Archive for September, 2016

WSA: A Death in the Family

That was the subject line.

I had to read Rhonda Wilcox’s email twice in order to process what she’d written.

Dr. David Lavery, the “Father of Whedon Studies”, had passed after a brief hospitalization.

We’d all just wished him a happy 67th birthday.

* * *

Every week, the GeekGirlCon Basecamp sends out a message to the Board of Directors asking: “See anything great lately that inspired you?”

This week I’ve been inspired by friendships that embrace the professional and the personal; by communities that embrace online communication as “IRL”.

For my own process of grieving I want to answer the question by sharing how communities inspire individuals that inspire communities. This radiates out in ways that are measurable – and sometimes in ways we will never know. But this week, I have witnessed firsthand how one person can impact many people – people who go out and do the same.

* * *

When I went back to college in my late twenties, the place for me was in the Comparative History of Ideas program. CHID was founded to inspire interdisciplinary thinking in a community-focused environment. You may recognize in my thinking in its motto:

“The Questions are the Content.”

Shortly after I began the program, co-founder Jim Clowes was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He gave an astounding last lecture to the community before he passed away.

I never had the opportunity to take a course with Jim, or have a conversation with him, but his heart and mind are embedded in the spirit of CHID, as well as its bones. Passion. Community. Deep, reflective, critical, but joyous thinking. Putting your ideas into action. Recognizing your place in history, on this globe, in context, in relation to others.

CHID empowers students to approach scholarly inquiry in non-traditional ways. There is the opportunity for students to lead a Focus Group – a 2 credit course that embraces peer learning within a facilitated, discussion-based classroom. At the time I was starting, Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was airing, and the series aligned with my research focus – female super and action heroes in modern mythology. Amy Peloff, at the time the academic advisor for CHID, and Kathleen Belew, now an Assistant Professor at University of Chicago, were interested in co-leading a focus group exploring the show and invited me to join them in facilitating.

And this is how I became involved in the Whedon Studies Association, an organization that, like CHID, has seeped into my heart, mind, and soul.

The WSA provided great material for scholarly inquiry and discussion – from journals to anthologies and other edited collections to authored texts.

After graduation from the University of Washington, at age 30, I attended my first Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses – a biennial conference of interdisciplinary thinkers.

It was 2006, and in Barnesville, Georgia, that I met Slayers, Champions, and Big Damn Heroes. I’m marveling now in writing this at how they have been extended chosen family, much more than merely colleagues, for over a decade.

These are people who care deeply about education, and fandom, yes, but above all, they care deeply about the success and well-being of others.

Because of that conference, the connections made there, and yes, my own expertise and tenacity, I published my first book. (Just recently, a student of Kathleen’s approached me at Comic-Con International to say that Professor Belew had recommended the book for a paper. Everything is connected.)

In addition to providing a global community of individuals who support each other intellectually, professionally, and personally, the WSA has inspired how I think, how I live, and how I want to act in this world.

The Whedon Studies Association, along with CHID and the Comics Arts Conference, provided a model for me as Founding Director of Programming at GeekGirlCon.

Because of these organizations, I wanted to facilitate a space where makers, thinkers, writers, artists, and performers could come and be supported, mentored, networked, and celebrated. I wanted a space that was safe and welcoming and encouraging – especially for people who had never had a platform, or who had been discouraged because their ideas were (erroneously) considered too weird, too irreverent, too radical. I wanted to people to connect with each other, and then go out in the world and DO. This continues to be accomplishable only with others. Only through collaboration. Only with community.

* * *

“We will mourn together an incalculable loss.”

That was how Rhonda ended her missive last week when she had told us that the co-founder of the Whedon Studies Association, and The Father of Whedon Studies, Dr. David Lavery, had passed away.

But as with Jim and CHID, David’s heart, mind, and soul are embedded in the DNA of the WSA.

I felt that over the past week, viscerally, thanks to the technology that connects us, globally. I felt extraordinary love and friendship and grief shared across social media. Through email, texts, posts, images, articles, memories, stories, and video. I witnessed generosity in the person who held up her phone to livestream David’s celebration of life over Facebook so that our community could participate in mourning, crying, laughing, stories. Her arms must have been tired, but she held steady for one hour and twenty minutes. So we could be there together.
* * *
When I was asked to speak on fan activism at the Slayage Conference in 2014, I wanted to emphasize the depth, influence, and impact of our Whedon family. Thinking about CHID’s emphasis on rhizomatic community and how it is resonant in Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Willow marveling at how root systems are connected through the earth, like magic, I wanted to visualize that for this group of individuals.
I asked my husband, Ryan Wilkerson, to design an animated web that would illustrate, in movement, the ways our connections radiate out in ways that change the world – important ways. I wanted to celebrate, and acknowledge, with gratitude, how so many of you are contributors to my social, intellectual, and celebratory consciousness.
The result, both in the real world and visualized, is beautiful.


According to Professor John Toews, another co-founder of CHID,
Primary Characteristics of the Rhizome include:
No single Center—multiple centers like nodes that coalesce for periods of time and then dissolve and form new roots and tubers with new nodes from which spring new problems that create new extensions of the network and change the horizons for every participant.


Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 7.51.52 AM


For the chosen family of the WSA, our horizons have been altered with David’s loss. It hurts. It hurts to see others hurting. But we will continue to grow and pollinate. We will nurture each other and our seedlings. So that they may do the same, adding to our web, radiating out.

Because of David’s championing, our network is strong. Our root systems, molecules, and energy are connected. Through the earth.