Archive for October, 2012

On Cooperative Games

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

I have a competitive streak. A tiger-fierce competitive streak. So even though winning is anything but a core value—as a resident of Northern California I recognize the myriad inherent problems with competition and believe in cooperation as the more effective approach—when I play games with others, I very intensely want to win.


As a service to my fellow game-players, I try to keep this impulse in check. But it is NOT. EASY.

One of the things that has been suggested to me is to play the newfangled cooperative games, in which everyone works together toward a common goal. My friend Carey (Hi, Carey!) helpfully brought one of these games over, and she and I played together.

Verdict: While there was some relief in knowing that we would share the same fate, that very knowledge did sap my motivation of some of its fire. Weirdly, at the same time the game felt very stressful, because the stakes were so high: If we didn’t get often the island before it sank, we were both going to die! AAAAIEEEEE!

Cue this morning’s conversation, with John.

J: Last night Steve was telling me about another cooperative game, called Pandemic.

M: Uh-huh.

J: You work as a team to save the world from a deadly infection.

M: Uh-huh.

J: And it’s not at all clear that you’ll be able to succeed!

M: Oh, great.

J: What?

M: So everyone dies!

J: Yeah.

M: Of a miserable disease!

J: Well, if you fail.

M: You don’t even get to drown!

J: No.

M: I’d rather lose at Cranium than die at Pandemic. At least with Cranium you’re not worrying about the fate of the ENTIRE EFFING WORLD.

J: [Laughing.]

M: I need a cooperative game that is not about the end of the world. Like, what about we’re in the supermarket, and we have to get everything on our list before it closes?

J: Okay, or what about you’re the caterer and you have to cook all of the food before the wedding starts?


Say Yes To the Dress: A Love Story

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

11/5/12 ETA: The below applies only to the first 5 seasons of the New York edition of the show. I was recently exposed to a more recent episode of the Atlanta edition, and the insipid scripted interludes + intentional mugging for the camera have made it unwatchable. Sigh.

Yes, I have all of the usual objections to the wedding industry: e.g., that the cultural imperative to drop heaps of money on a single day of a person’s life is not doing anybody any favors, particularly since it puts all of the emphasis on a performance of togetherness instead of the reality of marriage, which is complex and requires not merely the unglamorous commitment to requirements of everyday life but also deep emotional work, yadda yadda yadda.

I’m a feminist, I live in the Bay Area, I question consumption, etc.

I’m also a sucker for weddings. Partly because, as a crafty person, I love to see what people do with printed matter, flowers, tables, and the like. (I won’t lie: The 16 months I spent hand-calligraphing every single save-the-date, invitation, and place card for my own wedding were some of the most enjoyable months of my life.) But mainly because it’s really, really fun to see two people make a huge and loving commitment in public. It makes me happy.

I also happen to be in love with one wedding-oriented TV show, and that show is Say Yes to the Dress. To clarify: I’m not really into the idea of everybody’s wearing a white dress (or even a dress at all) and having all of those dresses look more or less the same. But SYTTD isn’t really about dresses, or at least not per sé. SYTTD, like pretty much all reality television, is about psychology. It takes a heightened moment in a person’s life and trains the cameras on her to see what happens.

And what happens is almost invariably fascinating. Because the brides aren’t shopping alone. They’ve brought their  families and friends, and whether or not these people are able to support the bride is an open question. Sometimes they are, and it’s a weepy love-fest that I’m happy to indulge in. (Supportive families for the win!) Sometimes they don’t, and it’s an object lesson in conflicting needs: The mother who needs her daughter to look a certain way; the sister who needs to control what the bride does; the friend who’s bitter because she wasn’t chosen as a bridesmaid and then fouls the bride’s experience with her bitterness.

Yet even as it exposes underlying personal conflicts, SYTTD is not exploitative. Its approach is generally fair-minded and compassionate, not least because the ethos at Kleinfeld is one of respect for the women who enter the store. There’s an atmosphere both of celebration and of cheer-leading, in the sense that the salespeople (“consultants”) don’t want merely to sell the dresses (although they do, they do) but also to give each bride a joyful experience in which she feels adored and beautiful. And very frequently, that’s exactly what happens. So even when a bride’s family is ignoring her needs, or steamrolling her opinions, or trying to manipulate her into doing what they want, the salesperson is there to bolster her and encourage her to pay attention to her own voice. I love that.

I do have a bone to pick with the store itself. And that’s this: I don’t understand how Kleinfeld can expect a bride to select a dress when she’s shown only a few, in an appointment that lasts only an hour and a half. The premise is that the consultants know the stock far better than a bride ever could and that they have the expertise to choose what would look best on any given woman, given her “price point,” and to an extent I can understand that. But in a store with 1700 – 2000 dresses, I’d have to at least browse through the racks a while before I started trying anything on. And I’d also have to try more than a few on so that I felt I had a lay of the land. On the show, whenever a bride leaves the store without a dress, there’s a tendency to take on a tone of doom—as in, something has gone horribly wrong. Whereas: You know. She didn’t buy a dress.

What did I do for my own dress? Designed it, plus a long red coat, and had them both made. Here:

Me at Mah Wedding

Me at Mah Wedding

Dancin' in White

Dancin' in White

The Art of Fielding

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Is an odd book. It’s certainly deftly written, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was written. I always had a sense of remove from the characters, many of whom seemed like Flat Stanleys to me—placeholders, mainly. It doesn’t help matters that the novel’s protagonist is nothing more than a single trait, i.e., baseball obsession—and that even the narrator seems to tire of his plot, switching to various others to hold our attention.

I had a hard time getting behind the romance, too. A 40-year-age difference is just too much for me, no matter who the people are. And the plot gets very silly in the final 50 pages.

Again, well written, and everything but the baseball plot did a fine job of keeping me interested. But in the end, it felt like a jumble of ideas, some more successful than others, mixed in a messy heap of a salad. A smart editor should have gotten in there and begun cutting away—not to mention beefing up, where characters were lacking.

Can’t blame Harbach for his $660k advance, but I wish the publisher had followed through.

Loop of Misery

Monday, October 1st, 2012

As a rule, John is  an up-beat person. He likes people. He likes nature. He likes adventures. He likes life.

What he does not like is box stores. And strip malls. And shopping.

(Ikea in particular is a five-minute meltdown. Five minutes! Until John implodes! You can’t even get past the couches!)

Ergo, we avoid those things as much as possible. But every once in a while, we can no longer avoid those things, and Saturday was one of those days.

This was my plan:

  1. Lump all shopping and box stores into a single circuit so as to bunch the pain
  2. Call it the Loop of Misery
  3. Cheer

Every time we got out of the car, I pumped my fist in the air and yelled, “LOOP. OF. MISERY!” And then proceeded to laugh myself into a stupor.

John’s cheer was much more feeble, especially as the day wore on and he melted into gelatinous John-clump. Halfway through I had an insight: He actually was miserable. The “Loop of Misery” cheer is kind of fun only if you aren’t actually miserable.

Ah, well. Can’t blame me for trying.