How the ‘Supernatural’ Fandom Changed My Life
This is a guest post, written by Tricia Arthur
I’m a 31-year-old Canadian woman. I work full-time at an accounting firm. I’m happily married to one of the best men I know, and I have two small children. In March of 2016, I began watching the television series Supernatural on Netflix, and unwittingly fell head-first into a fandom for the first time in my life.
It shouldn’t be shocking how fast I fell into this. After all, I have a history of finding something I love and falling for it hard. Prior examples of this for me include Sailor Moon, Care Bears, the Backstreet Boys, Harry Potter, and Taylor Swift. It’s often said about me that I either fall head over heels in love with something or don’t like it at all, and there is very little middle ground. But even knowing that about myself, if you told me a year ago that I would fly to another country all alone to attend a convention, I would have looked at you in the same way a lot of you are probably looking at me right now. In fact, I wouldn’t have even known what a convention was a year ago. Now I’ve been to one out of the country, and have tickets to another in October.
But let’s back up a little bit to fill in some of the blanks before I keep going.
Supernatural is currently the longest-running American fantasy show, going into its 13th season this October. It began as a story about Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who were raised to be hunters of all things supernatural: vampires, werewolves, shape shifters, wraiths, and more. Through the seasons, it turned into a story about two brothers, a rebellious angel, and the King of Hell who form their own dilapidated family and fight together to save the world from all kinds of evil. The thing that has kept this show on air for thirteen seasons isn’t the monsters or the evil, though. It’s the relationship between the main characters on the show, and in my opinion, the relationship the actors have formed with each other off screen, and with the fans in real life as well.
I first heard about Supernatural when I started following Jared Padalecki on Twitter while I was watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix for the first time. Jared played Dean on Gilmore Girls, Rory’s first love interest, and I thought he was super cute and a great actor! I saw him Tweet about Supernatural a few times, and then I saw him Tweet to Jensen Ackles about the show, too. I realized I recognized Jensen from a crush I had on him back when I was 11 years old when he played Eric Brady on Days of Our Lives, and when I found out he and Jared play the two brothers in the show, that’s when I decided to give Supernatural a chance. (Have you seen Jensen Ackles lately? Enough said.)
Eventually, after seeing the way the cast interacted with each other in real life, I started following most of the cast online. I would click on their Twitter posts and scroll through comments from other fans, and when I saw a comment I agreed with, I followed the fan on my Twitter account. Slowly, my Twitter feed started filling up with fans discussing Supernatural. That’s when I began to learn about the things that really pulled me in and turned me from a casual viewer to a diehard fan.
The first thing that pulled me in was Misha Collins. Misha plays Castiel, the angel I spoke of earlier, and though the angel on screen is awkward, straight-faced and completely ignorant of the intricacies of the human race, I quickly discovered Misha is the complete opposite. Misha is often described as a real-life angel. He caught my attention when I saw that he speaks out in favour of the LGBTQ+ community. Actually, he uses his voice to speak out against anybody who doesn’t believe in the rights of other people. It was easy to see that he’s very passionate, intelligent, charismatic, and extremely funny with a witty sense of humor. He’s wonderfully weird and encourages other people to be themselves regardless of how different they are. One of his slogans is, “Death to normalcy!” I fit right in! I soon discovered that Misha is the co-founder and board president of a non-profit organization called Random Acts. Random Acts’ mission is to conquer the world one random act of kindness at a time. Of course, I’d heard of random acts of kindness before. Everybody has. But for some reason, knowing that somebody I look up to so much is so into the idea helped give me the final push I needed towards taking part in it.
The first random act of kindness I did because of Supernatural, was to send an online fandom friend a necklace she posted about wanting around Christmas time. I clicked the link in her post, saw it cost a measly $9, and messaged her explaining that I would like to buy it for her. She sent me her address, and I sent her the necklace. Knowing that I was doing something to make somebody happy just because felt more rewarding than almost anything I had done before. After that day, I started doing small random acts of kindness whenever I could. Most often, I pay for the person’s order behind me in the drive through at Tim Horton’s. I do this once or twice a month now, and the feeling of complete happiness it gives me is unlike any other.
Over the past year, I’ve done more for other people than I did in the last ten years combined because Misha inspired me to. I sent flowers to my hairdresser on the day she opened her new shop. I sent an online friend a gift card to buy herself something nice when she was having a particularly bad day. I suggested my children donate some of their own money to the Santa Fund (which they both did happily). I donated money to three online friends during Random Acts’ “Endurance 4 Kindness” fundraiser. I left a twenty-dollar bill at the drive through and asked them to use it for as many people as they could before it ran out. I donated money to another friend who is trying to raise funds to go to Nicaragua with Random Acts to help build a school for underprivileged children there. Before this year, I couldn’t tell you the last time I donated to a charity. Now I do it monthly.
None of these things are huge sacrifices on my part, but they have had a profound impact on my life. And I think that’s the entire point of Random Acts. You don’t have to make a grand gesture or a huge sacrifice in order to make a difference. One small random act of kindness at a time really can change the world. I know it’s changed me.
The second thing that pulled me into the fandom was a campaign that Jared started called Always Keep Fighting. I wasn’t a part of the fandom when this happened, but back in 2015 Jared bravely admitted to battling clinical depression. Having dealt with depression and anxiety myself in a crippling fashion back when I was in middle school, this resonated with me in a very personal way. There’s a hashtag on Twitter people use when they’re Tweeting at Jared, and sometimes when they’re reaching out for help. It’s #akf (short for always keep fighting). One day I searched for it and came across a lot of people who just wanted to be heard. Having learned through random acts of kindness just how much a small gesture can mean, I reached out to a few people. I replied to some posts letting them know that I read about their struggles, that I understand, and that they are not alone. I encouraged them to keep fighting, and once I got a few replies back thanking me and telling me just how much it means to know somebody out there cares, I started doing this every day. It’s been months and still do it. I really think it makes a difference.
Another thing I enjoy about Supernatural so much is that it’s something my husband and I both share an interest in. While he didn’t watch every episode of 11 seasons of Supernatural with me, he did absorb a lot of it as I made my way through the series. He specifically loved the episodes with The Trickster (played by Richard Speight Jr) and his favourite character is Crowley (played by Mark Sheppard). He watched the last few episodes of season 11 with me and listened to me talk about it non-stop. When season 12 began and we were caught up to the episodes airing in real-time, we made a deal that we would sit together and watch every episode together no matter what. With us both working full-time, working opposite shifts, and raising two small children, we don’t have a lot of time to spend just the two of us. But every week, we make sure we have that hour together. And then after the episode airs we can talk about it when it’s over, watch the previews for the next week, and speculate about what might happen in the future. We can laugh at the silly things the actors post online, send each other Supernatural GIFs to communicate, and we’ve even watched live streams of a few of Misha’s convention panels together. Supernatural has brought us closer together by offering up a new common interest outside of our children.
Also in season 12, an episode of Supernatural aired with a new character in it. Arthur Ketch, a member of the British Men of Letters. I thought the character’s British accent was quite attractive, so as I am now prone to do, I searched out the actor and found him on Twitter. His name is David Haydn-Jones. I remember one of the first posts David made while I was following him was about the irony of him hitting 666 Followers right around the time his first episode on Supernatural aired. He’s up to more than 14,000 followers now and he’s the first actor I’ve had the pleasure to watch rise to fame and still remain absolutely genuinely himself throughout it all. I think because he didn’t have many Followers in the beginning, he remembers me from when I commented on his posts before he was so popular. He doled out a nickname to me, he began to get a rise out of his fans when he started teasing me about not knowing who I am, and we started to get comments from other fans about how funny the two of us are with each other. My friendship with him (and I use the word friendship loosely, because the reality is that he’s still a celebrity and I’m still just one fan out of 14,000) brought me deeper into the Supernatural fandom rather quickly. As David gained more and more fans and they saw the familiar way he I interacted, more and more of his followers also started following me.
The more fans I had on my Twitter account, the more I saw them talking about Supernatural conventions. When I looked up conventions to see what they were all about, I thought they looked like a lot of fun! Different actors from Supernatural go to each convention, and there are panels with the actors where you get a chance to ask them questions about the show. On Friday nights, they do a karaoke night where some of the actors come out and sing with the fans, and on Saturday night they have a rock concert put on by Louden Swain. When I Googled Louden Swain, I was surprised to see the lead singer, Rob Benedict, had also been on Supernatural as the prophet Chuck. I downloaded their newest CD No Time Like the Present and absolutely loved their sound. The more I learned about the conventions, the more I wanted to go to one!
I saw there was a convention taking place four hours away from me in Toronto later in the year. Being a mom and wife, I knew I couldn’t just pick up and leave town for a weekend without excessive planning on my part, so I went to look at ticket prices. My jaw dropped. The first ticket package I saw was the Gold package. It costs $899USD (which is over $1,100 Canadian dollars), and includes tickets for all events over a three-day period, as well as autographs with the cast. The cheapest weekend pass is $319USD, which is $400 Canadian. Just for the tickets! And that pass doesn’t include any autographs, any photos with the cast, the cost of a hotel, or food, or travel. Like a lot of moms on a tight budget would, I immediately dismissed the idea of ever spending that much money on myself. There were so many more important things my children, my husband, and my home needed. It was absolutely out of the question.
Then in October 2016, in an unrelated but eventually relevant twist, my aunt declared she wanted to take me and my older sister to Vegas so we could see the Backstreet Boys in concert. In order to be able to go, I started saving up right away. Over a four-month period I saved every extra dollar we had, money that was given to me for Christmas, and bonus money I earned at work all so I could enjoy myself while I was there. I even saved it in USD so I knew exactly how much money I would have to spend.
But in January, my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. She insisted that she would still be able to go to Vegas with us, so I continued to save. Our original plan was to go to Vegas for five days in March, but as the severity of the diagnosis reared its ugly head, we realized she could no longer risk her health to fly there with us. I was devastated both by the diagnosis and the fear I felt for her, and on a much smaller but still very real scale, the disappointment of missing out on a trip to Vegas with two of my favourite people.
I sought comfort from friends online. They offered more comfort than anybody (aside from my husband) in real life was able to offer. It was easier to type about it than it was to talk about it out loud. They listened, they sent prayers, and they checked in on me as often as they could. After the trip was cancelled, a friend of mine posted about tickets for the Toronto convention going on sale, and that’s when it hit me. I had money saved up that I wasn’t going to be using any time soon. I could go to a convention with the money I had already saved for Vegas, which helped reduced the guilt I felt earlier for even considering spending so much money on myself and not my family. In a very small way, I could make something positive out of something that brought so much devastation into my life.
So, I bought a convention ticket. Not the most expensive one, but not the cheap one, either. I was sweating and shaking going through the checkout process and choosing my seat, but I did it! I bought tickets to have my picture taken with my favourite actors, and I bought an autograph ticket for Misha, too, wanting the chance to tell him how much he has inspired me. My husband said he thought he’d enjoy the convention too, so I bought him a ticket as well, and we’ve decided that we’ll celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary while we’re there. (If that’s not love, I don’t know what is!) It was ten months away when I bought those tickets, but at least it gave me something positive to focus on, and in many ways, it was the tiny beacon of light that kept me going during those few dark months while I was watching my aunt fight through her battle with cancer.
Another distraction Supernatural provided me with is the wonderful world of fan fiction. For those of you who don’t know, fan fiction is fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from a particular TV series, movie, or book. I read a lot. Every single day, multiple times a day, and every night before bed. I used to read several books a month on my e-reader. Now, I can’t even tell you the last time I read an actual published book because there is just so much Supernatural fan fiction out there! In fact, there is more fan fiction posted online about Supernatural than there is any other fandom! The very first story I read is considered ‘the bread and butter’ of Supernatural fanfiction, and it’s called Twist and Shout. It currently has almost one million hits. It’s what’s referred to as an alternate reality story, which means the characters look and sound the same, but the story doesn’t exist within the Supernatural world. This one took place in 1965 and featured a relationship between Dean and Castiel. It features a main character death, and let me tell you, I have never cried harder because of a book than I did while reading that story.
Since then, I would hazard a guess that I have read hundreds of fanfiction stories. Likely because of the strong emotional attachment I have to the characters of Supernatural after watching 250+ episodes featuring them, the first story I read wasn’t the only one that has made me cry. Of course, not all of them are sad. I actually just finished a story last week that had the super manly, rough and tough Dean Winchester wearing a Hello Kitty hoodie and sporting a Hello Kitty phone case to help him get through a period of grief. Not surprisingly, that particular story had me laughing so hard while reading before bed I thought for sure I was going to wake my husband.
As I read more and more fan fiction, a thought began to creep into my head. I have always loved writing. When I was a little girl I loved it. In high school, I loved it. And even as an adult, I write yearly letters to my children on their birthdays and post them online as a kind of a blog, and love that, too. I’ve always been complimented on the way I write, I’ve always enjoyed it, but I never really had anything I wanted to write about. That is, right up until I realized that I could write whatever story I wanted using the characters I already love so much from Supernatural!
So, I started writing fan fiction in February. By the end of March, I had finished my first story. It’s almost 90,000 words long, and it currently has more than 7,000 hits on it. Let me tell you, as a girl with about 300 online friends who watch Supernatural, 7,000 hits absolutely blew my mind. When I finished that story, I was at a loss because I wanted to keep writing but I didn’t have another idea.
I was on vacation in Florida with my family in May, listening to music in the car when the idea for my next story hit me. It’s based off of a song. It was my first attempt at an alternate reality story, and it told the tale of how a one-night stand between Dean (who owns a coffee shop in this story) and Castiel (who teaches high school) turned into a whirlwind romance that eventually led to happily ever after. The story is 160,000 words, and currently has more than 18,000 hits and 1,000 comments on it in just three months! Even typing those numbers out has me completely in awe. Almost 20,000 people have read the words I’ve written. How crazy is that? Six months ago, I had never written anything longer than a letter, and since then I have written more than 400,000 words about Supernatural. Talk about life changing!
Not only that, but now I have people who consider themselves to be my fans. (Actual fans!) I have people who have found me on Twitter to tell me how much they love my writing. One even joined Twitter just to get to know me better, which actually turned out to be a great day for me because she’s an amazing friend! I have people who have left comments on my stories saying what a terrible day they were having and how reading the things that I wrote cheered them up. I had somebody tell me that reading my stories helped her not sink into a depressive state. I had somebody say that reading one of my stories gave her the courage to tell a boy that she liked him, and now they’re dating. It’s crazy to think that because Supernatural changed my life, I was able to change somebody else’s.
One of the best things that has happened to me through writing fan fiction is meeting one of my readers, Michelle. She found me on Twitter to tell me how much she loved my story, and then asked if I had any other recommendations for well-written Supernatural fanfiction. Since I do nothing but read fanfiction, of course I had plenty! Soon, I learned that she lives in the United States, she’s a stay at home mom of three, that we both love the tv show Friends, and the more we spoke, the closer our friendship became. We started joking about how we should save our pennies so she could come to the convention with me in Toronto so we could meet in person. When I discovered how close she lives to where a convention was happening in July, months before the one in Toronto, and that David Haydn-Jones was going to be at that convention but not the one I was already going to, I started dreaming about going to both.
But again, the price of the convention tickets on top of the cost of the flight seemed astronomical. Michelle told me I could stay in her hotel room with her and forget the cost of the hotel, and that she would purchase a photo op and autograph for me from David for my birthday. That sweetened the pot even more, and the wheels were definitely turning. It wasn’t until my family got back from our Florida vacation and realized that we had spent a mere third of the money we saved to go there that the possibility of going to Chicago really started forming in my mind. I looked up the price of flights, and I bounced the idea off of my husband to see what his reaction would be to me spending additional money to attend a second convention when I had previously sworn that Toronto would be my one and only. (Cue all Supernatural fans reading this laughing at that declaration.)
Not surprisingly, my husband’s opinion was if we had the money and I wanted to go, I should go. So, I did. Me, the woman who was too scared to leave the house in the dark as a teenager, flew from my little town in Ontario, Canada, to Chicago, Illinois by myself to meet up with a bunch of people I have never met in real life. I still can’t believe I did it. Michelle and I roomed together at the hotel (I was able to pay for half after all), and we spent every possible minute of the three days at the convention side by side. One of the best memories of the weekend for me is Friday night when her and I went out for dinner and drinks and talked for hours about Supernatural and all the fan fiction stories we read and loved. Having the chance to gush about the show I loved so much with somebody else who loves it just as much as I do was one of the best experiences of my life! That night was so much fun and I’d make the trip again just for another meal like that in her company! I met up with a dozen other people I had been talking with on Twitter leading up to the convention too, and every single one of them was at least as friendly as they were online. Everybody was kind, funny, inclusive, and just as excited as I was to be there. It was incredible!
Sadly, David Haydn-Jones had to cancel his attendance last minute due to filming a new movie, but I was able to meet so many other actors I look up to at that convention. I also gained new respect for a bunch of actors I didn’t know much about before I got there. In particular, Briana Buckmaster, Kim Rhodes, and Ruth Connell blew my mind at their panels. They are three extremely strong-willed, brilliant, badass women who aren’t afraid to say the things on their mind. They don’t care about fitting into the mold society thinks they should try to fit into, and they encourage other women to be exactly who they are without apology. They build each other and other women up instead of tearing them down, and they brought me to tears during their panel because of how inspiring they truly are. The world needs more strong women like these three.
The biggest highlight for me though was definitely meeting Misha Collins. Because of all the good he does through Random Acts and just on his own as an unbelievable person (and I’m not gonna lie – also because of just how incredibly good looking he is) I was extremely intimidated to meet him. I’d never met anybody famous before, and my biggest fear was that I would just burst into tears at the sight of him. Imagine a 31-year-old mom of two bursting into tears meeting a guy from a television show? I didn’t think anything could be more humiliating. Thankfully, seeing him in the photo op room didn’t bring me to tears, but it did cause me to actually shake with excitement.
Michelle couldn’t come into the photo op room with me since she hadn’t purchased a photo with Misha, but I quickly made friends with the people in front of me and behind me in line and we eagerly (and loudly) shared our excitement with each other. Also inside the photo op room, there are volunteers from an organization called I’m Alive. Because Jared was brave enough to speak publicly about depression and anxiety, many fans reached out to him to let him know that they have similar struggles. Specifically, they mentioned how hard it is to meet somebody you look up to so much. So, in typical Supernatural fashion, the actors made sure they had these specially trained I’m Alive volunteers there to help calm the fans down, walk them through the process, and make sure they enjoy the experience as much as they can.
When a volunteer named Jackie came to check my ticket and I mentioned just how excited I was and that I was physically shaking because of it, she struck up a conversation with me. She asked if I had ever been to a convention before, if Misha was my favourite actor, and then she asked how far I live from Chicago. When I told her I’m from Canada, she asked me why I didn’t just go to Canadian conventions. I told her that I came mostly to meet David, we lamented at the bad luck of him cancelling, and then before I knew it, I was second in line. My eyes widened comically when I realized that she had been asking me all of these questions just to keep me calm, and I commented on how sneaky she was distracting me. She smiled and told me it was her job, and she was happy to help. I don’t know how much worse I might have been without her, and I’m extremely thankful for her.
Then, I got my first eyeful of Misha standing only a few feet away from us. I could hardly contain my excitement! I know I said something (loudly) about how excited I was to the person moving the line along, because Misha’s eyes flicked over to me in amusement. The person in front of me had her picture taken, and then it was my turn.
The second Misha and I made eye contact I shouted, “THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING MOMENT OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!” You have the option of choosing your pose for your photo, but all I was able to do was open my arms eagerly and rush towards Misha for a hug with those words still coming out of my mouth, which is how our photo was taken. After the flash went off, he kept his hands on my shoulders for a split second and sarcastically shouted back at me, “OH MY GOD, ME TOO!”
I walked away laughing, in an absolute daze. The girl who had her photo taken in front of me had waited for me, and when we saw each other again I yelled, “MISHA SAID ‘OH MY GOD ME TOO’ TO ME!” and we both burst into laughter. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face for hours. A lot of people tell you that you should never meet your hero, but I met mine, and every single time I look at the picture of us, I smile and remember how he played along with how excited I was instead of looking at me like the crazed fangirl I was acting like.
Surprisingly, one of the best parts of the convention for me was sharing that experience with all of my fellow Supernatural friends online. When I posted the photo of Misha and I together, the comments from my friends flooded in! Everybody commented about how happy they were for me, how incredibly happy I looked, and even said that Misha looked super amused and protective of me in the photo. Even if that isn’t true (and I like to pretend that it is – don’t judge me!) I love the photo, and I doubt the day will ever come when I look at it and don’t smile.
I’m really pleased that happiness has been the lingering emotion since the convention, because a lot of my friends talk often about the disappointment of a convention ending. The emotions associated with the end of a convention have even been dubbed “con drop” online. I was concerned about this since I spent so much time looking forward to the convention. Thankfully, I never experienced it. Instead, I keep smiling every time I look at the pictures. I keep laughing when I remember the jokes told during the panels. I keep being thankful that a tv show and writing fan fiction brought a wonderful friend like Michelle into my life. I keep wondering how I was lucky enough to stumble into this fandom.
I think a big reason why the online fandom is so important to me is because not many people in my everyday life watch Supernatural, and there is nobody who lives close to me who enjoys it as much as I do. I talk about it a lot. A lot more than people want to hear about it, actually. I’ve been called obsessed to my face, and I’m sure a lot worse has been said about me behind my back. But guess what? I’m not ashamed to be a fan. I don’t think people realize how normal being a part of a fandom really is. For example, I live in Canada, where almost everybody I know has spent an insane amount of money on hockey tickets at least once in their life. Where almost everybody comes to work and talks about the game last night. Where everybody wears shirts with their favourite hockey teams on the front. They have bumper stickers, some of them have painted their faces for games, have more statistics memorized about the players and teams than I could ever begin to comprehend, and I even know people who have tattoos of their team’s logo. Hockey fans are part of a fandom after all, and just because it’s talked about more frequently, doesn’t mean it should be accepted more than the Supernatural fandom.
When I come into work to talk about the episode last night, sure, nobody really knows what I’m talking about. When I wear my Supernatural shirts on the weekend, hardly anybody knows who’s on the front of them. When I take time off to attend a convention, my friends and family don’t really know what happens once I get there. But when I mention any of these things online within the Supernatural fandom, they not only know what I’m talking about, they encourage me to express myself and do more of the things that make me happy. They donate money to the same causes I do. They reTweet GIFs, zoom in on the digital copies of their photo ops like I do, and participate in conversations about what might happen next season. They cheer me on when I post a new chapter of fanfiction, and they freak out with me when I meet my favourite actor.
Simply said, the Supernatural fandom is full of people who get me in a way my friends I see in person just don’t. My fandom friends share at least one common interest with me, and more often than not, many others as well. Because of Supernatural, the actors on the show, and the friends I’ve made online, I am a different person than I was a year ago. I’m more giving. I’m more aware of social issues. I feel better about myself now than I have in my entire life, about both my physical appearance and my self worth. Even when my family and friends in town are too busy to hang out, I am never truly alone anymore. I’m able to sit at home in my pajamas on a Saturday night while my kids are in bed and laugh until I cry because of a conversation I’m having with somebody who lives halfway around the world.
Because of this show, I am a better mother, a better wife, and a better person. I can say I’m a writer because of this show. I can say that I flew to another country by myself because of this fandom. I can say I’m a better person because of the actors who inspired me to want to change. I can be my fantastically weird self, admit to all of my shortcomings, and be exactly who I am with no apologies because the friends I have made through Supernatural accept me no matter what.
I never would have thought that starting a television series on Netflix would have changed who I am in such a fundamental way, but there is no denying that it has. Fandom has improved so many aspects of my life, and no matter how old I get, I know I will never forget these people and everything they’ve given me. I know I will never forget that I’ve found happiness in people on Twitter shrieking over a photo of me. I’ve found it in a room full of people singing along to the same Louden Swain song. I found it when I saw a small part of myself in a strong woman on stage who I started looking up to. I found it when somebody sent virtual hugs when I was feeling scared or sad. And I will never forget that no matter what, I can always find happiness in this fandom, and that’s something incredibly rare that I didn’t have a year ago.
Fandom has changed my life, and I will never stop being thankful for it.