Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I am Sick Today

But there are three cool things I need to tell you about: first, Puzzled Pint Brooklyn got a very nice write-up in The Wall Street Journal! Second, our friends The Doubleclicks made a very groovy Ghostbusters-inspired music video. Third, there's a fun new game called Valeria: Card Kingdoms which you can back on Kickstarter. That's all, and now I'm going back to bed.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I Have Some Busy Weekends Coming Up

For the record, I'm not doing this as a #humblebrag or anything douchey like that. I'm writing this down as yet another reminder of all the crap I need to do BECAUSE I'M OLD AND I FORGET THINGS OKAY.

This weekend is GameStorm 17 in downtown Vancouver, where DeeAnn and I are re-running a modified version of the "Number Five Is Alive" puzzle hunt from JoCo Cruise 5. We'll hopefully also have time to play some games ourselves, and go to the Doubleclicks concert! Some of Thursday night's events will be in the hotel garage, which should be interesting.

Next weekend, after we do our taxes dammit, I'm going up to Seattle to help staff the Clarion West table at Emerald City Comic Con. I may or may not also have time and energy to wander around the con stalking Gail Simone, but mostly I want to go help out an organization I love (ObDisclaimer: I am a CW alumnus) and hang out with some awesome writers.

The first weekend in April is our friend Maria's birthday, and our other friend Natalie is organizing a chocolate field trip through Portland. You're either super excited and looking forward to this or deeply sad that you can't join us.

The second weekend in April includes my pal Fonda Lee's book launch party for her debut novel Zeroboxer! And probably a few hours prepping the next Puzzled Pint event, which may or may not include scrambling to lock down locations in all cities and/or last-minute revisions to puzzle materials. Did I mention we're an all-volunteer, non-commercial event?

And with any luck, one month from now on April 18th, we'll actually have some free time to relax and watch the third season premiere of Orphan Black.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I Have Been Married for Ten Years

Our wedding anniversary date is actually tomorrow, but what with leap years and Daylight Saving Time and whatnot, I figure today's close enough to call it.

This past weekend, we attended the wedding of our friends Kenna and Ryan (whom I affectionately call "K&R"--I am, as you might expect, the only one who does this). You can search for #ConkaPotts on Twitter to get some idea of how fabulous it was. Being at another early-March wedding (which also featured a unity candle, and had a tabletop-game-centric "after-party" instead of dancing) reminded me a lot of our own celebration.

It really doesn't feel like it's been a whole decade. Our lives have changed quite a bit--we're living in a different place now, working different jobs, hanging out with different friends--but the most important things haven't changed. We still enjoy each other's company, even if it's sitting on the couch while I watch Arrow and she plays games on her iPad. We always want to share our favorite things with each other. We're still very much in love.

Happy Anniversary, DeeAnn, and here's to many more.


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

I Have Trouble Asking for Help

I was going to rant and rave today about how badly The Newsroom crashed and burned in its last season, but honestly, that ship has sailed. Do go read Abigail Nussbaum's breakdown, though; she's much more articulate about the situation than I would ever be. (I also started this Facebook thread, which has some good insights by other folks.)

Instead, I'm going to fill this week's column-inches (OH GOD I'M OLD) by juxtaposing two TED talks by amazing women:

Amanda Palmer: The art of asking

Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability

I'm a writer, and many of my friends are writers or creative artists of some kind. (Yes, that includes puzzles.) And we all struggle to figure out how to make money doing what we love.

There is, I think, an essential tension between confidence and vulnerability here: an artist needs to have the confidence to believe that people will find value in her art, and to put herself out there to connect with people (some of whom may be jerks--you never know); but an artist must also retain a sincere vulnerability (especially online, but also in person) to make her supporters feel good about supporting her work and helping her out, either financially or by donating their time (assisting with promotion, sharing food, providing couch-surfing space, etc.).

I've seen this dynamic played out in many a failed project on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and any number of other crowdfunding sites. Because those are the places where the intersection of an artist/maker's confidence and vulnerability are laid bare. You have to self-promote your project, but you can't seem like a jerk when you do it. And that can be a very fine line to walk. (#PROTIP: when in doubt, be humble, be grateful, and be nice. In all things, really.)

It's ridiculously easy for things to go wrong online, especially when you're compressing your deep thoughts into 140 characters or fewer. Even if you think you're saying the right thing, other people might interpret it differently. I'm fairly paranoid about this, so I always re-read my tweets and e-mails (and blog posts!) before sending them into the ether. I'm painfully aware that I will be judged harshly for any perceived breach of etiquette because reasons.

There's another reason I've always had trouble asking for help. Whether it was computer programming or fiction writing or even just cooking dinner, I always felt that I was "stupid" if I didn't know something and couldn't figure it out on my own; and if I had to go to someone else for help, that made me a failure, and that was shameful. Maybe that's a common neurosis, but in my case, I always suspected it was a conceptual hybrid of Chinese academic pressure and American cowboy independence. I'm finally getting over that now, in my forties, but it's worth saying out loud. Everyone needs help sometimes. Learning to recognize that, and knowing how to ask for help, is a big part of being a grown-up. (Writing: cheaper than therapy, folks.)

Back to the main point. I don't know if (or when) I'll get into a situation which many other artists have encountered, where they're facing financial ruin due to some health or other personal issue and decide to turn to their friends and fans for help. I don't know how I would handle that, because--other than asking for a raise at my first job--I've never been in a situation where I had to ask someone for money. Again, cultural taboos, blah blah blah. But I hope I'll have figured it out by the time that becomes an issue.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I Should Be Reading

This is more of a reminder for myself than anything else. I know the usual mantra is "You Should Be Writing," but in my case, I've gotten to the point where the writing itself is not an issue. (I recently told my agent that I could crank out 1,500-2,000 words an hour in first draft mode, and yes that is a check my body can cash. I also don't find it hard to spend 6-8 consecutive hours at a time revising a piece.)

I'll never be able to read all the stuff I want to read, or all the stuff I really ought to read (like this year's Nebula nominees). And let's not even get started on the stuff I'd love to re-read. But I can read more.

It's not just the "read widely" thing that everyone recommends. It's not purely professional (or mercenary) interest. And it's not just for pleasure, either, though a good book will always remind me of how much I love reading. It's about knowing what's out there, learning other stories and voices and people.

Maybe I need a guy to just send me random books, à la Major Bennett Marco's friend in The Manchurian Candidate. You know, Principles of Modern Banking, History of Piracy, Paintings of Orozco, Modern French Theater, The Jurisprudential Factor of Mafia Administration, Diseases of Horses, novels of Joyce Cary, Ethnic Choices of the Arabs. Things like that.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Oscar? I Didn't Even Know 'er!

(I never get tired of that joke. Yes, I am that weird uncle you don't like to visit.)

DeeAnn and I are almost ready to host our annual Oscar Party tomorrow! In the tradition of my previous posts about this, here are links to some materials you can use for fun and games at your own shindig, if you're so inclined...

Acceptance Speech BINGO

The perennial favorite which hopefully makes the endless blathering more bearable. Complete any straight line of five squares to get a prize, then blackout the same card to get a second prize. We let people play two cards at once if they really want:

Print a randomly generated card (reload page for new card), and check out the source code and word lists if you're interested.

#OscarTrivia Slides

As the name implies, I'll be tweeting these out one by one tomorrow afternoon starting at 11:00AM Pacific Time. I'll share the complete set on Monday at 4:00PM Pacific, after their Twitter debut.

Meanwhile, here's a proper subset of the slides we'll be running during the party, showing all the nominees (info and pics from AMPAS, MoviePosterDB, and ET Online):

Follow @sparCKL and search for #OscarTrivia to learn dozens of useless facts which may only be tangentially related to these movies!

Predict The Losers

New name, same game. Whoever predicts the most winners in all categories gets the grand prize! (Not sure of your picks? See what one Vegas oddsmaker thinks.)

This year, I like the New York Times' Oscar ballot the best; it's clean and well-organized, with minimal branding. Less visual clutter also means less printer ink used:

That's all I've got for now. If you want to kill some more time, the official Oscars web site has trailers of all the nominated films, organized by category. Go for breadth! Go go go!


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I Have Not Seen Most of These Movies

But I still have opinions about this year's Best Picture nominees. I'm talking about the Academy Awards, of course. Feel free to stop reading now if you don't care about any of this.

I won't say too much about the whole #OscarsSoWhite thing, except this: it's Hollywood, man. It's always been white. You know, like most of mainstream America. Being angry about injustice is fine, but I've gotten over my anger and am now looking for ways to actually make things better. Yelling at people isn't really the best way to change their minds about anything.

Anyway. Let's talk about the eight Best Picture nominees. In alphabetical order:

Actually, let's not talk about that one. Because reasons. Moving on:

DeeAnn and I saw this with our good friend Matt at the lovely St. Johns Theater. I enjoyed it for what it was: a moderately pretentious exercise in omphaloskepsis (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) featuring some great performances, technical flair, and a somewhat unsatisfying, "literary" ending. I mean, I understand what the filmmakers were going for. I just didn't dig it as much as some other folks did. Diff'rent strokes and all that.

Yeah, it's a stunt, but it's a very impressive one. And even if people haven't seen the movie, they've certainly heard about how it took twelve years to make. I expect it'll be a talky indie like all of Linklater's stuff, which probably works against it; Oscar voters tend to like stuff with a little flash and fanfare. But I wouldn't be surprised if they chose to reward the effort here.

Haven't seen this one either. Expect it'll be like all of Wes Anderson's stuff: quirky and twee. Long shot for Best Picture.

We saw this with our friend Karl during last year's #XmasMovieThon, and it was very good, despite a few patches of lazy writing (I mean did they really need to hammer this exact line three times) and playing fast and loose with actual history (as all biopics do; not a complaint, just an observation). I suppose I'm partial to stories about intelligent people solving hard problems—what some might call puzzles—but still. I'd call this one the frontrunner.

Haven't seen it yet, but IMHO it's pretty ridiculous that anyone has rustled up controversy around this film. See above (and below) for how movies are not journalism. There's a federal holiday and a road in every major American city named after this man, for fuck's sake. Get over it.

Haven't seen this one, either, but again, I don't expect it to be a precise and accurate accounting of Stephen Hawking's life. (DeeAnn thinks it's weird that they made a biopic about someone who's still alive, but that's nothing new.) Judging from the marketing, though, I suspect it's too "soft" and/or esoteric to win, especially against Imitation Game, which also features a genius Brit protagonist, and—let's not mince words here—is literally Gay Benedict Cumberbatch Fighting Nazis. Would you bet against that?

Missed this one in theaters. Yeah, I'm sure it's good, but Best-Picture-good? I'd put money on Grand Budapest Hotel before this one, simply on apparent scope. Small stories don't win big at the Oscars. Would peg this one for Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons doing that thing he does), maybe Film Editing or Adapted Screenplay (Damien Chazelle, who also directed the movie), and possibly Sound Mixing. It is about drumming, after all.

And that's all my blathering for now. If you're hosting an Oscar Party on Sunday, feel free to print some Acceptance Speech BINGO cards, and watch for my #OscarTrivia posts on Twitter!