Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Circle of One's Own

I failed my saving throw (as us gaming geeks say) several times when we stopped at a Megabookstore Saturday to pick up a series book my husband had accidentally skipped over (this is a major catastrophe that must be addressed as soon as realized) and once was for the trade paperback of Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci, in which they solicited stories from the Nerdiest Authors They Know. Cyn and Greg Leitich-Smith are in it, and recognizable, on the cover (though Greg is mostly recognizable because he's standing next to Cyn; the pixel-doll format in which the authors are depicted has a uniform height requirement that necessarily compresses him).

I enjoyed it, though I have to say there are surprising lacunae. A LARP story, good, but no Society for Creative Anachronism? Most of the authors cite D&D as part of their geek cred in the bios, but there's no actual D&D story and other tabletop games might as well not exist. Almost everybody plays something online but nobody is depicted kicking back with the obscure board games. Is Rocky Horror fandom set during the heyday truly geeky enough to count? (Now, if it's actively pursued into the 21st century, sure.) Not one Lovecraft or Douglas Adams reference? And so on. I'm sure the editors expect to get this sort of nitpicky criticism, given the target audience, and submit that it is, at one level, the most appropriate possible response.

Of course what really bothers me (in a rolling-my-eyes-at-myself way) is that I have more geek cred than some of these authors. Okay, Lisa Yee cutting class to go the library is impressive, and Cassandra Clare wrote the LOTR Very Secret Diaries, which are referenced in the Munchkin game, which is serious points. But -- I address my husband by his SCA name (Damon; his other name is Michael and it doesn't suit him). I wrote my Tolkien rip-off before Star Wars was invented. I started playing AD&D the week the first Dungeon Master's Guide was published, I still have that and my first character sheet (stained with the blood of somebody else's Big Red), and I attended my first tournament game running a 102-degree fever. Do any of them have dedicated game rooms containing the complete run of Dragon Magazine? Did any of them attend Star Trek: The Movie on opening night and link hands with their gaming group to keep from being separated in the crush? Did any of them make a point of attending all the really bad fantasy movies that came out in the early 80s en masse with the gaming group, in hope that one of them, eventually, would not suck, and see the least sucky elements appear in the game the very next day? Do any of them use phrases like "made/failed my saving throw" and "facing the peril" in everyday discourse, or keep track of how many levels they have attained in a particular skill set? I think not!

But I failed the big requirement for being invited into the anthology - even though we have one pair of mutual friends in Cyn and Greg, I'm not sufficiently integrated into the social network of YA writers to know Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci, and therefore was not one of "the geekiest writers they knew." And that's my doing. I don't integrate into social networks well. This is perhaps the geekiest thing about me. I was a geek before geeks had cliques, and I've never actually gotten into a clique in my life.

No, my current gaming group isn't one, because cliques are defined as subsets of larger social sets, such as schools or SCA baronies. If there's a Knights of the Dinner Table style gaming subculture in San Antonio, we're not hooked into that, either.

I've always had a vague longing after the mutually supportive literary circles I read about in the bios of other writers - the Lovecraft Circle, the Romantics, the Inklings, that extended gay writing family that Christopher Isherwood takes for granted in this autobiographical works (and they're all autobiographical). Vague, because when faced with opportunities to step up and be part of one I've never quite been able to do it. I don't go to SCBWI meetings unless there's a topic I know will be of particular interest to me. I've never been to an SFWA meeting in my life and I don't attend cons regularly. There's a "third monday" social meetup for writers in San Antonio, but I don't even know how to find out who's hosting it in any given week - though I know people who attend and I could find out. I don't go to Audubon Society or Sierra Club meetings, either, and though I've shown up at war protests nobody at them ever learned my name. I've even missed opportunities to hook up with old gaming buddies. Any time I'm faced with the opportunity to walk into a group that ought to accept me I can't shake the uneasy sense that "they" don't really want me there, unless I have a specific reason to be there. And I always have enough to do at home that I can find a reason to keep to myself.

The overwhelming theme in Geektastic is not gaming, or dressing up, or absorption in science, math, literature, or what have you. It's alienation vs. belonging, finding your subculture or remaining on the fringes. It's about love and loneliness and the personal connections that will make you feel that you're okay being who you are as opposed to the ones that only place more pressure on you to be who the group defines you as. And you know what? We're all looking for those connections.

I don't think one person in a thousand ever feels they get fully hooked in to a circle of friends. I don't think one person in a million has reasonable standards for how that should feel. And I'm not the one who can wrap up that need and make anybody feel better about having it in a sentence at the end of a blog post.

Certainly not this close to library opening time when I don't even have my lunch put together. Castroville Library opens in less than 40 minutes!

1 comment:

  1. I don't think one person in a thousand ever feels they get fully hooked in to a circle of friends..

    Boy, I know this is right but I can't help how I feel, that everyone else in the world knows the secret handshake except for me.

    I'm tired of being on the outside and am actually ready to do something about it but then I look at other people who have spent years growing those friendships and I don't have a clue how to work my way in.

    And it hurts just as much now as it did at 10 and 16.