Persistency of Poetry
Matthew Arnold, 1867
Though the Muse be gone away,
Though she move not earth today,
Souls, erewhile who caught her word,
Ah! still harp on what they heard.
Someone inscribed that to me once, when we were young and we wrote other people’s words, sang other people’s songs, believed other people’s beliefs. It seems a long, long time ago, but I’m in the mood for saudades tonight - that doesn’t translate, so let us say, I’m in a melancholy mood.
I’m not sure why. It could still be the let-down after ASC and AAA voting, or it could be the fandom-goes-on feeling I get when people close down glass onion and unsubscribe from zendom and wander off into fandoms where I cannot follow, or it could just be some existential fallout from reading The Curse of Chalion.
Everyone burns out eventually (except possibly Seema). Fandom is a revolving door through which pass many self-proclaimed whores. Maybe we’re fated to be this way, because of the fundamental illegitimacy of fan writing in the eyes of the world. Real writers don’t burn out after a fanonical three years; they’re barely getting started. There are what, fourteen books listed in the front of Curse of Chalion? And LMB was just a housewife with a hobby when she started.
Maybe the problem is that we can never turn this hobby of ours into a cottage-industry. Not only will we never get paid, we’ll never get respect. I showed my lovely sister Veronica some feedback I got in the ASC awards, but she didn’t seem to understand. Look, I’ve done something! The muse was with me, and I touched the sky.
Ok, I’ve done other things, and I have the sheepskins to prove it, but education is a terribly narrow, specialized thing these days - one people don’t understand, but they respect you for it anyway. They don’t respect you for fanfiction, no matter how big your big name. No one will ever know.
Maybe I’m sad because I’m more likely to be published in the Journal of Symbolic Logic than in Analog. You’ll have to take my word for it that I’m not full of myself or obsessed with awards; I’m just a spectator here, the alien/Borg/INTP come down to observe and meta-comment. I understand that people look to fandom for fun - I certainly had nothing else in mind two years ago, reading through the J/C Index during a slow week at work. I had no ambitions of becoming a BNF when the muse came to me and forced me to write Marriage is Irrelevant, and I still don’t.
I want to be a Real Writer, but I know that real sci-fi writers get about as much respect as fanfic writers do. I could grow up to be LMB and people still wouldn’t know my name; they don’t know hers. The race, as the man said, is not to the swift. The Pulitzer is not to the strong. Lori calls it a game, one Yvonne is also tired of, one that burns out its writers almost as efficiently as fandom does - almost. And yet, and yet, there is something more solid about print, something slow and considered and restful, something more serious and less esoteric than the FFF’s of fandom.
I started out in a jetc list that hid the big bad world of fandom from the happy fish of snack-fic, but eventually I found my way around. I met some cool people, and before I knew it, I’d met all the cool people (not to mention the not-so-cool people). And that was it, that was the whole shebang. Some people keep on looking for more shebang, though - either in new shows, or in slash, or in carrying the torch virtually, or in little clubs that exist solely to show the world that so-and-so is cooler than the average fan.
Maybe it’s the final evidence that fanfic is not an art: we end up looking for more and not finding it, and leaving. Oh, we talk about getting better, about improving our writing, but in practice, we wander off to other fandoms, exotica or erotica. Fandom is social, but writing is individual - maybe that conflict is what tears us apart from our muses and our shows and one another.
So they can call me Queen of the Filk (Penny) or Jemima Austen (Lori) or Our Lady of the AU (Liz), but my show is over and gone, and with it went B’Elanna the Canon-Correcting Muse. In the blizzard of blogs and lists flying apart and virtual seasons and revolving-door newsgroups, she caught her death of cold. Here I am, for reasons I hardly understand, wondering if I should just let her rest in peace.
Fandom is us, tooting our own horns, paying our own fic taxes, reading our own fic. We cannot go up and in here, we can only fly round and round, because we are the whole shebang. Why isn’t that enough?