So we’re up to our eyebrows in work these days. Work with our students, work on the various and sundry departmental and university committees that we’re required to participate in and of course work on the book – make that books – and let’s toss in an article or two while we’re at it.
When I first went to school, I had the standard image of university professors in their ivory towers (or ivied towers, or ivied ivory towers) wearing tweed, smoking pipes, spending their days thinking deep thoughts, trading witty quips with other deep thinkers. As luck would have it, my very first English professor (and as it turns out the very first professor I met as an undergraduate) was exactly that tweed wearing, pipe smoking man. Or so I assumed. He certainly came dressed for the occasion and I took the rest as a given, filling in the blanks with available stereotypes garnered from a childhood and adolescence of excessive movie viewing.
I also took as a given that this man had unlimited amounts of *time*. After all, he only taught three classes and that was only three days a week. What could be cushier, I wondered, than the life of a university professor?
I’ve since come to understand that time is an abstract concept at best, something I am constantly struggling against in some weird Twilight Zone-esque attempt to foil the forces of nature and bend the universe to my will – and we all know how those attempts turn out. But even as I complain about the number of hours I work the tiny voice of reason in my head (sometimes barely audible over the din of my incessant whining) tells me to “Shut the F**k up!!” After all, I don’t get up every morning only to descend into a coal mine or climb to the top of a building under construction. I’m not tending to the dying, or trying to keep planes from crashing into each other. I’m one of the lucky ones!
The fact is we’re all stressed and we all lead fractured lives to one degree or another. Stress is almost a badge of honor – we apologize if we’re not stressed, not working hard enough or long enough at more than one job. Or two. Or three. Like so many others, Lynn and I have been leading dual lives (and not just for the last two years), but then don’t most working mothers? We’re academics with all that entails. We’re parents, juggling relationships and households and the requisite crises of our progeny. But working women don’t have to hide. As a matter of fact, it’s far better if their performance is public and spectacular. Look at us juggle, look at the grace and ease with which we can keep one, two, three, four balls in the air!! We’re still bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan (for those of you who remember the infamous commercial for Enjoli perfume)!!
But what about our fan lives?
Recently there was a flurry of discussion on this subject, precipitated by a brilliantly rendered comic that depicted a woman overcome by guilt and shame upon being outed to her husband. For what, you ask? Cheating on him? Shoplifting diamonds? Poisoning the neighbor’s cat? No. Participating in online fandom while their baby was sleeping. (And omg, maybe reading – or writing! – fanfiction that might include – gasp! – S-E-X, and omg, maybe it was even that awful slash fic, and omg, no wonder her abusive jerk of a husband was so upset, and….oh wait.) The previously smiling and seemingly well adjusted woman tearfully says a permanent goodbye to her online community of friends, shuts the laptop, and walks away.
A very different kind of dual life indeed.
Fans responded with an outpouring of “Yes, yes, yes!” relating to the guilt and the shame and shaking with the ever present anxiety that they might end up inadvertently starring in a similar scenario in real life. Some commented that they fear losing custody of their children or their job if they’re outed as a fan!
Leaving aside for now the artist’s decision to lay blame for the outing on the Supernatural‘s demolition of the fourth wall in the season opener, is this how we really feel about being fans? No wonder we’re having such a hard time with our juggling act!
We started out with a somewhat naïve belief that fandom was a place of acceptance. A supportive community, a place to work out your own genuine identity amongst people who would allow you that space. A place to have fun, to share, to play. And in our two years on the road and in the midst of fandom, we’ve seen that – we’ve met wonderful people who support each other through terrible tragedies and share the joy of triumphs. Who encourage each other to be who they are.
Of course, we’ve also seen enough wank to last us a lifetime. Case in point: Actor Jared Padalecki is getting married as we’re writing this post. The news of the impending nuptials split the fandom down the middle, and created some of the nastiest wank we’ve ever seen on all sides. Some fans jumped online to vent their frustration on the real-life people – luckily, both Jared and Jensen have told us they don’t read the online gossip. The vast majority of fans kept it more to themselves, but most fans were upset. Not for the reasons people often accuse them of – we have yet to come across more than a handful of fans who were holding out hopes of snagging Mr. Padalecki for themselves, after all. It’s more the fear of change, and the desire to hang onto something that’s a healthy, happy refuge in an otherwise hectic life. Padalecki and costar Ackles have been technically single until now, leaving them available for projecting whatever fantasy combination might float your fannish boat. And that’s okay – the key word here is fantasy. There’s no right or wrong in fantasy, folks. Have at it!
Perhaps we’ve been particularly lucky. After all, fandom is what we do – what we research, write about, and do conference presentations on. Sometimes we even get paid for it, when a magazine decides to publish a piece (yay, we can drink coffee for….a few days….). But this doesn’t mean that we haven’t had to hide it, or the extent of it, from others we know wouldn’t “get it”. It’s one thing to be an academic studying fans, it’s another to fess up to being one, right in the thick of it, with our fan sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
And then there’s our families. An even tougher public. Those awkward phone calls to significant others breaking the news that we’re staying at a fan convention in some far off place an extra day. Accusations from children who suddenly needed in-person assistance on a homework assignment that very moment, blinking back tears so we can finish an interview. Staying up way too late following the latest fandom happenings on Facebook or Twitter or Live Journal, or being sucked into a piece of amazing fanfiction for far too long and then taking hell for taking the time away from other, more pressing responsibilities. Never mind that the only ones suffering most of the time were us — and that from lack of sleep, still juggling all our other tasks, keeping all the balls in the air.
We’re as familiar with the guilt and shame as we are with the fun and exhilaration. What we’re still working out is how to deal with it. So what do you say? Do guilt and shame just go with the territory? Is it a fan thing? A female thing? Let us know what you think. In the meantime, we’ll keep juggling.