Young at Heart

At the age of 33, I have redevoted myself to online fan culture to an extent I previously did not think possible. I have come to understand the purpose of Tumblr. I have read, possibly, every single notable fanfic written between 1993 and today. I have, of course, rewatched every episode–some more than once. This has all taken quite a bit of time that I could have devoted to more “adult” and productive pursuits that include, but are certainly not limited to, exercise, career advancement, and a normal sleep schedule. It’s not unusual for me to be up at 2 a.m., pawing through my phone for a fanfic set sometime between IWTB* and present day, hypothesizing about what canonically plausible journeys Mulder and Scully may have been on since they were last seen. A little bit of NC17 material never hurts, either, given it’s often the middle of the night.

I have enough memory of what life was like before this that I know these behaviors may seem pitiable, or, at minimum, is not how most people live. And yet: I feel gratitude, joy, and very minimal levels of regret. As the folks on tumblr say, it’s been a journey. It’s hard to explain–though I’m going to try–but in some ways, it’s not about the X-Files, or even Gillian Anderson’s magnetizing pull.^

I was 11 when the X-Files started to air, and watched from almost the very beginning. In our 6th grade hallway my beloved friend Leigh told me I should watch it, and so starting that Friday night, I did. Alone, sprawled across my parents’ bed in the dark of our drafty old Upstate farmhouse, surrounded by cornfields and next door to a current sociopath/future murderer. During the commercial breaks, Leigh and I would talk on the phone. I’d twist the spiral plastic cord over and around my fingers, breathless with fear and anticipation. After countless rewatches and nearly a decade of on-demand streaming access, it’s easy for me to forget–but the X-Files once terrified me, just as it intended.

I wasn’t particularly invested in the online fan culture of the X-Files, primarily because most of my nerd energies at that time were devoted to a different, far more embarrassing fandom. This is not to say that I didn’t read huge amounts of fanfic, lurk on message boards reading spoilers, and probably enter a few chat rooms and totally misrepresent my age and/or gender. I did. I totally did.

But where my love of that other show was, and is, easy to explain (secret identities + banter + a sassy lady), my relationship with the X-Files is more complicated. I love the X-Files because it’s the X-Files–not because of the philosophical questions it poses, nor because of the groundbreaking role it played in (and with) the development of narrative television’s storytelling format. Not even because it stars Gillian Anderson. I love the X-Files because it reminds me of sitting in a creaky country house, talking in the dark with my friend on the phone; of running through an empty mall with friends, arms linked, after seeing 1998’s Fight the Future; of sitting with other nerds in the back corner of a campus pizzeria in 2002, watching the series finale in a mutually understood nostalgic silence.

So I’m not just happy that it’s coming back because I love it. Of course, I do love it, and I am so excited. But the journey has been changing in ways I’m just starting to understand. A lot of this growing up and becoming an adult business has to do with learning to accept that things change, even when you don’t want them to. Homes get sold, businesses fail, friends drift apart, towns and institutions shift, babies are born, people of all ages die, the earth warms.

The X-Files coming back is, of course, not going to change any of that. But it’s made a sliver of difference in my understanding of how the world must work. Two years ago, the idea that I could ever again watch new X-Files episodes was so ludicrous that it had never occurred to me, even as a daydream. Doors that seem shut forever today may edge open with time, if the stars align and enough change happens that things come back around to where they started. Maybe there’s hope.

*IWTB is I Want To Believe, the 2008 X-Files movie, which was a huge disappointment in almost every possible way, excepting one very satisfying (but sexless) scene in Mulder and Scully’s shared bed.

^Except for how basically everything is about Gillian Anderson’s magnetizing pull. Look at her.

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