Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Who We Are in the Dark

I've been thinking lately about what our stories say about us... and, more broadly, how the way we act and the roles we take within the fandom relates to who we are on a "whole-person" scale.  Click down below the break for some of my thoughts.

It's not exactly new news that people act differently in different groups.  This is often thought of in derogatory terms; "wearing a mask," "hiding who you really are," and the like.  And it's true that there are plenty of times when people do pretend to be something they aren't... but it's also true that, when people act differently in different company or situations, both can be healthy expressions of who that person is.  The way I interact with my friends at the card table is completely different from the way I interact with the students at school (I'm not in the habit of trash-talking kids), but it's not like one is the "real" me, and the other is just an act.

I think the pony fandom brings out a different side of people, for a lot of different reasons--I'm going to focus specifically on the fanfiction community, but a lot of this is broadly applicable.  Part of it is just the fact that most authors (and commenters) are building a "personality" from scratch; whether someone chooses to use their real name or not, the community they're participating in is going to be composed mostly or entirely of people they've never met in real life, and often of people they've never "known" outside of the context of ponies.  Part of it is different expectations within the group (this can fall into "wearing the mask" territory, but can also encompass more neutral or positive choices, like not cursing in a G-rated forum).  There are plenty of other reasons as well, some broad, some highly individualized.  The net effect, in any case, is that how someone comes across in the context of ponydom can be rather dramatically different than how they might be known to some--or all--of their real-life friends.

Case in point: xjuggernaughtx.  If I was asked to describe his personality based on his stories and my fandom interactions with him, I'd say he was very deliberate, receptive to criticism, and thoughtful, but still basically lighthearted and more inclined to laughter than tears or drama (I also had it in my mind that he had a puppy, for reasons to which only my subconscious is privy).  So it was a bit of a shock to read his RCL interview, where he confesses "I’m combative... I was the message board flamer and the loud-mouth in the bar," traits I would never have associated with the guy I've seen bouncing around the comments section here, and whose stories I've read and enjoyed for their punnery and ability to blend comedy and empathy.

This sort of disconnect can extend to who one "is" within the fandom, too.  More than one person has commented to me that my fanfiction and my fanfic reviews seem like they're written by two completely different people, and I can see why; if I had to put it into words, I'd say that my Pony Ramblings are a cleaned-up and more structured version of how I respond to the world around me, while my stories are more of... more of what I aspire to, for myself and others, if that makes sense.  I'm not sure it does, but I'm not quite sure how to express the relationship between my stories and who I am.  They're me, this blog is me, and the differences between the two are part of who I am.

I still find it hard to believe that xjuggernaughtx was a brawler, or that Cold in Gardez is in the military, or that [so-and-so author--seriously, there are dozens] is, like, fifteen years old, or some garbage.  I mean, do you know what I was doing when I was fifteen?  Whatever it was, I promise it wasn't good.

Anyway, I'm constantly surprised by what I find out about the people in this fandom, and how it does or doesn't match what I would have expected.  And I'm sure that for many of us, the way we act within the fandom is rather different from how we act most anywhere else.  It's true, that can be done in an unhealthy way.  But for myself?

Dwight L. Moody once said "Character is who you are in the dark"--a quote and
attribution I happen to know off the top of my head thanks to Dragon Magazine, which probably says something about me itself.  The internet gives us all a dark place to be ourselves in, and... well, I don't think I'm not being myself in real life, but I suspect there are more sides to me than any one person has seen.  I think that's true for all people.  And who I am in my writing--who I am on this blog--is at least as much the "real" me as anything else.


  1. So that's why this blog is called "Ramblings". (Not that this post isn't entertaining and thought-provoking.)

    "I still find it hard to believe that Cold in Gardez is in the army."
    Have you read "The Carnivore's Prayer"?

    "fifteen years old, or some garbage"
    Hey now.

    1. I briefly considered calling it "One Man's Incoherent Stream of Horse Words," but "Ramblings" has a nicer ring to it, doncha think?

  2. Hell, I'm not even consistent within this community. I tend to behave a little better on this blog, for example, 'cause I like everyone here. On other pony sites, however, I can be a little confrontational and more likely to use offensive humor. I've even gotten into a couple fights with other fans who probably have a very different impression of me then anyone here does. Like you said, it's not so much an act as just presenting different aspects of ourselves based on context

    You just had to go and mention Dragon, didn't you? Now I'm gonna be up all night reading that instead of ponyfics. Are you happy with what you've done, Chris?

  3. Well, and the way we perceive ourselves is sometimes different from the way we actually behave. Interviews will bring some of that out.

  4. Anyway, I'm constantly surprised by what I find out about the people in this fandom, and how it does or doesn't match what I would have expected.

    Wait until you go to a con and see the faces of people you've interacted with for months on the internet. Nothing really prepares you for that.

  5. I pretty much have the same persona online as in RL, but I don't participate in many forums, so I guess not a lot of people get to see that. As a writer, I'm definitely more geared toward the melancholy than the real me, and as a reviewer, I'm more blunt and forceful, just because for the length of reviews I give, it simply takes too much time not to be.

    I realize that many people in the fanfiction community will step out and be more of an attention-seeker than they normally would because to some degree that's what it takes to get noticed. So I can take it with a grain of salt when someone has a ton of blog posts on FiMFiction about irrelevant things or joins 50 groups so he can add his story to all of them. But it starts to annoy when he becomes this guy:

    He always wants you to help him with his story, but he never offers to help you with yours.
    He always plugs his own story, but never reads what you've written.
    He pressures his friends in strategic places to hustle his story through a reviewing queue or an approval queue or what have you, but doesn't reciprocate.
    He becomes unreceptive to criticism.
    He takes his success for granted.

    While I wouldn't begrudge someone's desire to self-promote, I've seen too many people take on these characteristics.

    Interesting that you find a difference between your blogging self and your writing self, because I get the same picture of you from both, maybe more so from your behavior regarding them than the actual content. You seem like someone who's confident yet humble, laid-back, deliberates at length rather than going on first impression, and is happy to let your work speak for itself—whoever finds it finds it.

    I can certainly appreciate the last, since that's what I do, too. As to the rest... well, I try, when I'm self-aware enough to.

    Oh, and I thought Gardez was Air Force.

    Go Navy!

    1. I thought I'd read army somewhere, but a (very) quick glance through the interwebs only gives me "military." Ah well, might as well make that a bit more generic for accuracy's sake.

      Also, thank you for the compliments! I feel really uncomfortable promoting myself, in truth--I'd like to think it's for high-minded reasons like you attribute to me, but I fear it might be more a combination of laziness and self-consciousness. Eh, poTAYto, poTAHto.

    2. CiG seems like a decent guy, so we should probably assume the best of him and go with the Marine Corps

  6. Honestly, the big difference is that I developed lupus in the early 2000s. I'm simply too tired to be that furious anymore, and I'm no longer in my mid-twenties. I'm more mature than I was during that time in my life.

    I used to live in a world of aggression. I lifted weights. I loaded trailers for UPS. I took various martial arts for about twelve years. I spent a lot of time at metal shows and punk clubs. It was a high testosterone lifestyle that rewarded aggressive behavior, and I embraced it.

    I have far too many stories to tell here, but I basically got a reputation around the Bay Area punk scene for being an asshole and eventually I got my clock cleaned a lot. I'm not the biggest guy, and while I was good at fighting, two guys will beat one guy almost every time. And no one was standing with me... because I was a jerk.

    When it comes to the xjuggernaughtx that you know, it's the person I want to be. It's not exactly a mask, but I have to work at being pleasant. I have to calm myself down when I get criticism. My natural reaction is to attack. I'm constantly reminding myself to really think about what people are telling me and why it is important, rather than to react to it as something personal.

    That's one thing that is great about typing all of these things out. I have to be more deliberate. It takes time, and that time allows me to cool off and think about things. It's a process that works well for me.

    I'm naturally a pretty funny guy, I guess. People usually laugh at my jokes and I've always been pretty popular when I wasn't causing trouble, so I don't feel like a big phony here. However, I do type things into that blog and then delete them. I do try and filter out what I think is overly negative. People aren't coming to me for angst. I'm really trying to be a pleasant guy. I want people to come read my stories and visit my blog. I want conversations and opinions, but no one likes that guy who can't take criticism or is moaning all of the time. I work to avoid that.

    But I don't always succeed. Just ask InquisitorM. He's been on the mopier, whinier side of my personality recently. He's been helping me a lot, and so I've dumped some my frustrations out onto him. It's not fair to him, and I regret it, but sometimes I'm just not making good decisions.

    However, since I've started writing, I'm making better choices behaviorally on a more consistant basis. I think this community has really helped in that regard. I'm still wearing a mask, but I hope it's slowly becoming my real face. I'd love nothing more than to be truly joyful and sincere, rather than overly-critical and angry.

    1. I'm feeling a lot of love right now ;_;

      Can I just say, juggy, that you are an A+ dude in my book? Because you are.

      And I keep a book of dudes. That's not weird at all. Everyone does it.

    2. Even after I threatened you with additional batpony fics. I… I think I'm tearing up a little.

      That's what's so great about bronies. You can threaten them with terrible, terrible stories, and they still accept you! You're aces, Present!

    3. "He's been helping me a lot, and so I've dumped some my frustrations out onto him. It's not fair to him, and I regret it . . . "

      It is a sad world indeed when such a thing is considered unfair. It's a function of male disposability to have been convinced that such is the case--it's a societal indoctrination at it's worst to think that other people would not only be interested but actively gladdened to help shoulder the burdens of another. All I can say is that it's not unfair and that, rather than a regret, it should be a thought of as a positive step.


    4. Well, we can debate fair and unfair. It depends on your preference. Some people don't mind the emotional burden of strangers. Some do. It would have been better for me to find out first, but I agree that we have been directed as a society to see asking for help as weakness.

      What I regret is loss of control. It's unavoidable, really. Everyone loses it at some point, but I've lived far too long letting my emotions drive, rather than logic. I'm usually pretty good these days, but as I've said before, writing has a way of getting under my skin and making me feel vulnerable. I get a little too emotionally raw in matters related to it. I'd like to get to a spot where I'm not so affected by it all. I want to care, but not quite as much as I do right now.

  7. Not everyone. I just have a hidden folder on my computer. Weirdo

    1. Just realized I derped and made a new comment. That was supposed to be a reply to Present :/

  8. Character is who you are after you've gone senile and no longer control your impulses. Your true nature will be revealed in the old folks' home.