in memoriam: in loving memory of all the usernames, burner accounts, alt handles and sockpuppets i used and amassed throughout my strangely nearly life-long and still ongoing cruise on the internet's digital sea.
being alive and on the internet through "Web 1.0", "Web 2.0" and whatever we're going through now means that you end up having a lot of past lives online. some people live in fear of that, but their idea of a past internet life begins and ends with old vulgar tweets and Facebook screenshots. when you crack the surface, it's not those periods i remember the most. it's the the remnants of communities past, now standing as ghost-towns, digital catacombs holding remains of content by all purposes lost but still collecting dust on a server somewhere. before there was all of this, the same platforms we all use despite the fact we all kind of hate them — there were places other than this. I remember having old identities, old accounts across all sorts of forums, message boards, ad-hoc communities — deviantart, facepunch, Toribash forums, a neopets group inexplicably solely dedicated to disrupting roleplayers, fictional pro wrestlers, roleplaying on AOL and MSN and play-by-post and IRC sessions — all sort of fractured but webbed together. It's all a bit memoryholed for me, but I do remember frequently and specifically the time I spent on these communities and the periods of my life it represented.
there was a period of time in my life that i used to write fanfiction. in quite a few fandoms, but i think most of it tended to be in around Sonic the Hedgehog, which in retrospect is interesting because I don't think I've ever actually completed a Sonic the Hedgehog game through to the finish in my life. (I had a copy of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, but like any reasonable person with access to a Gamecube in the early 2000s, I immediately got distracted by the Chao Garden side game and never got around to completing either arc of the main story). I wasn't particularly known — in fact, i wasn't really known at all, and if anyone remembered me it was because people actually tended to be sick of my work. The reason that came about is because around this time I became acquainted with a handful of fellow writers around my age or a little older (or at least i hope they were around my age. this was like, early highschool or junior high age, so deep within the short-sighted doldrums of my own hormonal angst, physical ailments impacting my schooling and social life, and the profoundly unhappy state of mind I was in as a result) who tended to write as if they were trying to become the second coming of Hunter S. Thompson or Bret Easton Ellis for the early post-Geocities generations: constant offhand references to things we thought were cool or edgy at the time (the band Tool and their lyrics were a constant reoccurring theme, as was stoner metal like Kyuss, psychedelia, graphic violence, and admittedly/regrettably: the same base rank immature misogyny that was common on the internet then and now).
it wasn't so much the passion for the fandom or the original work that underpinned our writing; even at that age we had a sort of unknowing realization that we were casting these characters as actors despite themselves to act out in our own plays, conveniently fleshed out action figures to play dollhouse for our own fantasies and desires. i look back at some of the juvenilia i wrote during those halcyon years and i am struck not just by the bittersweet nostalgic cringeworthiness of it my tryhard posturing (when I was around 11 or 12, my favorite book was Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. I'll let you figure out how badly that influenced my "writing style" at the time) but also how much its settings traffic in relative interoperability — if i filed the serial numbers off and changed a couple canon names some of these stories could have simply been original novellas with the only similarity to their source material being in the fact that the protagonist was also named Fox McCloud, or the nebulous "anywhere, any city" location that served as stage was named after a location from the Pokemon games or so on and so forth. With so little actually having to do with the genuine article, the abstraction of fanfiction or other fan work becomes beyond scope — many of Shakesphere's plays copied characters lifted wholesale from fiction written by his contemporaries and then became recontextualized into a new work. of course, we were far from Shakespearien prose, but the catharsis was in the transformation rather than the reward or expectation of any reward.
I suppose that this level of abstraction — fandom characters or even real people (despite it all, "real person fic" was the last taboo I refused to break. something about it seemed too dismal a concept even for teenaged me) — is what allows for fanfiction or "alternate universe" works to thrive even despite the wave of Content in the neo-internet subsuming every other form of subculture with access to a wi-fi point. At that point, me and my peers weren't so much performing the act of being fans but the act of aesthetic alchemy.
That is: transfiguration rather than devotion was the point.
This made us very unpopular with our fellow writers in the community — despite everything I just wrote above about fanfiction being an arena to act out your own desires, fanfiction still ultimately is based on already-existing work, and fanwork readers expect some level of familiarity, and there's only so much transgression you can graft onto preexisting works before it becomes submerged in its own mean-spirited muck. At that age none of us had made the distinction between abject art and abjection for abjection's sake - this was years before the term "cringe" became an internet signifier and the only stopgap against teenage edgelord behavior was either us developing a sense of self-consciousness about what we we were writing (didn't happen) or getting banned or our works deleted for violating the ToS (happened fairly often).
meanwhile, myself and the other nebulous loosely-formed group of mutual followers that made up our little clique of writers, we had ended up as this sort of Les Enfants Terrible of the whole thing. but like any good literary clique, we drifted away through the years — reality called, for one. I wasn't the same maladjusted, chronically-ill teen falling through the cracks of the school system trying to work out my rage through the Bunraku theater of making Knuckles shoot Sonic over a drug debt or Sonic being framed for murder or whatever I thought was cool or mature at the time. we got older, we got less interested in writing, or at least writing fanfiction.
a few years back, motivated by a combination of wistfulness and alcohol I somehow managed to break back into the old fanfiction.net account I used to use, because (and I shouldn't admit this, but whatever) the "default password" I've used for the majority of my life is the one I thought up when I was like ten years old on AOL RP Chatrooms that I was far too young to actually be on. (I could probably set aside an entire extra written work about what that experience was like). I browsed around, checked if anyone left any reviews on my old work (they weren't positive), rolled my eyes but also kind of felt strangely nostalgic at the genre fiction i used to write. I checked in on my friends, the "followed accounts" that I used to constantly shoot the shit with and exchange beta readings with, proofreading each other's works and talking shit about our peers on private forums. One of them still wrote — not at the same feverish pace as in the past, but still active on the site. I shot him a PM. I don't even remember what I wrote. I think it was just "Hey, what's up?"
It was like running into an old college friend at the bar after not seeing each other for years. He was overjoyed, he was happy to know I was doing okay, wanted to know what I was doing, if I still wrote, if I was still writing fanfiction, if I was interested in writing with him again (we had shared an account and collaborated on a still dormant piece under a penname that was just a band we both liked).
Now, reader, you're going to be pissed at me for this, because the smart thing to do and the best way to end this story) would be to say that I reconnected with an old friend after so long and through many paradigm shifts of what internet community means. That didn't happen. I don't know why I did this, but I guess sobriety the next day or second thoughts changed my tune — I didn't login again. I changed my password intentionally to lock myself out. I don't think I was ashamed of or afraid of my past accounts or my teenage years — but there was some alarm going off in my head saying that I had to leave it in the past. I don't even know why I did this. I ghosted my friend. It's been several years and I still feel a frankly painful level of guilt for doing this. at the same time, I think I wanted closure in any way.
this all sounds silly now, and being known as a shitstirrer for one (1) fandom on one (1) fanfiction website for a period of maybe one or two years during the late 2000s/early 2010s is not exactly a claim to fame. but at the time, that feeling of transgression in our transformation of canon work felt life-affirming to me. i can make this or that character act OOC (out-of-character), imagine new worlds through this action, and see the results in real time. imagine what i can do with my own character on the stage of life?
That period of time when I was writing fanfiction and the name I used to use — well, the many pennames and usernames I went through — they don't feel like me anymore, but I do feel as though they have weirdly furthered my understanding of what community means, especially digitally.
P.S. "CW"... sorry for ghosting you, my friend. I do hope you're well, wherever you are.