So, I just finished doing a brief look over of my Facebook page, from when I first got it in the beginning of 2009, to now.
Not only was I appalled at the frequency, randomness, and overall boring subject matter that made up my posts then, it also highlighted my major points of growth. From awkward photographs of me as a clumsy teenager, trying to hide behind people and objects to avoid notice, to over-exuberance in chattering at *everyone* on my news feed for fear of being that friend who is forgotten by everyone, there were two major consistencies: family, and the presence of the OYAN community (One Year Adventure Novel).
The latter got me thinking, because much as it has changed me, I never really fleshed out a well thought thank you to those involved.
I cannot imagine what I or my life would be like if my mom hadn't brought home a OYAN promo dvd and had me watch it and decide if I wanted to do it. I don't want to imagine what things would be like now if I had decided not to do it.
First, there are so many fandoms, interests, and skills that I likely would never have either learned of, or gotten into. My Little Pony customization, which led to manga and anime, which led to Japanese culture interest, which led to my now speaking Japanese. Anime and manga also later began to influence my artwork and get me excited about using new drawing styles.
Doctor Who, Sherlock, Supernatural.... all fandoms that I learned of via the OYAN community. The wonders of cosplay, which taught me that no, I was never too old to dress up in costumes, which led to the beautiful discovery of steampunk!
Also, obviously *writing*. Learning how to actually finish stories coherently, having a community to show my work to, having my work critiqued, encouraged, my characters brought to life. Being able to read other peoples' works and hear their stories and help them in return. These not only spurred me on to write and finish more stories, but also helped me to develop my own style and characters. Learning how to critique the works of other people not only helped me to address issues in my stories, but also gave me confidence, as I went from terrified to offer advice about another person's work, to learning that it was all right to give constructive criticism.
Secondly, it was a safe place for me. I learned it was okay to be weird, that my friends wouldn't abandon me if I wasn't perfect and mature and quiet all the time. I didn't have to think, and rethink, and think some more about anything I said or did, to make sure there was absolutely no way it would reflect negatively in any way whatsoever. I learned that it was okay to have quirks. And moreover, I learned that I wasn't the only one like me. I know it's a little silly for me to have thought that there was no one else who thought or felt at all like me... And I'm not sure I really realized how stifled and abnormal I felt until I found myself surrounded by people who were like me.
At the first couple Summer Workshops, I found myself surrounded by people who were saying and doing the things I wanted to be doing, while I stood petrified against the wall, still not at all certain I could trust these people not to run away the moment they found out I didn't want to be standing all prim and proper and mature-like. And when I did get out of my shell, they didn't run away. It was normal, I was normal, and they were still my friends.
That realization was probably the most important. No, I didn't turn into an extrovert, I'm still an introvert and still know how to put on the mature face when it comes to people I don't know well enough, but what was important was that I now had friends I could be myself around.
Thirdly, most, most, most importantly, and probably blatantly obvious: the people I met. At *least* half of those in my friend group now are either direct OYANers, or people I met as a direct result. The number would likely go up even more as I counted the people I'd met as a result of becoming more comfortable with being myself.
Don't get me wrong now, it isn't that I'd never had any friends before OYAN, I did. But things had a habit of happening so that those friends moved away, or got busy, or just plain old lost touched, so I both had and lost a lot of friends. Even within OYAN I have made and lost friends. But I've kept so many more.
So yes. Thank you, OYAN, for being my sounding board, safe place, reality check, and grounding area. Because of you, I have written twelve books, lots of short stories, done well in writing competitions. Because of you, I am not ashamed of the fact I have lightsabers, laser guns, spy glasses, steampunk goggles, and My Little Ponies-- all of which I painted and customized-- as a display on my desk. I'm not ashamed to go around cosplaying in public, and I have more fandoms to fan-girl over than I know what to do with.
Best of all, I have several of my closest friends here, who I can both talk with regularly via internet, *and* hang out with in person.
Thank you all for being awesome. Don't stop being awesome.
- The Raven