About a year ago, without even having properly finished Dragon Age: Inquisition yet, I started writing Feathers. Please don’t confuse this for vanity–I’m old enough to have seen big movers and shakers (zing!) in slash fandom, and I am not one of them. But that fic, and the writing of it, were precisely what I needed, when I needed it. I treasured every comment, the erudite and the giddy, the maudlin and the occasionally biting. I never had any doubt of how I wanted to feel at the end of it, because of how I felt every moment I wasn’t writing it, those first weeks.
Again, as is probably known all too well on this blog, my mother has early-onset dementia. A number of factors led to this but it is much messier than Hollywood would like you to think. We aren’t all granted crystal-clear moments of lucidity where we make decisions for ourselves. Even those of us who told our daughters in their teenage years, point-blank, “Let me die before I get as bad as you see your grandmother right now”–even they will not be prepared. My mother wasn’t. Isn’t. My father isn’t, either, and by no fault of his own: you can’t be prepared for something like this. Long before she became this bad, he would fantasize aloud about how he wanted to die: while mowing the lawn in his swollen, overtaxed body in the too-hot summer sun, “bam, just like that.” Thus would he be free of the misery of facing a wife who doesn’t remember him at the best of times, and who confuses him for some conniving devil he isn’t at the worst of times.
That is what I retreated into fanfiction to escape. Mom’s confusion, Dad’s fury at her, her fury at him, the kind but ultimately helpless pity of my husband. My family was more supportive and true to itself than most, and it is shattered. I wrote Feathers in the next room as Mom watched the same episode of Castle for the fifth time that day, which Dad put on just to calm her down. I wrote it between trying to make meals she would eat instead of shove away from her haggard frame; I wrote it in between trying to coax Mom into telling us where she hid her ID and being bragged to about the new gun that my wretched sister-in-law had enthralled Dad with (would he kill himself with it, tired of waiting for the longed-for heart attack to do its work?) I wrote it because I couldn’t escape into a game–I’d left DA:I and anything to play it with at home–but I couldn’t spend every hour of every day swirling around the toilet bowl of what had been my family’s life together, either. I wanted Dorian and Cullen to suffer, but I had no intention of leaving them there. I was going to lift them out of their shit the way I couldn’t lift my family out of ours.
Now it is the holidays again, and we are slated to pay a visit again*, and I am frightened. Because there is no bulwark against the tide of despair that is my childhood home. Everything is worse. Incontinence, petulance, surgery, a refusal to take medicine and a refusal to hire a visiting nurse. Obviously I will push for help. I will argue the benefits of nursing, and cook, and clean, and I will try to cheer them up. But anyone who has dealt with dementia knows what a sisyphean task that is.
I try not to follow much what meta comments people want to make about pairings or fandom at large. But over the past few months, in media and in real life, I’ve been privy to little off-handed remarks that seem to belittle the whole enterprise as a waste of time. A way to diddle away feelings the writers and readers are too scared to bestow on other people. A way to avoid the world.
To the latter accusation, yes, I confess. But it’s not because I’m hoarding my feelings for a world fictional or internal. It’s because there is not enough feeling in this world to account for the loss that seeps from the wreck of my family like a rusting oil tanker at the bottom of the sea. It slicks over everything, making it impossible to see the depths you once loved. It kills, dammit.
So yes, fanfiction is an escape. It will result neither in money nor real-life fame. But it is necessary. As surely as the escape of sport (on the field or on your screen) or music or published literature is. Because the medium doesn’t matter. You can’t feel this all the time. Better to watch fictional characters fall in love than to watch your parents fall out of it.
Do not be so quick to judge those of us who treasure the dalliances of people made of pixels and paper.
* to clarify, I have been back since, but the holidays are particularly painful