I was on this panel with Brent Allison from Gainesville State College. While, on the surface, there was not a lot of relationship between his paper, "Japanese Animation Fandom and Media Education: A Response to Media Education Literature and Classroom Practice," and mine, they certainly did intersect both on matters of authenticity (an issue he raised) and, I think, very strongly in the response from the room.

While I mentioned this in passing at the panel, it's worth reiterating I'm not an anime and manga person by default (the same goes for Western comics and animation for me); it's not a medium I respond to instinctually. However, working on this aspect of my mourning research and hearing Brent's paper along with some of the presentation from the panel before us, I feel like I have a lot more tools to approach anime and manga than I have in the past, so that was personally a very rewarding expansion for me.

Over the past year, I've had the opportunity to talk about fan responses to character death a lot -- at Gallifrey One, at the Desiring the Text conference at the University of Bristol (UK), and here on Livejournal, where I started this research really in response to what I was seeing and experiencing in the Torchwood fandom, which didn't feel new to me, so much as very, very old.

Most of the time there's a lot of anger when I talk about this topic. The Torchwood fandom isn't just still gutted by the narrative events of its third season, but large swathes of it remain in conflict -- with the show writers and producers, and with other fans who have had different responses not just to the program, but to their feelings about it.

And, of course, it's not just Torchwood fandom. Joss Whedon fans are still nursing wounds from deaths like that of Tara on Buffy, and those wounds are very real, even if I posit that they are less likely to create a ritualized mourning response because of the way Whedon structures his narrative arcs.

In fiction, death is everywhere, and given more than twenty minutes there's lots to say about tons of other properties -- some of which I was able to mention in Atlanta -- like Harry Potter, Elf Quest, Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow's Joe), Sherlock Holmes and the work of Dickens (there's a lot to say about Little Nell) to name just a few.

If you love stories fannishly and so also love characters privately and passionately and in a nearly embodied sense, chances are you know all about this type of mourning, because you've lived it, even if you've never talked about it.

But for a lot of people, this type of grief is really alien, or, if experienced, has been uncomfortable or eclipsed by non-fictional losses. When we talk about the pain of absence, there's a lot for anyone to get pissed about.

Which is to say, a lot of the time, the response I get to this work is one that is angry and in pain (Seriously, I've been on panels with yelling matches, tears, personal stories of non-fictional loss, and more. Grief is big). And that's fine, even if I'm not always as gracious, generous and supportive as I wish I knew how to be. Because my choosing to this work is also a response to my own losses (I even refer to it as "my own 1,000 cranes" in the paper I did for the Bristol conference, not afraid of sentimentality am I).

Spending a lot of time around grief is pretty exhausting. I've been doing it for over a year, and it's taken me on one hell of a trip (including to the UK twice). It has forced me to mourn fictional characters that matter to me both more publicly and more privately than I would wish and to find commonalities with people I'd, quite frankly, rather just argue with in fandom.

Often, when I present on this topic, it's really heated, and it leaves me drained and uncertain of the value (but not the relevance) of this work. Dragon*Con, however, was an entirely different experience.

The audience was generous and curious, provided a perspective through manga, anime and comics, that framed a lot of new and exciting questions (how do we emotionally respond to comics that are constantly retconning and resetting? are we mourning a fictional lover or friend or are we mourning the self?) and also helped to further confirm a lot of the arguments I've been working with.

More than anything though, I felt a sense of eagerness and relief from the audience, and really felt we could have gone for far more time than the slot we had allowed. Unfortunately, I also had to run to another panel right after.

If you're here because you were at the panel (or not) and want to talk about this topic more in comments here, please feel free. If you have particular feelings about how you'd like to access more material on this subject (i.e., book? website? academically focused? pop-culture-y? travel-log of visiting sites of fictional grief? etc), I would love to hear it. In addition, I am always grateful to hear more personal tales of mourning for the fictional. While I do not necessarily feel an obligation to request permission to quote people discussing such issues publicly on the Internet, since I am soliciting your input directly here, I will say that I will not quote or paraphrase anything you say in comments to this post without your explicit permission, and I'll drop you a note if I ever need it.

In addition, if you're curious about the work that's coming out of the Bristol conference, please visit The Society of Friends of the Text. You can also get more information on the Dragon*Con Comics and Popular Arts Conference that put this panel together and its parent, The Institute for Comics Studies. A big thank you to Dragon*Con Anime and Manga Track for giving us the time and space necessary for this panel.

Thanks for attending the panel and/or for reading along here. The Dragon*Con panel was one of the most lovely experiences I've had since I've started working on this project, and I am truly full of gratitude for it.
Well, about to get on the tube for Heathrow. Am at the hotel where I'd left my bags most of the day and they are blasting random musical theatre in the lobby. So weird.

Today I saw the Household Cavalry Guards (oh man, uniforms make me hot. I mean, I know this, and then I forget, and then I stumble on something like this and I'm like "oh yeah, I'm a perv), St. James Park, Whitehall, 10 Downing Street (people were just mad to get pictures of it, and I was like "er, so?"), the Centotaph, Duck Island (ducks are fucking evil, but really cool), Buckingham Palace from a distance, Islington and Mayfair. I walked enough that I now understand how everything connections.

It's raining, so I hope it doesn't mess with my flight too hard.

ETA: no matter how convoluted my relationship is with fandom and the Mermaid Quay memorial, this really, really upsets me.

zoom

Jul. 3rd, 2010 02:58 pm
By now, even with her brother's speed and efficiency, Patty should be safely on her way to Ohio. It's just for a couple of weeks to see everyone, but I've gotten particularly used to having her around.

For the many new people who may not know, Patty's an archaeologist, which means she generally spends 8 - 12 weeks a year (all in one burst) somewhere isolated and remote. By isolated and remote I mean no Internet, no phone, sometimes no address. She's been places where I couldn't mail her letters and places that read her letters before they go to me. So that can be tough. Considering that she left on one of these digs three weeks after we first started dating, I am more or less used to them, however.

That said, I've been spoiled lately. After a very small gap (a couple of months) between trips to Syria (where they read our letters) and Oman (where she had no address and got pneumonia), Patty's been home for more than a year (a few visits to her family aside). We'd thought she be away this summer, but once it became clear she'd be in Cardiff their academic calendar has meant she's more or less home until late September this year. And Cardiff is civilization -- phones and email and letters and packages and everything. And I'll be able to visit and she should be able to meet me over in Europe when I'm on a business trip in the fall too. So in the scheme of things, that's going to be easy, even if the gap between this trip and the next one (India) probably won't be more than a month (and that's optimism, I know).

Even so, I miss her and Patty worries (I always cry at the airport when she goes off on her long trips) because I certainly feel like sometimes I can be pretty dysfunctional. Also, she likes me. Right now, though, I need to be focused on finishing work that must be done before the Bristol trip and the Bristol trip itself.

My plan is to make all the annoying calls this weekend: my bank, my mobile company and print out all my itineraries and reservations/receipts, so I'm not making myself last-minute panicked on Wednesday (I leave directly from my office that night). I also need to prepare my response paper for the article I'm paired with, and it probably wouldn't hurt for me to figure out where my brain is about the whole of my own research which has been a strange thing to live with over the last several months.

As for the event itself, I'm excited. Full stop. But the coinciding of the trip with the one year anniversary of a fictional fact central to the paper's theme is bizarre to me, and since nothing about this work is about my uninvolvement with its subject, I keep waiting to be hit with something other than the rather extreme compartmentalization and sense of having a damn job to do that I have about it right now. Not that that isn't fitting. It's fucking fitting.

My trip is, for now, as planned as it's going to get (and perhaps as planned as it is possible to get), and although I may really find myself regretting going to the Imperial War Museum when I've been on a plane all night and am high strung and have probably slept dubiously, that's what makes the most sense in my schedule right now. Knowing myself, and my history of solo travel, it's also perfectly clear to me that I am trying to make this hard, because I find solace in that.

Right now, my only real quandry is whether to take the small suitcase that will make the constant moving around on this trip easier, or the giant suitcase, so I can fill it with gluten-free bakewell tarts on the flight back.
So today was Cardiff.

Originally, the plan was that I was going to go to Cardiff by myself one day while Patty was at her conference (that is, after all, why we're here, she's delivering a paper on Friday), but then she came home one day and said there was a thing she needed to learn and there were only three places she could do it and she really thought the other two were more likely but the third was -- and you'll never guess where -- Cardiff.

From that moment on I was pretty sure Cardiff was going to be the lucky winner, and so it's turned out to be the case. My private pilgrimage turned into Patty and I taking the (really quite confusing to purchase a ticket) train together to Cardiff and then each of us walking in a different direction: her towards the university and me towards Mermaid Quay.

The area you have to walk through to get to the Quay is sort of crap. That's all right though. I spent a lot of time in crap seaside towns as a child (hell, we spent a rainy summer weekend in one last year), and I felt more or less fond of it right off.

So the plan was, get to Mermaid Quay, ensconce myself in a Starbucks, do work (this is a working trip for me) and then see some stuff before meeting Patty at six.

You already got my initial This Is So Weird, and in truth, it didn't get a lot less weird. I wound up talking on Google chat with Jill for a while, who was suitably amused by my various forms of flailing (i.e., "I packed poorly and it's cold so I'm wearing my pinstripe suit jacket over jeans and a girly t-shirt and now I feel like an asshole!"), getting crap done, and eventually forcing myself to go down to the memorial thing.

I felt really self-conscious about it, and in the end, I can pretty safely say this was neither quite fannish embarrassment or genuine grief, but something older in me, a sense of sin for giving a shit about anything no matter what it's about. Even my parents always told me I was a cry-baby, and the people who are kindest to me are those who help me give myself permission to be as acutely permeable as I am.

There were people down there, too, which sort of sucked. A family with a couple of kids that had come to see the Doctor Who exhibition and other sites for the day. The long-haired father tried to pose heroically in front of the memorial, but only after I heard him remark to a pair of girls sitting on a bench near it that he hadn't watched the third series yet, that it was waiting on DVD at home, and he supposed this meant that Ianto had died. All in all, he seemed a bit sanguine and puzzled about it -- not the memorial, but Ianto, being dead.

Anyway, I couldn't really bear it for long. It wasn't for me I decided, and after watching the lone swan that kept coming up by the dock and harassing people, I went over to the Millennium Center and the Plass.

It's really a ridiculous thing. Because it rises up out of nowhere, more or less, and it's massive, imposing architecture that makes no sense adjacent either to the rather minor mall-like stuff at the Quay or to the shit housing along Bute Street. But you can't see it, can't say those words -- in these stones, horizons sing -- and not get a bit of a chill. At least, if you're me.

And that's not about Torchwood, that's about stories. And texture. And the way words are the bare, miserable edge of narrative.

I had a button in my coat. One of the original buttons from my Jack coat. I cut them all off when I got it last year, because they were silver in tone, and therefore wrong, and they've been scattered on Patty's desk since. In sweeping up the jewelry she wanted to bring on this trip (Patty enjoys being a girl), she swept up one of the buttons.

I noticed it yesterday on the desk in our hotel room, and I commented on it. She apologized.

"No, no," I said, "it's good."

And it was, because I thought, how can I go to Cardiff and not leave something at that damn tourist office memorial? Except, then when I was there, and I couldn't.

By the Millennium Center and the metal column with the water that theoretically extends down into the Rift pool is an open hole in the ground of the same shape. It's fenced off, and you look down, and it's full of running water and coins; a wishing well. And that seemed right, so instead of pence or pennies, I threw the button in and won't tell you what I wished for, because those are the rules, and I've some pride besides.

I felt lighter after that. Things were easier, and I sat on the steps of the Plass and checked my email and watched a little blond-haired boy kick a soccer ball around. He was about seven and was wearing a red and blue striped rugby shirt. And yeah, that was about like you'd expect.

When I got up to go to the Tesco (I wanted a snack and I wanted to go to the Tesco), he'd made a bad but strong kick, and it had gone way far away from him. He was running towards it (me) but kept pausing and frowning. Oh! I was supposed to kick it to him! So I tried when he finally put his hands on his hips and waited, but it went crazy left and not very far.

"Sorry," I shouted. "American!" I added with a shrug.

On the way to the Tesco, I found Patty, who was over an hour early for our rendezvous.

"You're early," I said.

"I have been walking over two hours."

"How? It should be a straight shot."

"I went around a lake full of swans."

She sat on a bench while I ran into the Tesco, and when I first skidded into it, I sort of had this moment of paralysis, because yeah, that's it, just right, just like in my head. But then I got chips and soda and ran back out to her just in time to watch a feminine creature of extreme artifice stroll down the street in a black tank top, black booty shorts that said FUCK ME across the ass and platform high-heels with stiletto heels.

Did I mention it was like 50 degrees today?

"Oh my," Patty said.

"Fuck me," I repeated dully.

"Did you see the shorts?"

"Yes."

"I want Welsh Cakes."

"What?"

There was a store selling Welsh cakes. I followed Patty in dutifully, assuming this would not be for me, but they had gluten-free ones too, and they were AMAZING. I ran back later to buy a whole bunch and the proprietress told us about a tea shop in Roath with lots of gluten-free stuff, so we'll go when Patty is here in the fall.

After, Patty somehow led me back down to the Tourist Office memorial thing, and we looked at all the stuff and talked about it.

"Is the blip in time thing something from the show?"

"Yeah. From the death scene."

"The paper cranes are nice."

"Yeah."

"He was only a year younger than me."

"I know."

"I like this one," she said, and it was just a scrap of paper that said Bye now.

I took photos of a few items that might get mentioned in my paper, and we watched a couple of fannish queer chicks (was that you? did you have a Cyberman etch-a-sketch?) canoodle in front of the thing, which I still hated (the thing, not the chicks), albeit differently.

We walked off arm in arm to look at our dinner choices and eventually settled on a pub. After we ate, we walked back towards the city center and around a bit. Ah, here was the rest of Cardiff, and I liked it very much and immediately without conflict or reservation or echo, although I could also (thankfully, in truth) find all those things in it if I concentrated even a little.

It was good, and then it was time to go home. We had our photo taken in the photo booth in the train station and then I watched a loud, loud girl miss her train to Newport while Patty was in the bathroom.

I'm writing this on the train now, and there are a few photos on Patty's camera I'll post eventually. I did what I needed to do, and that's what I was here for.

Patty and I laughed all along our walk as she told me about meeting with the housing office of the University, because compared to New York, the rents are nothing. And yes, she knows not to wire money ahead for an apartment she hasn't even seen. And, really? she bets she can get a lot of Cardiff neighborhood information from the Internet

"Totally!" I said, "Although it'll all be, 'okay, but Grangetown is where Jack owned that fucked up house that got haunted and then started being all House of Leaves, so you might find that a little creepy.'"

And she laughed and elbowed me and made another Dead Ianto joke while a big fat hunting cat in a yard filled with litter looked up at the sky and thought extra hard about how to bring down a seagull. We paused to watch him, and he stared at us a long time until another seagull cawed, and he looked up again, dreaming of London.

May 2016

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