THE FANGIRL LIFE
by Kathleen Smith
Published: July 5th 2016
You'd probably know a "fangirl" when you see one, but the majority stay relatively closeted due to the stigma of being obsessed with fictional characters. However, these obsessions are sometimes the fangirl's solutions for managing stress, anxiety, and even low self-esteem. Fangirling is often branded as behavior young women should outgrow and replace with more adult concerns. Written by a proud fangirl, The Fangirl Lifeis a witty testament to the belief that honoring your imagination can be congruous with good mental health, and it's a guide to teach fangirls how to put their passion to use in their own lives.
The Fangirl Life encourages you to use an obsession not as a distraction from the anxieties of life, but rather as a test lab for your own life story:
How can a character girl crush be useful instead of a waste of time?
How can writing fan fiction be a launching point for greater endeavors?
How do you avoid the myths that fictional romance perpetuates?
By showing you how to translate obsession into personal accomplishment while affirming the quirky, endearing qualities of your fangirl nature, The Fangirl Life will help you become your own ultimate fangirl.
Take a test drive with this excerpt:
Excerpted with permission from THE FANGIRL LIFE by Kathleen Smith, from TarcherPerigee/Penguin Random House, July 5, 2016. Copyright Kathleen Smith 2016.
Please Reject Me
So we know that you’ve got the skill, but have you got the stomach? Professional success and extreme adulting mean being able to hear the word no and not holing up in your feels bunker. The most marketable skill isn’t a trade or specialized knowledge, it’s the ability to be rejected over and over and still stand up and show up. A few years ago, I decided to go on a failure crusade. It all started when I sent a story idea to a big newspaper, asking them if I could write about my work with therapy clients. They liked the idea, and I sent them the first draft, which was returned with encouraging feedback. I edited and sent in a second draft. And then I never heard from them again, despite many emails.
Eventually, however, I decided that changing the narrative was more effective than huffing and puffing down the newspaper’s headquarters. I couldn’t control their reactions, but I could edit my own story and try harder. This wasn’t a story about me getting rejected from a newspaper. It was a story of me getting better and better at hearing no and surviving. About developing an immunity that would serve me well in my career. My new mission was to get rejected every day by at least one publication. Sure it didn’t feel amazing, but I kept my cool over rejection emails and started composing new pitches. I thanked my rejecters for their quick responses rather than being a snarky crybaby. In a way, I had chosen to jump the shark on my own life. I was taking chances and trying something new, and I couldn’t care less what the critics said.
This book exists because I flipped my laptop open after a long day at work and took the time to try to get rejected by a literary agency. A few days later I was on the bus, stuck in traffic. As I checked my email, my eyes grew anime-size. I jerked the cord for the next stop and exploded out of the bus. I sprinted down the street screeching like a rapid giraffe. In my great rejection quest, I had gotten a yes—all because I had taught myself not to be afraid of a no.
What I want you to understand from this story is that the only no that can really do damage is the one that you give yourself. When you listen to Carl and don’t take the chance to do something brave, you’re risking more than when you throw an idea out or apply for that promotion. A no or yes doesn’t separate conquering fangirls from the ones who stay stuck. It’s the willingness to get that rejection and keep going. There are endless real people stories of those who heard no and kept going. Oprah was told she wasn’t right for television. Lucille Ball was told she was too shy to be an actress. Madonna was working at Dunkin’ Donuts in Times Square. Nobody noticed Jon Hamm or Harrison Ford for many years. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by publishers twelve times! The lesson here isn’t that people are idiots. It’s that rejection is part of the story, but it doesn’t have to be the end of it.
Q&A WITH KATHLEEN SMITH – AUTHOR OF THE FANGIRL LIFE1. Ok, Kathleen – what do you define as a “fangirl?”There is so much gatekeeping when it comes to fangirling. So I try to keep my definition broad. I would say that if you really enjoy something and you want to call yourself a fangirl, then you’re in the club. In general, fangirls like a show, book, band, etc. enough to seek out a community of people who enjoy the same. Their enthusiasm is wonderful, creative, and contagious. They don’t want to experience something passively. They feel the urge to participate in a story as writers, artists, critics, advocates, and so forth. In short, we jump in the game, but we play by our own rules.2. You are a licensed therapist who also deeply identifies as a fangirl. How did this combination help inspire this book?I think most people who are therapists or counselors have this innate curiosity about how people operate, both in their minds and in their relationships with others. Coincidentally, fangirls have a similar curiosity. It just happens to be directed at fictional characters or celebrities. As both a fangirl and a therapist, I love experimenting and finding techniques and ideas that help me life a fuller, braver life. Many of these ideas come from thinking about people who have been role models for me both in fiction and real life.This experimenting inspired me to write a self-improvement book that utilized the language and world of the fangirl. The book breaks down many of the topics relevant to fangirls, but it also has a lot of theory based in the mental health world. I take a lot of the knowledge I have as a therapist but turn it into fangirl speak. So in a way the book is a test-lab for fangirls for learning powerful life skills and creating a courageous narrative for themselves.3. What do you fangirl about, most of the time?For me, fangirling has always been about swooning over fictional role models. Women who are older than I am who live big, brave lives but also aren’t afraid to make mistakes and pick themselves up after a setback. They’ve been women like Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactica, Cristina Yang onGrey’s Anatomy, or Diane Lockhart on The Good Wife. Yes, I cry about my OTPs (“one true pairing”) too, and I love any and all space operas, but for me it has always been about finding those inspirers who make me sit up and take notes.4. So, even though you are a fangirl yourself, is your book THE FANGIRL LIFE making the argument that fangirls need to be “fixed” or “cured” in some way?Absolutely not. I would never think of a fangirl or client I was working with as needing “fixing.” I love the idea of seeing my own life and the lives of others as a narrative. So I see myself more as an “unfinished” creature. Accepting your humanity means accepting that you are a work in progress, whether you’re a fangirl or not. So I think the book celebrates that unfinishedness, and it hopefully can help a fangirl to see herself as a person who is growing, challenging her biases, allowing other people to inspire her, and learning new ways to practice self-compassion.5. Why do you think fangirling has gotten a bad rap, while being a “fanboy” doesn’t seem to have as negative a connotation?I think that fangirls are most often associated with young teenage women, and there has always been this societal bias that everything a teenage girl likes must naturally be “uncool.” I think women participate in this shaming as well, and we have to be more intentional about celebrating the passions of young girls, regardless of whether we like the band or the show or the book that they’re crying about. But I know plenty of men who might argue that “fanboy” is a term used just as negatively, so I’m hesitant to compare. I think we need to just stop shaming people for their passions in general, as long as they aren’t harming anyone else. I think that self-righteousness comes from our own insecurities and fears.6. Can you give us an example of how you took your “fangirl life” and transferred one or a few of those fangirl traits into achievements?I could cite a lot of job skills I’ve learned because fangirling made me more internet or tech savvy, but I think my biggest achievement is learning to be more vulnerable in my relationships. Fangirl friendships demand almost instant vulnerability, because you’re choosing to share your life without someone you’ve never met, someone who knows how much you think about two fictional people kissing or how many Google alerts you have for an actor. I think learning to be a more authentic version of myself with my fangirl friends, a version where I could share my quirks and my insecurities and ask for support, helped me realize that vulnerability could benefit any relationship, whether it was a fangirl one or not. Especially in the process of writing this book, I had to be more vulnerable about my interests and my flaws with people. And guess what? The world didn’t end. So now I have less anxiety that people will “shame” me for being myself. And if they do, who needs them?7. Finally, the burning question: what’s the best fan fiction you’ve ever personally written?Oh man. Once I wrote a fan fiction where my ship (aka favorite romantic relationship) ran into each other at a restaurant. Of course they were both there with different dates but they all ended up sitting together. The evening quickly descended into a comedic shouting match. I am really good at writing epic, funny fights in fan fiction. I mean who doesn’t love a bit of yelling between their OTPs?
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