Fanfiction in the Time of the Anthropocene

I will not begin with the floods, fires, or droughts. Instead, I will start with the enemies-to-friends-to-lovers. I will skip the earthquakes and record temperatures. We begin with the coffee shop AU.

Here we are in the alternate of the alternate worlds. Someone in the Real World™ dreams something up, and it isn’t far enough away. Or maybe it is, and we want to bring it back. Or maybe it is not about the distance at all. Maybe it is about the instance of possibilities. Or the comfort of stories, retold. Or the declaration: I can change anything, anything, everything, everything. In the Anthropocene, people pretend not to alter the planet’s ecosystems and climates. In the world of fanfiction, we worship our ability to take something and to make it something else. Or to take something and to make it a different version of itself.

Living is the act of re-making worlds that people have already made. You are given a sky, a language, a sex, a set of conditions. You are given a time and a place. You are given a body. You are given a story about all of it. Now, live. Now fight or dance or love or think or rage or rest, and make a world that didn’t exist before. Fanfiction, too, is the act of re-making worlds that people have already made. Now, create.

In fanfiction, I resist the idea that everything is life and death. I choose: life here, death there. Death to perfectionism. Death to the dire need to say something meaningful. Death to the ego. Death to seriousness. Death to white supremacist standards of rigor. Death to the ideal version of myself. She does not live here. She would not survive it.

The world is ending and I am reading fanfiction.[1] I say this to myself day after day in the death months—those months when I am not dead but am waiting to be made dead, more so than I am waiting to die. The oceans are boiling. Climates are being ripped apart at the seams. Soils turned to ash. Waters disappeared. I perfect search terms on AO3. I bookmark, review, write, lurk. I talk about fanfiction to anyone who will listen. A love language if you will. Or a life language. We better tell and retell these stories, I think, before there is no air to breathe into them.

I always thought I would grow out of fanfiction. At 13, it was nothing to be proud of and often met with scorn and derision. But here I am, reading fanfiction, as the world begins to end, day in and day out. Of course, I thought I would grow out of fanfiction. It is just like us to imagine that we will somehow be different in the future when nothing indicates this is so.

[1] Fanfiction traffic on Archive of Our Own (AO3) skyrocketed during 2020’s coronavirus pandemic. Read more here or here.