Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Story Telling and Video Games

A couple of years ago I went to a Story Telling conference. One of the discussion groups I went to was one about video games. Being an avid video game player, I was curious about what people at the conference had to say.

After some fairly negative comments that mainly centered on the perception that video games are mainly things like Grand Theft Auto, Halo, and such I asked if anyone in the group were regular players. The response was no.

So I proceeded to describe games of a completely different nature that are incredibly popular. Stuff like Animal Crossing, The Sims, Harvest Moon, games that center on helping, relationships, and problem solving.

In addition there are games packed with great drama. I'll never forget playing Metroid Fusion for the first time. When you find out what you're up against in the game, it's a shock. And the jump out of your skin moments when you encounter this foe that is trying to hunt you down and is way beyond what you're capable of dealing with? Talk about getting your heart racing! Your only hope to survive is to run like crazy or find a place to hide and hope it doesn't find you. I don't think any other game has had me on the edge of my seat so much.

And the Zelda games? Great stuff! Drama, honor, loss. I still love watching the trailer for Twilight Princess, gives me goosebumps every time.

So I think there is a fairly distorted perception by non-gamers about games all being about shooting and killing, but the reality is there is incredible variety and some amazing stuff worth seeing if you dig a little deeper and give it a chance. The best games do tell great stories.

Monday, September 29, 2008

De Blob

On Friday after a little prodding from my kids and reading some good reviews for the game online, I picked up "De Blob" for the Wii.

Well this Monday morning my left hand is still a little sore from playing the game.

The kids and I took turns playing and between the music, the graphics, and the crazy cut scenes, this one is a blast. The whole game theme is fun - the oppression by the Inkts and how they're taking all the color and fun out of the word and turning people's misery into more black ink. You bounce around as a paint filled blob coloring everything that has been turned black and white including the people. Cute stuff. And it feeds my OCDish urges by having multiple things I can keep track of and try to complete in each level.

The only down side is it looks like it's not that long. I'm already at the final level after this weekend, but there is also a multi-player mode to try out.

So if you're looking for a little diversion, and have enjoyed games like Super Mario Galaxy, Banjo Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64, give it a whirl, it's at least worth a rental.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sturdy Boots and Thick Rubber Gloves

I don't know about everyone else, but I hate to stick my hand into the bottom of a water filled sink after doing dishes to drain it. Inevitably you encounter a mass of muck and it would always make me shudder even though it's really not that big of a deal.

Besides the sink, as a mom, there are messes I don't even want to describe that I've had to deal with, and my husband is more squeamish than me, so it tends to be me cleaning them up. Why is it that when kids are going to throw up, they come and tell you first?

Add into that clogged toilets, unidentifiable smelly things in the yard, and there are just so many thing out there you have to deal with, but really wish you didn't have to touch.

So I get squeamish too, but I found the cure. All I need is a hefty pair of waterproof boots and some good thick rubber gloves and I feel like I could tackle anything! No smell, horrible composition, or stickiness is too much for me to handle, I feel like superman when I'm properly equipped.

My only wish is when the fur starts to fly at work I could come similarly equipped so I could have that feeling of invincibility. But somehow, I think showing up for a software meeting with my boots and gloves on might raise a few eyebrows.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


My kids were in an incredibly chatty mood last night as they were finishing up homework.

My youngest (9 years old) had finished up early and was having an ice cream cone and was talking with me in the kitchen about the different kinds of ice cream he's had, but in that process he remembered something that was connected. The roller coaster at King's Island he rode around the same time he first had Dippin' Dots. And that lead to a whole sequence of related thoughts about vacations and what to do for vacation next summer.

Then he stops and says "That drives me crazy, you think about one thing, then something else, then something else, then something else, pop, pop, pop!" I laughed - "That's how our brains work, making connections between everything."

We started playing around with this idea, contrasting how things in the real world are connected physically, but then the same things can have completely different connections in our brains.

My two older sons hopped right into the conversation bringing up example after example of crazy associations they experience. One of my favorites was my oldest describing how he always remembers some treat he got from Dairy Queen when he plays a particular part of "The Clone Wars" on the Game Cube because the first time he played that mission he was having that treat at the same time.

I love these kinds of conversations with my kids. Seeing them take an idea, understand it and zoom off, it was like popcorn popping as ideas and memories came flooding out for a few minutes.

I would swear as a kid I did not think this way - thinking about thinking. So on a regular basis my kids surprise me with observations and questions about why things are they way they are, about how what's happening makes them feel, or how it is that ideas that pop into their heads at all. I don't get this kind of conversation from adults in many cases!

It just makes me look forward to seeing what kinds of ideas are going to pop out next as they look beyond the surface and the web of connections we've formed as we interact every day comes into play with every new experience.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Latrine Duty

While I was in the Navy, one of the usual chores we'd end up with from time to time was cleaning the bathrooms.

On this particular night a friend of mine, Nora, and I had to clean both the men's and the women's bathrooms. Of course cleaning the women's was not a problem, but at some point we needed to get into the men's room.

I knocked, opened the door a little and announced our intentions. No one replied so we went in. Well this bathroom smelled awful, the stench was just intense and Nora loudly proclaims "It smells like s*** in here!" Just as she's saying this I look over and notice that one of the stall doors is closed - some guy is in one of the stalls!

Nora loudly continues her diatribe about the foul smell in the bathroom going on and on and I'm trying to pull her out of there. All the while the guy in the stall is saying nothing. Finally I manage to drag her out and let her know some guy was in there the whole time. "WHAT!!??" She's mortified. So we stand there and wait and a few minutes later this guy sheepishly comes out and quickly disappears.

Why he didn't let us know he was in there, I have no idea, but to this day remembering this still makes me laugh.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

No Rest for the Weary

With everything that’s gone on in my life, I’ve been thinking lately, it would be so nice to be able to just sit back and rest on my laurels. To have some time in my life to coast and bask in what I’ve gotten done, even if it’s just for a little while. It seems like it would be such a luxury, it’s hard to understand why more people, particularly those who have made great achievements, don’t do it.

It was interesting to see that Lance Armstrong is coming out of retirement. Talk about someone with nothing to prove. I wonder, is it what helped him achieve what he did that drives him to come back? Is it ever really possible for the most extraordinary achievers to be able to let go and just bask for the rest of their lives?

It’s funny. All my work life has always been about focusing on the job at hand. What needs to get done, how can we do it better? I am about as non-political as you can get, and I am not ambitious in the ladder climbing sense. My driving interest is taking what I’m responsible for and optimizing how it gets done and getting it done better. It’s what keeps me going at work.

Now multiple times in my life I have run into situations where this isn’t enough. I’ve proved my worth at work by delivering and going beyond on what’s needed from me. But time and again I’ve found myself in a situation where there was more than that to deal with.

To be honest I’m having a difficult time getting a handle on describing this, so the best way to go is probably an example.

When I was in the military, I knew my stuff. I certainly was not the best of the best, but I could figure things out better than most. But the pattern that I eventually noticed was that each time I started working with a new guy, or went to a new command, I had to prove it all over again. No reputation for being good carried along with me like it did for guys.

Was it because I hadn’t earned it? No, because every time I proved myself to someone new I eventually gained their respect and reliance on my skill. But I could see that this was something I was going to face again and again throughout the rest of my military career. Practically every new guy I interacted with I’d have to establish my reputation all over again. The idea just wore me out.

I finally decided that I had nothing to prove. Not to any more guys in the military, to no one. My life wasn’t going to be about proving a woman could do a technical job well. My life wasn’t going to be about proving a point about anything to anyone that did not relate to just getting the job done. From that point on I was going to find settings that accepted my competence and skill and appreciated it when I delivered. I was not going to bash my life out against the brick wall of other people's preconceptions or hidden motives.

So I recognize that this desire to be able to rest on my laurels has its roots in what’s happening right now in my life. Just like it has before, I can feel that something beyond doing my job is going to be demanded of me, and it makes me feel tired. Does it always come down to this? So far it seems it always does eventually in every environment I’ve worked in.

So I envy those who get to sit on their laurels, and wish I could do that too for just a little bit. Instead there’s no rest for the weary yet again.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Closing the Circle

This morning I was thinking about Obama’s candidacy. They were talking on NPR about how he was at some small gatherings shaking hands and I got to thinking about how much I’d like to shake his hand.

I was picturing it in my head, reaching out and shaking his hand, how I’d use both hands and look him in the eye and try to encourage him in a meaningful way. And much to my surprise as I was picturing this and thinking of the moment of this happening, tears welled up in my eyes. It truly caught me by surprise. And I wondered about how strongly it was making me feel.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s. My parents were both college professors, and I can remember that they participated in civil rights marches. I remember the protest signs my mom made with her silk-screening frame. She’s an artist and art historian. I just remember as a kid it was amazing to see the signs she had made of black and white hands open and overlapped. I learned what my parents thought was important.

My parents bought a house in the poorer area of the town we grew up in, and as a result my brother and I went to schools that were about 80-90% African-American from Kindergarten to 8th grade. This was a deliberate choice on my parents’ part, and it taught me so much.

So I feel like for years I’ve had at least a little more appreciation for the issues of race than many other whites. And so when I thought about shaking Barack’s hand and being able to look him in the eye and wish him well, although he would have no idea, I realized it would be a moment that would have so much meaning for me personally, and how strongly and sincerely I would really mean what I would say to him.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chocolate Waffles and Deep Thoughts

This weekend I was making something I haven’t made in a long time for breakfast – chocolate waffles. My oldest son (12 years old) barely remembered them, and my two younger ones (11 and 9 years old) had no memory of them at all.

As I was making them, I was trying to tempt my youngest son into trying them since he was intently watching the process of making the waffles and he was enjoying the chocolate smell wafting from the waffle iron. Of course as many parents know trying to get kids to try new foods can be a very frustrating endeavor. Often they’ll just try such a tiny piece that they couldn’t possibly get a sense of the flavor of what they’re trying. And once they’ve tried that molecule sized piece they conclude (of course) that they don’t like it.

In the process of declining trying the chocolate waffles, my youngest son perked up and excitedly made the following observation. “I wonder how I figured out that I liked the foods I like to eat?”