating work’s character? You can’t see entirely what the original author had in mind. You are, in effect, creating a character anyways, even if you’re basing it on another (and many, many original characters have their origins in other characters and/or real life people). And of course there is plot to consider.
Later on I learned that McGuire had dolls. (Later, later on I found out how many dolls she had, and I’m pretty sure that’s only the tip of the iceberg.) Fashion dolls as well as other kinds. And I thought. Hey. If she can have dolls, I can have dolls. If she isn’t ashamed of them, I don’t have to be, either. And through now owning my own set of dolls (Monster High dolls), I’m discovering things. I didn’t, before recently, even know the comfort that brushing a doll’s hair could bring, or the get-up-and-go that dressing and even creating clothing for dolls inspires. And, somehow, the idea that an author I respect likes dolls has untangled some of the triggers that crafting has for me.
I’m telling the truth here. When I tell you that bringing back the pleasures of both of these subjects is making me cry, there are tears crawling down my cheeks.
Through my life, I think the only other author who has affected me as much was Terry Pratchett. Sorry, folks.
I don’t know all of what the future will bring. Maybe I’ll get out of work hell into another org, or into another company entirely, one that might not be so exploitive of its workers. Maybe, eventually, the PTSD will ease its way out of my life after so many years of torment. Maybe I’ll even find someone I want to share my life with. But I’m heading into it with my heart better healed and my eyes clearer and my soul just all around better.
And I owe a lot of that to Seanan McGuire.