Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
— C.S. Lewis, from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”
Anyone who has read much on this blog or who knows me outside of it knows that my love for writing and, of course, reading, does not only extend to “great literature.” It extends deeply into stuff which ranges from “published but silly” to “fanfiction and supremely silly.” I’ve read Shakespeare and Ovid and Bronte, and loved them, but I’ve also read stories written by 13-year-olds about cartoon characters and loved those, too.
Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.
And that’s not just about people of varying gender expressions.
It’s about EVERYTHING.
When I was 5, I was introduced to the cartoon Rainbow Brite. It’s a perfect show for kids in that age-range, and it hooked me completely. But what came as a great consternation to my parents was that I CONTINUED to love it long past age 5. They felt it was too childish for me, not advanced enough for my growing age, intelligence, and awareness. They worried that it would stunt me to love something aimed at barely-out-of-toddlerdom.
What they couldn’t understand was that the only thing which could stunt me was to prevent me from loving the thing I loved. And still love. Though differently.
Rainbow Brite is not epic, Nobel-worthy work, but it has great value. It was the first cartoon I ever saw as a child which was uncompromising in its feminism and egalitarianism. Rainbow goes on a quest as ambitious as any Frodo or Taren or Luke Skywalker or Aladdin or Indiana Jones. She defeats an evil monster on her own and wins rule over a kingdom which she is charged to defend against further evil. She accepts the responsibility for caring for the planet Earth as a daily job — while her friends are playing games or having fun, she goes to her daily work of keeping the Earth beautiful and filled with joy. The only times her gender ever comes up is in contrast to a few boy characters who argue that her competence is somehow lessened by her being a girl, which she promptly proves to be wrong. Rainbow outsmarts various villains, enters into magical “combat” without backup, saves the universe, and continues to carry the mantle of leader and ruler and joy-bringer. She has friends who help her, she has allies who fight with her, but she never needs to be saved or rescued from the harshness she herself is sworn to defeat.
Yes, of course, sometimes there are dumb episodes or setups. Yes, of course, there are aspects of the story which can be problematic (or downright confusing for anyone who actually tries to reason out her capacity to ride a horse in the actual void of space at speeds that would make Star Trek engineers faint). Yes, it is still a cartoon aimed at little girls.
But it has great value. It set me up to believe that if you work hard, if you are willing to sacrifice and do the right things, if you hold onto joy and hope, you can do anything. Even if you’re a girl. Is there any doubt why I loved it? And why it stuck with me for so long?
More and more, mainstream movies and media are realizing that it is not only possible to make childrens’ programming accessible and enjoyable to adults, but it is profitable. It’s not just about dropping one or two jokes into a movie to shore up parents stuck watching something with their toddlers. It’s about making art which works on various levels for everyone. Some of the best movies of the last few years are traditionally for kids, but have been touted and loved by adults; Pixar in particular is incredibly good at this. Think about Up, Inside Out, Toy Story 3. Yes, movies for the PG crowd. But it was adults who bawled their eyes out while their kids laughed at the fart jokes.
If you investigate the fanfiction I write, you’ll find it’s mostly cartoons. Some anime, which has much fuzzier lines of adult vs kid content, and some live-action “grown up” shows, but mostly I stick to American cartoons. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of my most active fandoms. Mighty Max, a show literally invented to sell plastic toys to 8-year-old boys is one of the closest things to my heart — ever. I have written stories for Rainbow Brite (of course I have) and Teddy Ruxpin, and I’ve spent time carving out an entire mythology to go along with their worlds to explain what threads are left hanging by the originals.
The fact of my deep love for what one could easily call “childish” stuff does not, however, mean it is wrong. The fact that these cartoons for kids not out of kindergarten give me profound, life-affirming joy, is not wrong or demeaning or indicative of some kind of immaturity.
Because really? All it means is that these things have what I need in the moment I need it.
Sometimes you want complexity, deep political messages, complex sexual tensions. There’s lots of places to get those between books, TV, movies, and the internet. Sometimes you need something gritty and too real and bloody just to help you see your own world clearly.
But I think there’s a great mistake in thinking ONLY those things can entertain, can offer value, can hold you up. If you count on Game of Thrones to alleviate all your worries about the real world, I fear you’re going to be in trouble. GOT may have many amazing messages and things to say, but it is not necessarily going to be a comfort. Not all the time.
Sometimes, comfort is what you need more than anything.
If it hasn’t been obvious from the last few weeks of my posts, I’ve really been struggling here in 2017 with my anxieties and depression. I’ve swung back and forth between an empty apathy even to the things I truly and always love, and a dark despair edging close to danger. I’ve had enormous difficulty finding the clarity and calm inside myself to write, to sing, to want to engage any part of me that’s real in a world I don’t want to be in. To live creatively, you have to live with your chest torn open and your heart bared to every slice of wind and ice and iron that flies around in the wider world. I don’t think it’s possible to be an artist and to also be immune to the world in which your art emerges.
At this time in 2016, I had written about 143,500 words. In 2015 I was at 118,650; in 2014 I was around 131,260. This year? 2017? I’m somewhere around 76,000 — a little bit more than half what I did last year. And they aren’t all complete stories, either; for every one that I’ve actually finished, I have another I began but just couldn’t pull all the way together. It’s been enormously frustrating and vexing. It isn’t a block and it isn’t lack of interest or discipline. This is anxiety and depression, pure and simple.
And for me, for me personally, the only cure I’ve ever had to get me writing even in the midst of my worst downturn, is a shock of joy and love.
Early in 2015, I was in a dark place. It was different from here, tinged with far more depression and far less existential anxiety, but it was no less damaging or dangerous. And yet I still wrote 118,650ish words in the first months of the year. How? By writing in fandoms that fed me when nothing else did. More than anything else, I needed Donatello and Quatre and Max. I needed them like I needed air, and nothing else worked. I needed them because they fed bright happiness into the dark well that was dragging down everything else inside me.
This year, I turned to them again, but they just didn’t hold me. I wrote a bit and petered out just as quickly. What I needed this year was something else, something new. Something I had yet to find.
So I floundered. I pushed and tried to write in familiar fandoms and unfamiliar ones. I let my new discovery of and love for the show Leverage carry me for a while. I went back to my TTSA ‘verse and put an AU spin on it so I could put psychics into Jaegers. I started several works that have been on my to-do list because they helped bandage up the parts of me that are bleeding. It wasn’t enough, but it was something.
Anybody with depression or anxiety will tell you that something, even if it isn’t halfway to everything, can keep you afloat. Even a twig is better than nothing if it’s all you have to keep you from drowning. I made a basket of my twigs and I clung to them.
Because eventually, if you hold on long enough and keep fighting the water and keep looking for alternatives, eventually a life raft will come into view. You might have to break yourself in half to reach it, but when you do, you’ll get out. You’ll be okay. You’ll have something strong enough and stable enough to carry you through the storm.
I’ll try to talk about that part more some other time.
Because now, mostly thanks to the FX channel running a bunch of wacky movies together on a night when I was too listless to do anything else but sit and stare, I have found something new to hold onto, something new to cherish and fill me with effortless joy.
Yes. It is stupid. It’s a movie fandom made for 8 year-olds. It’s a movie that didn’t even do particularly well at the box office or with the reviews it received.
But it struck just the right tone, hit all the right emotional notes and dramatic points for me. It made me laugh; it filled me with ideas; and I’ve watched it 2.5 times in 3 days and can’t wait to watch it again.
As with all things that I find I suddenly love, that also meant my creativity burst open and a world of various new headcanons emerged.
(The last time this happened was when I discovered the TV show The Sentinel and I promptly wrote 4 novels and 14 short stories, almost 400,000 words in 8 months.)
Now, it’s not impossible that this new love will not prove quite enduring enough to hold out and the depression and anxiety will return all too soon. But right now this child’s movie is exactly what I need to love in order to breathe. I don’t care anymore if it’s “good” or not by some outside scale. It’s good for me. It’s holding me up. It’s making me FEEL again.
So I’m not going to knock it. Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.
Right now, I just need to love a competent, charming, genius father and his clumsy, loyal, struggling-for-confidence son.
That love is keeping me together. And I never would have found it if I had limited myself to “adult” shows and movies and books. I never would have devoured every fanfic written about these characters I now adore and found myself desperately wanting more. I found my mind firing at speed again, my heart pounding, and, of course, sighing with dramatic frustration as I realized that these ideas are not something I can tie up neatly in a oneshot. Looks like I have another novel on the horizon.
There’s another C.S. Lewis quote for this part:
I wrote the books I should have liked to read. That’s always been my reason for writing. People won’t write the books I want, so I have to do it for myself.
–As quoted in C.S. Lewis, by Roger Lancelyn Green
Because when you really love something and it changes you, you want as much of it as you can get. And if you create as a default approach to the world, it means you write the stories you want and need to exist for you to have. I have wanted and needed so many stories, and they litter my fanfic portfolio.
(And sometimes other people need those stories, too. That novel I’mma have to write at some point here? It’s at least as much for Sarah, my wife and (in this case) more importantly, my beta. I’m not the only one glomming onto this fandom. I’m not the only one being fed happiness and betterment by it. Which means she wants more of it, too. And I can deny her absolutely nothing. Blame any subsequent writings on her, if you would. But credit them to me, of course.)
Rainbow Brite kept me together as a child and as I exited childhood, the example and beacon of the kind of person I could be if I lived without fear. Mighty Max taught me to think about facing reality and having the courage to keep going even when there was blood on the floor and death on the horizon (yes, it’s for little boys but it is DARK; there’s a reason the Nightmare Fuel section on TVTropes for this show is FULL). What began as youthful fannish squee became something real, something that influenced the way I think about myself and the life I can build. Something that held me so completely, I could only add to it, create more of it, and offer it to anyone else with the same love and need.
I don’t know yet where this one will take me — I’m still in the fannish squee stage. But it WILL take me somewhere, somewhere better than where I am right now.
And I haven’t cared about loving something meant for children since I was a child myself and holding onto the things that brought me joy even then. Is it too young for me? I dunno. Is JOY too young for a person? Helpless giggles at terrible puns? How about simple, uncomplicated discussions about the meaning of family?
Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.
I have a deep regard for this dog and his boy, and I finally feel better.