The In-Crowd

This is proving to be a jugglesome summer, with a bunch of optional tasks and ambitions piling up all willy-nilly on my desk. In the next few weeks I hope to finish off and send out a couple of stories, chip away at the revision of my novel, and work on a few hypnosis recordings, in addition to any game writing that might come my way from the fine folk over at Superhero Necromancer. All the while I’ll be trying to revise and tighten up my daily routine, which currently features my return to the gym, some low-level household repairs, and some prep for the fall semester. It should make for a pleasantly hectic stretch.

I’m also trying to keep up with some of my usual diversions in the new shuffle, and most mornings I swing by Discord, Reddit, and a couple of other channels to see what’s happening in the worlds of hypnosis, ethics, gaming, and other areas of interest that intrigue me. It’s not much of a morning ritual, but it’s usually enough to get the gears spinning.

Today’s visit to HypnoDiscord was particularly interesting, insofar as what I believe to be an adult human male–one in his early 40s, as it turns out–is having a meltdown. He has, to his thinking, made an earnest effort to engage and be engaging, to enter into dialogue with his fellow Discordians respectfully and amiably, to earn himself the sort of exposure that will make him a fixture on the channel he’s joined for years to come. Alas, his efforts have not paid the dividends he expected, and this morning he’s railed against the in-crowd for denying him the access he deserves.

Folks, he’s been on the channel for about eleven days.

I will not pretend to be wily in the ways of human interaction, networking, or suchlike things, but (since Discord makes retracing steps fairly easy) I went back and took at look at how this critter engaged with the channel. And Lo! it was perhaps not as wholesome and inoffensive as he suggested. He indeed put himself out there, as the kids say, but often in intrusive or obtrusive ways, popping into conversations and offering underinformed opinions, offering tactical compliments to the users he hoped to impress, and otherwise doing things that struck most other users as a little bit disingenuous. And at a second level of engagement he was behaving in less savory ways–piling on in some exchanges when he could see which way the wind was blowing, reflecting negatively on other contributors in order to install himself at a higher place in the conversational hierarchy, etc. It made for an interesting portrait, all told. What struck me as telling, at day’s end, is that he felt his efforts were sufficient to earn his way in after a very short tenure on the boards.

In general I do believe that most social fora involve some level of earning in, but in-crowds tend to be more inclusive than exclusive phenomena. They’re most often matters of finding ones folk, surprisingly enough, rather than going out of one’s way to bar others from admission. The recent Stoker Awards make for a fine illustration, especially since I “watched” them mostly from the sidelines on Twitter. I think it’s 100% normal and healthy to be envious of the lively interactions had by folk in the horror community on such an occasion, especially since they were lovely folk having a lovely time: gorging on books, meeting old friends and peeps they’d long admired, and celebrating one another. More intriguingly, at least with today’s theme in mind, you could see folks Earning Their Way In live–not by dint of being so important and conspicuous that they couldn’t be ignored, but being friendly and accessible, attentive and generous, genuine and gentle. There is of course a natural, inevitable dimension of self-selection (one would rather expect that folk who regularly see each other on the convention and awards circuit would be apt to meet one another and form friendships), but on the surface there’s no evidence of the sort of concerted gatekeeping that our pal on HypnoDiscord called out. There are just folk being folk, looking out for like-minded folk out there in the madding crowd, doing all the honest, authentic, and open things that connect folk to one another.

While I’m here trying to connect, however, I might as well mix in some overt self-promotion, for I am in the final round of the contest over on the Big Purple Wall. If “Clicker” diverts, amuses, or moves you, be sure to give it a vote! You can vote every day over the ten-day contest run, and I’d sure appreciate it!


Still sifting through the rubble left over from the semester, and I’ve wound up with a list of things to do about as long as my very-long forearm. Last summer/fall was entirely preoccupied by a single task, drafting the novel, so this year I find I’m rather out of practice in living life a little more organically.

Most years I feel a little bereft the week after school wraps up for the term. A highly-structured, high-accountability life with dozens of human connections lurches into the blank expanse of summer, which is no less work-intensive but much more discretionary and features far fewer players in the ensmble. It’s of course one of the auld ironies that plenty of folks assume teachers begin the annual ritual of gallivanting about when summer comes around, but at best I’ve got a soupcon of gallivanting tentatively penciled in for about two weeks this year. Among the topmost items on my to-do list, however, are investigating new books to teach in 2022-23, fleshing out a new class to pitch to the university’s newly-launched Center for Learning through Games and Simulations, redesigning some peer review structures for composition classes, etc. It’s quite a lot to do, and it’s best to do it while the spring experience remains fresh in my memory. And when it’s all done I get dessert: the chance to chip away at some new fiction and poetry projects, all the while chipping away at the revision of the novel.

Though I’m not a fan of thought-terminating cliches, I often have to remind myself that the work is the work. There are parts of it that are enormously rewarding, but the lion’s share of it aligns with my desire to put food on the proverbial table. I might well get the university equivalent of a merit raise this year, but when I look back on the documents I compiled to apply for that raise I come away with a vivid sense of the structure behind the structure, the grindy, hustly, churny bits of buiness that make the pleasures I sometimes get to indulge in possible. I have four years’ worth of documents foldered on my computer desktop, and another new folder awaits all the materials I’ll need to compile for 2026-27. The trick generally involves making the daily grind look and feel organic, like a natural, intuitive process rather than a systematic, rule-bound march toward that distant destination. Sometimes, however, the bones lay bared before me.

Every profession has it or something like it, of course–that under-structure of work that seems blandly mechanical at one level but becomes artful in practice. In teaching it most often occurs as a rhythm, a musical balance between classroom instruction, fielding questions, and getting and returning work, all while being responsive to the improvisations of students and administrators as we go. It’s true of every profession, however. My partner had a bit of dental work done on Wednesday, for instance, so I went to grab her the dinner she wanted from our local mashed-potatoes dispensary. And while I waited in line I could see a cashier utterly in the zone (whipping through customers at an impressive rate, keeping the lines of communication between the counter and the kitchen humming) coupled with a prep cook who was merrily pulling and packaging orders with dazzling automatic efficiency.

The snag in the system, however, was a middle manager (at first blush it looked like he had just started his shift) who was utterly out of sync with everyone else, working on a different set of imperatives that had a bit of footing in the dinner rush but was probably looking forward to all the tasks he needed to tackle by closing. It’s the sort of thing that gives one pause whenever a pundit speaks of unskilled labor. There are yawning chasms between knowing the work one is meant to do and doing that work efficiently and artfully. We can see it in its boldest, plainest strokes–the bench-riding second-stringer standing in for the masterful athlete, for instance–but generally forget that most steps in our daily experience hinge on someone who has worked long enough and hard enough that all the tricks of their trade become instinctive and invisible.

I’m thinking about that a lot when it comes to fiction today, the ways in which technique, when artfully accomplished, vanishes into the flow of a story–and the ways in which accomplished writers can venture past established techniques, can improvise and innovate to tell stories in unexpected ways.

Speaking of stories, while you’re here why don’t you swing by The Big Purple Wall, where my short story, “Clicker,” is freely available and currently in contention in a lively virtual scrum. If the spirits move you, you can vote every day, but I hope you enjoy the story any which way!