Top Ten Poems of 2010
Parenthood and prayer - at Zeek

Yuletide treasures

A few years ago I made a post called What if we give it away? which explores the idea (riffing off of Lewis Hyde) that blogging, like poetry and like media fandom, is a gift economy. My friend Lorianne of Hoarded Ordinaries suggested in the comments to that post that what I was describing is actually more of a creative barter system than a system of pure gifts. Call it by either name; what I think is neat is that community can be created and strengthened through the open exchange of story and idea, written word and response.

I'm blessed to belong to a few different communities which operate on this model. One of them is the community which puts on the annual rare-fandoms story exchange officially named While We Tell of Yuletide Treasure, though most of us call it simply Yuletide. I've seen a few pieces about it (like the recent Yuletide: Stories About (Seriously) Everything), but they don't say quite what I want to say, so I figured I'd write my own.

The Yuletide story exchange began in 2003 with about 200 participants. Originally, Yuletide was a fanfiction exchange for rare fandoms -- which is to say, story universes which don't have many stories written in them -- and also for rare characters and pairings within non-rare fandoms. For instance: in the first year of the exchange, one could write Yuletide stories set in rare fandoms, or stories centering around secondary characters in big fandoms like Harry Potter. But that became too hard to manage, so in its second year, Yuletide became a story exchange centering around rare fandoms, period.

(If "fanfiction" is an unfamiliar term for you, here's a good definition. Fanfiction is very much like the Jewish communal art of midrash, telling stories which interpret, explore, and explain a shared source-text -- only instead of the source-text being Torah, it can be almost anything. For more on that, I've got an essay coming out in Religion & Literature in 2011; stay tuned!)

Anyway, back to Yuletide. It started out small; these days roughly 2000 people sign up each year. Participants nominate rare and obscure fandoms (most often these are books, movies, and television shows, though in recent years the net has been broadened to include commercials, pop songs, historical figures -- anything that people love around which a story might be crafted), help winnow the list to ensure that everything on it is truly rare, and then sign up to write stories for one another. The stories, submitted during the (northern hemisphere) autumn, go live on the morning of December 25, and for the next week they remain online without authors' names attached -- anonymous gifts from one fan to another, shared for all to enjoy. (The author names appear on January 1.)

Gift exchange is at the heart of fandom -- at least, fandom as I understand it. Every piece of fanfiction is a gift offered by its writer to the community audience for which it was written. In the case of personalized story exchanges like Yuletide, the gifting is specific -- stories are written as gifts for individual fans, to meet individual fans' specific requests -- but they're still offered to the community-at-large, too. And when we comment on each others' work, when we recommend or review each other's work, and when we write stories in response to each others' stories / riffing off of each others' stories / speaking to the communal zeitgeist around characters we collectively love, we're collaborating on weaving the fabric of our community through the interchange of words and ideas.

Enough meta-discussion; the best way to explain Yuletide is to offer a few tastes of its bounty, so here are links to three stories. First up, a Bible story, since that's one of my fandoms which I know most of my readers share. Here's my favorite of this year's Biblical offerings:

Darkness on the Deep (1040 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Hebrew Bible
Rating: General Audiences
Warning: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: God, Adam, Eve, Lilith
Summary: Crack. Boom. Expand. Heaven. Earth. And God said, “Cool.”

The second link I'll offer isn't new this year (it was written for a previous Yuletide, so the author name is no longer hidden.) This one's an entire five-act Shakespearean play, written in prose and in iambic pentameter, which acts as a sequel to Twelfth Night:

Yule Morning, or, Malvolio's Revenge (20157 words) by faviconellen_fremedon
Fandom: Shakespeare - Twelfth Night
Rating: General Audiences
Warning: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Sebastian (Twelfth Night), Antonio (Twelfth Night), Viola (Cesario), Olivia (Twelfth Night), Orsino: Duke of Illyria

And finally, another gem from this year's exchange -- poetry, this time. This one's a little nutty: a crossover between Beowulf and the Old Spice Guy commercials:

Gamol-léac (482 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Old Spice Guy (Commercials), Beowulf
Rating: General Audiences
Warning: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Old Spice Guy
Summary: After Beowulf's death, the men of Geatland meet a strange and powerful warrior.

Yuletide showcases what I love best about fandom: people offering gifts of creativity to one another out of sheer shared love. As it happens, I get to feel extra-proud of Yuletide because of some of the nonprofit work I do. The Yuletide archive is hosted on the Archive of Our Own, "a fan-created, fan-run, non-profit, non-commercial archive for transformative fanworks," which is in turn a project of the Organization for Transformative Works, where I serve on the board. I don't directly have any impact on how Yuletide runs -- my hat is off to the many programmers and coders who work long hours to ensure that the archive is stable and that the matching algorithm is sound! -- but I feel proud of it anyway, because it's something my community made, for each other, and if this is the kind of thing you might enjoy, we'll happily share it with you, too.