During a bout of Twitter Drama™ a few months back, I made a comment referring to the world of audio fiction as a community, and someone fired back that no. It wasn’t a community. It was a Job. Of all of the things said during that long day of internet spite slinging, that was the one that stuck in my mind. It stayed with me because it so completely against everything I had seen so far, and the feeling I had gotten from audio fiction creators I’d spoken with. But I find that it’s the small, seemingly offhand comments that stick with you like that one did that wind up being the most telling.
In November of 2016, my life fell apart a little bit. For the first time, I was living alone, in a strange state, hours away from any close family, in a new job I didn’t feel qualified for, and I was down an entire friend group. I had gone from living in the middle of constant, loving, supportive hubbub, a sort of joyful chaos, to...quiet. When you aren’t accustomed to the quiet, it can feel heavy and threatening. You fill it with something - anything - to avoid your brain supplying its own filler noise. But there’s only so many times I can rewatch the entirety of The West Wing before even CJ’s performance of The Jackal loses its charm.
And then I found podcasts. I, like so many others, had heard of them long before actually jumping in. I’d listened to the first few episodes of Welcome to Nightvale way back when and dropped off because I was juggling sixty hour workweeks while I was a full-time grad student. But this time around, I found podcasts, and when I asked for more recommendations in a Facebook group, podcasts found me.
This is a love letter to so many podcasts, and to the warm, wonderful, generous people who make them. But first of all, it is a love letter to actual plays. The Adventure Zone felt like the games I’d overheard my dad playing with his friends every Friday night when I was growing up. It felt like a piece of home when I was so far away, feeling very isolated and unsure of myself. And then Join the Party felt like the games I’d led during grad school, filling a hole left in my heart I’d been ignoring to avoid falling apart. And then, the community that grew around Join the Party, started and nurtured by the hosts, led to a tabletop group I was able to join, which eventually led to my own projects with some truly remarkable people I am lucky enough to call friends and co-creators.
This is a love letter to the community that we have built. Long before my own projects began, before I was a creator, I still felt like I was a relevant, worthwhile part of the community around actual plays and audio fiction. These creators whose work I admired and enjoyed - and yes, turned to during quiet times to avoid being alone with my thoughts - eventually became friends. And while yes, podcasting is a job, and it does require that you work, it is work that has never felt isolating in the same way that several past jobs have. There is never a feeling that I have to figure it all out by myself, or that asking for advice will be taken as a sign of ignorance, or failure, or foolishness. There is such a wealth of knowledge in the actual play and audio fiction communities, and it is never jealously guarded. Instead, whenever I have asked for a helping hand, I have been met with such excitement from so many that I wind up learning the answer to my question and then to three more I hadn’t even thought to ask.
Over the years, I have learned that you get out of communities what you put into them. It would be easy to approach my work in podcasting as nothing more than that, to think of it as a job instead of a community. But that’s not all I want to get out of it, so that’s not all I put into it. I came to podcasts still missing that joyful chaos I had to leave behind. I have tried to offer what I know and what I look for in relationships of any kind. I tried to bring that loving, supportive, joyful chaos that meant so much to me growing up. And in return, I have been given all that and more. And though I still live alone, far from home, it doesn’t feel that way anymore.