Friday, July 8, 2016

It's Ok To Be Weird

I very rarely read non-fiction. But I made an exception for Felicia Day and her book You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost). I first noticed Felicia Day in season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the character Vi: a geeky, potential slayer who ends up surviving the final battle to live on in the comic books. Now, she is most widely known in some circles as the creator of the YouTube channel Geek & Sundry and the web series, The Guild.

Get it! So good!

Her book is written in a somewhat linear fashion. It does progress through her life, but chapters/years backtrack to give more detail about a different subject. For example, a chapter discusses her love of acting and performing, starting when she was about 7 years old all the way through trying to succeed in Hollywood through small roles here & there and making herself over into someone who looked more hireable. It ends with the mention of her discovering World of Warcraft, while the next (titled 'Quirky Addiction = Still an Addiction') has an introductory blurb of “how my obssessive personality steered me into a twelve-hour-a-day gaming addiction and an alt-life as a level 60 warlock named Codex” and starts with her detailing her anal retentive tendencies from childhood.

She was homeschooled until the age of 16 when her violin teacher managed to help her gain a scholarship to the University of Texas. There she double-majored in violin and math. While at UT, she dove into her studies and worked hard to achieve a 4.0 GPA, at one point despite the advice of a professor. It was for a math course called Group Theory, which is, according to day “legendary” for its difficulty, and he felt that she grasped it well enough that her free time could be better spent experiencing life rather than trying to drill concepts she would never use again. In the end, Day disregarded his advice, getting that coveted perfect GPA. However, once she arrived in Hollywood and began trying for acting and other jobs, she discovered that the rest of the world doesn't always care about academic success, or any succes she'd had in small community theater productions. It was one thing that brought her down at first, because her academic life was one fueled by the desire for success and high performance.

Along with her own progression, the book charts the progress of computers and the Internet, waxing humorously nostalgic about the old dial-up days when one of the first service providers charged by the minute. (She & her brother once ran up a $400 phone bill trying to get tips for the online game, Ultima.) There is also a great story of when her mom took Felicia & her brother on a road trip so she could meet some of her online buddies in person when she was fifteen.

Though Joss Whedon wrote the introduction, there's no talk of what it was like to be a potential Slayer in season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or what it has been like to be part of Supernatural. She does not speak much of the mainstream projects that brought her to the public eye. Rather, she talks about her own personal struggles to achieve her own niche in the world and create her dream project, a webseries called The Guild – and later, Geek & Sundry.
She speaks openly of that she's always been anxious, has a desire for perfection, and control as well as depression, that drove her life during some of this time. Eventually, she suffered from physical problems – hair falling out, an acid reflux problem normally seen in middle-aged men, and other health issues that forced her to seek help for both mental and physical well-being. Along with that came one of the harder things that we all have to learn, being able to say no out of self-care.

There is also a chapter where she weighs in about Gamergate – the scandal/hashtag/controversy that swept through the gaming community last year. That chapter in particular is a very sobering read, as she recounts getting a text from a friend telling her to close the comments on her Tumblr account, because someone had just published her home address. The anxiety and fear that Day experienced is tangible and I truly felt for her situation. Thankfully, nothing terrible happened to Day as a result of the breech of privacy.

One of the highlights in the book is an anecdote about shopping with her dad, where he questioned what she was doing with The Guild, because at that time, nobody was making web series – hers was one of the first. As he was asking Day about her choices, an employee of the store politely asked if he could take a photo with her, saying he & his roommate were big fans. This incident illustrated to her dad that, while he might not understand what she was doing, she was obviously doing it well.

I picked up my book at a signing and while there was no talk or Q&A, she high-fived me as I came through over our mutual love of the Lumberjanes comic.

I found that I identified quite a bit with Ms. Day, particularly with regard to academic achievement and the feeling of disillusionment that comes when one realizes that most people in the non-academic world really don't care about your GPA. In the end, her message is clear – do what you love, love what you love, and it's totally okay to be weird.

Mandi & I meeting Felicia. We normally look better than this. It was
a million degrees in the store. In August.

*This piece received editing assistance from the lovely & talented Jess Standifird.

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