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Self-care and How to Avoid Toxicity in Fandom
The art of showing up for yourself and others in fannish spaces
Happy New Year! 🎊
It’s time to talk about resolutions. Maybe you enjoy them, maybe you don’t believe in them, or maybe you celebrate Lunar New Year, Rosh Hashanah, or the myriad other new years by which one can resolve to evolve.
These deadlines may be entirely arbitrary, but so is time in general. This isn’t a philosophy magazine, however, so I’ll just cut to the chase: January is as good a time as any to get your sh*t in order and figure out what kind of human you want to be.
There are many ways to engage with this question, but one that recently stood out to me is the book The Art of Showing Up: On Friendship in the Age of Flakiness by Rachel Wilkerson Miller. 📖
Though the title isn’t misleading per se, I picked up the book hoping to learn something new about being a better friend. Instead, I received an overarching masterclass in care: for oneself, for loved ones, and for the strangers we interact with on the regular. The author frames showing up not as overextending yourself but as making balanced lifestyle choices that allow you to thrive alone and socially.
As a writer who studies fandom, I noticed many parallels between Wilkerson Miller’s tips and how fans live. On the surface, fandom is viewed as a means of consumption, but as a whole, it is an ecosystem from which its denizens derive a sense of community and identity.
If I could recommend any book to read in the new year, this is it, and I especially think fandom spaces could benefit from the type of self-reflection the author suggests. Few communities are as creative, passionate, and bold as those rooted in fandom, yet plenty of work is still needed to fix community strife. Fans and creators alike have reported instances of harassment and cyberbullying, often directed toward women, people of color, and marginalized people. Even if we’re not hateful trolls, we all have a responsibility to look inward and check ourselves so that we can make our fan communities better places to be.
So for a thoughtful tune-up, here are some tips I gleaned from The Art of Showing Up and how they apply to fan communities:
Know when it’s time to connect with others, offline or simply out loud.
Many of us practically live on the Internet, for work, for fun, and, yes, for self-care. Yet there are limits to how much we ought to be sitting hunched over our phones texting or binge-watching our favorite shows.
Though you may be an online social butterfly, it’s worth considering how much time you’re spending with others, whether it’s in person or on the phone (no, I don’t mean texting). Wilkerson Miller suggests keeping tabs on how many verbal conversations you have with people. While asynchronous conversations over Messenger or text can be fun, when was the last time you had a real chat? 💬
For fan communities who can’t meet up in person, Remarkist’s audio-first chat spaces have been a useful way to connect with greater depth and attention to the many elements that make stories great. Instead of racing to binge-watch shows, a healthier, more sustainable option may be to gather around the virtual campfire and take the chance to stew on the content you’re consuming so that it’s more than just “content.” This practice can make viewing more meaningful, help you make new friends, and strengthen old friendships.
Learn to voice what you need and establish healthy boundaries.
The part of this book that most changed me was a section about voicing your needs, with an anecdote about air travel as an example. The author cited instances of flight passengers (often women) feeling uncomfortable with the idea of… asking their seatmates to get up so they can go to the bathroom or paging a flight attendant for a bottle of water. It was like looking in a mirror, and Dear Reader, it was horrifying. I’ve always considered myself confident, so why did I also feel that anxiety? Since I read this passage, I’ve stopped hesitating to make these small requests. And if someone is kicking my seat or taking up my space, I try my best to address these issues directly and politely.
I think this issue mainly affects creators in fandom, and I don’t just mean celebrities or influencers. Fan creators on Etsy, Tumblr, and other marketplaces often have to field asks for free labor or are bombarded with commission requests. Like those examples in air travel, it can be difficult to voice your needs without feeling confrontational. But if you don’t, you end up in a worse place: resentful and grumpy, unable to engage as your truest self.
For those of you who relate, I suggest making your needs clear upfront. Put them in your site bios or FAQs. Turn off anonymous DMs on Tumblr and block certain key phrases on Twitter if you have to. Set an example by making sure you value yourself and your work.
Strengthen your friendships and become a great conversationalist.
Though fans can vary in many ways based on the stories they love, many share the same tendency to hyperfixate on their interests. I profess to be one of these people who gets into certain franchises and can’t get enough. I recently attended a holiday party where I launched into the political history of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang, a topic that makes for great cocktail conversation but is only marginally interesting after a certain point.
These hyperfixations make for great conversation, but only insofar as you can connect to other people and their interests through them. A quality chat usually feels like a true back-and-forth rather than a one-sided lecture or an interrogation. (Yes, it’s good to ask questions, but just as you don’t want to talk their ears off, you also don’t want to pressure them into carrying the entire conversation with their answers.)
The Art of Showing Up directly addresses this idea with fandom at its core. When you meet a potential new friend, you might be inclined to notice your similarities in taste. If they’re as obsessed with Gilmore Girls as you are, great! But what’s more important is that the shared interests are the “qualities or characteristics that are uniquely them.” That is, your fandom friends should be people you like because they’re them, not because they buy the same DVD sets as you. In conversation, sharing content because it reminds you of someone as a human being goes much further than sharing something because you expect that person to react exactly as you would.
Much of being a great conversationalist and friend is about stepping outside yourself a bit and figuring out where you and another person are both similar and different. And if you don’t have a particular hyperfixation but your friend does, you don’t have to become a super fan to take an interest. Take some time to listen to what they say, and you might learn something new. Your friend will appreciate it, and you may pick up some trivia skills in the end.
Take ownership of your living space by making it beautiful in your own way.
One of the easiest ways to feel at home in a physical space is to decorate authentically. It’s true, the home improvement industry has hawked many baubles and doo-dads that make this seem like a daunting and expensive task. Sometimes, though, all you need are hand-picked flowers and homemade art to make things feel homier.
The Art of Showing Up includes a section on managing your stuff, inspired by the philosophy of Marie Kondo. While the KonMari method has been the butt of many jokes, she has a point: when you surround yourself with stuff you actually love, it can improve your mood. Wilkerson Miller suggests identifying home objects that make you feel extremely cozy and ones that make you angry and irritable.
The opportunity to jazz up the home with fannish objects is endless for fans who love Etsy (or a Cricut). I describe my own living space as “Pee Wee Chic”: tasteful yet colorful, filled with items that would impress my 5-year-old self.
If you’re going to make one resolution this year, consider taking stock of what you have and asking yourself whether these objects represent and serve you. If they do, great! If not, can they be donated, recycled, or improved? If your annoying trash can would make you happier with a Logan Huntzberger decal, so be it.
To deepen your connection with other fans in real-time, pop into one of the many Remarkist events and conversations happening throughout the day.
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