In with the In Crowd

I don’t hang out well. After an hour at a party, I’m ready to go home. Either that or go find a piano and noodle on it. It’s not that I don’t like people; it’s just that I don’t have much in common with most of them.

More than a few times I’ve been at a social gathering, mentioned something that I was excited about, and had the other person stare blankly at me and then change the subject. I get no feedback or support.

I like learning stuff and making stuff. By “making stuff” I mean mostly writing fiction or composing music, with a little hobbyist computer programming thrown in. A college environment would be ideal for me, and teaching college would be my ideal gig. But for reasons that needn’t detain us, I dropped out of college 40 years ago.

Four years ago I tried going back to college. I enjoyed it, got straight A’s (of course), but didn’t stick with it. At the time, I had another option that seemed preferable. It was a tough call, but I went with the other option. A big part of my decision was that the college I was attending, Cal State Hayward (now renamed Cal State EBay), just wasn’t very good. Plus, I live 25 miles away, and the commute, on I-580, is one of the worst in the Bay Area.

If I lived in Palo Alto, and if Stanford was cheap, I’d be going to Stanford full-time. No question. But at this point in my life, moving — even to an in-between town with an in-between university, like Berkeley — is not practical. I make most of my money, which is little enough, teaching cello. If I moved, I’d have to start over. And in cities with universities, I’m sure, there’s no shortage of qualified and hungry cello teachers. I’ve established myself so well here in Livermore mostly because it’s a cultural dead zone. There are not a lot of other cello teachers nearby.

I’ve come to realize that one of the reasons I’m so involved in writing interactive fiction is because there’s a cohesive online community. It’s cohesive because it’s so very, very small. Two newsgroups, five or six websites, and that’s it.

On some level I’d much rather be involved in composing and recording electronic music. The reason I keep getting bored with it and stopping before I finish writing a piece is because there’s no community for me to hook up with.

There are, to be sure, tens of thousands of times as many people doing electronic music as writing interactive fiction. And that’s part of the problem: dozens of forums and mailing lists, hundreds of websites. There’s no cohesion.

Most interactive fiction is released for free. It’s all available on one website. Most electronic music is not released for free, because people are trying to make money selling it to record companies, game companies, film companies, and such places. Even the music that’s free to download is scattered around hundreds of websites.

In interactive fiction, there are no more than four or five truly viable software development systems, and most of the community is involved with only one of them. In electronic music, there are (mumbles while counting on fingers) nine or ten basic software platforms, any of which can be pimped out with any of dozens of powerful plug-ins. So talking about techniques would be a scattershot business at best.

All things considered, it’s not possible for a cohesive electronic music community to develop online. At a good university it would be a different matter entirely. One of my frustrations when I was at Cal State was that the music department had no electronic music curriculum. I tried to get the head of the department to let me start something. He had other, more pressing concerns.

I’ve made assorted stabs at getting involved in the cultural scene in Livermore, but … what cultural scene in Livermore? The local symphony, with whom I’ve played several concerts, is just awful. There’s no pop music scene to speak of, unless you like playing outdoors on First Street for free. A friend of mine has a monthly “literary salon,” which is basically an open mic for writers, but over the course of several years I have heard perhaps three pieces that I felt were truly well written. Suffice it to say, Livermore is not a hotbed of literary talent. I even tried to get the local library to let me run a 12-week workshop for teenagers on writing interactive fiction. No soap — administrative problems.

I’m not truly satisfied with interactive fiction as a creative medium, for several reasons that belong in a different blog entry. But by golly, it’s a real community.

Thus are the decisions of our lives shaped.

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One Response to In with the In Crowd

  1. Sorry to hear the library didn’t go for the IF proposal. I wonder whether you’d have better luck pitching the idea to a home-school group. (Shoot me an e-mail if you want to talk more about that.)

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