On the surface and considering her unconventional upbringing, it seems bizarre that so many people would feel such an intense kinship with Felicia Day. In her fascinating new memoir, You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), the actress, writer and producer lets us in on her life and, once you really get to know her, it becomes obvious why she's so irresistable to so many.
The geek world is generally a mainstream lifestyle choice these days, but Felicia wasn't just living it before it was cool, she was practically its founding mother. Growing up in the Deep South where quality school options were limited, her free-spirited mother decided homeschooling was to be Felicia and her brother's education. Except, a lack of structure to the daily schedule largely left them to use their time as they chose. Thankfully, Felicia was a natural high-achiever who threw herself into, among many other random interests, crime novels, long before she was even old enough to fully appreciate their context. It may have been an unorthodox education, but it was an education.
She mastered the violin with such prodigal skill that at just 16-years-old her tutor managed to help her win a prestigious university scholarship. The only snag was that Felicia needed a strong SAT score to get in and without much formal school under her belt that might have been a problem. Well, for anyone else it would be a problem. Felicia just spent a few weeks flying through mock test books and aced it having only ever taken one exam in her life. Before the school system would usually pack its pupils off to college, Felicia was already studying Mathematics at university where, possibly to a fault, she absolutely refused to get anything less and an A. Her experiences in the orchestra sound straight out of the Whiplash movie. At least, her inner dialogue makes them feel that way. The self-doubt she continually torments herself with is both comforting and recognisable for most of us.
Despite the maths genius and the talent for musical expression, Felicia's heart always led her back to acting, so she pursued it and succeeded. Of course she did. But it was the gradual growth of and her enthusiastic participation in internet activities that broke and made her in equal measure. Early online alliances led to first kisses and disappointments. A genuine and troubling addiction to the World of Warcraft gaming culture took her to question reality and realise that an obsessive personality maybe wasn't always helpful. Also that dealing with addictive personalities who fixated on her as her fame grew was going to be a massive intrusion on her life. But it was new digital media's freedom in allowing people to create their own content without the need to score TV production money that really catapulted her to where she wanted to be. Felicia created The Guild, the hugely successful web series that sealed the deal for geek queendom and fame. She also created Geek & Sundry, the online portal for all things related to nerd world, hosting shows and appearing as an esteemed guest on others, all while maintaining mainstream TV acting gigs and collecting close friendships with the likes of Joss Whedon and Wil Wheaton.
Internet stars and particularly those currently making their fortunes on YouTube are now an unsurprising fixture in our everyday entertainment book of celebrities. There are management companies in operation purely for the purpose of scoping out the next viral megastar and guiding them toward enormous chunks of change. The book aisles are crammed full of beautiful young people telling their life story or ghostwriting novels at 23. Are they flashes in the pan? Some of them certainly will be. But what makes Felicia Day and her memoir such a compelling and entertaining read is that she's truly lived. She hasn't needed to pad this book out to make herself interesting. She is interesting and highly so. In her mid-thirties she's already done more than many of us could dream of and she made it all happen herself. She followed her gut, created tangible things that people love and connect to, and she put herself out there while crossing her fingers that it was worth it. It was!
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The other thing that makes You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) such an endearing read is that Felicia is especially honest about the clinical anxiety that's been with her for the majority of her life. She speaks in detail about the regular panic attacks that make an appearance, but she does it without self-pity or poetry, just with an acceptance that this is part of who she is and however frustrating that may be, it's okay. Felicia also goes on to discuss the emotional and physical breakdown she suffered as the result of actually achieving her dreams. The weight of responsibility in being expected to make people happy tipped her into intense depression. She is someone who likes to prove to people she can win against the odds. When the odds were entirely in her favour she didn't know how to cope. As it turned out, there were some medical issues exacerbating the condition, but her candour in shedding light on her step back from her career while slowly piecing together a successful recovery is inspiring.
Felicia Day's frankness and openness coupled with her accessible, funny and personable writing style are not only what makes the book such a joy to read, but they're also what helps to explain why people connect so intensely to her and want to be in her company, even if she doesn't fully understand why she specifically should come in for such special treatment. The fact that she keeps her self-deprecation spinning inside her head rather than spilling out on to the thousands of people who clamour just to spend a few seconds getting their photo taken with her is what keeps those fans coming back. Not completely comprehending what people see in you but learning not to hurt yourself or others with that angst is a life skill a surprising majority of us have to make the effort to master. Felicia Day figures it out without breaking the magic formula that makes her so adorable.
In the opening of the book, Felicia suggests that if you don't know who she is and you've been given her book as a gift by a friend, they probably don't know you very well and you're in for a disappointing few hours. In that, she's got things uncharacteristically wrong. You don't need to know huge amounts about Felicia Day's body of work or what she stands for to enjoy You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Whether you've followed her since her first attempts at creating online content, only crossed paths with her when she bravely waded into the grisly GamerGate debate (discussed toward the end of the book), or if you couldn't pick her out of a police line-up, she will almost certainly win you over. She's a weirdo, she's always been a weirdo and she has no intention of ever snuffing out the spark that makes her uniquely herself. As weirdos go, there isn't one out there you'd want to be greater friends with. And if you doubt that now, you may just change your mind by the time you close the cover.
You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is available in digital, hard copy and audio formats here.