Friday, April 25, 2008

A Litter of Small Failures

In the past two weeks I have had a continual bout of failing: failing to blog at my promised once-a-week pace, failing to stay healthy, failing to work on my novel for the promised number of hours, failing to call people back, write people back, finish projects, take care of business, clean up, work out, and so on.
Today I gave my students a hand out, of which I had made over 100 copies, that has an incredibly conspicuous and confusing word out of place--nothing Freudian or funny, just "Fair" and "Good" switched on a grading continuum.
I'm doing my darndest to maintain that aplomb I see in people I admire, that grace in the midst of what is actually floundering. But I think, frankly, that it's harder for me to accept a string of small failures than some large, grand one. I like things to be large and grand.
Anyway, one small failure in particular I'd like to discuss is my recent bout of hating to play the game Scrabble. Keep in mind: I am of a certain language-loving ilk, and many of my kind also are avid crossword players, Scrabble afficionados, Word-of-The-Day enthusiasts. Somehow, I hate these things. I love language, yes. I hate crosswords. I hate Scrabble. I hate word-games that force me to divorce meaning from the words I love so much. With the exception of Tony, who has recently admitted to also hating Scrabble, but not crosswords, particularly, I am quite alone in this general disgruntlement, among my writer-friends, as far as I know.
So. In an effort to try and re-enter this land of word-play (Maybe I'm missing something of deep intellectual importance! Maybe it will improve my memory! Maybe I can expand my vocabulary! Maybe I don't like words enough after all!) I agreed to play a game of scrabble with four friends on a recent Friday evening.
I made them agree, however, to play a new version, which I coined "Sharing Scrabble." In this version of the game, every word that you put on the board you must then incorporate into a story about yourself. If you have no personal connection to the word, you make one up. For the most part, this aspect of the game was a pleasure for me--there's nothing like eliciting confessions from people I care about.
But I still hate the rest! It takes so long! I don't understand the gleeful triumph of winning! I don't like points, especially when I don't really know how to get them! I don't know enough Greek letters or archaic adjectives to even compete with the weird Scrabble-vocabulary of my friends! And I would rather just listen to them talk about their lives, or books they've read, then find out they were hiding "Qi" somewhere in their little wooden hands.
I will say that I had a small personal triumph, in the face of my crushing loss (at the game, and at liking the game) in the moment that I laid the word "pudenda" on the board.
If I don't like Sharing Scrabble, I don't think there's any hope I'll be converted to the plain-old version, even the speed version. I'm ready to claim that there's no enlightening or constructive value to the game for me. I'm almost ready to say there's no enlightening or constructive value to the game at all, just to elicit some outcry and justification.
Why is this game so beloved? Is it like Coca-Cola (Beloved even though it is morally and nutritionally bereft)? Or is it like soccer (Beloved for reasons I feel compelled to understand, even if I never feel an affinity for the game itself)? In other words, is this my failure to appreciate something that deserves my attention, or does the culpability lie with the Scrabble-players, who could and should use their word-power to more creative ends?


  1. Woah, ok. You played pudenda? NOT a failure, my friend. And I would also not classify hating Scrabble as a failure. It's just a matter of taste. I think it's a common misconception that Scrabble is a word game, and that therefore wordy folks should love/excell at it. Actually, it's more of a math/memorization puzzle than it is about words. As you allude to with your mention of the word qi, the words celebrated in Scrabble are obscure, and generally useless in any communication outside the Scrabble board. I happen to enjoy the bizarre nature of the official Scrabble dictionary, but that's only because I've gotten to know some of it. I totally hear the complaints that its entries are arbitrary and strange. Part of the fun of the game, for me at least, has been learning this arbitrary and strange language. And then killing my opponents with it! Well, sometimes I kill them. Often they kill me. Scrabble, though, rocks. I think you could like it with a more gentle initiation, one that didn't involve hostile application of ridiculous two-letter combinations. But hey, who cares if you don't enjoy it? Let's go tiny bowling instead! Or make collages and drink tea!

  2. even in recording your series of small failures, your boldness of character, your striving to be something more, your well-worded writing, bring light into what feels like my stilted world. instead of a problem with the blood/brain barrier, i have a problem with the body/mind barrier or the internal/external barrier. there are so many hopes, feelings, desires, and more that live within, where i have imprisoned them in a cage of fear and protection. liberation lies within me, yet i doubt my courage to live it. all of these things latch onto me like ropes toppling gulliver, and i marvel at my own ability to trap myself. how do you continue to get up and try again in the face overwhelming odds? from where do you derive your strength? mine seems to keep me alive, but shrinks back from bolder intentions. i despise what i view as cowardice, yet still seem to hold onto it, afraid of drowning without my "life preserver" to keep me afloat. i feel i am being caught up in simple things, making them more complex than they need be, and bogging myself down in minutiae, getting lost in small detail work instead of making bold strokes on my life's canvas. -josh

  3. I concur that there are far more constructive and creative things to do with words, time, and your time with words. In fact, I think we play games to much (with the exception of the metaphysically weighty game "FIFA soccer 2008"). It brings up the general question I have for most of my acquaintences (not my friends): why do anything, consistently, that has a superior analog or relative. Why watch suspense-thrillers when there are Godard and Antonioni films to watch? Why watch ANY television drama now airing when you can rent old episodes of Twin Peaks? Why read that "Running with Scissors" twerp when you can read a brilliant man's memoir, like Rousseau? and why read my comments when you can read more Vanessa?