Before you start wondering: I'm fine, my family and friends are all fine, etc. But I always think about death a lot around this time of year, for personal reasons.
When something's on your mind, life has a way of throwing it in your face. So although I know better, sometimes it's hard to see it as a coincidence that at the moment when my thoughts are already bent in that direction, some guy massacres a bunch of moviegoers at the Dark Knight premier and suddenly the news is full of stories about the victims. It's hard to see it as a coincidence that seemingly every athlete competing in the Olympics is out talking about how they're going to win for their recently departed mother/father/sister/best friend/pet boa constrictor/whatever. It's hard to remember that there isn't some agency out there, trying to rub your darker thoughts in your face.
Even within the confines of the pony fandom, I find myself reminded of death. The first reminder came about a week ago, when fanfic author Cold in Gardez, currently stationed in Afghanistan with the US military, posted this. If you haven't already, I strongly urge you to read it; I can think of nothing which brings home the incomprehensibleness of death so poignantly as he and his team scouring a field, looking for a suicide bomber's fingers, so that they can fingerprint him. When faced with something as overwhelming as what they encountered, the human mind has a funny way of latching on to something, anything, which can give meaning to what's going on. If you've ever experienced that feeling yourself, you'll understand immediately what he and his compatriots were doing.
The second came just a couple of days after. On Friday, I plan to post my review of Silent Ponyville and its associated side-stories. Back in December, fanfic author Ace2401 happened across this blog when EqD linked to it, and had mentioned at the time that he was really looking forward to me reviewing those stories. We'd chatted a couple of times since then, and I was aware that it was something he was excited about (also, he offered to help me figure out what order to read all the side-stories in, since they're sort of a boondoggle on the main page). Although I hadn't talked to him in several months, I went to send him a note through FIMfic, and let him know that I was finally getting to them.
That's when I found out that he died almost two months ago.
I didn't know Ace2401. Heck, I only talked to him three times, and I wasn't even aware he was in poor health. I don't know his actual name. He's basically a total stranger to me. But whether because death was already on my mind, or because there's something inherently tragic about being excited for something as simple as a fanfic review and never getting to see it posted, or out of simple guilt over the above (I know exactly how silly it is to feel guilty about not reviewing this story faster, and how silly it is to think that something like that was important enough that it would even have crossed his mind to regret it. That doesn't make me feel any less guilty), finding out that he'd passed on hit me hard.
If it seems like I'm dancing around something, it's because I am. I'm working up to a personal story, and I don't really do personal stories. It's that whole Midwest stoicism thing, I guess. Anyway.
I've mentioned before that I wrote fanfics for other fandoms before MLP. I've also said that I was driven from those fandoms multiple times by oversensitive authors and an inability to find quality reading material. That's all true, as far as it goes.
But the specific reason why I abandoned fanfiction for the "final" time--why I abandoned creative writing entirely, until a year and a half ago--was because my little brother died.
Before we go any further, I'd take it as a kindness if you refrained from telling me how sorry you are for my loss. Thank you.
The two of us were very close, and I didn't handle his death well. I'm crying just typing this. Needless to say, I didn't really feel like continuing the Silmarillion fanfic I was writing from the point of view of the Dwarves. Especially since Dwarves were his favorite race in LotR. And that was the last time that I wrote anything for fun for over five years.
So when I see news stories about the Aurora massacre, all I can think is that my brother would have camped out at the theatre to get into the midnight showing. When I read Gardez's blog post, I remember sitting in the non-denominational chapel at the hospital, trying to get in the "perfect" praying position, because maybe if my head was bowed at just the right angle and my fingers were steepled just so, then God would be more likely to help my brother make it through the night. And when I think about Ace2401, I think about how I never showed my brother that Dwarf fanfic, never even told him I wrote fanfiction, even though he would've loved it. It was terrible, it really was. But he'd have loved it.
Back to January 2011. I'd just found MLP, and of course saw all the fanfiction being written (a dribble compared to what gets produced daily now, but it was still a pretty significant amount). I read a few stories, and I remembered just how much I'd enjoyed creative writing, once upon a time. So I made a google account, opened up a blank doc, and started typing.
The story that I wrote had nothing to do with my brother. But writing it was like discovering that I had been carrying a pair of bricks in my jacket for so long that I'd forgotten about them, only to have them suddenly removed. I felt... lighter. I wouldn't say I felt better (funny thing: when someone close to you dies, people always chant "It gets better!" at you like a mantra. It doesn't. You never, ever feel that loss less acutely. You just learn how to bully on despite it, or else you go mad with grief), but I felt calmer than I had since the accident. Like there was a muscle in my chest that I'd been clenching for years, and it had finally started to relax it just a little bit.
Oddly enough, I'd spent most of those intervening years involved in other artistic endeavors (singing, mostly), without the same effect as that bit of creative writing. Different things work for different people, I guess.
It doesn't take a lot of searching to find other people who've used fanfiction as a coping mechanism. Gardez talks about as much in his post (seriously, if you didn't read it before, you should). Just among stories that I've reviewed on this blog, Jera mentions in a story note that she wrote Tomorrow about her father's passing, and Chicken Vortex talked in the comments on my review of Getting Lucky about how writing it helped him while he was suffering from depression (death isn't the only thing people have to cope with). In the end, we're all doing the same thing: we're writing fanfiction as a way to help us work through our problems.
Of course, lots of people just write fanfiction for fun, too. Heck, I, and probably all the authors I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, write primarily for enjoyment; it's not like we're only part of the fandom as part of some convoluted attempt at self-healing. But at its best, fanfiction can do for a person just as much as any other form of artistic expression: it can allow them the benefits of escapism, with all the trappings and rewards of laborious creation. And that's something worth celebrating.