Reflecting on Buffy, Spike, and ‘That’ Scene

Recently, I became a moderator of Elysian Fields, a fan fiction archive that focuses on the relationship between Buffy and Spike (aka Spuffy) and has around 25,000 members at the time of writing this. Not long after that, the mod team were asked if we wanted to be interviewed as part of an article for Polygon. A few of us said yes and that article is now live, which can be read here.

I hadn’t wanted to do the interview via Zoom but instead wrote to the author of the article, Katie. Below is what I said in full.

I’ve been very public about writing and enjoying fan fiction, to help counteract the taboo some people feel about it. As with many other taboos, I never really ‘got’ why people felt shame about it. But that’s perhaps off-topic.
What draws me to fanfic, in general, is satisfaction. Either I’ve seen a really great movie or read a great book and want more, or I’ve been left frustrated by something and feel the need to fix it somehow. I’m a massive control freak, so fixing things that others wouldn’t consider broken is kind of my jam haha. Outside of fan fiction, I write novels and poetry and short stories set in my own worlds, so words are very much how I relate to everything.
In 2019/2020 I did an English Literature course that required me to read A Streetcar Named Desire, and the ending left me so upset I went home and wrote an epilogue that offered a grain of hope for at least a couple of the characters. I’ve done that in a few different fandoms, but for the most part, my heart is with Buffy. As to why, I’ll need to give a little background.
I was fourteen when the show ended in 2003––such a pivotal and transformative time in a lot of people’s lives. I was navigating what it meant to be a teenager in the modern age while living with parents who considered so much of society evil, from the music on the radio to the shows on TV. That included Buffy––and even tamer things, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the first Harry Potter films. I wasn’t allowed to watch any of it. But, given the effects of a, frankly, negligent and emotionally abusive upbringing, I did not have a whole lot of other options for what to do with myself. I didn’t really have friends. I didn’t go out. I was terribly depressed, sometimes even suicidal.
My brother would sometimes watch Buffy (the rules never seemed to apply to him), and so sometimes I was able to catch it, too. And it grabbed me. I became obsessed. Here was a show that dealt with real-life traumas (death and heartbreak and betrayal), albeit via the medium of puns and a fresh twist on vampire lore.
The character of Spike drew me in most of all. The complexity of his character––how he could be furious and honest and seductive all at the same time. And he cried! It was revolutionary to me to see a man, no less one seen as ‘cool’, to show his feelings. Being able to feel things alongside him and the other characters helped me process things in my own life. It was a lifeline, getting me through some of the hardest years I’ve had so far.
And I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think that’s why people stuck with the show, and why it’s still finding fans even now. I don’t have the hard statistics for how the number of fics and members of the community have changed over time, but I feel confident in saying we’ve stayed strong, and our archive in particular is still growing.
With regards to Seeing Red, I have a lot of feelings, and some of them contradictory. On the one hand, I think the topic was an important one to tackle and, as I was saying about taboos, earlier, not left in a place of silent shame. However, I find ‘the bathroom scene’ incredibly hard to watch, and I don’t think the show handled it well at all. We never got to see Buffy and Spike properly address it on screen, and that’s a huge disservice to both the characters and the fans. I feel like the showrunners actively hurt a lot of people with where they look the arc of Spuffy’s sexual relationship, not because it got dark, but because they left it mostly unresolved in that dark place.
I don’t mind reading or writing difficult topics. A lot of the time that’s exactly what needs to be done, and leaning into the raw, difficult aspects of a situation makes the writing stronger. But you can’t half-ass it. The resolution doesn’t need to be all sunshine and rainbows, but it does need to feel resolved. To go through this huge thing as a character and an audience and then almost never talk about it again is bad writing at the very least.
And that’s where the fans have stepped in and written their own endings. Their own resolutions. The beauty of fan fiction is that it gives those most invested in the narrative the power to control it. I’ve read dozens of stories that either change things before Seeing Red, so the bathroom scene never happens, or ones that go through the motions of having the characters fully deal with the aftermath. I’ve written both myself, and I’m not done exploring the topic. It’s that important. It means that much to me. The show saved my life, and it almost feels like, in some small way, I can return the favor.
It is my firm belief that fan fiction is not plagiarism or in a moral grey area, because it only ever adds to the source material. Say you write fanfic in some circles and you’ll be laughed at, but those same circles will fall over themselves for the latest ‘retelling’ of a classic work. The double standard would be laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating.
I think a big part of it is actually that fan fiction is popular with women, and looked down upon (either consciously or subconsciously) for that reason. I could rant about it all day, but I’ll spare you.
Let me know if you want anything clarified or expanded upon.

Confidence Tips for the Painfully Shy

Given the extreme amount of societal pressure on women to look good, in a world where the definition of ‘good’ is ever-changing, and often contradictory––where beauty standards demand you look attractive, but not too attractive, lest you bring any negative attention you might receive down on your own head (because you had to be “asking for it, looking like that!”)… Given all that? It’s fair to say even looking at yourself in the mirror each morning can be a minefield.

What, then, is one to do when you’ve chosen to follow a career path in which an online presence is expected? One where you’re expected to be on at least three different social media platforms, to post semi-regularly on each, and create some kind of consistent ‘brand’ across them?

Specifically, what do you do when you hate how you look, you hate people looking at you, and find yourself in need of professional headshots?

This, folks, is the dilemma I recently faced. Continue reading

March Check In

I have two partially written blog posts saved to my drafts folder titled ‘How I Stay Organised’ and ‘How I Stay Motivated.’ They’ve been there since at least December, which maybe seems ironic on the surface––someone professing to be organised and motivated leaving something unfinished for three months, but I don’t actually think those things are incompatible at all.

It’s actually because I’ve been organised and motivated, albeit in different areas, that those posts so far haven’t been finished. Because the truth is that even the most organised and motivated person in the world (which I am most certainly not) can’t do all of the things––the things they want to do, the things they need to do, plus all the things everyone else wants and needs from them. It’s too much. Compromises must be made. Sacrifices simply have to happen.

And so, this blog has fallen a little by the wayside as other things have popped up and taken priority.

I really enjoy blogging when I’m in the flow of it, and it’s definitely something I’m going to come back to––both in general, and those posts in particular. When that will be, though, I’m not sure right now. But thank you, if you’re still reading this; following along and keeping up with me. I appreciate it, and I hope you’re well.

Getting Real

The Beach in Dundrum

I’ve long considered myself an ‘ideas person.’ I make lists and hatch plans at least every other day, but it’s not always big things. Sometimes it’s small. A lot of the time it’s maybe silly stuff. I once made a list of super long walks to go on, for example. Like Bangor to Belfast, and Belfast to Lisburn, and who even knows where from there? The world? Maybe.

Or, uh… maybe not.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that a lot of my ideas won’t pan out. Even the ones I embark on rarely go to plan, but that can be okay. Crazy misadventures are how memories are made. But also… being real? There’s honestly a lot to be said for staying wrapped in a blanket and drinking a cuppa tea. I know, I know. I sound so old and boring, but fuck it, let’s go for full honesty: life is hard, often exhausting, and so very expensive. You have to find joy in the little things. I know I’m not alone in learning that during our collective two years spent inside.

You know who didn’t really learn that, and I love her for it? My cousin.

In a lot of ways, my cousin is like me but turned up to eleven. She has more wacky ideas, more adventures, and by extension, more mishaps. Sometimes she invites me on her wild road trips and unplanned hikes. (Get in loser, we’re getting LOST!) Sometimes it’s not remotely practical to say yes to driving all the way to Galway at a moment’s notice, but sometimes… sometimes I do say yes.

“Let’s go to Dundrum,” she said to me recently. And I went, thinking all the while, “What the fuck is in Dundrum?”

Turns out, sand dunes. Lots and lots of sand dunes, in which we’d get lost and I’d get injured and, at several points, legitimately fear for my life as my dyspraxic ass tried to scale almost vertical slope after almost vertical slope as the ground shifted under my feet. It probably would have made an excellent, if ridiculous, YouTube video, if capturing the event wasn’t an extra level of stress on top of experiencing it first-hand––which it so would have been.

I love watching such videos. Sometimes I daydream about making them. Yes, they’d look great… assuming I did them right. But doing them right is actual legit hard work, and here we are back at my point about things being exhausting.

I’m not fifteen anymore. I’m not even twenty-five anymore. I can quite happily sit at home and listen to my cousin tell me of her latest near-death experience, or live vicariously through other people’s stunning videography.

So many things I’ve romanticised over the years: people and places and objects and experiences. But how much of it actually matters? That maybe sounds depressing, or defeatist. I’m not saying I’ve stopped wanting to do things. Not at all. But some things? Yes. I actually think that letting go of some dreams is freeing me up for other, better things.

Coming to peace with something isn’t about resignation, it’s about actual peace. Contentment.

Maybe at almost thirty-three, I’m finally learning to chill out.

I guess at this point in the post I should say what I’m actually saying and stop talking around the issue.

So.

I have let go of a dream. Not given up, as such, just realised that I was holding tight to this idea that I’d go back to college. To university. That I’d complete a bachelors degree, and a masters degree, and that I’d finally feel validated in my skills and education and life choices. Lord knows I’ve spoken of this deep desire to return to formal education several times on this blog over several years, but every time I read through syllabuses or yet another online prospectus I’m left with this sense of frustration. Restlessness. Dissatisfaction. This is almost what I want, I would think, but not quite. Over time, that ‘not quite’ mutated into ‘I don’t want this at all.’ Until I’ve finally landed in this place of knowing that I was in love with the idea of studying. Of sitting in visually impressive, grand old buildings, and graduating without a sense of impostor syndrome. Of feeling like I’d finally “fixed” the three years of my life that I so royally fucked up a decade ago.

And people have pointed out to me for almost as long that life doesn’t quite work like that. And I knew that, intellectually, but it didn’t make the feeling go away. Maybe it just had to happen naturally. Gradually. Whatever it was, I’m there now––the other side of the ridge, wondering why the hell I spent so long fantasising about something that was, at the end of the day, exactly that. A fantasy. Life isn’t a movie. Going back to uni wouldn’t be funny montages of goofing around the library at 3am, and drinking so much coffee my eyes pop out of my head, and coming out of all of it with straight A’s, or whatever. I don’t even like coffee.

And when it comes down to it, I don’t really want any of that stuff. Not the reality of it.

My current reality is that I have a husband, and a housemate, and a tiny dog, a job I love, a lot of dear friends, and many opportunities still ahead of me.

So, I’m leaving the sense of regret behind. It was kinda cramping my style, anyway.

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

Today I bring you a piece of advice I wish I’d had when I was nineteen. And twenty. And every age for about the next four years after that.

Here it is: find something to do, while you’re figuring stuff out.

And here’s what I mean by that: Experiment. Give things a go. Try. Fail. Try something else.

When you’re young, you feel so much pressure to have a plan. To know what to do with your life. But lives are a lot longer than they used to be. There are way more opportunities. You could get a job in a field that didn’t exist twenty, ten, or even five years ago.

The key to taking all that pressure off is knowing that you don’t need to figure everything out, right at the start. You don’t just have to pick one path. You can, and likely will, do many things.

But it’s not just your path and opportunities that will change, you will change too. Your interests will shift with time. Passions will wax and wane. So don’t hang around waiting for a lightbulb moment in which it becomes clear which one specific thing you must do, because it probably won’t happen. I know if I’d heard that last part ten years ago I’d get very stressed, but it’s actually a good thing.

I worry for people, particularly kids, who are single-minded in the vision they have for their future. Because if you base all of your hopes and dreams on one thing, and put all your energy into it, what happens if that thing doesn’t work out? Or what happens if you reach your dream and you look up for the first time in four years and realise you’re alone and unhappy? That you were so focused on what you were doing, you didn’t even notice that you’d fallen out of love with it in the meantime?

Don’t worry. It happens. More often than you might think, in fact.

Here’s what you don’t do: don’t feel embarrassed. Don’t dig your heels in and stick with it even now, because you’ve come all this way.

It’s not a weakness to quit. It’s not foolish to change your mind. To set new goals. To take a damn break and let yourself breathe.

When you’re ready––and you’ll likely be ready before you even realise it––dust yourself off and try something else.

I know it doesn’t feel like it, but when things don’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. Literally. The earth will still spin. The night will become day will become night will become day etc.

While waiting for inspiration to strike on what to do next, play. Explore. Do that thing you’ve always wanted to do but never had time for, or that you thought was too silly.

Let yourself be silly sometimes. Not everything is life and death.

I say again: experiment.

What I Wrote and Had Published in 2021

Some stats for the calendar year that’s just ended:

Starting with the biggest things first, my debut novel came out, followed by two poetry pamphlets!

Books Read = 28 (Goal was 20)

Blog Posts Published = 19 (Goal was 24)

I met my goal of getting three newsletters out.

Total Words Written = 158,000 (Less than 2020 and 2019, but more than all the years before that.)

Poems Written = 13

Poetry Submissions Sent (some including multiple pieces) = 16

Poems Published = 4 (in three different places)

Short Stories/Pieces of Flash Fiction Written = 3

Short Story/Flash Fiction Submissions Sent = 14

Short Stories Published = 3

And I appeared in one anthology.

If you’re a writer, feel free to comment below to let me know what you achieved these past twelve months! It doesn’t matter if it’s more or less than what anybody else did, all wins are awesome!