Note to readers: Normally, I use this blog to write about my latest pop culture discovery, or a show I am looking forward to seeing, (for the record, Company was great) and not so much about my life outside entertainment. This entry will be a little different, as it combines my real life and my pop culture life.
Earlier this week, I found out someone I once knew passed away recently. I hadn’t seen this person in years, and the last time we spoke (via email) was probably two years ago. Fortunately, I have not had to experience too much death yet, but I imagine the normal reaction when one finds out someone from their past has died is this: “Oh, wow, So-and-so passed away? I hadn’t seen her in years. Didn’t even know she was sick. Wow…” And then moves on. Right?
In theory, this should be my reaction. Like I said, I hadn’t spoken to this woman in a few years, and hadn’t seen her in even longer. What’s more, when we did know each other, we really only did superficially.
But let me tell you, when I found out she passed away, I felt like I got punched in the gut, and didn’t know HOW to react. I wanted to cry – but I was at work, so that wasn’t really appropriate. I wanted to tell someone – except no one I know now knew her. So I emailed my mom and (rather embarrassingly) blurted the news to a coworker. Fortunately, the coworker was very sympathetic, and let me ramble on, and then suggested I go outside and take a walk around the block to let the news sink in.
So why did it hit me so hard? (Or rather, harder than expected). Well, to answer that, we have to go back in time, to the summer of 2002.
I had just finished my (first) junior year of college, and decided to spend the summer in my college town, working on campus and taking some summer classes. The summer classes were terribly boring – all stuff that just filled credits so I could concentrate on film stuff in the fall. Most of my friends had either graduated or were home for the summer, and all of my housemates, save one, were gone. Our house became infested with cockroaches when the owners decided to paint. Well, I guess the house had BEEN infested with cockroaches, and they all wanted to get the hell out once the paint fumes started. At any rate, there were lots of them. LOTS. I was scarred for life.
I wasn’t unhappy, per se. I had a job and was making some money, and a couple of friends were still around. It was just one of those nothing summers, and I spent most of it waiting for the fall so I could a.) get the hell out of the cockroach-infested house and b.) have life return to normal.
Earlier that year, I had been introduced to the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer by one of my housemates. We became obsessed together, and annoyed the bejesus out of our other housemates by watching it constantly. But he left that summer and I had no one to obsess with. Thus, I turned to the Internet, and man, oh man, was I surprised at what I found. There were websites galore dedicated to my beloved TV show, and what’s more, dedicated to the actors themselves. I had several to choose from, but ultimately picked one dedicated to James Marsters, aka TV’s badass vampire, Spike. You see, I had just a bit of a crush on him.
This blog has plenty of evidence to support the fact that I have been a fangirl all of my life. But what you might not know is that before 2002, I had no idea about online fandom. No, really, I didn’t. I didn’t know about message boards, I didn’t know about fanfiction, didn’t know about any of it.
That summer, I became an expert. I had found…MY PEOPLE. People who obsessed over TV shows and actors and would have marathons dedicated to them. People who actually bought the Buffy magazine and taped the show and watched it over and over. These people existed! I was not alone!
It was on the James Marsters message board that I “met” Deni. I met others as well, but Deni stuck out to me because her posts were so thoughtful. She was always kind (and trust me, BtVS is a fandom that can get pretty nasty), and always responded.
And that is how I spent the rest of my summer vacation. Yes I went to work and hung out with the few friends still in town and
occasionally went to class, but the bulk of my time was spent on that website, reading people’s posts, catching up on old topics, and getting to know people through this series of tubes called the Internet. (Fun fact, this was years before YouTube, so it was a pain to watch videos or hear sound files. And yet, I still managed to download a ton of MP3s and Quicktime videos of James singing or at conventions. Think about that, children.)
When the summer ended, my obsession did not. I still frequented the board. In fact, the website became my homepage. One might say I was addicted. But hey, you try staying away from online fandom when all of a sudden, you found people who responded to TV, music and movies the same way you did.
I was home for winter break that December when the big announcement was made: the person in charge of the website was giving it up, and the site would be shut down. We were all devastated. I couldn’t believe that this was being taken away from me, when I had only discovered it months ago. What would I do without my daily dose of Buffy/James fandom?
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long. The next day (or maybe it was even that night – forgive me it was almost 10 years ago) Deni announced that she didn’t want to see our community go away, and was creating her own James Marsters site, complete with the forums.
I don’t remember the specifics of how long it took before the site was up, if the forums were carried over from the old site, or how I even knew the site was up (maybe there was a listserv? Hey – remember listservs??) I just know that I didn’t have to say goodbye to all my new friends. We could continue to obsess together. Deni was responsible for that.
Not only that, her new site had a no asshole policy. (Well, those are my words. I am sure she said something like “We need to respect each other.”) Like I said, fandoms can get nasty and snarky, and the Buffy/James fandom was not immune. But at Deni’s site – which she named More Than Spike – assholes were not tolerated. That’s a HUGE thing, and I am sure it took a LOT of work to moderate those forums and make sure the nasties (I think these days they are called “trolls”) stayed away.
The next summer (2003, for those keeping track), I started thinking about my senior thesis. I had made two films that year, and while they were fun to do, I wanted my last one to be really special. So I thought, well what am I really passionate about? And the answer was: Buffy. But not just Buffy, the whole concept of fandom. Where did it come from? Why were some people predisposed to obsess over TV shows and bands, and some people remained casual viewers and listeners? I thought I could really delve into the psychology of it. I could go to conventions and meet other fans. This would be fun. (Ok, the real secret here is, this may or may not have been started by my desire to go to the 2003 Dragon*Con, where James Marsters and several other Buffy alum were scheduled to appear. I honestly don’t remember, but am not ruling that out.)
At any rate, come fall, my idea was approved, and I was going to make a movie about fandom. The only question was, who should be my subjects? I had a few friends I could interview, but they were all my age. The whole point I was trying to make is that it wasn’t just people like me – all kinds of people are fans.
So I reached out to Deni. We had emailed off and on over the past year, and had plenty of message board exchanges. I knew she would be at Dragon*Con. Maybe we could meet up there and talk about the possibility of her being in the film. She agreed to meet up, but wasn’t especially comfortable with being interviewed. Which is understandable – she didn’t really know me. She also said that her friend and fellow board member, Peg would be at Dragon*Con as well, and she might be a good interview. Peg was also interested in researching fandom.
I remember being in the big ballroom at Dragon*Con the first day, wondering how I would possibly find one woman in a sea of Buffy and science-fiction fans. But my wondering didn’t last long – Deni was very easily spotted – she wore a long-sleeved white shirt, with the names of every member of More Than Spike who was attending Dragon*Con. My friend and I marched right up and made our introductions. She was all smiles and friendly, and seemed delighted that we spotted her by her shirt. (Which was the point, of course; she was the meeting place More Than Spike members.) This was my first “fan” event, and I was at once excited, overwhelmed, and a bit nervous. Deni put me immediately at ease, introducing me to the other board members, and explaining to them why my friend and I were sporting a camera and other film equipment. Instead of being wary, everyone seemed intrigued. They wanted to be represented in some way – after all, the Trekkies had their own movie, why not Buffy fans?
Dragon*Con ended up being a big success. In addition to just being, well, amazingly fun, we also got lots of footage for the film, and both Deni and Peg agreed to be interviewed at a later date. Also, it was really fun to meet up with these people I’d been conversing with for over a year. Some people I just met briefly, others I chatted with quite extensively. And none of that would have happened if it weren’t for our leader, Deni.
A few months later, Deni, Peg and I met up at another convention, this one dedicated solely to Buffy. Deni gave a very honest interview, which became the crux of the film. She didn’t have to do that – even though she had always been honest with the More Than Spike members about her reasons for delving into the fandom, she didn’t have to share that on film. In editing , I saw her interview hundreds of times, and it never failed to bring tears to my eyes. (For the record, still does. I recently rewatched it with a friend, and even though I knew it was coming, she still got me.)
After the film was made and Buffy and Angel were over, I started to drift a bit from the fandom. I had graduated college and was out in the real world. Yes, I still loved Buffy and James, and still wanted to know what was going on in the fandom, but the passion wasn’t quite there anymore. Maybe I needed to move on – it had been a very intense couple of years.
A few years ago, I decided to check in with some of the women I had met through More Than Spike, including Deni. She seemed genuinely happy to hear from me and what I was up to. We only corresponded once or twice, but it was nice to know that someone who represented an important time in my life was still around, still running the website, and remembered me.
Earlier this month, Deni passed away. She wasn’t very old – I never figured out quite how old she was, but my guess is she was in her 50s, maybe early 60s. Far too young to pass away. I learned she had cancer, and that by the time she was diagnosed, it was already in a late stage, and chances weren’t good.
And here we are, back at the beginning the post: Why did this hit me so hard?
I think it has less to do with Deni herself (and please don’t take offense to that – she was a lovely woman) – and more with what she represented. She came into my life at a very impressionable time. Being in college, especially being 20, 21 years old – is such a formative time. I was just starting to really figure out who I was, and become the person I am today. I was gaining confidence, making new friends, and discovering passions.
When you are that age, EVERYTHING is important. EVERYTHING is major. Even more so than high school, because you are on your own, making your own decisions, deciding things for yourself. You are becoming an adult. Even though Buffy was only in my life for 2, maybe 3 years, they were very important years. Years that molded me. Years I still think about on a regular basis.
I can never go back to the summer of 2002, never go back to Dragon*Con 2003, never go back to college, and my crazy Buffy days. But every time I check in with More Than Spike, and read about what James Marsters is doing nowadays, about people’s times at conventions or that his band is back together (!!!!), those memories come to the surface. I remember having my picture taken with James at Dragon*Con – once with my friend (and, it should be noted, fellow Buffy fan) and once the More Than Spike crew. I remember going all over the country to shoot my movie – from Chicago to LA to Tennessee. I remember having Buffy marathons and dressing up as Vampire Willow for Halloween. And I remember that feeling of being in college, being away and independent, and discovering myself.
So even though I am no longer a rabid Buffy fan (though, it should be noted, I still love the show and would LOVE to go to another convention, for old times’ sake), knowing More Than Spike was still around, and that Deni and Peg and all the ladies I met through it, were still here – is and was comforting. It is one of my constants in life. And now that one of my constants is gone, the world feels a little less right.
Farewell, Deni. You touched a lot of people in your life; probably a lot more than you realized. I hope that you are no longer in pain, and have found peace. Thanks for all you did for the fandom. I will miss knowing you are just a mouse-click away.
Video of the Day: In my movie, Deni says that seeing this for the first time struck a major chord with her and led her to the fandom. I feel it only appropriate to end with this. (My apologies for the bad quality):