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."

April’s Foole

April 1st, 2014

Today is April 1. APRIL FOOL! It’s technically April 2. Unless you’re west of my time zone, in which case DOUBLE APRIL FOOL! It’s still April 1. I’m not sure how the holiday progressed to saying false things as a form of entertainment*, but I think eventually I get to the point where I’m saying things like, “I didn’t eat a lot of delicious soups last month or receive a lovely gift book about psycho-linguistics** - APRIL FOOL!”, and I think the form has overridden the function — just like dropping your taxes on the top row of your keyboard.

April is National Poetry Month, which means that I (as well as a few friends and a vast plethora of strangers) will be participating in the 30/30 poetry challenge to write a poem every day during April. Lots of people’s poems (including mine) will be posted at 3030Poetry.com, brought to you by the fine folks who run WordXWord. If I write one I’m particularly pleased with, maybe I’ll post it here on this blog. I’m participating in a food-themed poetry slam in Great Barrington on April 19th, and last month I was honored to be named “Haikuster of the Year 2014″ after emerging victorious from the Rambling Poets Haiku Head to Head. Many of them were impromptu, and consequently I cannot recall them precisely, but one of them was something along the lines of:

marijuana fans
took over Colorado
with their own “high coup”

All this lovely poetry, but what about gaming? Well, I do mean to get back to working on my boardgame book, and thankfully we’ve finally started playing boardgames more regularly again. The newest review I have up is for Mad City, a quick little city-building game that surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. Still, my preferences tend more towards the epics***, which is why getting back to playing behemoths like Through the Ages and Caverna has been so much fun.

Oh, and although April is here now, it’s still not too late to read my column about The Ides of March.

*Although to be fair, that describes half of my career. Even if I’m usually more proud of the half that involves saying true things as a form of entertainment.

**Appropriate, since many people have mistaken me for a linguist or a psycho.

***This also holds true for opening packs in Hearthstone.

Gloria Steinem: I meet, also grin.

March 6th, 2014

So, on Tuesday the famed Gloria Steinem came to speak at the local college, and I got to attend the lecture and ask her a few quick questions afterwards. And while I could mention how she made a lot of excellent points, or talked about the importance of intersectionality insofar as anyone fighting for women’s rights needs to be fighting against racism as well, or how I can’t believe she’s been doing this for so long, the main thing I want to say is that a few days before the lecture I wrote a column I am pretty happy with. So I present you with:

Gloria Steinem (Anagrammed)

Now that we’re past the dreaded month of February, things are looking up*. I wrote a poem yesterday to read at the open mic tonight before running it in a poetry slam next month, and I think I finally have 3 small sections of my book past the primary editing stage and ready to get reactions from a few test readers. Then once I’m convinced those chapters are fully ready, I begin the difficult task of hunting for an agent**. So if you are or know anyone representing non-fiction authors, especially authors that do odd cross-genre stuff, please do let me know.


*Also I’m looking up things, to do research for columns and books and so forth.

**Duck Season! Agent Season! Duck Season! Agent Season!

Short

February 28th, 2014

February is a short month. Here’s a short post.

Although no longer weekly, my column now appears in the Berkshire Eagle roughly every other week. Here’s a column about my delightful neighbors. And one about Valentine’s Day.

On the boardgame front, I have a new review up for Bremerhaven. And for the first time in too long, we got a few games of Power Grid in. On the videogame front, I’m playing my way through the Gothic series of games, and just finished Gothic 3. On the crossover front, Hearthstone is pretty damned good.

And at home we’ve been eating all sorts of delicious food, and generally I make up songs about it while I’m in the kitchen.* After a rocky start**, this year is finally back on track. Now I just need to make some progress on my book.

*Including “I like baked spuds and I cannot lie”, “Always the latkes are frying, always the onions and crying”, and “The most beautiful sound I ever heard, Tortilla, Tortilla, Tortilla, Tortilla”

**Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!

Yes, We Have No Stalgia

January 15th, 2014

We have no stalgia today.

For the past week, I’ve been reading a book published in 1966, in which the author reflects on the halcyon days of his childhood and laments how things used to be better than they are today. (Today, please keep in mind, refers to 1966.) And while I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, the one piece of nostalgia I find myself really connecting with comes not from the book itself, but the random piece of paper I’ve been using as a bookmark, which it turns out is a decade-old menu from the local Chinese place, advertising an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for under $5. Now those were the good old days.

Speaking of nostalgia, today marks the final week of existence for the North Adams Transcript, and consequently my final column after 10 years of award-winning* weekly humor columns. I spent the column reminiscing over columns past, because that’s what one does at the End of an Era. As I’m not someone given to excessive drinking**, today is a day for excessive online gaming.

*Thanks, New England Press Association!

**Although I am given to excessive eating. But who wouldn’t be, if you grew up in a time of all you can eat lunch buffets for under $5?

Crappy New Year!

January 10th, 2014

Admittedly, the year did not start out particularly great for me. Part of this is because I’ve been sick, courtesy of some New Years Eve Party Favors. And part of this is because the North Adams Transcript, the newspaper in which my award-winning weekly humor column has run for the past 10 years, is ceasing production to be absorbed into the Berkshire Eagle. And part of this is because although I cannot officially disclose anything, if I were in a beta for a game that rhymed with Shmelder Shmolls Shmonline, I would have been downloading many gigs of patches and updates over the past three days and still be far from a full progress bar actually letting me play the damned beta.

So those are some things.

But it’s not all bad news. In the past two weeks my partner has cooked for me delicious dishes from around the globe, ranging from African fish stew, to Carnitas, to an actual Haggis.* And towards the end of last month I put up a review of Caverna: The Cave Farmers, which is easily one of the best new games I played in 2013. (It would be tough for me to choose between that or Terra Mystica as absolute best, but I think they’d be the top two.) And while I don’t make New Years Resolutions per se, even before Jan. 1 I had already resolved that by the end of this year, I will finish a draft of my next book, which will be about games. Here I am making a public statement about it, so you can all hold me to account: By the end of this year, I’ll have a draft of my new book about boardgaming.

Now I just have to get some more gaming in, for inspiration.

* “It wasn’t totally offal,” she said. “I love ewe,” I replied.

Secret of Happiness + Holiday Gift Guide

December 4th, 2013

So, this post is a bit long, but it’s the most important one I’ve made all year. A few years from now, I hope to have written a book exploring how to be happy. But in the meantime, I can give you some of the best information on happiness currently existing. Studies have shown that your happiness is strongly affected by the happiness of your friends, and this effect persists through multiple degrees, so your happiness is also influenced by the happiness of your friends’ friends, and even their friends. The upshot of this is that a great way for you to become happier is to increase the happiness of your friends, as well as (if you’re a friend or FoaF of mine) the happiness of my friends.

There have also been numerous studies associating prosocial spending with happiness, which is to say, spending money on others, especially your friends, makes you happier.

Conveniently, I have a plan that will accomplish all of this at once. My friends are really talented, and make cool stuff. So if you bought the cool stuff they made, they would be happier. Then if you gifted that cool stuff to your friends, *they* would be happier. And having given this gift, you would be happier. So you can directly increase your happiness, and the happiness of your friends, and the happiness of your friends’ friends (the latter two of which also increase your happiness), all by buying a little gift from this list to give to a friend of yours.

FOAF Holiday Gift Guide 2013

BOOKS:


Yes, I threw my books in there as well, but let’s talk about my friends (linked names denote additional gifts for sale):

While I was at a humor writing conference, I met Kelly Potter and Michele Wojciechowski (whose name is never typed, only copied and pasted), and Jenn Dlugos.
At college I met “Terry Lee Wright” whose above book is about child slavery.
At college I also met Margaret Ronald, who in addition to engrossing short stories, has written the urban fantasy Spiral Hunt trilogy.
Ethan Zuckerman technically lives locally, but is oft traveling the world talking and writing about technology.
Rachel Barenblat, his wife, is a poet and Rabbi whose study and spirituality informs her poetry.
Over the past few years, through WordXWord I’ve had the good fortune to meet an incredible group of spoken word poets in the Write Bloody cabal. Taylor Mali is probably the most famous, but I’ve also been moved by Robbie Q Telfer, Anis Mojgani, Derrick Brown, Jon Sands, and Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz.
Howard Cruse is a big name in queer and underground comics circles and award-winning graphic novelist, not to mention a delightful host of occasional local arts gatherings.
Dan Carroll, an old highschool friend, is the creator of Stick Figure Hamlet.
Lex Friedman, my summer co-improv teacher, erstwhile comedy partner, and parallel universe self, is always amusing whether he’s just blogging, or parodying Dr. Seuss.

GAMES:

These were not solo endeavors, as games require many people, but college friends of mine worked on each of these games. Niko White on EPIC and Battlegrounds, Jeff Dougherty on Hell of Stalingrad, and on the video game side, Jess Scott and Mike Veloso on Rock Band.

MUSIC
In college I also met conductor Allegra Martin, whose women’s chorale is now accompanied by organist Josh Lawton, a mutual college friend.
Though my nerdy rap endeavors, I’ve met a number of interesting people, but two who I’ve kept chatting with on occasion are MC Frontalot and MegaRan, two of the bigger names in the dubiously defined Nerdcore genre.

ART & CRAFTS & OTHER
Geez, I sure have a lot of talented friends from college, including the inimitable Katy Dieber and local writer Emily Banner, both who make jewelry.
Elissa Shevinsky, another college friend, is selling T-shirts.
I would definitely not want to go through winter without wearing custom-knit wool socks made by Debbie Baker, my personal chef. For locals, she also has knit shawls and felted bags. But then again, I’m informed that someone else is already doing a Berkshires Local List, so for this page I’ll stick with gifts created by my friends you can have shipped anywhere in the U.S.

Anyway, if you remember all those happiness studies from way back when this post started, you’ll recall that the best way to increase your happiness is to buy this awesome stuff from my friends and gift it to your friends. Failing that, share this page with your friends, who will still increase your happiness in multiple ways if they buy stuff from my friends for their friends. Thanks!

I bid you all increased happiness.

Humorists have ridiculous emotions

November 27th, 2013

I don’t mean like angry with a side of meatballs. I just mean that as a humor writer, sometimes my reactions to things end up being odd. The latest example is a Christmas tree lighting in my town, which was scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving. Those who know me know I don’t like Christmas decorations to begin with, but I find them absolutely unconscionable before Thanksgiving. It’s part of The War On Thanksgiving*, which I wrote about this week.

However, if you read that column, you’ll notice that there’s no mention of the tree lighting. I had what I considered a good argument that the mayor is part of the War on Thanksgiving, and we should be lighting a 30-foot turkey instead. But at the last minute, the tree-lighting was postponed for a week due to inclement weather. My reaction should be a positive one, because something I was mildly annoyed about has been fixed, and the tree lighting now won’t be until after Thanksgiving.

But it meant the editor had to cut the final section of my column at the last minute, and I didn’t have time to write a new ending. So here I am, being irritated that the thing I complain about is being fixed.

*Technically, the column’s title is “The War on Thanksgiving returkies”. Because I wrote a similar column last year, so it would be redux, but I replaced the ducks** with turkies.

**I’ll send you a bill for this explanation.

And in review…

November 13th, 2013

Sorry, I meant my boardgame reviews on BGG, which are conveniently gathered on one page for you to peruse. (My older reviews for About.com are, alas, not so conveniently organized.) As expected, finally got a review up for Asgard’s Chosen, as well as two others. Maybe next year I’ll get around to reviewing Twilight Struggle*. And speaking of awesome board games my partner really dislikes, I read that 1960:TMotP** is now out of print, so maybe someone wants to buy my copy. My shelves are still filled with wonderful games that are never going to get played here, and my wallet is empty. Heck, I don’t even have business cards in there. I really need to fix that; I am not good at the networking thing.

Which is probably why social networking is hard for me, but at least last weekend I was social. Some of my dear college friends were in town for Homecoming, so even if they’ve all had children in the past few years and refused to use my ultimate baby-naming algorithm, I was still very happy to get to see them and hang out briefly. Coambulation*** is a wonderful thing.

Coagulation is a wonderful thing too. My visiting college friends joined me for dinner at two of my favorite local restaurants: Sushi House and Espana. There’s nothing that cheers me like the combination of good food and good friends. And tasty desserts; as the A-Team’s Hannibal often said, “I love it when a flan comes together.”

Thanksgivukah is only a few weeks away. And if (you/your friends) were doing any holiday shopping for people of the Judeo-Christian persuasion, I’d certes be thankful if you decided you wanted to (gift a copy of/share the link for) God To Verse.

*Or maybe nyet.

**The Mellower of twilight Permutations*

***meaning “to walk together”, a favored word and pasttime of mine.

Recovery

October 16th, 2013

Well, I feel okay now. I didn’t for a while; I spent a week being sick, which I wrote about in the style of Ogden Nash. I really like Ogden Nash; I have a 6-volume hardcover set on a shelf in my office, and various of his other books scattered around. He was one of the poets I grew up on, along with Frank Jacobs*, which probably explains a lot about my poetic sensibilities. It was only later that I got into hip-hop. I’ll be performing somewhat less doggerel-esque poetry this Saturday at Greenfield’s WordFest.

To continue briefly from last entry, one reason so many reviews are positive is that in order to properly review a game, you have to play it a few times. So far this month, I’ve played three new-to-me games, but only once each. One I loved (Terra Mystica), but don’t know when I’ll get a chance to play it again. One I liked (Asgard’s Chosen), but need to try it with more players before writing up a fair review. And the one I didn’t like (Chicago Express) was not a review copy, nor is it a new game, so my motivation to play it a second time is minimal.

I think about food a lot. Not just because my column this week was about the Wrath of Grapes, but I am just someone who really enjoys good food. My latest kick is inspired by Larb**, but as I’m too lazy to grind rice or chicken, I’m using crushed peanuts and shredded chicken, which over rice and lettuce, with a chili lime fish sauce, is pretty danged tasty. I guess you could say I’m a Larb guy.***

*The Maven of Mad Magazine, who wrote many brilliant parodies of which the one that most sticks in my mind is “Quoth the Reagan”.

**What is Larb? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more. Larb is a dish that originated in Laos. I’ve got nothing but Larb for you, baby. If you want to know more, hey, you’re on the Internet. Larb conquers all.

***And I wish you would say it out loud, because Larb Gai is chicken larb, but that joke doesn’t work well written.

Tough but Fair

October 2nd, 2013

This largely describes how I try to be, as a reviewer. I really like reviewing things, because I feel like I do a good job of objectively laying out pros and cons. My favorite evidence to support this opinion is the fact that numerous times, after writing a boardgame review on BGG, I’ve had people respond to the same review with opposite reads. Someone saying “I agree with all your points, this game was missing the wow factor,” and someone else saying, “I agree with all your points, I love this game.” Or another review where someone replied that the review convinced them to buy the game, and someone else replied that the review convinced them not to buy the game. While I’ve enjoyed reviewing books and restaurants as well, I feel like I especially excel at analyzing games and picking out what people will enjoy or not, and so I really like reviewing them.*

If any of you know much about the review world, or the game world, then you know that there’s a lot of cases where reviewers are pressured to give strong reviews to weak products. This is most obvious in the video game world, where there are stories of all sorts, including a reviewer being fired for being one of the only ones to give a bad review to a game that most players agreed was bad. If it often seems like a reviewer is positive about everything, it may be because there’s the very rational fear that if one gives negative reviews, the review copies will stop coming.

I’m certainly not saying that’s the reason why most companies have stopped sending me review copies of board games — I’m pretty sure my removal** from About.com’s game subsite is the main reason for that –but just to note that many reviewers feel like they have to give only positive reviews. I pride myself on giving fair reviews, which means some of them are glowing, some of them are eviscerating, and most fall somewhere between the two. And I’ll admit, the first time I posted to BoardGameGeek a really scathing review of a boardgame I’d been sent a review copy of, I wondered if I’d stop receiving review copies from that company. So far, that hasn’t happened, even after a few more negative reviews. It’s not that I like being negative about games. It’s that I have to.

That way when I say good things about them, you know you can believe me.

*The games, not the people. I could probably offer objective reviews of people as well, but that seems somehow distasteful.

**A while back, About.com decided to lay off all 72 of their subsite associate editors, so while I don’t take the removal personally, it still was an annoying loss of platform. Sort of like that Super Mario level with the donut blocks that drop.