Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Happy Media

In one way, I am a fortunate individual. I always knew, and so did everyone around me, that I was going to write stories. And by always I mean, always. I was a writer before I could write things other people could read. This was so plain and obvious that everyone around me conceded it as a given, too. This or that individual person may not have thought I'd be any good, or that I'd make any money, or that it was a worthwhile endeavor - but nobody ever disputed that I would do it.

Not all writers know their destiny so well, or manifest it so clearly, from the git-go like that. They flounder in search of their purpose, or they are actively discouraged from it by those around them, or they mistake their calling and do something else for half their lifetime until the day they wake up and start writing, or realize they've been writing all along and it's time to take that somewhere.

I didn't, however, always know that I would write for young people. For a long time I thought I'd be one of those novelists who's also an academic (that was before I experienced academia and how little I am suited to it), or I'd write science fiction and fantasy, or - something. I had a leg up on my period of experimentation because I knew my medium and my skill, but I still had to find my subject and my audience. My niche only became clear after I had - first of all - realized that I prefer books written for young people to books written for adults, for the most part (and once I realized that most genre fiction is "really" YA, in that the qualities I enjoy in it are the same as the ones I enjoy in YA literature); and - second - that I did in fact write well enough to produce them.

This is another way in which I am fortunate. These two discoveries were easy enough to make, since I already knew what form my artistic expression would take and I could focus my experimentation on finding my niche within that form. A lot of people have to experiment on their form, their subject, their audience, and their genre all at the same time. Even more people are raised with the idea that they aren't creative, or that there's some qualitative difference between messing about with creativity, and actually being an artist, a writer, a musician, a dancer, or whatever.

Some people even have to muddle along without access to their form and audience. The world has more essayists now than at any time in the past, if we concede that bloggers are essentially essayists, freed from the limitation of needing someone to pay them to write essays for a periodical. The first people with a talent for programming computer games were born before computer games were invented. The modern world contains far more talented actors, scripters, costumers, prop builders, and effects artists than the related drama industries could ever support; hence the existence of historical recreation societies, cosplayers, and gamers. I've known many people for whom their game of choice is their creative outlet - on tabletop, playing field, or computer, they flower.

This is why fandoms proliferate. People who for one reason or another cannot use their native talent professionally can find it avocationally, in the company of a sympathetic audience, in the context of a fandom. Some of them pass through their fandom and come out the other side as a professional, and good for them (Cassandra Clare being a prominent current example, but hardly the only one). But many, many people do professional-quality work in the context of a fandom and never get paid; either because they never think of going pro, because they try and fail, because they're afraid they'll fail, or because they decide that the effort of going pro would spoil the activity for them. Sometimes it's because their talent lies in a niche so narrow that professionalism is unlikely, or unlucrative, or unacceptable - many gamers reject the restrictions that would be placed upon them, were they to enter the corporate structure of the gaming industry.

I happened to think about this in the context of poking around simblogs in an idle moment. (Okay, idle afternoon. Look, the floor's going to get clean; I was just a little giddy and needed a break. Of several hours.) People document their games online, with pictures, dialog, and snarky asides; make their favorite sims available for others to play; create new clothes, objects, even modifications to game code, investing hours not even playing their game, but playing with it. Their only audience is other players, but that's all right. They like it that way.

There's a person writing an extended fanfic about how a particular iconic neighborhood, with which everyone who plays Sims2 is familiar, got itself into the starting situation for that neighborhood. She writes it in chapters, formatted as screenshots from her game accompanied by blocks of text; and setting up the screenshots is obviously not a matter of playing the game at all, but of performing elaborate maneuvers with custom clothing, objects, modifications, and something called poseboxes to take a number of different pictures of the characters and then discarding most of them. Not too different from the process by which Dare Wright wrote The Lonely Doll and its sequels, in fact, except that this person has nothing tangible to work with, just a game designed for an entirely different purpose.

I can, just about, see how Dare Wright got pleasure out of her process. I can't see how "Skelljay" does; but I don't have to, either. Apparently, this is her medium and she likes working in it. It seems to me she could have finished the story by now if she hadn't mucked about with all those pictures but maybe she couldn't have. And maybe - who knows? How would we tell? - she's building skills in this medium that will enable her to be more profitably creative in another one. But if she's not, and she's satisfied, that should be enough for anybody.

But it raises the question: If you think you're not creative, is it because you haven't experimented enough and found your medium? Is it because, though you've found a medium, it seems silly to you?

I know that voice. Filking isn't really songwriting. Blogging about your hamster isn't really writing. Your elaborate macaroni sculpture isn't really art. You should do something more worthwhile with your time.

Don't listen to that voice. If something makes you happy, it is not a waste of time.

And if it brings pleasure to others, even just a small handful of others, it is a positive boon to society.

(While I'm doing this, let's have a couple of links to my two favorite simblogs, in one of which we get the story of Barkertown, the other of Ste. Margo. Warning: This game is rated T for Teen for a reason! Don't worry, you'll get most of the jokes and follow the story just fine without knowing the game.)

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