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!


Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Portland Food Pyramid

A cautionary tale: this is what happens when you spend too much time on social media.

On Thursday, I tweeted about my lunch at Burgerville. Technically, I guess it was a sub-sub-tweet, since I didn't mention the name of the restaurant or even the specific food items (pepper bacon cheeseburger, waffle cut fries, chocolate milkshake). Anyway. My fellow Portlandians Wink and Brian added their own remarks, and then Larry cascaded it into a very cheesy conversation.

Meanwhile, on Facebook—where my tweets get auto-cross-posted—others continued the ad hoc comedy workshopping. And because I have nothing better to do on a Friday night than answer Puzzled Pint e-mails and watch Downton Abbey, I decided to turn my hasty sketch into something more suitable for Thomas to post in his kitchen.

Here's the original:

And now (drum roll, please) the new hotness:

The pictured foodstuffs are (top to bottom, left to right):
I'm not sure when in the process the diagram became Portland-specific, but it just felt right. Also note that everything is covered in cheese because come on why wouldn't you do that.

If this infographic amuses you, <zoidberg>HOORAY!</zoidberg> And Happy Valentine's Day? Feel free to share the permalink:

So that happened.

This concludes tonight's episode of How's Curtis Wasting His Goddamn Time Now? Come back next week for more frivolity. Or just follow me on Twitter if you simply cannot wait that long.

<3 CKL


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I Can Count to Fifteen

...which is the new number of Puzzled Pint cities. Boston had to wave off on Monday, due to weather, but we also added San Francisco proper at the last minute. Here's the current roster, with our February additions noted:
  1. Austin, Texas
  2. Bloomington, Illinois (NEW!)
  3. Boston, Massachusetts (CANCELED)
  4. Brooklyn, New York (NEW!)
  5. Chicago, Illinois
  6. London, England
  7. Montreal, Canada
  8. Phoenix, Arizona
  9. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  10. Portland, Oregon
  11. San Francisco, CA - City (NEW!)
  12. San Francisco, CA - Bay Area
  13. Seattle, WA - City
  14. Seattle, WA - Eastside
  15. Washington, DC
And we continue to get inquiries from other places. Not all of those pan out, obviously, but it's great that so many people are interested in Running More Games. :)

At this point, the "headquarters" team in Portland—six people, four of whom are co-founders (our fifth co-founder is running Pittsburgh these days)—is doing more event management and editorial oversight than actual puzzle creation. Which, again, is great; we love seeing the creativity and diversity of other people's puzzle ideas, and we're glad we can apply our experience to help them develop and refine those ideas.

But with diversity also comes differences of opinion. Reasonable people can disagree, and sometimes both sides have reasonable arguments for wildly divergent points of view. We're dealing with some ongoing issues which I think will come down to us having to make a decision about the fundamental nature and character of PP as opposed to other puzzling events: do we always want to be beginner-friendly? is there any reason we would ever say "no" to someone who wanted to start up in a new city? how much can we modify the structure of an event before it's no longer a "Puzzled Pint?"

I don't have all the answers, but I'm glad to be working with lots of smart people who can help us figure out these things. This is how we build a community. This is how we make something that can outlive us all. You know, like Islam.


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

I'm on a Boat!

One. More. Time:

This is probably the last time we'll be sailing on the now-annual JoCo Cruise. We've done all five tours so far, and while it's been lots of fun, it is a long journey, and the inconvenience is starting to outweigh the novelty. But don't worry, we can find plenty of other opportunities to commune with our fellow nerds.

Meanwhile, though, we're enjoying our week in the Caribbean—including a tour of Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico! Where my mobile phone will also work without any special setup! That'll be important for reasons which should become clear next week. #waitforit