Secret to happiness: "If you often find yourself eating food you like in the company of people you like, you have probably done something right with your life."

Theme Song To Every Anime Ever

February 25th, 2015

My latest column: Salad Days
My latest boardgame review is about a game that is fast becoming a favorite: Mage Knight.

I enjoy anime, and now and again I’ll binge-watch a bunch on Netflix. I’ve noticed that a lot of anime seems to share some similar themes, which is why I wrote this generic anime theme song:

“You have a special magic power,
And other people have one too…
They try to kill you but you manage to defeat them,
Because they’re not as cool as youuuuuuu…
You have a special magic power,
You have a special magic power,
Love is hiding in the shadows.”

So yeah, that’s like, 50% of anime. And then another 30% is just light relationship silliness. But the remaining 20% has some fascinating and lovely stuff. I recently finished watching Attack On Titan, which although it certainly lacks for closure, is a compelling story with an abnormal theme and kept me on my toes. I think my favorite anime of late has been Death Note — I actually first read a volume of the manga, and found it so intriguing that I immediately went and watched the whole run of the anime on Netflix.

Starting a new monthly comedy open mic tomorrow night at our local coffee house; hopefully it goes well.

I Hate My Neighbor’s Decorations

February 2nd, 2015

I spent a few hours late thisafternoon shoveling out our driveway from the blizzard. As this is a shared driveway with our neighbors, it gave me time to reflect how much I hate their decorations.

The most obvious example is Christmas decorations. Those of you who know me are aware that my appreciation of Christmas decorations to begin with is roughly halfway between Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Grinch. Our neighbors had giant inflatable nonsense (which couldn’t just be inflated and left there, but needed to have the frequently-running extra-loud inflator running half the time), as well as extra-blinky epilepsy-inducing lights which kept making me think the cops were outside our house (which, in our neighborhood, is not uncommon). Those decorations were up for the entire month of December.

But the decorations I hated most today were the three shovels standing in their front yard, which remained purely decorative as I shoveled the entirety of the driveway for the second time this week.

Better Living through Dropping Food on the Ground

January 24th, 2015

In my latest column, I break the law!

Newest boardgame review: Patchwork - a short game by Uwe Rosenberg

Twice this month, I have been carrying too many things, and dropped some food on the ground. In each case, I felt the food beginning to fall, and had plenty of time to make a grab for it and prevent it from hitting the floor. And unlike the many times this has happened in the past, this month I’ve been doing something brilliant:

Nothing.

See, in the past, I’ve lunged for the falling food and managed to save it, at the expense of spilling water everywhere or dropping the other messier food I was holding. This month, I’ve held onto my water and let the cheese hit the floor. And watched the tortillas fall while standing calmly with eggs in my hands. Progress.

I figured out the Problem with this Blog

January 9th, 2015

I’d love to say that my conclusion was reached through introspection and analysis, but in fact it was after seeing two friends post much the same thing — one about LiveJournal and one about Facebook — that I realized it applied to my blogging here as well. And that thing is this: When you don’t post for a while, you feel like rather than just making a normal post, you have to account for all the time between now and your last post. And this is ridiculous, because it ends up making every post like a Christmas Letter, and not the good kind from your grandparents or uncle where you shake it and money falls out*, but the crappy kind where someone you don’t talk to very often feels the need to give you an uninteresting laundry list of events rather than going into interesting detail on any one specific event.

So sure, I should very briefly mention my latest boardgame review (Murano!) or my latest column (New Ears Resolutions!), but taking my last post as a leaping off point, henceforth my posts will focus on whatever is currently on my mind, rather than trying to summarize the past X weeks**.

Man, I should have had something on my mind before typing that last sentence, huh? Well, tonight I was frying up some Gringo Migas, and it occurred to me that waiting for things to fry has a lot of downtime with which I could be more efficient. So I decided to multi-task, and managed to wash the dishes *and* burn my food at the same time. Hooray, efficiency!

*Believe me, I have been shaking this blog for a decade and no money has fallen out.

**For those of you living in Rome, that’s ten weeks.

An Exceedingly Long Post About Race, Media, and Privilege

December 14th, 2014

Where to begin? I haven’t posted in a while, so let me start with the usual gaming updates: I played some boardgames, especially an old favorite called Goa, and also reviewed a number of new games including two that I especially enjoyed (Johari, Villainy). I also wrote many humor columns including two that I especially enjoyed (Terrifying Bear Danger Rating: A Fear Chart, Bard-Mitzvah: A Shakespearean Travelogue). And I played various video games, including two that I especially enjoyed (Wasteland2, Jade Empire).

I also performed poetry at a few different locations, comedy at a few different locations, and just last night, went to see a comedy performance by Hari Kondabolu. I was chatting with the strangers at my table, a couple from Northampton, and we wondered if one of the reasons people got excited by Kondabolu is that he brings a new edginess; half a century ago it was edgey to swear in your act, or to talk about religion. Nowadays such is commonplace on the comedy scene, but harshly calling out racial privilege repeatedly amidst your comedy act may be the new edgey. (Yes, such may be commonplace in certain small circles, but edgey has always been saying on stage to a wide mainstream audience what you’d normally just say among your friends but not in a room full of strangers.)

Anyway, listening to him talk about such things — and talk about the importance of talking about such things — has prompted me to re-post here a more private journal entry I made a few weeks ago. It is not, alas, funny, but perhaps you will find it worth reading nonetheless:

***

“The Clueless White Guy Chronicles”
or “Epiphanies of the Obvious”
or “Intellectual Knowledge versus Emotional Knowledge”
or “Sometimes Issues Are Sufficiently Large That It’s Hard to Choose a Single Title”

Perhaps some of you are familiar with a video game called Skyrim. I played the hell out of that game, well over 100 hours. A year or two ago, I recall having dinner with two friends of mine, M and Z, as I explained that Skyrim had been a bit of a weird experience for me insofar as my character received continuous random hatred from a majority of the NPCs in the entire game.

I’m playing as an Elf, but most of the people in the world are not Elves. They are Nords. And you start out the game imprisoned by this imperial alliance trying to kill you, and then you’re rescued by a group of rebels fighting the imperials, but it turns out that the rebels think Skyrim is for Nords and they tend to dislike Elves. So of the two opposing sides, it seems like neither really cares about you. And then you can just be walking into a random town, and people will start insulting you because you’re an Elf.

And there’s this one group of NPC heroes who are supposed to be the “good guys” in the game, but their main hero was someone on record as wanting to kill all the elves. And basically, across all of Tamriel, everyone is looking down on me or being a jerk to me for no reason and I don’t want to get in fights in town unnecessarily but it’s hard to just sit there and take non-stop insults and ill-mannered treatment from the entire gameworld, and if I respond in kind it starts a fight, and the town guards show up with a bias against me just because I’m an Elf even though the other guy started the fight. I explained to my friends that this was really frustrating and demoralizing to feel constantly harassed just based on your race.

“Yes, how interesting that must be for you,” my friends said, mockingly, “and how nice to experience that in a video game.”

At this point I should probably mention that my friends M and Z are of Filipino and Iranian descent, respectively. And so for them, a constant casual racism is not so much an anomalous feature of a particularly involved video game, but an all-too-familiar feature of the world. This kind of thing is very old news to half of the country. Now obviously I know this intellectually, but I’m guessing I’m not the only white person who ever found that experiencing racism for a few dozen hours in a video game (even though it’s obviously nothing like dealing with it in real life) makes you understand it in a different way than merely knowing it exists intellectually.

Last week I was thinking about all of that because I had a similar epiphany of the obvious. I’d been binge-watching movies on Netflix, and my recent selections had included a number of films like Shaft, Django Unchained, Harlem Nights, &c. And after a half-dozen films I found myself automatically suspicious of and/or ill-disposed towards any white people who appeared on-screen. I knew they were not to be trusted, and the counter-example of Django’s partner did not change my overall perception. He was “one of the good ones” who was “not like all those other white folks”, and I still knew that I could presume random white guy was probably up to no good, not just a friendly innocent black guy.

My brain did that after two days of movie binge on a very small particular subset of movies in the world. So what happens to the brains of society at large after decades of representation in the other direction? Again, this is in no way a new observation, having been experienced by, pronounced, and written upon by countless people (including many of my friends) for decades. But while I’ve always known intellectually that media representations of minorities are an important problem, it was still a moment for me last week where I said, “Wow, look at the kind of effect I experience on my perception.”

So that is a thing about which I have been thinking lately. And I debated a bit whether to post this where people could see it, both because a) The world is not desperately in need of another white guy’s opinions on race, and b) I’m pretty sure I do not come off looking too bright by saying “Hai guyz, did you know racism is really a thing?” when this is painfully obvious to many people who will read this and less painful but still obvious to most of the rest of you. But I guess that’s what invisible privilege is: The luxury to not think about racial issues, or at best to acknowledge intellectually that they exist but not have to experience or deal with them. So since I have that luxury, I guess literally the least I could do is to mention it, even though it does not make me look great.

Hooray for Big Annual Events!

September 18th, 2014

As mentioned in the previous post, this August was the wonderful week of the annual WordXWord Festival, which was, as always, a delight. As not mentioned in the previous post, I managed to win the big poetry slam this year, which was admittedly very nice, but mainly I was just delighted to get to hang out with so many amazing poets, hear amazing poems, and perform for an appreciative audience. I also made it to the finals of the Story Slam, where I told a slightly lengthier version of this story about going on a job interview.

Then we had our annual Labor Day Reunion with a number of old college friends, where we had silly and serious conversations on various horrible topics*, and I was reminded of why I enjoyed college so much in spite of not enjoying the structure.**

Last week’s big event*** was the 7th annual Alphabetic Boardgaming Challenge, where although Debbie got off to an early lead and a very strong start, I managed to fight my way back to win the event again. I recently posted a boardgame review for our final game of the event, a longtime favorite of mine named Scepter of Zavandor.

Next week will be Rosh Hashannah, a doubly important event which marks both the Jewish New Year, and an excellent time for people to buy copies of my rhyming Torah to give as gifts to your Jewish friends.

And in just over three months, it will be time for the 8th annual Heathen Hullabaloo. In the meantime, my column runs slightly more frequently than once a year, so perhaps you will enjoy Crazy Uncle Seth’s Back To School Tips. If you aren’t familiar with the season’s biggest headlines in the Berkshires, you may be less interested in Berkshire Headlines from an Alternate Dimension.

*How to get away with murder by not urinating on corpses, how long to grill your baby, etc.

**Prospect, the dorm I lived in, was an incredibly stupid structure.

***For me. Not, obviously, for Scotland.

WorkxWork

July 30th, 2014

So, in only a few weeks, the annual WordxWord spoken word festival will hit Pittsfield, and as always, it promises to be a fantastic event. Also free, through the magic of generous grants. So if you will or can be in the Berkshires from Aug. 17-23, you should check out some of the amazing performances going on — and I’m not just saying that because I’m in the poetry slam semi-finals.*

Before that, though,  I have some freelance work to do. I’m currently working for Mtelegence, a company designing entertaining and engaging programs to help students struggling with literacy. So, my job is to come up with creative ways to help make the world a better place. This has set the bar pretty high for my ideal jobs. My other ideal job, of course, is getting paid to write my books, hence the pair of query letters I sent out to agents last night. I managed to change my template salutation from “Dear AgentFace McGee” to the correct name for each of the two I sent so far, but I figure it’s only a matter of time before I forget when sending one.

Excitingly**, I had a short poem published online in Rogue Particles magazine. Seriously, it’s quite short. Go read it, and then feel free to poke around the site for other people’s interesting stuff too.

Otherwise, things continue much the same. While my neighborhood may be in constant celebration mode, I more quietly aged another year recently, which I celebrated by walking to Jack’s and buying myself a hamburger. Gaming continues, and while my most recent review is of a new game called Bedpans&Broomsticks, the game we’ve played most recently is oddly*** the Kingdom Hearts CCG.

There’s a temptation to write my next column about the situation in the Middle East, but I think making it humorous may be difficult. Still, can’t go worse than my stand-up about mass shootings, right?

*I’m saying it because I’m contractually obligated. Kidding! It seriously is a great festival, and you should go.

**Excitingly for me, that is. Your own level of excitement may very depending on your enjoyment of the poem. Consult your doctor for details. Offer not valid in all states.

***Odd because it’s rare I play boardgames based on videogames. Or any non-Magic CCG, really.

Food Foolishness

July 10th, 2014

The following investigation and one-sided conversation all took place in the span of a single second earlier today, in my brain:

“My thumb hurts, I wonder if something’s wrong.”
“It’s got red splotchy bits, is it blood?”
“No, it’s too dark for that. Maybe it’s bruising from an injury.”
“How would I have injured my finger? Maybe cutting onions for dinner?”
“Oh, the red splotchy bits are red onion.”

So that was fun. While making said dinner, I had to transfer some rice from the giant vat into the rice cooker. My girlfriend seems to believe that dipping the rice measuring cup into the rice works better than pouring the vat into the rice measuring cup, but as I was making the rice, I did it my way*. And apparently, my way consists of dumping rice all over the place. “That went pourly,” she said.

I was already unconvinced about dinner because we were using a tabletop convection oven rather than our usual oven, and I was afraid it wouldn’t work. But we ended up with delicious crispy fish, so I guess I should have had the courage of my convections.

In the unlikely event you haven’t already stopped reading this blog entry for terrible puns, I recently wrote a column sharing some True Facts About June.** Not mentioned, some other true facts about June: I had a lovely time at some WordXWord preliminary events, where I qualified for the August finals***. And I read a lot of graphic novels. And played more video games than board games. But another review is coming soon, I promise.

Meanwhile, if the Berkshires can stop losing power every other day, I have a fun new freelance assignment I’m looking forward to: Writing educational raps.

*To be perfectly Frank.

**To be perfectly ZeFrank

***They’re august August finals.****

****I guess I already used that joke in my column tagline, but I presume not everyone who reads my blog clicks through to the columns.

Worth a Shot

May 31st, 2014

Hard for me to believe the improv show mentioned in the previous post was only two weeks ago. It seems like an eternity. Sadly, I haven’t gotten an eternity worth of work done on the boardgame book — although I do have a new review up for Hot Tin Roof — although I have gotten in a few epic boardgames including the World of Warcraft Boardgame and a 4p game of Caverna, the latter of which is probably the best new game of 2013.

But the improv show went well — far better, I’d say, than my stand-up at the other night’s comedy open mic. That, however, is largely my own fault, as I decided to be a little risky and do some jokes about the recent mass shooting*. They say that comedy is just tragedy plus time, but I’ve never been good at following recipes, and maybe I used a little too much tragedy and replaced the thyme with sage ideas, even if I wasn’t salty, the audience didn’t find all of it savory**.

Much more likely to get a positive reaction is my latest column, Praise Be to Cheesus, which includes the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius and a Buddha and a number of terrible puns. I’m very pleased with it, and the stromboli that we* made tonight. I have an insatiable appetite for good food and graphic novels. I’ve recently discovered that our local library has graphic novels, and so I have decided to read them. Like, every single one in the library.

*It’s important that blog posts have dates, because in America there’s always a recent mass shooting.

**Variety shows are the life of spice.

***This usage is what I like to call the “Third Person Royal We”, which means technically the part of we that doesn’t include me.

Improv Impending

May 15th, 2014

Tonight* I will be performing on stage with the Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe for the first time in… too long. I’m quite looking forward to it, especially since I’ll be able to play the game I invented called “Rap Psychiatrist”, where I play a rapping psychiatrist. I’d really love to have that job in real life, so if any of you have problems and want to hire me to dispense advice to you in rap form, I am admittedly not accredited, but I charge less than half of the standard psychiatry rate, so that has to be worth something. Two humor columns a month aren’t going to pay my bills.

But I suppose I should share them anyway, in case you were interested in reading about Insomnia Vincit Omnia, or False Independence.

Otherwise, while I’ve seen some minor problems back**, life remains good. Tonight, for the second time this week, my girlfriend and I were both sitting on a couch reading a book, which we have decided is how introverts have Date Night. The important part of dinner and a movie isn’t the movie (books are no less social), and she cooked a delicious dinner, so I’m declaring it a success***.

Finished another mini-chapter of the boardgame book. A few down, too many to go. Still planning on a completed draft by the end of the year, come hell or high water.

*chronologically tonight, as it’s past midnight, but actually tomorrow night, since I haven’t slept yet. Friday 16th, is what.

**and visa versa

***”It a success!”****

****Why yes, I was re-watching some Zucker Brothers films this week.