Nov. 2, 2007 | Dear Cary,
I am in my 30s, finished my Ph.D. dissertation recently, teaching classes at universities, applying for jobs, and have two kids under 10 years old with my husband. In fact, I should be too busy to be writing to you.
The problem is that I'm addicted to fan fiction. Especially a small fraction of online fan fiction, with which you may or may not be familiar, but has a fanatical group of followers. Yes, I'm an HP fan-fiction groupie. I know that there are various fan-fiction communities online, but I've been addicted with the Harry Potter fandom ever since I couldn't wait for Book 5 to come out and started searching for any news about it on the Internet.
Now this has become a serious habit -- on good days, I simply check out a few of my favorite fan-fiction sites and skim the updated stories (you know, some of them run for 50 to 60 chapters); on bad days, I go through the forums and read the comments and recommendations until I find something that piques my interest, and will not stop until I'm done with that story. If I don't find anything I like, I search until I do, or get mad, or end up clicking through dozens of sites, which will inevitably leave me frustrated. (Salon is one of them, sorry -- what do you expect, in the current political atmosphere?)
How did I manage to survive so far? My husband does not know of my habit, nor do my kids; although with my elder one, we read the books together and sometimes discuss Harry Potter; I sometimes try to explain some concepts to my child using Harry or Ron as an example -- nothing extraordinary. But once I'm alone at home, I'll start clicking, and I can't stop. Only when I'm out of the house, working where someone else is present, have I been able to do my other work, and that's how I've been able to manage my workload so far.
I've tried to understand my fascination with this; I think partly it's the "magic," a wonderful concept for the imagination. Also I'm a Ron/Hermione shipper (a term that means I'm happy with their relationship), and the stories surrounding the Ron/Hermione dynamics are sometimes so poignant, I tend to fall in love all over with the characters and become so envious of their (imagined) relationship. There are a lot of good stories, mind you, quite a few geared toward the over-19 group, but I'm not really picky about what I read, as long as it's well structured and well written and not OOC (that's Out Of Character). I've never participated in the forums or written fan fiction myself, but I sometimes dream about it -- I feel like I know the writers better than some of my friends.
I've tried cutting off the Internet, not staying home when I'm alone, limiting myself to a certain amount of time, but they haven't worked. Do I need psychological help or therapy? Am I secretly harboring some type of dissent with my current life and expressing it through this destructive pattern of Web surfing? Or am I just procrastinating and not motivated enough to get my arse back to work?
Ardent R/H Shipper
Dear Ardent R/H Shipper,
Is it not starkly emblematic of our barren, frigid Puritanism, hostile to dreamers, that you must hide from your husband, your co-workers and even your children in order to indulge your imagination? Is it you, I'm saying, or is it the world you're living in? Addicted? Full of shame? Shame about what? You say it hasn't killed you yet? No, it's keeping you alive, I dare say. This isn't some heroin full of impurities that is going to jam up your lungs and give you abscesses on your injection spots; this isn't some shameful, basement vodka-drinking, passed-out-mom situation, your blouse fouled with vomit and your limbs askew near the drain at the damp, low spot in the concrete floor. This isn't some manic-depressive speed-freak hell where you find the formerly distinguished chair of language studies at Eminent Ivy Inc. quaking on the bare pine floorboards of an SRO in the Bowery.
This is more the secret reading-and-scribbling indulgence of a Jane Austen or Emily Dickinson, it seems to me, in an age both more crass and more straitlaced than theirs, if such a thing is even possible.
Maybe you are secretly harboring some type of dissent. If so, good for you! Some frowning, malnourished psychiatrist in itchy wool tweed, summoned by the concerned, might drive out in his Buick LeSabre and pronounce you maladjusted. Hallelujah if he does, I'd say. Hallelujah if he does! Let the world diagnose you as seriously maladjusted. To me you stand as a testament to the survival of a fragile innocence in a world that has grown ever more barbaric, and that even now is feeding its young to fascistic engines of domination solely so that future generations, if they survive the heat, can be even more barbaric, domineering and philistine than we are. Yes, if your imagination survives the clitorectomy of the Ph.D., if you run the academic gantlet of hungry Pilgrim hands and survive their tearing nails, more power to you. They may leave you out in the snow to freeze, or brand you as a heretic, but some feeble survivors of the purge will be applauding, albeit silently, not daring even to show our faces in the window.
I mean what, exactly, is the problem? That you pursue this in secret? That it feels out of control? And why do you pursue it in secret? Is it shamefully lowbrow and secular? Is it not the high, striving, virtuous text approved by the academy? Is it not the wifely, dutiful rack you are supposed to be stretched out on, the Pilgrim's wheel of commerce and progress where you are supposed to be laboring when you are not cleaning house and suckling the young? I suggest you examine the setting here, and look for the character's motivation. Why is this your problem and not the world's?
If you yourself were a character in one of these plots, would your pursuit of secret pleasure in words brand you as evil and wrong? Or rather would there not be intense identification with you across the land, as people just like you are seeking the same thing, something ancient and bright, some artifact of a true, untrammeled soul with its innocent need for narrative, something mythlike and linear in a world of exploded stories. And who could blame you for crossing the line, when the fences between reader and text and writer have rotted and fallen anyway, when we are all enmeshed like strangers on a train in the same humming engine of creation and retelling?
Are they going to put you in stocks on the village square if they catch you? Maybe they will. I wouldn't put it past them. But do us all a favor: Don't blame yourself. Blame this awful Horatio Alger cartoon we seem to be stuck in.