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A difference between fen and non-fen (I think) - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
A difference between fen and non-fen (I think)
Just going through jiminyc's thread on our favorite childhood toys, I'm seeing a lot of people who played "Let's pretend" passionately up to their teen years. And just very, very vivid memories. I'm just going to post what I posted there, rather than paraphrasing, and then go on to what I've been thinking about since I wrote it.

My answer in jiminyc's thread
I had Barbies--all of my mother's old ones and my own--and lots of clothes for them, but my favorites were the Sunshine Family (yep, Steffie and Steve, given shamelessly to ickle!Tonks in The Doll Army). There were also Grandma and Grandpa Sunshine (Grandpa Sunshine is the only doll I ever owned that had a beard), Sweets Sunshine (the baby, and later toddler, as they released a new version that took place a few years later), and a second baby whose name I don't remember. The baby Sunshines had hair. So did Steve and Grandpa! It wasn't just painted on Ken-doll hair, it was thick, Hermionesque 70s hair. How could you not love them? They lived in an old trunk that my mother and I made into a dollhouse after my grandmother's cat wrecked the cheap house they'd come with (Patchie thought it was a great place to curl up and go to sleep). They also had a craft shop, and there were instructions for crafts, like how to make a doll chair out of a milk carton, and how to make flour and salt clay figures. Definitely dolls designed to be played with. Not that I didn't love my Barbies, too. (Though they were all named Jenny, except for one named Stacey and one named Nurse.) They lived in the upper inset of the trunk, apparently renting the loft from the Sunshines.

I also had a doll called Baby Dreams, who had sort of fuzz on her face to make it feel soft, and who came in a bunting. You could grab the bottom of the bunting and swing her around with some force. When the boy next door cheated at Chutes and Ladders, I swatted him a good one with Baby Dreams. Good blunt weapon.

My favorite thing of all, though, was dress-up. My mom had an old TV box, and she kept it stuffed with any piece of clothing she was no longer using, and we got my grandmother's clothes and shoes, too. That box of old clothes gave me more hours of enjoyment than all my other toys put together.

That, and of course furniture. Jacques (aforementioned boy next door) and I used to play Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic woman by propelling ourselves off the bedsprings and going ch-ch-ch-ch-ch...

Of course, anything was a toy. A friend from out of state gave me a cheap beaded necklace once with three eagles on it, and I [used it as an] amulet to turn myself into the superhero EagleGirl. ;)

What I've been thinking about since
It was the last one that made me think about fandom. The amulet idea came straight out of the Isis/Shazaam action hour on Saturday mornings--an archaeologist in Egypt found a necklace that turned her into the goddess Isis, and she had various super-hero adventures in that guise. And of course, as mentioned, Jacques and I played bionic all the time. And as most people who know me know, I played Star Wars with true passion... right up until I was fourteen or fifteen, my friends and I had an ongoing story, and we played it in the back of the local park, where a convenient gravel pile was Tatooine, and a big friendly tree was Endor. (The gravel pile, if it needed to be, could also be Hoth.) I can remember the story in some detail (I actually just wrote it out, but erased it, because y'all know the basic hero's daughter!Sue plot, and that's what it was), though I've long since lost the fic.

But it didn't stop there. I also played at Little House on the Prairie, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Wonder Twins (?!), M*A*S*H, Dallas, and literally anything else with which I engaged myself media-wise. Bookwise, I played that I went to Plumfield with Dan and Naughty Nan, I ran around with Tom and Becky, I solved crimes with Nancy Drew, and I won a race on the Black Stallion. Most vividly, I traveled with Bilbo and the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain, and returned to the comfort of Bag End, appreciating it all the more.

Point being, this never struck me as remotely unusual, even when people looked at me oddly. I couldn't imagine relating to a book or other story I liked in any other way. How could you watch a thing, have fun with it, and then just walk off and do something else, just like the story wasn't there? I always tacitly assumed that everyone did this as soon as I wasn't looking.

I think I may have been mistaken.

Being madly interested in media, I started reading any popular articles on the subject that I happened to come across, and over and over, psychologists talked about the negative influence of television and movies because they were a "passive" medium, one which supposedly dumbed people down because it was just something to plop them down in front of and feed them things that they took in a kind of morphic trance. That was when it first occurred to me that not everyone in the world played with stories.

However, most of the people who read this journal are fen, and I'm guessing that most of you have the experience of playing with a whiffle-bat lightsaber, or pretending you could beam over your friends' houses (or to the bridge of the Enterprise, as like as not), or figuring out where you'd be Sorted at Hogwarts, or things of that general nature.

I think this is possibly the key difference between fen and non-fen, and the point of absolute incomprehension between us. The non-fen can't figure out why we'd spend so much time and energy on "just a story," because--I think--they receive stories passively. Even if they are interested in them and love reading, even if they study a book, they close it and the world is the same place it was before they opened it.

In the introduction to Maps In A Mirror, Orson Scott Card talks about communal memories, and about how the memories of what happened in a book become part of the experience we have stored up in our minds. We "remember" watching through Sam's eyes when Frodo is at the Cracks of Doom, and therefore remember what it feels like to watch a good man broken. We remember what Luke felt at Anakin's face under Vader's mask, and because of that, we remember that good can be hidden in the last place we expect it. To me, that's a large part of what stories do, and what they're for.

Is it possible--I think it is--that someone not inclined to active story-ing doesn't actually remember these things? I mean, yes, of course, they'll remember the scenes--it's hard to forget them--but that those memories aren't personal? That they remember reading about Sam seeing Frodo disappear, but that they don't remember, well, seeing Frodo disappear? If that makes sense.

And I think they honestly think we're crazy. "Just a story" means "Not real, not relevant." I would doubt this, except I get requests every day for "You know, something true"--meaning non-fiction. And I know the idiom, so I have to strain not to try and start a philosophical conversation about the nature of truth, and how you can find a deeper truth in Lord of the Flies than you can in the latest kiddie bio about today's flavor-of-the-month music star and his/her descent into drugs and/or violence and/or whatnot. That's all facile and temporary stuff. But Ralph will always be on that smoky beach, weeping for the fall through the air of a true, wise friend called Piggy. The reason I don't get into that is that I think there's just an impasse there--I find it all but impossible to take contemporary biography seriously; they on the other hand can't imagine why I would remember that Flies quote from the top of my head years after the last time I read it.

So... a legitimate difference between the fan mentality and the non-fan mentality?

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gehayi From: gehayi Date: June 18th, 2004 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you've got it. In the mentality of the non-fen, stories are not real. In the mentality of the fen, stories are real, even if they are about something that did not happen in Mundania. Because stories are about people. Even more, stories shape people. Stories tell people what to be. And in doing so, stories re-make reality.

And I think we must have been much alike as kids. I played with M*A*S*H, Narnia, The Saint (a.k.a Simon Templar), Star Trek, MacGyver. I could never see the point of just listening to a story. That was just the beginning of the fun, obviously. I couldn't see why so few people saw that. I was shocked when many of them told me that adding on to a story, or using it as a springboard to more creativity, was too much work.

I never understood that one. I don't think I ever will.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 18th, 2004 11:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Even more, stories shape people. Stories tell people what to be. And in doing so, stories re-make reality.

Right. And that's why it really makes me sad to see people treating ugly stories as though they are "true," while stories that offer some kind of hope of redemption are dismissed as "unrealistic" and so on. How sad to live in a world where nothing is possible except what already exists!
rj_anderson From: rj_anderson Date: June 18th, 2004 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Isis/Shazaam action hour on Saturday mornings

Oh, hooray, I'm not the only one who remembers this! I was a huge fan of Jason of Star Command and Electro-Woman and Dyna-Girl, too... I can't imagine what I'd think if I saw any of those shows now, but when I was a kid I thought they were just the coolest.

And now I'm consumed by nostalgia for The Greatest American Hero, too...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 18th, 2004 11:22 am (UTC) (Link)
And now I'm consumed by nostalgia for The Greatest American Hero, too...

Ha! I didn't watch the show all that much, but the theme song was my Odyssey of the Mind's team rallying theme.

Believe it or not
I'm walking on air
I never thought I could feel
So fre-ee-ee
Flyin' away
On a wing and a prayer
Who could it be?
Believe it or not
It's just me!
liwy From: liwy Date: June 18th, 2004 11:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I think that's probably fairly accurate. I was of that mentality when I was younger, as well.
lessthanpie From: lessthanpie Date: June 18th, 2004 11:37 am (UTC) (Link)
*enthusiastic nod*

Yes. I was pondering something along the same lines the other day after a converstion with some coworkers about how much they hate sci-fi and fantasy movies: anything "not real" is immediately discarded "weird", "stupid", "boring", "waste of time", etc.

And I thought that was sad. How dull to never contemplate the possibilities of anything other than what you already know about. They'll never know how it feels to fly on the Millenium Falcon or travel back in time or find the pirate's treasure.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 18th, 2004 11:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Do you suppose they know we pity them?

Yes, I've had that conversation a few times. And it also makes me sad that these overblown tales of teen angst and hyper-sexed, drugged out kids are thought to be more "real" than, say, hobbits. That makes for a major warp in the way people see and create the world.
silverhill From: silverhill Date: June 18th, 2004 11:54 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm seeing a lot of people who played "Let's pretend" passionately up to their teen years.

Don't you do it still? I do. Maybe I don't act it out like I used to, but I still play pretend. :)

I'll pretend my house is an eerie old castle or a fancy manor. When I do the laundry, I'll pretend I'm a servant, and when I'm done, I'll pretend I'm a queen. All in my head, of course, but I still play pretend.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 18th, 2004 12:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Of course I do! I like to be a dancer, or accept an Oscar, or save some handsome man from grave danger and then settle down to life in a fine country estate (the pond in my backyard helps with this fantasy, if I ignore the fact that I have a female roommate and rent ;)). Sometimes, I'm the most beautiful girl in the kingdom, and I have to choose among all the suitors. Sometimes, I successfully argue cases that I felt were argued wrong in the past, or have it out with some historical figure I disagree with. I've infiltrated native terrorist camps and gotten rid of the jackasses who run them, and I've done loads of magic and divining. :)
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: June 18th, 2004 11:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I get... very jumpy whenever I see somebody trying to delineate this sort of thing, partly because, while I don't think this is your intent, it often seems to fall all too easily into "putting down the 'mundanes'" or whatnot.

People who stick with non-fiction may very well get caught up in stories -- but stories that they know really happened to people. And if they think that's more important than the explorations we can make through fiction... you know, I can lean around and kind of see why. And I assume they don't necessarily act them out and all, but I don't think that necessarily makes it passive.

And what do we do about sports fans? I get the feeling there's a major perceived disconnect, at least, between fans of sports and fans of... well... things people get called geeks over, and yet I know there are people interested in both. And yet I think that with sports I'm the equivalent to someone who puts a book down and forgets about it (well, I do that with some books, too) -- I may have a blast watching a game and screaming until I'm hoarse and pulling for a particular team, but what about the people who not only do that, but follow the team, follow the players, know who's who and what they did last year and who they thank in interviews and whether they're coherent and if they're playing on a hurt leg.

And if someone says, "Sports are stupid. People run around and get themselves hurt and for what? It's just a game; why should anyone care?" couldn't they be dismissing meanings that may actually be as real as the ones that are missed when someone says, "It's just fiction, not real people -- why get so involved?"

Of course, I suppose that still doesn't address people who aren't appear to have any particular passions, though I'm not sure if there are any who really don't or not.

And I'm rambling again.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 18th, 2004 12:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I actually think that sports fans and story fans could get along pretty well if we could point out the similarity--both are investing in something that is patently unrelated to "reality." I'm just as happy to imagine myself winning a gold medal at the Olympics as I am to imagine myself on a spaceship. I'm a total Olympics geek.
jiminyc From: jiminyc Date: June 18th, 2004 12:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
How could you watch a thing, have fun with it, and then just walk off and do something else, just like the story wasn't there?

I'm so with you on this!! When my friends and I would read a new book or see a new movie, it was always time immediately after it was finished to split up the roles. "OK, I'm HER and you're HER and you can be HIM." Then we would either pick up the story where it left off or take the characters into another adventure. I guess that's Baby's First FanFic, huh?

But we did have friends who didn't 'get' that whole concept at all. I'd be interested to see differences in adulthood between people who pretended as kids and people who didn't. I wonder if there are any consistent differences between the two groups.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 18th, 2004 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I'm interested in it more in an academic way than in a "whoa, we're better" way--is that a difference that people have?

There do seem to be people in the world who just do not like imagining. I think they may even be in the majority. But I think it may be one of the world's great communication gaps--totally different ideas of "truth."
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: June 18th, 2004 01:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey, doesn't everyone play pretend? I found that the characters were even more, er, stickable, than the storyline. Surely I couldn't have been the only child in school whose beset friends were Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins?
(Deleted comment)
sistermagpie From: sistermagpie Date: June 18th, 2004 06:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yup, this was definitely me. I don't know if other people relate to stories differently (or perhaps they just get what I get out of them through different things) but I definitely think of fictional memories being the same as real ones. That can sometimes be a problem, actually, because I'll feel so much about something that's going on fictionally, but it's hard to explain to too many people that you can't come to work because you're experiencing fictional trauma.

I mean, at the same time I know there are kids who really prefer reality and get excited about that in their own way, so while I probably would have had a harder time relating to them, and maybe thought they were missing something, I can't even really begin to imagine what their experience was. I grew up around a lot of kids who loved to play sports, which I really didn't like, so with them I always felt like sort of a hanger-on. I couldn't get myself to care about players or care who won a game. We played pretend sometimes, but not very often. So most of my pretend games were alone--which was fine with me, luckily.

Also, I love that everybody here has the best taste in exactly what characters to play--Wonder Twin Powers-ACTIVATE!
fujinsama From: fujinsama Date: June 18th, 2004 09:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I played pretend up to middle school after reading a particularly good book. The ones that inspired the most for me were The Farthest Away Mountain, The Witch of Blacbird Pond, True Confessions of Charolette Doyle, and especially Island of the Blue Dolphins. The last one inspired so many hours of escaping into my whalebone hut on a Pacific Island, learning to hunt and fish and make tools.

The difference, I think, is that we don't just play with stories, but we LIVE the stories. When I read Lolita last year (or was it the year before?), I was in the mindspace of Dolores for at least two weeks after I finished, and found myself trying to adopt speech and mannerisms. And, damnit, I STILL want to grow up to be She-Ra.
lindra From: lindra Date: June 18th, 2004 10:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Here via daily_snitch

Heh! I'm with you on the books thing, actually. When I'm reading, and I'm really involved and I like it and I imagine and I know that I am there, I put down the book for a few hours and happily dream and imagine and create alternate lines and alternate endings and alternate characters and new settings and wonderful things and evil men and beautiful flowing dresses decorated with leaves, or the wise woman with green eyes and hair and eyes dark and wise, pointing the travellers down the road. I've been doing it since I was first able to read; to be able to truly become a character, to feel as the character, to feel the curled hair of a hobbit where your own is fair and straight and to feel their cold fear at the Barrowdowns in the middle of summer - it is one of the most blissful things in the world.
i_smile From: i_smile Date: June 18th, 2004 11:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
(I'm also here through daily_snitch.)

While I played pretend up until I was 12 (after which my friends were 'too old'--except for Polly Pockets, which we played until we were 15, and 'exploring and getting lost', which I still do), we made up our own stories.

That was at least partly because I have a really, really bad hearing memory. I can remember where I wrote a word on a page for ages, but I'm just barely able to carry spoken information long enough to follow movies and spoken conversations. Monologues lose me. It took enough energy to follow the plot as well as what they were currently talking about that I couldn't really engage with movies or TV shows at the level you'd need, even if I liked them. The movies I could engage with (straightforward, simple action films; lightly plotted comedies; foreign films (subtitles!)) weren't the ones kids tend to play out. Or at least not the kids I knew. :/

And with books, aside from reading different sorts of books from my friends, um. I couldn't really separate the meat of the book from the preparation. The style was inseparable from the plot and characters, so continuing their story was right out unless my friends were willing to study everyone well enough to get diction and mannerisms and presentation all within spitting distance. :D I think I was 11 or 12 before I could break it apart at all, and I still find it somewhat difficult. My reaction when finishing a book I loved was (is) like mourning--'I can't follow the characters anymore! The author has left me!'--rather than getting ready to continue it.

I found it heaps easier to make things up using history books (because you could get more than one for each subject, so I could more easily figure out 'this is what the author's saying' and 'this is how the author says it'), fairy tales/myths, and psychology books. I did gold rush camp and pottery and princess-in-a-tower and schizophrenic way before I could contemplate doing Harry&Hermione&Ron.

:D I totally sound like a dork, but I swear I was a pretty normal kid. I don't think I even had any learning problems. I was just slow to get entertainment-handling skills. Maybe that's what's up with people who don't react in that way to fiction? They have a different aptitude for processing and handling different types of entertainment?
amanuensis1 From: amanuensis1 Date: June 19th, 2004 06:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I need to print this and post this everywhere. You're wonderful.
kat_denton From: kat_denton Date: June 19th, 2004 08:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Excellent essay and responses. I was an adult before many of the cartoons referenced above, but I lived much of my high school years in Middle Earth (the FIRST time around, when the first mass market paperbacks of LotR were published in the US). The 'geek' crowd at my Jr High and HS were into them in a major way (also Narina to a lesser extent).

I can certainly remember 'being' Nancy Drew in fifth grade and lazing around with my best girlfriend in Jr. High imagining ST:tos stories and even writing them down - my first fanfiction *shudder MarySue!* I can still read and write in Tolkein Runes, too.

I do believe that there is a hard wired neurological difference between 'fen and non-fen' or 'imagination and reality' based world views. I postulate that from my own family. My dad, son and I were/are 'imagination' based. My mom, sister and husband are 'reality' based. All of us are voracious readers.

The 'reality' crew tends to read lots of non-fiction, biography, technical works in their fields. (Mom -biographies, nature books - she's a musician and music teacher who bird watches) (Walt - astronomy, popular science, true crime - retired police office now doing security, amateur photographer and astronomer). When either of them picks up a fiction work, it tends to be historical fiction (Mom's reading the biblical "The Red Tent" right now, for example) or a modern detective novel or something by Clancy or Grisham (Walt's re-reading "Hunt for Red October" I think). Even their fiction tends to be 'reality' based.

My dad and I had a long discussion one time about how one of the things that we look to books for is the opportunity to 'leave' our lives for a while. We both tend to become so engrossed in a book that the 'real' world just doesn't impact. I can get so involved in the story that I miss appointments, don't hear the phone ring, stay up much longer than I planned, etc. He was the same way. The 'reality' readers (at least the ones in my family) don't seen to engage in the written word at the same level, though they read just as much.

I have noticed the same thing with visual media. If the TV is on, I pay attention to it - it sucks me in. Walt, on the other hand, uses the television for background noise. As you can probably guess, this is a source of spousal disagreement *G*.

I really believe that our brains are processing the input in different ways. My mind just engages at a far deeper level. This is not always a good thing. I have a very hard time assessing things like point of view, tense, grammar. When I beta or edit, it takes multiple re-reads to get me past reading for content and to start reading for technique. Walt on the other hand, can edit on the first run through and hasn't yet 'read past an appointment' - though he has slept through some *evil grin*.

Fascinating topic, made me stop and really analyze these patterns in my family.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 19th, 2004 09:14 am (UTC) (Link)
I do believe that there is a hard wired neurological difference between 'fen and non-fen' or 'imagination and reality' based world views.

I do think this is the case, and I definitely don't mean it to be a judgmental thing between the two types. Heaven knows, the world needs both to get along--I'm great with having big ideas, but actually making them work in reality is not exactly a strong-suit, because reality frustrates me too much. Someone with a healthy realistic viewpoint can make systems actually work.

I think this is part of personality type research, and I wish the popularization of it hadn't made it quite so glib. I can say "I'm an iNtuitive," and that's fine, that's great--but I don't know what it means neurologically, or if my brain is wired differently from a Sensor's brain. I think it would be interesting to find out, if it's even something that's measurable (it may not be).

I think that looking at these two different ways of processing input may have some legitimate educational applications... or that considering different ways of processing input altogether have such applications. There are other dichotomies as well ("vertical" vs. "horizontal" learning, for instance--vertical learning being based on learning intensively about one subject and pulling in other information as needed, so that the "landscape" of the mind would look like spiky buttes with sediment gradually building up around them; horizontal learning being a kind of layering on of different knowledge areas so that knowledge is broad and low, getting higher steadily but without much impressive landscape variation). Studying the different ways people take in the world might help in developing effective ways to teach individuals, rather than teaching every single person in the same way.
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