Monday, September 15, 2008

Social Distortion

Before my dentist appointment this morning, I bought my train ticket up to Seattle. This time next week I will probably be passed out in the living room of a good friend, if I successfully manage Amtrak, Seattle Public Transit, and the labyrinth that is the UW campus.

I feel like I should be more apprehensive about this. I whine at AK that I'm nervous and scared and that I hate being a big responsible person, but really underneath I feel like I have all of this under control. There's apprehension over being able to find the time to do my homework (I have to build an Access database, something I haven't even tried since high school), about getting meeting new people. But there's also this sense of "Been there, had to get a visa, and then got the t-shirt in Heath row". I can't go quite so far as to say that I'm excited and ready to take it all on, but I'm calm about. That, or it just isn't real to me yet and next week will find me in a classroom in Suzallo, weeping.

But maybe not. The worst part of grad school the first time around was settling into a new way of life. Naturally this meant a lot of showing up at random offices asking for forms and help and a lot of chatting up new people who had enough in common with me in that we both were spending thousand of pounds to sit and read the same texts. Socially speaking, I think I'm a stronger person now. Being "the Supervisor" forces interactions with all sorts of people, each with their own problems and own way of perceiving the world. I think that I'm very good at reading social situations; I'm just not very good at addressing them. I'm always standing on the stairway just as the words come to mind. This is why I spent so much time at college huddled in my room or standing on the edge of group.

I'm not exactly sure why, but I still perceive myself as an intensely unsocial and unsociable person who should be left locked in a room with an internet connection and a kettle. Yet unbeknown to myself, I have become a social person. I have two very good friends right now who I try to see at least once or twice a week. One is also newly married, a runner, and basically someone who will nerd out with me over random things. She's most excellent. The second is a friend I met through fencing who turned into a non-fencing friend (meaning we have interests and participate in activities together outside of fencing... in fact we haven't fenced together in months). She's incredibly sweet and is going through a bit of a rough patch right now. I keep wanting to have the words that will make it better, to be able to be that friend who can say something meaningful and useful. I don't think I'm there yet. Someday... hopefully.

So that's where I am right now. I'm not writing enough poetry (got caught up in my woeful sense of rhyme and haven't finished the exercises). I'm not reading enough (though that's going to go to hell soon anyway) and am knitting only the most basic things. But I think I'm happy. I think I can do this.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Gaming and Girls: Part the First

A few weeks ago AK and I visited our local independent bookstore for the very necessities of life: books and coffee . As usual, AK wandered away for an hour or so. When he returned, he gleefully handed me a book entitled Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress: A Girl's Guide to the D&D Game. The book was a gift for me, to finally start me on the path towards true gamerdom.

Despite my own geeky tendencies and the hardcore geekiness of my friends, I've never actually played D&D. When it comes to a game that takes longer than 20 minutes to play completely, I tend to lose interest. I want to smash you up in Soul Caliber, cut your head off in Guillotine, and completely dominate you in Uno, and all in under fifteen minutes. I don't think it's necessarily an attention problem --I did major in incredibly long papers on incredibly long Victorians novels. I've just never been a fan of long on-going story lines that aren't contained between two covers. AK finds this to be a major flaw in my character, as it means I refuse to re-watch all of Buffy or do more with Battlestar Galactica than pop my head into his office for a recap of the episode and then cry "Lee yelled his love to the stars, Aaron. TO THE STARS!"*

D&D always seemed unnecessarily complicated and picky to me. Maybe this has to do with the sort of dedicated, 12-hour marathon loving, rule freaks I've met in my life. My only personal interactions with RPGs has been one shittacular session of Vampire where I had no idea what was going on and then NPCing at a Changeling LARP (run by my only reader). I liked the interacting with people part. I liked wearing shitkickers and looking fierce. I hated the constantly referring to my piece of paper with all the numbers and codes and the fact that no one actually explained to me what I was supposed to do other than stand around in shitkickers looking fierce.

So when AK proudly held the aforementioned book in front of him, I thought that maybe my time to game had come. I've grown and changed from the days when I would walk past a parlor in my dorm and stare, increduously, at friends who were so deep into the game they would scowl should you dare to say hello. I have gained a certain sense of patience, a willingness to try new things without immediately throwing up my hands in disgust and frustration. Surely a better M would make a better gamer.

We returned home with more books than we should have bought (this is the problem with having a local store with a sick amount of used books, especially used Simon Armitage) and I settled into my corner of the couch with more coffee and the shiney pink paperback.

I think I managed about four pages before attempting to chuck the book at AKs head.

Though I am highly impatient when it comes to things like tax forms, insolent computers, and husbands who can't figure out how to put dirty dishes in the sink, I am an incredibly forgiving reader. Until recently, I would never give up on a book, no matter how painfully bad it was. I would slog through until the end, confident in my moral superiority and the scathing review I could post on Goodreads. Lately I've abandoned this method of reading - there are simply too many good books out there to waste time on crap. So I thought I could handle this book, even despite the garish pink dice on the cover. I wanted to give the author a chance to convince me, to lead me down the path of stylish gaming.

Unfortunately I am not the audience for this book. I'm not yet convinced that this book is intended for girls at all. Right now I'm about halfway through the book, and as far as I can tell this is a book for teenaged boys/young men. They will see this strange thing sitting in the gaming section, right next to the brand new release of 4th edition, and suddenly realize that lo, they too can have that gaming girl of their dreams. Here, in plain English, is a tome that will lead their girlfriends down the path of awesome. Within are witty asides about shopping, fun new classes only found in 4th ed, sidebars in pink, illustrations in pink, and more witty allusions to shopping. Surely this could turn an otherwise normal person into someone who wants to game. They will plunk down this book (and another copy of the 4th ed. rules book) in front of the cashier and go home, confident that they will now be able to share this passion with someone they love.

In a way, this is truly a noble goal. I can honestly support any effort towards sharing passions - be it fencing or reading or knitting or whathaveyou. However I find myself caught up in the tone of the book. It's written is a very conspiratorial voice, "You know those icky gamers and the 10000 stereotypes about them that I'll bring up every five minutes? Guess what? They're people too!" Such a revelation! It's also somewhat condescending - the author is convinced that, without a revelation such as can be provided by this very book, normal women won't play D&D. And by normal women she means shoe, makeup and sales obsessed girly girls.

I think this is the part of the book that catches me and leaves me completely uncertain of my point. I am not very girly at all and still have a latent sense of dismissive disgust towards women who are (a by-product of growing up as that smart girl who was taught to believe that you can't be a girl and truly intellegent or good at science). This is an attitude that I'm trying hard to change (Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs was a great help), but I still find her "Wow, like I was totally into shopping and now kicking ass with spells is totally bitchin'" attitude to be disconcerting. I'm happy that the author at least tries to dismiss the idea that girls are too dumb to handle the rules or not naturally strategic enough for RPGs. It's her technique, her playing behind the stereotypes while still trying to dismiss them that irks me so.

As I said, I'm still not done with the book and as the book follows the authors journey as a gamer, her tone gradually changes and improves. But I'm still left wondering what exactly is the purpose of this book, if not for Wizards of the Coast to sell more books and more copies of 4th.

More when I'm closer to done.

*Only two people will get this, but I don't care. It's a true story.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Set Up

My new computer arrived today and I spent perhaps thirty minutes adjusting the settings and moving over the roughly four gigs of data I had on the old machine that's not music. Thanks to the brilliance of Windows, I'm moving things to the new computer via a 4 gig flash drive. This is a painfully slow process, compounded by the fact that my ITunes settings on the new machine were initially screwed up and while the songs were copied to my library, they were not actually saved to my hard drive. I am less than pleased by this, but since I am the sort of person who needs to follow a project to its immediate end, I'm sitting here copying and pasting and waiting to re-install ITunes.

Once again I feel like a failure in the face of technology. After spending an hour and a half trying to network the two computers together (and failing) and then trying Microsoft's new file migration software over our current wireless network (which is flaky and also failed), I'm just ready to be done with this. Like I said, I'm very much the sort of person who likes to tackle a project and single-mindedly wrestle it into submission. I hate when I know a solution to a problem and yet am unable to put it into play. The worst sort of impotence comes when you realize that, should the circumstances be but slightly different, you could have managed it yourself. I'm less bothered by the idea that I'm incapable of doing something; knowing that just can't do something allows for an excuse, an out. It's the potential that kills me, the wasted posibility.

Part of the problem is that I still tend to rush blindly into thing. I'm impatient and stubborn. My vague comptence allows me a certain fearlessness, a sense of "Psh, I can do this, no problem". Just a tiny scrap of knowledge and I'm running headlong into traffic. This can sometimes be a useful skill. In a field that's as ever changing as mine, I sometimes need to just hold my breath and jump. Sink or swim, but sometimes the solution presents itself. Or I wind up losing about 20 gigs of data I thought I had transferred and instead sit up way too late into the night with the original Star Wars on VHS to keep me company.

This is also the strength of will that allowed me to write multiple final papers in one night (a good skill for a former World Class Procrastinator). I'm less of a procrastinator than I was in school. It's harder to get extensions when you're an adult. My version of procrastination tends to be avoidance. I drag my feet on starting a project because I know I won't enjoy it, or I'm terrified of it turning out wrong (so starting on it last minute will certainly ensure success, right?). When I begin to feel myself shy away from tasks, I do the opposite of what my mind wants. I throw myself at the task, finish it up, and then generally feel magnificently productive.

This has worked for things like talking to customer service representatives, paying bills, and preparing applications for grad school. But will this work in grad school? I'm terrified that with a full time job and part-time school that I'm going to fall back into old habits. I did successfully graduate from two programs despite my dragging feet and perfectionism. Can I risk a third? Will it be different this time around since I'll be working on something more concrete than literature (could there actually be right answers?)? AK is confident that I'll be fine, that I've had good break from school and will be studying so much that I either already know or can immediately apply to my work.

It's all uncertain. And I still have 15 gigs to go, but it's far too late for me. So I'll post this and head to bed.