One of the things I love about fandom is that, at its best, it's a potlatch society. It's one of the last few places in the Western world where a person's social status and the respect in which they are held is determined by the quality and magnanimity and effort involved in what they give away.
I've been involved in Criminal Minds
fandom and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
fandom and SFF fandom, and I used to tell people I wasn't a real fan, because I didn't contribute enough to the communities. But I guess I do bring something, and I should value that.
I think of Yuletide, for example, or the people who write fic and turn it loose in the world for other people to read and enjoy, or the people who write meta and reviews and amazing critical analysis, and the people who run conventions, and the people who organize fan fundraisers, and the people who read carefully and comment and maintain rec lists, and the people who critique and educate about social issues, and the people who maintain lending libraries of out-of-print works, all for the joy of sharing something they love and feel strongly about.
Giving stuff away--and I don't mean obligatory gifts, the oh my god I have to find something for my mother in law that costs at least seventy-five bucks
gifts--is a small human act of heroism. When we give time, or kindness, or something we know
somebody else will love (or needs), we are reflecting, for a moment, our best selves. And in the act, we receive, as well: giving benefits the giver. Not in gratitude, but in oxytocin; the elevation that comes from community, from purpose. The love hormone, they call it, but what it really is is the social bonding hormone.
It's the thing that makes us a tribe. And the Internet makes that tribe world-wide.
I remember one time when I was so sad. I had walking pneumonia and a broken heart, and I was taking the bus home from work in a howling nor'easter and I had a mile to walk with no sidewalk from the bus stop to my door. And as I was getting off the bus, a pretty girl smiled at me. Just the gift of a smile, no reason. Maybe I looked as sad as I felt.
I still remember her, and that smile was in 1995.
As I've gotten older, this has become more and more clear to me. All I am, all I do in the world, the only value any of it has is where it benefits the world around me.
We all die. No, really. We strut our little time upon the--well, you know it. Trying never
to die is futile and sad; but the prospect of that inevitability, I think, can be comforting. When we look at our own impermanence (as individuals, as cultures, as a species) then it starts to come plain that the moral value that brings the most good into the world is compassion.
Compassion is hard and scary. It means putting ourselves at risk and really listening to other people, even when we disagree with them. Even when they want to destroy us, or are completely oblivious to our needs. It does not preclude self-defense or anger, of course. And it does not mean that we have to martyr ourselves to the cruelty of others.
But it does mean that maybe, when it costs us nothing to give something away, we can do it. We can fold that neglected laundry we pull out of the dryer in the communal laundry room of life. That's a gift, after all.
Somehow, we've gotten this idea that giving is about stuff
. And all that stuff we collect can make us more comfortable, but our enduring legacy is the attention we pay. The good
stuff is the ways we help the world, the little pleasures we bring to others, the trees we plant, and the houses we build.
And so many of the things we can give away cost us nothing. Nothing we need, anyway. A little self-importance, a little of our self-image as Important Busy People Who Own The Road.
I like to let people into traffic. You know, I'm almost never in that much of a hurry to get somewhere. And the surprised and relieved looks they give me through the driver's side window are so very gratifying.
We are so small, and the night is so large. If we don't hold the light for each other, who will?
So this is just to say thank you to everybody who's let me into traffic over the years. For all the little kindnesses and efforts on my behalf, or just generous gestures broadcast. For all the aha moments, and the belly laughs or snickers, the things that made me go huh I'm not sure that's right
Thanks for all the comments and arguments and small generousities. Thanks to everybody who's given me the gift of their attention, either here or to my published work: even if you hated what I had to say, you listened. (and thank you to asciikitty
, as there is !fiber! in my mailbox today to go with my shiny new spindle.)
I'll do my best to pass it along where I can.
Happy sun return. Happy new year.