21 Aug

Off-Topic Tuesday: Silence is Electrum

I frequently discuss the strange dichotomy of my writer’s desire to remain undisturbed and my baser human need for socializing. It’s probably because I feel that tug-of-war all of the time, whether it’s related to writing or not. The recent round of “care and feeding of an introvert/extrovert” blog entries and subsequent Facebook links just went entirely around me. I don’t feel like either, or maybe I feel like both. It’s hard to say, hard enough that I think the label is pretty pointless. (And I’m wary of people who deliberately seek labels for themselves.) I’m usually very social when I need to be social, and pretty antisocial the rest of the time.

Here's Johnny!
“Who feels like being sociable?”

People often seem surprised when they realize I have “the other half” of what they knew me as. People who are accustomed to the grouchy asshole me are shocked to see me laughing and carrying on at a party. And the ones who met me at the party are surprised to hear what I sound like on the phone when they call while I’m working. Most accounts portray me as, well… a grouchy asshole. (I’ve tried to explain that if I was as irritated as I sounded, I wouldn’t have even answered the phone but, apparently, that’s not the point.) Continue reading

3 Aug

Kickstart the Weekend: Monte Cook’s A+

Monte Cook A+A few weeks ago, Monte Cook proposed an interesting effort for the month of August. Check it out. Because you might have noticed some negativity on the internet over, I don’t know, the past ALL TIME FOREVER. It’s part of the reason I never spent any time in forums, didn’t bother with the discussion threads that accompany most articles on the internet, and absolutely refused to ever look at another comment made on a YouTube video. Admittedly, I have a pretty grim view of humanity anyway but… come on, people. This is what we’re made of? Continue reading

8 May

Off-Topic Tuesday: Talking to Strangers

Better than free candy.
Primer gray is just one more color on the risk-reward spectrum, kids.

Like so many things that I recommend, I’ll begin by saying, “Kids, don’t try this at home.” We spend countless hours and untold amounts of public funding educating children that anyone who speaks to them, can’t find a lost dog, offers them candy, asks directions, or wants help loading a couch into a van intends to do unspeakably evil things before depositing their lifeless bodies in: a) the river, b) the state park, or c) a crawlspace. While that might not necessarily be true, it’s certainly a case of better safe than sorry. Except for the guy needing help with the couch… that dude is going to straight-up murder you. For real.

It’s not my intention to undo the efforts of 18 years of “a very special episode” of anything. But I enjoy talking to strangers. Well, most of the time I enjoy it. Other times I just roll with it.

On our way out for our first date, I warned my now-wife that strangers were likely going to approach me in the street and start saying crazy things. As long as she followed my lead everything would be fine. She laughed (and secretly thought that I was the crazy one as she checked her watch to see how long this bad idea of a date was going to last). Not five minutes out of the car, as we walked towards the restaurant, the first one approached. He was eager to tell me that he knew about the computer that They built that makes us all do the things we do. He was pretty sure we’d run out of ways to protect our brains from it. I nodded, took his concerns under advisement, and reassured him that everything was going to work out just fine. Then I told him I really needed to get where I was going and couldn’t be late.

"The restaurant's just past this sign..."

Over dinner, I explained that it happens often enough that I’m used to it. They are my flock and they just want to talk about things and, for whatever reason, I’m the guy they want to tell. I’m at peace with it and, after a few years, so is my wife. And there are good stories in there sometimes. Although I should add that to me a good story and a happy story are two completely separate things. I get a lot of people who want to talk about some variation on the computer that They built or radio waves broadcast straight into people’s heads, others who just want to tell me, “I know you know,” and the occasional one saddled with Deeper Issues. If I have the time, and they keep their hands where I can see them, I’ll spend a few minutes listening. (I think that’s all most people want anyway…)

So, I suppose, I’m just listening to strangers most of the time rather than going against the childhood mantra “don’t talk to strangers.” But we take that lesson of terror with us into adulthood; we shy away from the borders of our comfort zone and the new people that lurk there. After all, “new people” is just another way to say strangers. Everyone has their own comfort levels when it comes to being sociable and there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert or an extrovert. I think everyone should push themselves, though. Despite the focus on breaking introverted behavior that this post implies don’t think that as an extrovert you shouldn’t look into a little less over-sharing on occasion. I’m just sayin’, there are things that aren’t meant to be a Facebook status update. Some things are between you and your pharmacist. Seriously.

"Stranger danger! Stranger danger!"

Since diving headfirst into this latest effort at freelancing, I’ve found I frequently reach out to other writers and artists. They don’t necessarily know me. If anything, my name might be associated with random communications but not much else. For my efforts, I’ve been rewarded with genuinely valuable insights, a willingness to share experiences, and just some cool stories. At the same time, I’ve gotten a few of those emails myself and I do my best to reciprocate. Geography permitting, I’ve even had the pleasure to meet some of these folks in person. (I will confess, however, that I do an arguably frightening amount of research on them prior to a meeting conducted at a location that I have scouted ahead of time for escape routes… or, at least, a bar).

In an otherwise solitary profession, I think it’s important to socialize with “co-workers.” I jokingly refer to a daytime email exchange as time around the water-cooler. We complain about projects, our terrible bosses (ourselves), and subtly ask if the other person thinks our latest idea is crazy. And while nobody has discussed the latest upgrades to the thought-broadcasting machine They are building, I have received some great motivation, traded some funny anecdotes, and heard some great ideas.

But I have yet to be offered candy.

17 Apr

Off-Topic Tuesday: Antisocial Network

Until recently, I’ve spent little time in contact with other writers. I felt as though I didn’t have an excuse since my name was, essentially, meaningless amid the noise of other non-NYT Best-Selling writers. And I still consider myself barely noteworthy. Blogging still feels nauseatingly egocentric. Self-promotion does not come naturally to me.

"Air Team Commander Jeff formed the Head." 14 of your friends LIKE this.

But it’s good to trade knowledge and lessons from others in the same boat. I engage, a little bit at a time, with others via the internet. I occasionally mutter something in a forum within earshot of people whose opinions I value. Sometimes I Friend people which, apparently, turns them into a verb. I put them into “Circles” like a diabolist afraid of what might occur if they slip through the wards of the runes inscribed around them. I even “Link-In” with a few as though we are someday going to form some sort of publishing Voltron made out of little cars and submarines. It’s all pretty weird. Especially because, as previously discussed, I think of writing as solitary work.

The days of hyperlinked lives are strange days to me. For writers, particularly writers of game material it seems, it feels necessary. There’s so much out there, so much already being done, that in order to keep up I feel as though I would need to spend so much time reading the work of others that I’d never have the time to work on my own material. And, to make matters worse, it’s good material and I want to spend all that time reading it! A social network works to distill at least some of that material into quickly digestible pieces while pointing you towards the various good places to eat.

Correspondence has also fallen by the wayside. Or maybe I just wasn’t cool enough to correspond with anyone in the past. Looking back, I’ve enjoyed various “The Collected Letters of So-and-So.” Will there ever be more of those? Something tells me I’ll be surveying a person’s Timeline instead. I can’t genuinely claim that’s a bad thing once I get past my innate rejection of the idea based on my bias against “new things.” It’s a limited bias and it erodes quickly in the face of valid reasoning. I love books but I’ve begun the transition towards the digital future. Once again, we’ll set that topic aside for now.

Digital is king right now so it only makes sense to interact digitally. I still feel like Facebook is theater. People suddenly feel as though they are living their lives in front of an audience. That might work for the Kardashians, but most of my friends haven’t quite achieved reality “star” status yet. This was the mindset I was contending against as I toyed with the idea of a “public self” whose interactions were visible to passersby. My day to day life doesn’t require any Keeping Up With.

But I actually intend to have an audience by design. Why do I write things if I don’t want people to read them? Granted, I don’t expect people to be interested in how aggravated I am that I need to go outside and mow the lawn. Even my actual friends don’t care about that and so I try to keep that sort of garbage out of my personal Facebook status updates. Meanwhile, I want to share what I think about Vancian magic, the development of the new iteration of D&D, or what I think makes a cool story. And those are things that I expect appeal to an actual, voluntary audience (as opposed to the hostage audience that people become when they are Friended/Circled/Linked). Acquiring fans is odd but exciting. The knowledge that strangers enjoy what you wrote enough to seek you out, even just to say thanks, is exceptional motivation and also a tiny bit of pressure. But it’s “good” pressure, the kind that makes you want to do right by the people you suddenly realize are paying attention.

Kongratulations, Ross. It smells like koffee and anger...

Writing certainly isn’t a dependable bid for fame. The fact that I have less anonymity than I did yesterday is actually mildly unsettling to me. But stepping out into the light and sharing with like-minded folks is a bid for connection, interaction, and even growth. If fame was the objective, I would do better pursuing my own line of perfume and leaking a sex tape.

And nobody wants that to happen.