Dances With Penguins

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Title: Dances With Penguins
Creator: Merlin Missy
Date(s): December 3, 2008
Fandom: multifandom
External Links: Dances With Penguins
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Dances With Penguins is a 2008 essay by Merlin Missy.


This essay is part of a series called Dr. Merlin's Soapbox.

Some Topics Discussed

From the Essay

I never met Abby. I knew her as a friend of a friend, and later, a friend on Livejournal. Blogs give you the illusion of closeness with someone, dangerously so in some cases. (Reminder to self: Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman are not your friends, no matter how well you think you know them.) But LJ gives an extra boost to online interaction, allowing people to talk back and forth like a sea of conversation, and I got to know Abby's sense of humor, her passions, the things that made her wistful, the things that made her laugh. The first time we ever talked to each other, it was to tell bad Stargate jokes. You would've liked her, reader. You may even have come across her handiwork. Abby was a vidder. Her most famous work vidded "March of the Penguins" to Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line," though it's her SG1 vid to the Jim Henson cover of "Time in a Bottle" that's getting me this week.

This is fandom. Aside from the squeeing, aside from the flamewars, 'shipwars, and FK wars (don't ask), it's about forming a community. It's about making friends with people you'd otherwise never even meet, and becoming as close to them as your family. Closer, in some cases. Over the weekend, while we were waiting for word on her condition, I got to tell my mother-in-law the story of how Jerry Lewis helped Abby get her ears pierced. I could just as easily told her the story of The Tragic Deaths of Seanan's and Sharon's Crockpot Lids, or The Crazy/Stupid Things My (Easily-Embarrassed) Friend B's Adult Son Has Done, or The Difficult Pregnancy Tango as performed by another friend I've never met (and yet who offered to pick me up from the airport last year when my father was in the hospital and I was looking at an emergency visit back home). Being fannish is one thing. We're good at that. We've been obsessing about our shows and movies and books for years, most of us long before we ever met a kindred soul who said those magic words, "OMG, you like that too?" But it's that second moment which lasts. It's the relationships we build from the most tenuous stuff, and how we keep building them, and shore up the old ones with jokes and stories and shared experiences and comfort even from far away. These are the things that matter, whether they're held in common with your best friend from high school, or with this wonderful fan who lives two thousand miles away but shares in every way your deep and abiding belief that Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher should be shagging like weasels.

Fandom's about not being alone anymore. Maybe you started as a fan-inna-box, two hundred miles from the nearest con and farther still to the nearest fan, but you came here to find friends, and to share your squee, and to create things together, and to say, "I was here, and I loved this thing, and these are the people who will remember me." Maybe they'll remember you for that fanfic where you had all the characters doing a kickline, and maybe they'll remember that filk you did to "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," and maybe they'll recall with a smile the weird in-depth meta you did on the time-travel episode, and maybe they'll remember the vid you did of the dancing penguins, but mostly, the good friends will remember the other things you did and talked about, your pets and your family and that trip you dreamed of and that crazy prank you pulled on your boss and that time you dyed your hair blue. Even if you never met in the real world, the way the mundanes would say you define a friend, they'll remember.

Fan Comments

[butterflykiki]: Annnnd I'm crying again. Thanks, Merlin. In a good way. Really gonna miss her.

[zannniee]: Thank you. You've beautifully expressed what I've been trying to explain to people for years about the close bonds developed with never-met friends. who are indeed, closer than many of my face-to-face friends.

[Valerie]: Found your article from Wil Wheaton's blog. ;) And this made me cry (almost, I'm at work, so I can't really cry yet) because I relate to it on such a level. I've been trying to figure out how to express how my fandom friends have touched my life in such a way and here you've done it! Thank you for sharing this. Truly.

[John]: Beautiful article. I never met your friend--and I'm sad now I missed that chance--but your piece brought me to tears anyway with the line, "I was here, I loved this thing, and these are the people who will remember me." That sums up fandom so perfectly, and the families we form. Thank you for sharing this. Also, I'd really love to see the 'Time in a Bottle' SG-1 video you mention; is that posted online anywhere currently?

[s-a-n-d-r-a]: Aw, crikey. There you go and make me cry, not only for a woman I never had the fortune of knowing, but for the friendship we've shared across the miles and the years. *big squooshy hugs*

[Jay Ghoti]: Likewise, I found my way here through Wil Wheaton. My sympathies to those who were lucky enough to have Abby in their lives. "Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

[Mrs. B.]: Like a lot of people, I knew Abby through a mutual fandom friend -- or twelve. It's funny, but we all keep surfacing in the same fandoms, a game of less-than-seven-degrees. I don't think we realize just how many lives we touch through this medium...whether it be through our fan fic, our commentaries, or our squeeing and flailing.

[Beth]: I found my way here through Valerie, who found her way via Wil Wheaton's blog. I read this, with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. Like the others who've commented, I can totally relate. I still have friends in the fandoms I embraced - friends who know me better in so many ways than my immediate family. Thank you for putting it so beautifully.

[Doubleshiny]: I'm sending this article instead of Christmas cards this year xx

[Jo]: Found via my flist. Abby would have loved this article, as would the other online friends I've lost this year. You managed to put into words what I've been trying to for years - fandom isn't just about whatever show/thing you're into, it's about the people you meet and the friends you make, too, and that's what makes it special.

[Jaye]: I got linked in from the FK mailing list, we who do so enjoy our wars... I didn't know Abby well, and I'm sorry for that. I'm proud, however, of the community on the list, and how these wonderful people exemplify your statements here. It's proof that you can be friends with people you've never met, you can love them as members of your extended family-by-choice, and you can feel sorrow for their passing. We miss you, Abby!

[StarWatcher]: I'm sniffling. I didn't know Abby and don't know you, but you've expressed so well the connections of fannish life, and how it enriches us in ways we can't even measure. "My" Abby was Cindershadow; I knew her only 11 months, but she was closer than my sister, and I still feel her loss. Thank you for sharing such a powerful celebration of fandom.

[GreenWoman]: I only know of Abby through friends, and had the sad task of telling someone who *did* know her well that Abby had sailed on. But your essay celebrates not only Abby's life, but what fandom is, at its best. I am most grateful for your eloquence and insight; I'll be sharing this with many friends. Thank you so much.

LaraMee: What an incredibly beautiful article. I wish I had known Abby, she sounds like the best of fandom. Even though I never knew her, I will mourn her. I'm going to share this with the mundanes in my life in hopes that some of them will get it and, at least, the others won't think I'm a freak. Abby, fare thee well and may you find peace in a place where fandom is celebrated by all. ::smiles and kisses::

[hmrpotter]: I didn't know Abby, but I'm glad you had the opportunity to. This article is an excellent explanation of the importance of fandom in my life, and I will be sharing it with my friends, just as one of my online friends shared it with me. I hope you all find comfort in your grief, and always smile when you remember your friend. I hope that we all can bring that kind of joy to the people who we've touched via our online fandoms.

[Chris]: Regretfully, I've never met you or Abby, and that lack is mine. I've been in fandom for more years than I can readily remember, and your article absolutely nails the strength and wonder of it. The friends I've made throughout the fannish years are still the closest to me, a family of the heart if not the blood. I only wish my blood-family could understand this, but even your words won't shift their opinion that I and those like me are a bunch of freaks. But that's their problem, not mine. Abby, thank you for finding the words that I never could.

[encarnaciondeCDH]: WORD. You just put to print every beautiful thing about fandom(s). You mention the FK Wars. Now I'm not gonna go asking you to explain those, I already know what they are and have participated in one. All I want to know is this: did this amazing Abby ever mention which faction(s) she liked? Would like to know if I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know her too, but maybe don't remember it. (I went Crusader-ish Swiss, but appreciated my dear old uncle). Fellow fans will get that without searching anything. I have also had the great pleasure of having good friends (and I should hope, being a good friend to those) like Abby. In fact, it is kind of a theme to my life. True joy is hearing later on in life that your best friend in preschool wasn't just shy and extremely picky about who she talked to, she had autism. True joy is being so determined enough to help a good friend go to church that you gather four or five guys (including one she is crushing on!) to carry her and her chair upstairs because the elevator doesn't work. And true joy is being the "ears" and "eyes" for your soul sisters who just happen to be Deaf and Blind. Hooray for nonstandard friendship, and thank you for the squee of remembering my first fandom.
[Lizbetann]: encarnaciondeCDH - Abby was a proud member of the Merc Guild, as am I. This weekend at her memorial service I got to be one of the women who re-enacted a scene from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum -- professional mourners for hire. She specifically requested this, mind you. Somewhere in heaven Abby is laughing and dancing.

[Apache]: What a beautiful piece -- the fun and loving way it talks about fandom reflects the way knowing Abby made you feel about fandom, whoever you were-- I met her in FK fandom. A generous, smart, and hilarious spirit is lost to us now. There's a Chinese revolutionary proverb, "women hold up half the sky." Abby's were among the strongest hands holding up the sky I want to live under. Thank you so much for writing and posting this tribute.