Drew's Letter

By Drew Stegmaier

Intellectual Masturbation: Short Story Club



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Drew's Letter

January 4 · Issue #83 · View online

The latest things I've dug into including books, quotes, songs, gadgets and other things I've found interesting.

👋 Today marks 4 of 100 in the 💯 Stories in 💯Days series. Here’s the previous one, Meeting Sparkle Daddy ✨ , in case you missed it. Today’s story is-
Intellectual Masturbation: Short Story Club
What’s a short story club anyway? A short story club is a brilliant idea. Book clubs usually meet once a month. Often the book is long, and some people may not want to read it. This is a big reason I’m not in a book club– I still want to connect with the other members but don’t want to churn through a crappy book. A crappy book can be a big commitment and is not worth it. I also feel guilty about showing up to meetings, not reading the book, or lying about reading it.
Luckily, the short story club met weekly. If I missed a week, no problem! The next was right around the corner. If I didn’t like the story that week, no problem. It was only 8 pages of suck rather than 800. These aspects of the short story club were sincerely awesome, and I wish short story clubs were more of a thing. Hint- get off your butt and make one!
The people in my short story club are smart. I’m weird with the tense here because the club still exists, but I’m not active in it. To me, the club is dead, but the people are still alive. Some of them even read this newsletter!
Each week when I went to the short story club, I was sure to learn something new. We had enough people and perspectives that there were plenty of moments where I’d go, “Huh, I never thought of it like that!” Plus, the rules were fairly flexible. We generally didn’t go over 20 pages, but otherwise, it was free form. Once I hosted, and my “story” was Dr. King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail. With enough material and different perspectives, masturbation can be thrilling.
I began calling the short story club my intellectual masturbation for the week. It was only a half-joke.
The club was a lovely platform for me to explore ideas and ponder. It was something I deeply craved, as I’m sure many of you do- I wasn’t being challenged enough at work. I feared that my brain was rotting. I didn’t want to go soft- masturbating when soft is terrible. Short story club filled a great gap for me.
Masturbation is super important. It’s the thing that everyone does, but nobody talks about. Intellectual masturbation is no different. I need release. I need to let off steam. God forbid there’s some enjoyment involved. The sad part is in the secrecy, the shaming. With intellectual masturbation, there’s not as much shaming as traditional masturbation, but instead often bewilderment, and comments like, “Why are you doing all of those weird things…”
As if curiosity and enjoyment weren’t good enough reasons 😨
I know a lot of closet intellectual masturbators. I have one brilliant friend who went to one of the best universities in the world. He has a challenging job by most measures. Yet, on the side, he is the Dos Equis man. He brews Mead. He is learning sailing. He’s becoming a pilot. He has a motorcycle. He even bought his motorcycle from abroad and assembled it himself.
I have another friend of a friend who has 8 different advanced degrees. All of them earned, none of them honorary. He works for the government, they have great education benefits, and he takes full advantage.
If you’re a closet intellectual masturbator, know you’re not alone. 👨‍👨‍👦‍👦
If you’re not getting enough intellectual stimulation at work, can you say that out loud? Does that mean you’re calling the job dull? Does it mean you’re saying your coworkers, who may feel stimulated, are stupid? Does it mean you’re weird?
This exact scenario caused me to leave a job. We weren’t allowed to browse the internet, and we weren’t allowed to use our phones. Ok, I can deal with that. I was given additional responsibilities—a bigger workload. This tided me over for a bit. But, eventually, they banned books.
Yes, we weren’t allowed to read books.
Madness, I know. 😡
I met with management about it. We agreed, in any job, there is naturally going to be some downtime. I couldn’t think of a better activity than reading. It’s quiet. It doesn’t disturb others. And, it may help me educate myself and do better at the job! Despite us agreeing on all of those things, they didn’t budge. Books were still outlawed. F that place.
This trend keeps happening to me- dropping something good to do something great. The job wasn’t pure evil. It paid the bills. My coworkers and I got along. The hours were decent. But I wasn’t thriving; I was surviving. Taking away books was enough of a pain in the ass to force me to get a better job. It caused me to move to California and work for GOOG.
Anywho…I digest 🍕(digress)
Back to short story club.
After a while, I moved further away. Going to club meetings took 60-90 minutes, rather than 30 max. I began to notice patterns in the short story club that made my blood boil. There were a lot of smart people in the short story club—plenty of clever comments. But, there became a pressure to sound smart rather than be smart. This pressure was toxic. It resulted in people hiding their true thoughts to try to come up with something clever. In a story down the road, we will dive deeper into this idea.
For me, life is funny by itself. Trying to make life funnier can actually make things worse–like those times I’m in a shitty mood, someone tries to force a laugh out of me, just making me grumpier. 😤
This is like what was happening in the short story club. Trying to make smart comments was creating dumb comments rather than letting things flow naturally.
Every week, someone complained about the lack of character development.
This seems like a thoughtful critique. Character development alone can take an hour in a book club. But…
Often the stories were 8 fucking pages!
Of course, there isn’t going to be great character development. They are short stories. C'mon, man!
There were other traps we’d fall into. No matter what, somebody was butthurt about the author. Male author writes about male character. Welp, he must be a bigot because a woman wasn’t in the story. Male author writes about female character. Welp, he must be a bigot. He can’t possibly write about a female because he isn’t one.
These types of traps seem clever. But they don’t lead anywhere. I got sick of it. If the author is wrong, no matter what, why are we talking about the story?
After enough of these instances, I left the short story club. There was too much group think. Even seemingly open spaces can fall prey to close-mindedness.
For the record, I still think short story clubs are an awesome idea. But be careful about people trying to be clever. As someone who identifies as clever himself, I’ve realized that being clever sometimes makes things confusing for the person I’m trying to talk to. If the goal of communication is getting something from my head into yours, cleverness isn’t always the best tool.
It’s another reason why I’ve tried to abandon sarcasm. Sarcasm is fun for the giver and sucks for the receiver. It’s definitely not mutual masturbation.
As always, thank you for reading 📖 Tomorrow, we are going to dive into The Rise And Fall Of Tea With Strangers.
PS- If some of the verbiage here made you a little uncomfortable, I take that as a compliment. The worst writing is “safe” writing- the boring stuff that doesn’t give you a rise at all. I’m a crude unenlightened student of life. Mistakes will be made.

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