I remember having been a fan of things–of a number of things, in fact. None of them were what I “should” have been fans of, though. Rather than what the football or basketball teams were doing, or what was happening in the races or in the ring, I kept up on what was happening in the pages of comic books. Rather than reading the newest New York Times bestsellers, I read epic poetry and classic science fiction. Rather than following the Top 40, I listened to the music that had been popular–or less so, as I found later–in decades past, progressive pop and jazz-rock fusion and more esoteric blends yet. And for each, I did everything I could not only to learn the words and melodies of each by heart, but also to learn the greater fictional continua in which they existed and the details of the artists’ lives.
Had that been all I did, things might have been otherwise–and better. But that was not all I did, to be sure. I held myself aloof from that many others did, and in so doing, I isolated myself from them–which ended up leaving me in quite the awkward position when I returned to the town where I grew up. Worse, I made a point of berating others for their interests, and so invited being belittled for mine–and some went further than the invitation. Still worse, I staked my identity on knowing most about the things I knew, so I felt–and acted upon–the desire to show that knowledge and, when that knowledge was not enough, I recoiled in shame, chastising myself bitterly over things that few if any others cared about.
Often, that last has been my experience of fandom. There are many who are able to do as I did, to spend their time and money collecting the things from which knowledge (not wisdom, to be sure) can be made and copying over that knowledge from the things into themselves. (I know now that it was an exercise in privilege that I could do so.) In my experience, they have tended to view their knowledge of their interests as their primary value, and they have worked to secure that value by displaying themselves as having mastered it most. It becomes a display like that of the peacock or the bird of paradise, the shouting of the howler monkey, a jockeying for status within a group that seems devoted to no good end. And I did more than my fair share of preening and posturing, making much of knowing things (but not of doing anything with them) and delving into obscurities simply to avoid being wrong–and more often making myself look more the fool in doing so.
But even with all the problems of fandom–and there are many, more than I care to elaborate on here or have the capacity to expound upon elsewhere–there were decided rewards for me. I was able to learn a great many things, and I have tended to enjoy learning. (It should be clear that I do, else I’d not have gone back for more degrees.) And I enjoy even now the exercise of such faculties as I have. (How many is debatable, as witness my degrees.) And there is a pleasure in getting lost amid the details of things, of being able to take the time and spend the resources to focus narrowly and deeply on something purely for the pleasure of it, to be able to be immersed in a thing that has no real purpose and no real relevance, something that is idle and unimportant. (Again, witness my degree work.)
There are times I miss it.
Believe me, I am glad that I have the life I have now. My wife and daughter are excellent, and helping them be so brings me no small amount of joy. I have a good job, one that does some good in the world and makes use of quite a bit of the skill-set I developed in earning my degrees and making an attempt to work the work of the mind as my main job. I have a good second job, one that has helped my family to build up a bit of a financial cushion, enough that we can begin to think about diversifying how we handle our money. And I am still able to do some small bits of academe, both in teaching with the second job and doing some light scholarship–nothing ground-breaking, but (I hope) solid and reliable.
The thing is, doing all of those things prevents me from giving myself fully to any one of them–as I used to be able to do with my fandom. Parts of me miss being able to focus narrowly and deeply on a single thing, to take the time to master all of its minutiae, to expend the resources to acquire all of the newest and best materials in the effort to have a complete account of things, a complete record of how a thing I have enjoyed–whether it be the traditionally nerdy Tolkien or Star Trek or Star Wars or one of any number of role-playing games or some other thing that becomes nerdy through the obsession (because I maintain that the essence of nerdiness is obsessive passion). And I confess to having felt delight in the metaphorical dick-measuring contests of competing geekitudes; while I know better now than to get into them, I do miss the feeling of victory they often (but not often enough, oh, no) allowed me.
The thing is, I am enough in things that I am around people who can do the things I used to do and enjoy, and they do them–while I can only watch and, when I participate, do so as one who has been but no longer is. I am left behind, I feel, brought along only on sufferance. Part of me wants to have something to contribute to those communities–but I realize that I no longer really do, except the occasional friendly ear and reminder of good times for the friends I have made. But many have such ears and friendships without having expended the energies I have, so I have to wonder how much of my time and effort have ultimately been wasted.