I just finished doing my fourth round of GISH, which over the years has inspired me and a friend to wear a hat made of kale (and an evening gown) to a country club, to cajole my niece into wearing a dress made entirely of construction paper and pose by my neighbor’s little red sports car, to brighten the day of WWII veterans at the local VA, and this year to help a four year old conquer his fear of strange noises in the dark. The beauty of GISH is that it gives you permission – and actively encourages you – to step outside your comfort zone. It makes weird a good thing, and underneath all the zaniness, it reminds us to be good to each other.
Those are two of the important things that Misha Collins has accomplished in the past decade, but there have been many more. There’s an inspiring and emotional chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood about how Misha changed fan Claudine Hummel’s life, and it’s titled “Spreading Kindness Like Confetti.” That’s a pretty apt description for what Misha has tried to do over the past ten years, and how much he’s succeeded. He realized soon after joining Supernatural that he could harness his popularity and the charitable nature that has long characterized fandom into making change in the world, and he’s done exactly that.
I remember one of our first chats, which turned into a long discussion of celebrity and how weird and artificial it can be, and how uncomfortable he was with it at the time, but he was also one of the first to recognize that it could also be a force for good. That’s how Random Acts came to be, and the good it has done in the world at this point is off the charts!
Misha wrote about celebrity, fandom and the creation of Random Acts in his chapter in one of our first books, Fan Phenomena Supernatural. His chapter is extremely candid, irreverent, hilarious – and fascinating. Just like Misha. It’s one of my favorites out of all the books I’ve put together. And he had this to say about his role on Supernatural and starting Random Acts:
At some point, fairly early into this strange experiment, I realized that my position on the show would allow me to provide a framework within which people can engage one another in the community. That I could be a catalyst because I happened to have been cast on a show that people were really, really enthused about. And so I guess I partly saw it as my responsibility to be a coalescing factor. Or perhaps a better way to put that is I saw it as an opportunity to serve and to help others be of service. So now I can say “Let’s all go do a scavenger hunt” or “Let’s go help Haiti” and people will come along and participate and engage. It became apparent fairly quickly that there was tremendous creative potential in Supernatural fandom. In spite of what everyone seems to think, I don’t spend a lot of time trolling online, but people email me things or I occasionally click through on something in the Twitter feed, and I see a tremendous amount of creative energy. I started Random Acts with the ambition of harnessing those resources to playful, productive and compassionate ends.
And did he ever! What a difference Misha and the SPNFamily have made, all over the world!
My conversations with Misha have often been around the ideas on celebrity, fandom and Supernatural that are in all my books, and I’ve loved hearing his thoughts – they’re often outside the box, which is a rarity. He also wrote a chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood about the SPNFamily – and following Misha’s example of trying to do some good in the world, every copy of the book benefits Random Acts and the important work they do.
Misha’s new book, The Adventurous Eaters Club, is also a way of changing the world and helping others. The book benefits the fight against childhood hunger (while also providing you with some out-of-the-box recipes). It’s impossible to list all the charitable endeavors that Misha has spearheaded over the last decade, and that the SPNFamily has generously contributed to, but suffice it to say, it’s a lot!
Random Acts isn’t the only way Misha has changed the world, though. He’s done it by throwing his weight behind the political and social causes that he believes in, opening eyes and raising awareness in the process. I keep telling him he needs to run for office, but I think he’s found his own way of making a difference. He’s done it with tweets and posting videos and giving us glimpses of his decidedly unconventional life and family, a challenge to the way we’re taught things “should be” that I think is healthy. I found myself all emotional yesterday over a video he posted of him and his family and friends in kayaks rescuing a pelican ensnared in fishing line, because of course he did. Misha grew up with an unconventional life and he’s continued to live one, and I think sometimes we all need a little shaking up of the status quo to realize there are other ways of being, and some of them might just make this world and our human-to-human interaction a bit better. (Not to mention human-to-pelican).
Misha is an extraordinary human being who has managed to do extraordinary things. He’s been a tremendous influence on his costars and on his fans (me included), I think for the better. And if he does decide to run for something, I’m right there lining up to cheer him on. Supernatural is ending, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Misha Collins changing the world.
I’m at San Diego Comic Con right now, on the day of one of my favorite people’s birthdays – Jared Padalecki. But that’s okay, because he is too! Last year I got to give him a birthday hug the day after his birthday, also at Comic Con. This year, who knows if I’ll be that lucky – but either way, I wanted to tell him how much he means to me and to so many others.
It’s been an emotional year for the SPNFamily, for the fans and for the cast. As Season 14 was nearing its wrap, Jared, Jensen and Misha announced that the next season would be Supernatural’s last. To say that the news sent shock waves through the fandom would be an understatement. But it was a complicated decision for the actors as well, and one that left them almost as emotional as we all were. I’ve talked with all three of them a bit about it since, but even that day, it was clear that – like with so many complex and sweeping decisions – there was ambivalence and mixed emotions. Sometimes even when you’re the one making a difficult decision, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a painful one to make.
So, as the actors head back to work for the final season, I think this will also be an emotional birthday for Jared (and for the other actors as theirs come along). It will be the last birthday that happens while Jared is still Sam Winchester. The last that happens when Supernatural is still filming and still on the air. The last time Jared’s birthday will happen in the midst of the actors holding court in giant Hall H for thousands of fans or being shuttled back and forth from press room to press room and party to party. Like most of the things that will change with the Show ending, that means some things will be better next year. He can spend his birthday at home with the kids, or halfway around the world on an exotic vacation, or anywhere he damn well pleases. He can take the time to kick back and enjoy what he has and what he’s done, and plan for what he’s yet to do. There won’t be PR to do and make up to wear and clothes styled for him; he can wear jeans and bare feet and however much facial hair he wants.
At the same time, there’s a lot of loss associated with the ending too. Because the show – and the fandom – the SPNFamily — has changed these actors’ lives. Not just a little, but a lot. It’s what so many of them, including Jared, wrote about in Family Don’t End With Blood. I honestly didn’t realize, before I put that book together and read what the actors wrote about how important this Show and this fandom has been to them, not just us. Those changes won’t be erased, but the unique and powerful symbiotic relationship that allowed them to happen will change. Losing Supernatural will be a major loss for all of us, on both sides of the fence.
I’ll still be a Supernatural fan, because that’s part of my identity now that I cherish, and I’m sure many of you will too. But Sam Winchester’s life will be put on pause (this is me being optimistic). If the character really is gone, that means we won’t find out anything new about him. We won’t be able to follow his evolution and argue about whether or not it makes sense or does the character justice. We can look back, but we can no longer look forward. And that’s different. Similarly, Sam will be frozen in time for Jared too. Always an important part of his life and his identity, but Sam himself won’t have a [fictional] life to live out. He won’t get any older; he won’t grow and change. He’ll be frozen in time at 38 while Jared moves forward, instead of the two of them evolving in lockstep all these years. He’s so right, he’ll always have Sam, but it will be different.
(Of course, since I’m an optimist at heart, I’m hanging onto the hope that we WILL get more of the Supernatural universe at some point. Maybe there will be a Supernatural movie….or a Netflix mini series… we’ll have to wait and see. And cross all our fingers and toes. And keep telling Warner Bros how badly we want it. We’re good at that.)
For the actors, the changes as a result of the Show ending are if anything even bigger than for the fans. I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve left a job that I loved, it was traumatic to say goodbye – even when I was moving on to something that I’d chosen, something that in some ways at least was better. They are all so close, such a supportive little community, working together and traveling together and experiencing the world together. They’ve quite literally grown up together. I have no doubt they will stay close, but it won’t be quite the same as having morning coffee together every day and running lines and making incredible television.
Things will change; it’s part of life, but some years bring more change than others. So I hope that this birthday is one that Jared can cherish – that he can relish the craziness of Comic Con and the phenomenon that is Supernatural taking over the gigantic Hall H one more time this weekend. I look back on the darkest time in his life, the one he wrote about in his chapter when he almost gave up and didn’t keep going, and I look at how far he’s come and who he is now. Running marathons, facing his demons, unashamed – proud even – to seek help when he needs it and to encourage others to do the same. What he wrote, and what he has said in panels, has inspired so many people. What a legacy he’s built in 37 short years!
I hope he knows that the fan support that he wrote about in his chapter, that helped get him through those tough times and shaped the man he’s become, isn’t going anywhere. It may not feel as immediate or as all encompassing after next year, but it will be there. None of us who have been changed and inspired by this little Show and this SPNFamily – and by Jared Padalecki – are going to forget that.
My partner in crime, Kim Prior, wrote the Friday and Saturday wrap ups of Nashcon since I’ve done nothing but fly back and forth across the country, so this is the first time I’m sitting down to do my own write up, and finding that my perspective is different than it would have been, had I written this up as soon as I got home.
Nashville will forever, for me, be the last con before we “knew”. Before we had to recognize what we’d known all along, that this is finite — and that the Show will end after Season 15. Everyone, including the actors, has assured us that the conventions will continue at least for a while, but there’s no doubt it will be different. We won’t have current canon to argue about, for one thing. Jared and Jensen may be working on different and exciting projects, but most likely they won’t be co-leads of another show, so they won’t be working together. Misha will be off saving the world (or possibly being President) and the three of them won’t have any “let us tell you what happened during filming yesterday” tales. Of course they’ve accumulated a lot of those over fifteen seasons, but still, not the same.
At Nashville, I didn’t have that knowledge that things would be changing in a year. All I knew was that we were finally getting to see the best cast ever again after what felt like a long gap – since 2018, in fact. Seattle didn’t happen, so it felt like it had been a very long time since we’d had the actors onstage ‘touching base’ with the fandom, either in person or on video. A long time since we’d been able to ask them questions and see them laugh and enjoy their camaraderie. Maybe that’s why Nashville had an energy to it that took your breath away.
That energy was very evident on Sunday. It was so clear that the J’s had missed doing conventions almost as much as we’d missed them. In Jensen’s chapter of Family Don’t End With Blood, he writes about all he gets from being with the fans – that it’s energy to fuel them. They had been a long time away from their fandom fuel with Seattle con cancelled, and they were almost giddy to be back in the welcoming arms of fandom again. And damn, did that feel good.
March 2019, before we got The News, was a very good month for Supernatural fandom indeed. We’d had tons of photos and videos and tweets from J2M, including a glorious day of Jensen reigning as King Bacchus at Mardi Gras with news coverage and videos from the parade and the charity visits the day before. I don’t think any of us will ever forget King Ackles in full regalia (including white tights and boots!) regally tossing doubloons and beads to his loyal followers. Local New Orleans news teams were like “who the hell is this guy?” but we already knew. It felt like the world was discovering what we already knew is incredibly special, and we really were the fandom on top of the world. That’s where we were when Nashville con kicked off.
[Gorgeous photos ahead by Kim Prior. You’ve been warned.]
The morning began with the Gold panel; the stage and mics were decorated with Mardi Gras beads in honor of Jensen’s recent reign as King Bacchus, and most fans wore gold crowns as we sat in the audience. Jensen got right into the spirit of things, donning one of the crowns backstage and then walking out and doing a little Kingly wave for the fans.
Jared: Ladies and gentlemen, appearing for the first time, King Ackles! All hail.
Jensen rocked his crown and his kingly wave. Jared dropped the crown Jensen gave him then wore it like a belt for a hot second.
A fan asked about Jensen’s experience being Bacchus and we immediately knew this was going to be a day to remember and panels that would be some of my favorites of this entire wild crazy ride.
Jensen: I must say I was expecting more of a skin show than I got.
Jared: I would’ve shown you my chest.
Jensen: I know you would. He does it all the time.
Jensen to Jared: I must say you look fetching today (his luggage didn’t come with him)
There’s a psychological phenomenon that happens when we have an experience that shakes our world so much that our brains encode it as a “flashbulb memory”. It’s an old term, and some of you have probably never seen a camera with a flashbulb, but back in the day it used to go off and illuminate a scene you were capturing with a photo, freezing it in time forever. That sort of memory is so important, and often so upsetting, that it too is frozen in time forever in our brains. The sights, the sounds, the emotions of that moment. It doesn’t fade like other memories, or lose the emotional intensity that was there when it was encoded. Instead, it remains as clear and vivid as if it happened yesterday – we remember the clothes we were wearing when we heard the news, or exactly what we were doing or thinking, or who we were talking to. We remember our initial shock and then the moment when our emotions kicked in.
Usually we think of flashbulb memories as things like the moment you found out about a world-changing event like 9/11 or you got the news that a loved one passed. That’s the level of importance. And yet, I think I may have had one on Friday afternoon – the moment I found out that Supernatural would finally end a year from now. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not making the ending of a television show equivalent to those horrific circumstances, but that’s not how our brains work. When something is important, it’s important. Especially emotionally important. Our brains don’t judge. And for many people, that little television show that lasted for 15 seasons is personally and emotionally important.
I’ve seen quite a few posts essentially saying “what the hell is wrong with these people that they’re grieving a TV show, get a life!” There are lots of posts from fans whose family and non-fannish friends are dismissive of their sadness and critical of them for grieving a television show. Sometimes these people mean well, but let’s face it, they really don’t understand. Luckily, there’s a lot of support in the fandom community, in all its various forms. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that Supernatural is so important in the first place. Yes, fans are incredibly sad to be losing Sam and Dean and Castiel, the fictional characters who mean so much to us. But it’s more than that. Supernatural created a family over these past fourteen years. It’s where many fans found their best friends, their support systems, the people who finally “got” them. It’s where they felt like they belonged, maybe for the first time. That is powerful. Life changing sort of powerful.
When I was putting together Family Don’t End With Blood, it was originally going to be a book written by just the fans. We would all share our stories of how Supernatural and its characters and actors and fan community had changed – and literally saved – our lives. So there are thirteen chapters in that book written by fans that describe how important the show has been, from helping a fan get “sober for Sam” to battling cancer, from leaving a cult to having the courage to change who you are and go after who you want to be. Testaments to the way their lives changed when they became involved in changing others’, through Random Acts or GISHWHES, volunteering for a charity or even starting one. Over the years, I’ve heard thousands more. It’s not the only show or film or book that has changed lives, but thanks to its unprecedented fourteen years on the air and hundreds of conventions, Supernatural has had a greater impact than most.
That Family Don’t End With Blood turned out to be a book written by the Supernatural actors as well as the fans is an indication of just how unique and powerful the phenomenon is. Because it’s not just us who were changed by the show. It’s not just us, in fact, who have had our lives saved by the show and the fandom. It’s the actors who bring the show to life too. And unlike many who work in a judgmental industry that demands perfection, these actors felt close enough to their fans to want to share that – in an actual book that they wrote themselves. That’s extraordinary. Jared, Jensen, Misha and so many other Supernatural actors opened up and wrote about how their lives have changed – finding the courage to pursue things they’d always wanted, finding the validation to become who they really are, surviving a life-threatening stroke, and even finding the support to get up and “always keep fighting” when one of them was at the point of wanting to stop. I don’t know another television show whose actors have been that real with their fans, or another show that has changed its cast’s lives in such a powerful way.
But as I often say when talking about the book, these are not your ordinary actors. It says something so important about Jared, Jensen and Misha that when the decision was made to end the show after next season, they told their long-time crew the news first, the people who are like family to them and whose livelihoods depend on this show. Then they took to social media themselves, recording a video for the fandom explaining that the fifteenth season would be the last. Although all three were clearly struggling with their own emotions, they wanted their fans to hear it from them. It’s the same reason they wrote Family Don’t End With Blood in their own words, because this is too important to telegraph through someone else. I respect the hell out of them for making that video.
The impact of this show doesn’t stop there, however, with the fans and the cast. Over the past few days, actors who have been on the show once or twice or have not been on it at all have weighed in on social media with messages of respect and support, thanking Supernatural for being the exemplary thing that it is and inspiring everyone in the industry. The BC film industry itself weighed in, with gratitude for what the show has done for that industry and Vancouver, including huge financial benefits and providing a talented and hard-working crew with a job they could count on for fifteen years – and one they could love. Journalists from many of the publications that cover fan-favorite shows also shared their own stories of how Supernatural has impacted them; for many, the show was responsible for them entering the field, and for some, it was a personal support over the years just like it has been for many fans.
It’s been four days of shock and grief for the Supernatural fandom as we all start to cope with the impending loss in our own ways. Fandom, ever brilliant and creative, immediately began expressing our intense emotions with art and photos and graphics and heartfelt posts.
Who made a deal, that the show Kripke originally planned to end after Season 5 will go exactly ten seasons longer?
Fans looked back at recent episodes, and wondered if the words were prescient.
“Humans burn bright, but for a very brief time. And eventually they’re gone, even the very best ones, and we have to carry on.” – Castiel, 14×14, Ouroboros
There were clips of Rob Benedict as Chuck, singing that soulful version of “Fare The Well” that now takes on new meaning.
There were gifs and screencaps of that pivotal scene where Sam finds out that Dean made a deal to save his life, and that he’ll go to hell for it – that scene that made so many of us realize just how different and special this show was. The first time I saw it posted on Friday, it hit me like a gut punch.
Fans reached out to other fans, offering a safe place to talk, a shoulder to cry on, whatever support might help. Within the fan community, there was instant understanding that this was an important loss that people were facing, and that it wasn’t something to be dismissed or ridiculed.
Then, as fans began the inevitable process of grief adaptation, they began to look back with gratitude on what Supernatural has given each of us and to celebrate the remarkable accomplishment that this little show has been. The hashtag #SPNGaveMe immediately sprang up on Twitter, and fans started sharing all those life-changing things that Supernatural brought to their lives. Some fans said that they had pulled out their copy of Family Don’t End With Blood to re-read the words of the actors and the fans that memorialize for all time just how special this show and its fandom have been. All over social media, fans reached out to other fans with support and comfort and empathy. I saw many posts from fans of other shows who had never even seen an episode of Supernatural, but as fellow fans, they understood the depth of this loss and reached out with sympathy. As always, fandom took care of each other.
I did my own looking back, my own assessment of what #SPNGaveMe and why this Show is so special to me. I’ve written six books about the show that trace my own journey with Supernatural and how the show and the characters have inspired me and changed me, but I don’t think I’ll ever have enough words to truly describe how profoundly this little television show has changed my life. I found my voice – and myself – through this Show and this fandom. I found courage I’d never had – to speak up, to be real, to change jobs, to call myself a writer and get published. I found friends who have challenged me and supported me, and who I’ve traveled the world with and had the most amazing, life-changing adventures. I’ve had to open my eyes to my own blindnesses and biases and start to make progress in putting them aside. I’ve learned that I can be criticized and not fall apart, and sometimes even learn from that criticism! I’ve gone from being the painfully shy girl who once failed geography class because I literally never spoke the entire time to giving panels at San Diego Comic Con and all over the country – and actually enjoying it! I’ve gone from someone who was too anxious to travel on my own to someone who has navigated airports and train stations and bus stations all over the world – because seeing my fellow Supernatural fans and this cast was just that worth it. The mantra of the Winchester brothers and the Show to “always keep fighting” has been my mantra too, and it has made all the difference.
I am, quite literally, a different person than I was in 2005 when this little Show began.
And that makes the announcement of its ending very important indeed.
So where was I when this flashbulb moment happened?
I was sitting at the Project Fancare table at Lexington Comic Con, surrounded by copies of Family Don’t End With Blood and fellow fans. Project Fancare is a nonprofit which gives fans a forum to talk openly about how television and film and books and all sorts of fandoms have helped them get through tough times, and why that’s a good thing. I had just finished talking to a woman who stopped to tell me what the book and the show had meant to her, which I will never get tired of hearing.
As the woman walked away, my friend Kim leaned over and said softly in my ear, “You need to take a break. Take your phone and go to the bathroom and watch the video that Jensen just posted.” That’s all she said, but instantly I knew. I knew from the genuine emotion in her voice, and the concern for me that I could hear there. I knew because there’s a part of me that has been waiting for this and anticipating it and knew it was coming sooner rather than later. I knew because my stomach instantly fell and my brain kicked into survival mode, blocking all my emotions and making me feel oddly calm even though intellectually I knew I wasn’t. I can vividly see the table in front of me, the books spread out there, and the woman walking away. She was wearing one of the first Represent ‘Always Keep Fighting’ tee shirts and she had red red hair and a bag with the protection symbol on it. I can see it like it’s a photo frozen in time like a flashbulb, and I can hear Kim’s voice and her words like she just finished talking, even though it’s four days later.
I stood in the alcove by the bathroom in the giant convention center and pulled out my phone and found the video – and as soon as I saw their faces, there was no doubt in my mind. Jared, Jensen and Misha are extraordinary in how open they have been with their fans, that’s why they wrote FDEWB after all. I could see all the emotion they were struggling to contain in their faces before I ever hit play to listen to the message. And I am forever grateful that I got to hear it from them.
Within minutes, my phone blew up with people wanting to know if I was okay or wanting to express their own shock and sadness. My fandom friends texted and tweeted and posted and called. My family members, who do understand now that this is important to me, reached out too, checking on how I was doing even if they don’t truly understand why the loss is so deep. I reached out to some of the cast too, who were as emotional as I was feeling. I did a panel with Ruth Connell the next day, so I was able to share with her in person, for which I felt lucky. Even in the midst of grief, there was a sense of “we’re all in this together” that was comforting, even if we might have wished we weren’t in this particular something right now.
It’s four days later as I write this. We are all trying to find the coping strategies that work for us now. Make sure you do so without shame – not everyone will understand how people can grieve for a television show or for fictional characters who don’t exist or for friends you’ve never met in person, but that grief is real because the loss is real. There’s research in one of my books about how we get the same emotional satisfaction from spending an evening with our favorite fictional characters as we do having dinner with family or close friends. Fictional characters play a role in inspiring us and fictional stories are a way of making sense of (and possibly rewriting) our own life stories. Friendship can transcend the physical and online communities can be amazing sources of support. All of that is real, and all of that is healthy. If you’re struggling with a way to cope with fear of losing those things, do what every single person who wrote a chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood advises – tell someone, talk about it, and get some help. There are resources at the end of this article, and don’t be afraid to use them.
It’s also helpful to remind ourselves of the important thing that Supernatural’s very own “dad” posted after the news broke. Eric Kripke, who created this show and these characters, was the empathic father figure on Friday who reached out to tell us all that what he’s most proud of is the family created by his show – and that family is not going anywhere.
Things will change, but not everything. We may not gather together to dissect the latest episode or argue amongst ourselves about which way canon “should” go, but we will have fifteen seasons of rich and nuanced and fascinating adventures to keep watching and keep talking about. As with all fandoms, a lot of what my SPNFamily friends and I talk about on a daily basis doesn’t even have anything to do with Supernatural – we talk family stresses, job challenges, kid questions, politics, that awesome thing we found at Target – whatever! They are the people I can reach out to for support, no matter what the problem.
Fandom friends become forever friends, and the friendship is all the richer for that amazing show that brought us together. Ten years from now a bunch of us will say hey, let’s all watch the Pilot, or The French Mistake, or All Hell Breaks Loose, or the Finale. And no matter where we are in life and who we’ve gone on to become, we’ll all pause and be reminded of all the ways that Supernatural changed our lives. Maybe we’ll get a little teary and reach for the tissues, and maybe we’ll share some hugs as we dab at our eyes, either virtual or in person. Because we’ll always have this in common, and we’ll always “get it”. Nobody can ever take that away.
For now, I’m gonna cherish every single moment I get to spend with the Winchesters and Cas and company for the next year, stock up on tissues, and remember to be very very grateful for this Show and all it’s brought me.
To Write Love On Her Arms: twloha.com
Random Acts Crisis Network: randomacts.org/crisis-support-network/
All of us here at Fangasm are especially proud to be pitching in with a charity auction to help Jared and Gen Padalecki raise money through #RunPadsRun for Dream Big, an organization that provides girls from low income households with the equipment and program fees that are necessary to participate in sports and physical activities. Many young women want to participate, but their economic situations prevent it. Uniforms and equipment are expensive, and so are the soccer and volleyball camps, dance classes, sports clinics and gymnastics classes that allow young women to excel in their sport of choice.
Why is this so important that the Padaleckis are running the Boston Marathon to raise money for the cause? With my psychologist hat on, I decided to find out – and it turns out the research is pretty compelling.
Multiple large-scale studies over the past decade have found a gender gap in youth sports, with girls from urban and low income environments the most impacted. Historically, sports have been an area in which women’s participation is sometimes limited, including access for racial minorities, GLBT+ persons, and women and girls. Girls have faced resistance to their participation, and women’s sports have often been devalued.