Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How Buffy Changed My Life

I just entered Dark Horse Comics' "Buffy the Vampire Slayer is My Life" essay contest, and I don't expect to win, because my 215 words aren't really on-topic. But it's what I felt at the time, so here's my entry, warts and all:
I don't believe in God.
I don't believe in the Devil.
I don't believe in supernatural, magical, or occult forces.

But I believe in Buffy.

I believe in good and evil, and I believe you can do one while being the other. I believe in black and white and all the shades of gray and every other color in between. I believe that actions have consequences, that friends matter at least as much as family, that the world is not lost and I am not lost within it.

I believe in the power of a story to tell the truth. I believe that what we know about the universe, about ourselves, will never be more than a miniscule drop in the vast ocean of all existence. But I believe that those drops do sparkle. I believe we should never stop fighting for life and love.

I believe imagination is more important than knowledge.

I believe that puny humans can make a difference. I believe that no struggle is futile which has courage in its heart. I believe that every bit of light we bring to the endless dark is a good thing, a sacred thing, and maybe the only thing that matters.

I believe that one girl can change the world.

I believe in Buffy.

What I should have said was:
I didn't have much interest in fantasy before Buffy. Sure, I'd read some H.P. Lovecraft in high school, enjoyed a little Stephen R. Donaldson, even taken a college course on vampires (where I actually earned credit for watching Blacula. No joke).

But I was always devoted to science fiction, and hard sf at that--Asimov and Niven and Big Ideas, spaceships and robots and aliens. None of that hand-waving D&D crap for me. Which is not to say that I didn't respect the fantasy genre. I'd read The Hobbit and some Conan stories, and I recognized that it just wasn't for me.

And then, in 1999, I saw "Earshot."

The episode was written by Jane Espenson and originally scheduled to air in May. On April 20th, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School with duffel bags full of explosives and firearms and killed thirteen people before killing themselves.

The WB thought it would be insensitive and irresponsible to air a TV show about high school violence so soon after the tragedy, and shelved the episode. (They also later pulled the season finale, "Graduation Day, Part Two," for similar reasons.) I admit that's what first caught my interest--not anything about the content or quality of the show itself, just the controversy surrounding it. But then I watched the episode, and it was the most authentic, moving, funny, painful, and thrilling thing I'd seen in a long time.

I was hooked. I watched Buffy's fourth season religiously. I bought a region-free DVD player and box sets of the first three seasons from Amazon UK, and my then-girlfriend, now-wife D and I burned through them, sometimes watching four episodes in one night. We laughed, we cried, and we loved every minute of it, from the opening chords of the theme song to the final "Grr Argh" over the Mutant Enemy logo.

We watched Angel, too, and I became more interested in fantasy. My first novel was about werewolves (of a sort). I learned that a good story isn't just about "what happens next," though that is part of it, and it doesn't depend on fact or scientific rigor, though both of those help set the scene.

A good story tells the truth and takes us to strange and scary and wonderful places. It's not always what we want to hear, but it can be what we need to know. I don't think I truly understood that before living through those seven years of Buffy's troubles and triumphs.

That's what I should have said. But it's more than 250 words.


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