“Thank your readers and the critics who praise you, and then ignore them. Write for the most intelligent, wittiest, wisest audience in the universe: Write to please yourself.”
– Harlan Ellison
This is a story about fandom and how I’ve never been one. A fan that is. I’ve been dumb(dom) plenty of times, just ask my ex-girlfriends.
When I had the opportunity, I met Ray Bradbury, one of my lifelong writing heroes, in the Fall of 2007, at the Walt Disney Studios. Although I’ve spent most of my professional career at the Disney Studios, at the time, I had only been working for Walt Disney for a little over a year. Around early October, word had gone out via a flier resembling Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival tickets, there would be a free special Halloween screening of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes at the theatre on the Studio Lot with special guest… Ray Bradbury himself. An event that was not open to the public. Only to Disney Cast Members.
I nearly fell out of my chair.
Was this really happening?
Did I just read that right!?
Working at Walt Disney Studios was my dream since childhood. Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of my favorite films of all time. Ray Bradbury is one of my biggest idols as a writer. I’d get to see his movie, and meet the man, at the theatre on the Walt Disney lot, while I’m working for Disney!? At Halloween, no less! Talk about a dream come true! That night happened over 6 years ago and I still get shivers right now as I’m thinking about it.
During the movie, I kept stealing glances over at Ray Bradbury and my mind was blown. Because all those thoughts just kept repeating in my head. “I work for Walt Disney. I’m at the Studio. I’m watching Something Wicked This Way Comes with Ray Bradbury! He’s sitting 10 feet away from me! Holy crap! This is the coolest thing ever!”
I said I’ve never been a fan of anything and that is true – in the most literal sense of the words; “fan” being short for “fanatic”, I can honestly say that although I’ve enjoyed many authors and movies and the work of many celebrities, I’ve never been “fanatical” about any of those things. I’ve never been a diehard obsessive superfan nutjob. Despite a childhood that contained comic books and all-night-sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, and an active membership in the Society for Creative Anachronism, I was never a fanboy. I had a legit geek card. I did all the things geeks were supposed to do. I enjoyed these things. They were fun. But they never felt like essential facets of my being. To be honest, people who were fanatic Trekkies or gamers or cosplayers, all seemed pretty strange to me. Despite the fact I was one of the charter members of my high school science fiction club (heck, I even coined the name for the damn thing, “Mindrealms”) and I blended in with geek culture and I held the same interests, I never felt connected the way true fans did. Yes, I admit I’m the kind of person who would wear a Jedi robe and bring a lightsaber to a Star Wars movie premiere, but when I look over at the people who spend 200 hours building a Stormtrooper costume I think, “Wow, what a nerd.”
Even when I met Ray Bradbury, I didn’t act like a fan. I didn’t know how.
When the film was over, Ray gave a speech in front of the screen (if you’re a Bradbury fan, I can tell you it was the Mr. Electrico story, and you’ll know what I’m talking about) and a huge line of people began to form up the aisle. They wanted to get posters and books signed. Typical fans. Looking to collect an autograph.
As an aside – oh, this pissed me off – we all had to wait about 10 minutes extra, because some asshole executive from Disney was hoarding Mr. Bradbury’s time and wouldn’t stop talking to him. Fucking business suit prick earning his 6-figures thinks he’s special to monopolize Mr. Bradbury’s time with a room of 120 people waiting? Fuck you. How dare you be so inconsiderate to Ray Bradbury and a full theatre of people, you lousy piece of shit. No idea who the fuck that balding self-important cocksmoker was, I just hope he sees this commentary and I pray he’s no longer at Disney and is managing 3 people at toxic waste company where demonfucks like him belong.
Anyway, I was right up in the front row, so I was the first person to greet Mr. Bradbury. (The executive I just mentioned doesn’t qualify as a “person”, he was slime.) I walked up to Ray Bradbury and shook his hand and said, “Hello, Ray. My name is Eric.”
“Hello, Eric. Good to meet you,” he said.
“You too. I just wanted to shake your hand and say thank you. Thank you for everything.”
He looked at me strangely, a bit confused, then he slowly seemed to understand and said, “Oh, well, uh, you’re welcome. You’re welcome.”
“Take care. See you around.” I smiled and walked away.
And that was it. I left. The whole crowd just stared at me. Dozens of people watched me walk up the aisle, as though I were wearing a naked-Hollywood-starlet corpse as a hat.
That was all? Fifteen seconds? I didn’t try talking to him as long as possible? I didn’t ask him any questions? I didn’t have him sign anything? I just shook Ray Bradbury’s hand and said, “Thank you?” People were astonished. What the hell was that all about? Who does that? No one had any idea what just happened.
Look, he was Ray freaking Bradbury. He owed me nothing. I had no right to request an autograph. I had no right to monopolize his time. I had no right to ask him for anything. Here was a gentleman who has given my life so much, that the only person who had a debt to pay in that encounter was me. He was due my thanks. He was due my gratitude for all he had done. For a lifetime of stories. Ray Bradbury didn’t owe me autographs or conversations. He didn’t owe me a thing, so I wouldn’t dare to ask. Ray Bradbury may not have inspired me to become a writer, but he inspired me to strive to be a great one.
The point of this story is to convey the simple fact that even a meeting with my literary hero was a mellow moment. There was no hyperventilating. No tears. No trembling. There isn’t a soul on earth would ever make me that excited to meet them (…with the possible exception of Aly Michalka – whose preternatural radiance would likely reduce my reputable suave charm into the stuttering blather of a lovesick puppy). I digress, as usual.
This is why I never related to hardcore fans. Even as a fan, I don’t behave the way everyone else does. My passions are different.
Then, one day, a hardcore fan finally helped me to understand what I had been missing all this time…
Chuck Evans is a southern gentleman who was interviewed on the Done the Impossible documentary about the television show Firefly.
During his interview, talking about how upset he was when Firefly was canceled, he gets choked up and comes close to tears. His wife chimes in and says it’s been hard on him.
That was a powerful experience for me. A grown man crying over a television show? Are you kidding me? And why wasn’t his wife immediately filing for divorce from this sissy?
That was when the realization hit me. For the first time in my entire life, I got it. I was ashamed of myself. I had been so blind. I was so oblivious. At long last, I recognized what I truly was – I saw myself as a devil. I was a fallen angel. In the words of Captain Reynolds, “Oh, I’m going to the special hell.”
The vital lesson I was taught – the reason I’ve never become so consumed by fandom is because I am one of the creators of these fantastical worlds. That’s my purpose. I could never find myself consumed by the creations of others, because I’m more interested in devoting that kind of passion into manifesting my own work.
But not everyone is like me. I am part of an elite an infinitesimally tiny faction of society.
Most people are like Chuck Evans.
Most people need to uplift themselves in our creations. They need to live in our worlds.
That’s why we’re here. That’s why we make those worlds. We’re here to enrich the lives of all the Chuck Evans’ on this earth. Thus, I am the angel sent to save people. A music maker. A dreamer of dreams. But instead, I ridiculed them. I was to play the minstrel, but mocked them for dancing to the music. I had become one of The Fallen. I had forgotten my true purpose.
In that moment, I inescapably understood why people become fans. In that moment, I figured out what this stuff means to them. Despite being around these people all my life, I never knew. Now I saw why I could dress in medieval garb at a renaissance faire and feel like I was exactly where I belonged… and yet, feel I was an impostor. Why I was an outcast among the outcasts. All this while, I would play in the worlds other people create, but for some people, those worlds are home. They don’t play in them. They live in them. The realms we create mean more to them than I ever realized and I never saw that until I viewed it through the prism of Chuck Evans tears. The responsibility I have really hit me in a way it never had before. Once and for all, I understood why I always felt a kindred with these people, yet at the same time, felt like a pariah who couldn’t relate to them.
I felt like such a dick. Have you ever experienced that? Discovering you were a total asshole and not even being aware of it? Being an asshole deliberately is one thing. That’s fine. Heartbreaking and embarrassing to discover you were being an asshole unintentionally.
I’m like The Operative in Serenity – I’m not meant to live in the perfect world, I’m just meant to create it for others to live in. I am a monster.
There are those who would say equating myself with angelic purpose is a massively delusional pretentiousness, skirting dangerously close to a God Complex. To which I can gently reply, “Fuck off.” Knowing who I am doesn’t require your stamp of approval. Nor does your opinion invalidate my convictions. Screw you. You can’t take the sky from me.
All my life, I have said I love my fans. That wasn’t a lie. I meant it. Sure, I would mock superfans who geek out over television shows and movies and comics, but I never did that toward my own fans. Heck, truth be told, I never encountered a fan who expressed that kind of passion for my work. Now, I’m starting to think, touching people that deeply may be the level of emotional connection I should have always be striving to achieve.
I finally know who I am. I finally know what I am. I finally know what this stuff means to the fans and, more importantly, why. Harlan Ellison once called writing a “holy chore” and I finally understand what that means.
You know how life lessons tend to beat you over the head over and over, until you finally learn them? Then, after you learn the lesson, you suddenly start spotting it everywhere you look and you’re thinking, “How the fuck was I so oblivious for so long!? It’s all over the place!” Yeah. That’s me. Now I see the wailing, screaming, convulsive sobbing of superfans everywhere I look and I think, “I get it now. I finally get it!”
I know what I am meant to do now and no power in the ‘verse can stop me.
All thanks to one interview, with Mr. Chuck Evans, choking back his tears for Firefly.
“We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.”
– Arthur O’Shaughnessy