Why Fanfiction is Worth It

I've read a lot of writer origin stories where the writer in question describes finding books as the moment their world went from black and white to full vibrant color. They suddenly realize that stories, fictional worlds, and narratives are where they belong.

For me, that starburst of self-actualization didn't come with the actual discovery of books and novels. Maybe it was because I was given books as soon as I was able to hold anything. My first nights in the hospital were soothed by the sound of my dad reading to me from the Little Golden Book edition of Thumbelina. My grandmother and I spent bright summer mornings at the library where I was never discouraged from bringing home as many books as I could carry.

So, you could say that I never needed to find books because I had them from the beginning.

I did, however, need to find fanfiction. And like those writer origin stories I mentioned, finding fanfiction was the moment everything clicked. I felt at home in fictional worlds based on fictional worlds. Fanfiction became the security blanket I wrapped so tightly around myself, that for the longest time I couldn't enjoy any other medium. Books were just not enough. I needed more.

For many people, fanfiction stems from the need to improve or expand on a work of fiction that they've consumed. I'll use the common example: Harry Potter. Seven books weren't enough for me or the millions of people who also read the series. Harry's point of view was limiting. We were desperate for Hermione's perspective or we needed to know more about the next generation (I mean, yes, there's always The Cursed Child) or we clamored for stories during the Marauders' Hogwarts Years. And from these cravings, came fanfiction.

Through multiple chapters (usually epics) or one-shots (a short story without continuation), fans all over the world created amazing (sometimes even better than the original) fics to fill this yearning for more. Harry Potter wasn't the first fandom but it's been credited with opening fanfiction up to more mainstream audiences. One of the actual oldest fandoms,from a time when fanfiction was published in zines and not online because the internet didn't exist, was Star Trek (a fandom I'm still proud exists today and one that I'm very active in). In fact, if you want to know more about the Star Trek fandom from back in the day, I really encourage you to read this amazing piece about "Fandom Grandma," and her incredible legacy.

Many famous writers (including a lot of genre authors) got their start writing fanfiction (Sarah Rees Brennan, Naomi Novik, John Scalzi--it's a pretty long list). They say it helped them learn editing, pacing, voice, worldbuilding--everything that we praise them for as professional, published novelists. I haven't published anything myself (yet) but fanfiction definitely taught me a lot about storytelling and like I mentioned earlier, it was the security blanket I clung to. No matter what happened at school or with friends during the day, chances were I could find a long, well-written fic to comfort me at night. I used to think that might be pathetic but as I've struggled with anxiety, I realize that whatever calmed my racing thoughts down was good enough for me.

Fanfiction also provided a community of online friends who enjoyed my work (when I was finally able to share my stories) and would give me encouragement that I wasn't sure I could get in the real world. The instant online publishing of fanfiction (there's rarely a long delay in posting fanficiton unless self-imposed or the author is working with a beta reader--what we call editors) helps writers get instant feedback that can certainly do wonders for a writer's self-esteem. That isn't to say there aren't critics but for the most part, when you do get comments or kudos, you feel great about it.

The long and short of it is that it's getting easier to open up about fanfiction now. With the mind-boggling popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, fanfiction is almost a household word and one that mainstream media always likes to throw around in badly researched articles espousing fanfiction as a hobby for stereotypical nerds with no outside lives. I'm done with hot takes by people who think they can warn parents away from fanfiction. Fanfiction wasn't an obstacle to my success, it bolstered it. For more about fanfiction, I would suggest checking out Aja Romano or Constance Grady's essays on it for Vox, Mary Sue. You can also find me on twitter at @blrobins2 if you're looking for fanfiction recs. I've read a lot and if I don't read the fandom you're in, chances are I can help you find the place where you can read as much fanfic as you want. Don't be skeptical, it's totally worth it. You never know what you might find.

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Brianna Robinson

is a book publicist and Sarah Lawrence College alum. She lives in  New York with too many books and two enthusiastic dachshunds named after a family member, dead presidents and one actor. You can find her on twitter @blrobins2.

Out Of the Comfort Zone

When I started thinking about writing this post, the first thing I thought of was my work in creativity studies because that is where my head lives right now. I’ve spent most of my summer thinking about creativity. I’ve been throwing around terms like primary processes, divergent thinking, commodification, and sensory languages. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around all the research folks have done, and are doing, to try to figure out what creativity is, where it comes from, and how to harness it. But what I really want to know is, how can we take all these fancy terms and time-consuming research and turn it into something useful? I taught a class in creativity this summer, I’m reading for an exam on creativity studies right now, and it’s a field I really dig. But when I sat down to write this, a swirling cacophony of all the experiences I’ve had in various classrooms is what came to mind. So, I’m going to begin with a few brief stories.

When I was an undergraduate at Binghamton University, I spent a semester as an intern for the Binghamton Poetry Project, and as such, was required to teach a 30-minute lesson to a group of adult community workshop participants. I chose to teach my lesson on prose poetry and used my favorite poem, “Loading a Boar” by David Lee, as one of my examples. The entire group hated the poem. It fell so far outside of what they were used to seeing as ‘poetic’ that they were unwilling to consider it poetry. They hated Lee’s use of dialect, they didn’t like the subject matter, they found the absence of line breaks prosaic and thus, problematic.

Fast forward a couple years to when, while working on my master’s degree, I was one of three grad students who volunteered to fill in teaching sections of our fiction professor’s undergraduate Contemporary Short Fiction class which he was going to have to miss for conflicting obligations. He only asked that we choose a short story to cover during our respective lessons and provide him with a scanned copy ahead of time so he could assign the reading to the class, the rest of the lesson was up to us. I prepared questions about the story, but I also prepared a group writing exercise. It was pretty obvious that this group hadn’t been asked to engage in one-to-one conversations with each other before; they sat fairly far apart from one another and when I asked them to get together in groups of three, their interactions were awkward and strained. But I persevered because 1- that was what I had prepared, and 2- I believe that the best learning happens when people talk to each other, that we have to hear perspectives which vary from our own in order to expand our knowledge and grow, and that sometimes the instructor needs to let voices other than his or hers be heard.

Fast forward another couple years to just last night. I’ve been teaching free poetry workshops to kids ages six to twelve this summer, and last night was our fourth week. There is one participant who has attended all of the sessions and last night he was not having any part of it. The lesson I’d prepared was on sound. I had queued up a bunch of different sounds on YouTube ahead of time: birds, a train, “Carnival of the Animals”, a waterfall, Vivaldi’s “Spring.” I asked the kids to close their eyes while I played the sounds and then had them tell me what the sounds made them see and feel. This young participant just kept telling me he saw nothing and that he has no feelings. He would tell me exactly what the sound was and no more. The preceding three weeks he had written poems full of vivid imagery, imaginative similes and metaphors, and sensory details. This week he refused to write anything. He just kept saying “I only like to write free verse,” when that was exactly what I was asking him to do. The preceding three weeks I’d been asking them to write formulaic poems, and allowed him to write free verse instead. It was almost as though he needed to be doing the opposite of what was being asked of him, but didn’t know how to do it since I’d turned the tables on him.

All of these stories probably have a lot of stuff in common, but what I’m thinking about is the idea that the best learning–the most inventive creativity–happens when you push folks outside of their comfort zone. I’ve done it to myself many times. Like in all of these examples above. I was a 41-year-old undergraduate the year I became an intern, I’d never taught a single college class prior to volunteering to teach that lesson on short fiction, and I am so bad at teaching children it’s like putting chum in a pool full of sharks. But I did it, am doing it, and I am learning wonderful lessons from all of it. Remember that group of adults who hated “Loading a Boar?” By the end of that workshop all but one participant quite successfully wrote a poem in the same style, and during those five weeks, that was without a doubt the best conversation that group engaged in. The group project in the fiction class yielded some interesting story starters for all of the groups, and sparked some really fascinating conversations which continued past the end of class. And as for my young friend who has no emotions? That story is to be continued. I’m going to cook up something special for him to keep pushing him further next week.

In the field of creativity studies there are those who believe creativity is teachable and those who think it is a character trait we are either born with or born lacking. I believe it is something that can be inspired through strategic motivation, guided challenges, and continual exposure. I have a room full of children to teach poetry to, can all this thinking and research help me with that? Can it take this kid who is telling me he has no feelings and make him write a poem?

 
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Heather Humphrey

is currently working on a Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing at Binghamton University. She is the Editor-in-Chief for Harpur Palate, director of the Binghamton Poetry Project, fiction editor at Ragazine, and Editor-at-Large for Street Light Press.  Having just decided to leave her other job after fifteen years, she decided to join a motorcycle gang and remodel her house to fill the void. Heather lives in Kattelville, NY with her husband.

Word Carving.

Dober den from Sofia, Bulgaria where I am currently spending the month, participating in the World of Co residency. Sofia is a beautiful city underrated by Americans and Western Europeans or just entirely ignored. I admit, if not for my girlfriend, Diliana, who is from here, I, too, would be ignorant of such a charming and spirited place. It is a big city that feels small (though not provincial). The close-knit energetic and artistic community I’ve discovered here in the past month, reminds me of the community I once found in Long Beach, CA (see next issue of Shrew). So, you can keep your Paris. Keep your London. Keep your New York City. And keep your L.A. These places are artistic tombs. Museums for once vibrant artistic communities that expired decades ago. Playgrounds for the nostalgic and wealthy now.

If that last bit sounds too negative, I can’t say enough positive things about being here and the World of Co residency.  This is not your usual writing residency, whatever that is, as I’ve never participated in one. This residency is run by three of the brightest and spirited young people I have ever met who, after witnessing other artist residencies while living abroad, came back to Sofia with the dream of establishing a place to welcome international artists into the already vibrant artistic community here, which they saw as something missing from the city.

This has mostly been a residency for visual artists (though they are open to all types) as I am currently the only writer, which has been a unique experience, and even included my participation in workshops far out of my comfort (or skills) zone such as taking a woodcarving class. What I like about this though, is it forces me to engage with things I would never engage with, like how to carve a line into wood rather than sitting around critiquing each other’s lines (and yes, I have already written the poem about it). I feel there may be much more to gain from such an experience (I also took a carpet weaving and graffiti art workshop) than what you might experience in a traditional writing residency. These workshops, established for the visual artists, are optional, but even as a writer who can’t draw a stick figure if his life depended on it, have proven to be fruitful to my own work.

It’s also been a great experience spending so much time with visual artists who see the world in a similar, but slightly altered way than I do. They remind me to see the world as image, just how Pound might have instructed, which is quite useful for a poet. They’ve reminded me of the thing itself, like the way light looks in the morning or how the fabric of a woman’s dress walking in front of us folds, whereas I might have gone instantly to imagining a narrative about the woman’s life.

I don’t envy these artists though. To show up in a foreign country and have to find all the materials to create their art, then have to find a way to either ship back the work they create or leave it here somewhere or even destroy it. Writers, we have it easy. Just remember to save your files.

The other day, one of the artists was transporting a box with a sculpture in it and when she opened it up, found her sculpture had broken. She just shrugged and said maybe it’s better this way. Now she has two sculptures. Which reminded me of those accidental moments in the editing process that can make a piece of writing better. A poem, too, can break accidentally and lead to a new and exciting discovery; or we can break it ourselves when it’s become too familiar, too dead, too cliché, and follow it into a new and unexplored city.

 
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Clint Margrave

is a poet and fiction writer from Los Angeles, CA. He is the author of Salute the Wreckage (2016) and The Early Death of Men (2012), both published by NYQ Books. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, New York Quarterly, The Writer’s Almanac, Rattle, Cimarron Review, Verse Daily, The American Journal of Poetry, Word Riot, and Ambit (UK), among others. He is currently at work on his third book of poems, Visitor, which he has been writing and revising during his stay in Sofia.

 

How I’ve Overcome Body Image Issues with Diabetes Medical Devices: From a Young Adult Woman’s Perspective

When I was twelve, my neighbor told me to take off his son’s Darth Vader mask because I had “enough machines on already.” At ten years old, two years after being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes on account of my defective immune system, I was adorned with an insulin pump and an implanted Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM). Both of which allowed me to have better control of my Diabetes. I could finally be like other kids by not having to take shots or poke my fingers for blood sugar readings at least ten times per day. What I didn’t know was that being adorned in these devices served to benefit my health. As they tightly control my blood glucose (BG) levels and allow me to adjust my baseline insulin throughout the day. With a pump and a CGM, my blood sugars were much more under control. Yet my emotions on the playground were tumultuous, as other children referred to me as a “robot” and would run away from the “Diabetes girl” as to not “catch” Diabetes.

With the support of my family and friends, I eventually was able to ignore them and become proud of having Type 1 Diabetes. My A1c (a test administered at doctor’s appointments to measure the amount of hemoglobin A1c in your blood as a means to find one’s average blood glucose) read about 6 -- close to as if one did not have Diabetes at all. Eventually, the playground bullying led to me permanently disconnecting my CGM, which at that time the model was a bulky device that rested on my upper arm. I was back to testing my blood sugar like in the old days but now at least I could hide something.

Once I approached high school and began having boyfriends. I became self conscious of wearing a pump when we would become physically involved. I always disconnected it. But I wasn’t embarrassed to use it in front of them and always put the device back before I put on my clothes. Diabetes was always a factor in these relationships -- one guy was controlling of my Diabetes to the same extent that my parents were. He blamed my emotions on what he perceived to be a high or low blood sugar. Another boyfriend cared about my Diabetes and was not disgusted by me using my insulin pump or testing my blood sugar. Still, I always wore tight pants to smoosh the pump into my stomach with the elastic waistline even though I ended each day with a painful, red indent on my stomach.

The next year, I began dating a guy who looked in the mirror frequently; he would tell me what hair color he liked on me. And then the next day I would run and get a boxed dye of the same shade. Something about our dynamic made it feel as if he was better than me, although I know now that it came from my own insecurities (being it takes two to tango). When we became physically involved, I did my usual routine of secretly taking off my pump. However, unlike with my past boyfriends, I kept the pump off for over six hours so he wouldn’t feel it when he made any physical contact with me. I proved what I believed to be my worth by strolling around my house in shorts and sun dresses; free from a clunky, plastic bulge.  I didn’t want to be seen any lesser than I imagined that he already saw me, so as a result, my BG level ran consistently at 300. I would run into the bathroom to give insulin, a temporary fix yet I had little baseline insulin in my system. So in April 2014, I decided to go back on insulin shots -- to the frustration of my parents and doctor. Sure enough, my A1c shot up because I had less control over my glucose levels, and even after we broke up, my self esteem felt so improved by not wearing a medical device that I stayed on shots. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with being on shots at all. I understand why one does not want to wear a medical device. However, being on an insulin pump allows for more tight control over one’s blood sugars because baseline insulin can be temporarily adjusted throughout the day to accommodate certain circumstances (for instance, increasing the basal rate when the person is eating a slow-acting meal, or decreasing the basal rate if the person’s blood sugar is low).

Now, as a twenty one year old in college and Type 1 Diabetic of thirteen years, I take an inhalable insulin called Afrezza which is very fast acting and has been great on my blood sugars. For years, however, I refused to get on a sensor which would allow for control of my blood sugars, solely because I felt embarrassed of the way it looked. My neighbor’s remark that I had “enough machines [on me] already” and being called a “robot” and “Diabetes girl” on the playground still circulated in my head each time my doctor insisted I get a sensor.

One day in September of 2017, I noticed that I was getting a few floaters in my eyes. Although floaters (which are usually fleeting specks or ‘spider web’ shapes of either a white, black, or clear color in the eyes) are often harmless, people with Diabetes need to be especially cautious of their eyesight due to the possibility of developing Diabetic retinopathy if blood sugars are uncontrolled for a long period of time. I knew that by going off the pump and not being on a sensor raised my A1c level, as it  had never gotten back down to a 6 after I stopped. Immediately I rushed to urgent care, where they told me that I just had allergies, but the floaters continued and I believed they had even gotten worse.

After five trips to two different opthamologists, I finally believed my second doctor, who I saw as a child at the Naomi Berry Diabetes Center in New York City. He said my eyes were, “boringly normal”. Though by that point, I had already decided that I needed to get on a sensor again to have tighter control of my blood sugars. The next day, I walked out of my endocrinologist’s office with a small Libre sensor on my arm. It was not as alert or long lasting as the sensor I used to be on, but it was a compromise I made to my family, my doctor, and most importantly: myself.

After being on the sensor for months, I have suffered from allergic reactions to bandaids that I use to cover the sensor so it looks more like a patch of some sort (apparently I am allergic to band-aid adhesives, who knew?). I have also bought an entire new wardrobe that consists of long upper sleeves and off-the-shoulder tops. My biggest fear was going to my new boyfriend’s family barbeque. This would be my first time meeting them and I was afraid that people would think I was on a birth control or Nicorette patch -- not that anything is wrong with either. In fact, both of these are great.  Though for some reason, I did not want them to think that I was on birth control or a smoker. For months, I had planned out the type of outfit I would wear to the barbeque and prayed that TJ Maxx would have one that didn’t look like it was made for a fifty year old mother. At the time, I felt thankful that my off-the shoulder top I frantically bought the day before covered up the sensor.

In the early morning, however, I developed painful blisters from the bandaid, and had to remove it. I planned to sit for breakfast at a sideways angle and cross my arms as an attempt to hide the device. When his mother came outside to their beautiful porch with a cup of coffee, though, she asked the question I dreaded -- “Erin, what is that on your arm?” She asked with an air of curiosity; there was no judgment in her voice.

Stuttering my response, I could feel my face become hot. It became my most feared question from everyone, being it looked like a security pin on a Gucci purse in the mall was stuck into my upper arm.

“Oh -- uh, well, I’m a Diabetic, so this tells me what my blood sugar is.”
She and her husband asked questions about it, such as how it worked and if it helped me.

His mother and step-dad did not scowl or think it was gross like the children on the playground or how I had imagined anyone would react if I took off my bandaid. My responses were still fast as I wanted to discuss my device as little as possible. When we walked through those gates, I knew that his mom could see the circular device plunged into my skin. But I realized that the worst of it was over and it wasn’t as terrifying as I imagined. I also am lucky that I am now with someone who doesn’t care that I am wearing a medical device and in fact, finds my sensor interesting and wants to learn more about it.

Since going on the sensor, my blood sugars have improved dramatically, and I’ve even noticed a decrease in my eye floaters. I have looked down at the sensor with pride, rather than how I looked at my BG monitor with shame (being my levels always plateaued at around 180 mmo/mL). I realized throughout the years that although medical devices have made me feel insecure, being on shots (for me, personally -- everyone has a different experience) led to ill physical effects in exchange for the relief that I could wear a dress with ease. Although my inhalable insulin works just as well as a pump, I am still unable to give temporary basal rates, which would help me. However, I have been on the sensor for two months and although I have faced embarrassment, recently I have stopped wearing the bandaid as much, and am not ashamed to wear tank tops. It has been a blessing for my health to be on a medical device. In a society where girls are held at such a high standard for their body and beauty, it was even more difficult to wear these devices. Now I have realized that I do not want to feel ashamed of wearing a sensor on me and have been coming closer each day to acceptance. Most importantly, I’ve realized that my health takes a precedence over impressing others.

 
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Erin McLaughlin

is an avid creative writer who concentrates in the genres of fiction, creative non fiction, and satirical journalism. She is about to be a senior at Binghamton University. She finds it cathartic to write about her hardships, including her journey with Type 1 Diabetes. Through her writing, she hopes to aid in the healing of others.