I really enjoy reading Pintester to see real-world results of all these crazy Pinterest posts. I’ve had my own successes (anything that starts with “roll out some crescent dough” will turn out just fine) and some failures. So, having been inspired by the Pintester Movement, I’ll share one failure with you now so you don’t make the same mistake I did.
Last Christmas I was inspired by this Eggnog Pound Cake and thought it would be the easiest thing to bring to a friend’s holiday party. Boxed cake mix, just add eggnog. So easy, right?
In true Pintester fashion, I improvised a little. First of all, there was no pound cake mix in Safeway. There was angel food cake mix, though, and I figured that really you can do this with any cake mix because it’s just substituting the water/milk in the recipe, right?
First of all, the mix smelled strange. It had a chemical odor. I figured that would come out when it baked, whatever. I also noticed that on the box there were very clear instructions not to eat the raw mix. Who DOESN’T eat a little raw cake mix? Why would they warn you against it? Still, I pressed on.
Then about halfway through the baking time I went to check on it and had to abort:
I think I did something wrong with this recipe… pic.twitter.com/RItYzHcE
— Karen Twelves (@ktwelves) December 17, 2012
It had bubbled up and overflowed in the pan, leaving noxious drippings on the bottom of the oven. Plus it was still mostly liquid!
I poured it down the drain, ran the disposal, cleaned out the bottom as best I could, and by that time I had to leave for the party empty-handed. I left a note for my roommate: “Had a baking accident, sorry about the smell.”
I still think that if I could just find the right mix (or, you know, make one from scratch ha ha ha yeah right) it’d work, because clearly it’s the angel food cake’s fault. Clearly.
Improv for Gamers Level 2 is this Saturday and I just have so much inspiration!
I read this article recently: “11 ways to be a better roleplayer,” and while it doesn’t tie it to improv specifically, there’s a lot that applies.
So here’s my breakdown of each of the author’s points, my favorite quote from that section, and a little more about the similarities with improv:
“…you are not going to get anywhere by sitting on your arse and waiting for adventure to come and knock on your door.”
You gotta enter a scene with an objective. Your character needs something (which is different than wanting something, and they go great together) that’s going to drive forward the story. But remember–be flexible. Don’t let your objective steamroll your partner’s.
Realise that your character does not exist outside of the things you have said
“Take every opportunity to show, and not tell, the other people at the table what your character is about.”
You’re not going to damage a scene by declaring, “I am so angry at you!” But moving their chair away, ignoring them while you read your book, emoting through your voice and mannerisms will get the point across better. Your actions will show how you feel and what type of person you are.
There’s a great exercise often called “Secret in My Pocket,” in which you come up with a small fact about your character before starting the scene. “I hoard ketchup packets,” or “I used to be a boxer,” something that you aren’t going to announce on stage necessarily, but will inform your character. If you’re the type who hoards ketchup packets, how will you react in scene when you’re in school and someone borrows your pencil? If you used to be a boxer, what will be your approach when you ask someone on a date? In this way you are keeping something secret, but that’s just your jumping-off point to get your character started.
Don’t try to stop things
“Don’t negate, extrapolate.”
Yes, and. Yes, and! YES AND! And we’re not just talking about saying yes to a question (because you should be avoiding asking lots of questions anyways), we’re talking about accepting what your scene partner said as being true. It happened. They said it, so it exists. Don’t deny that. When you say no, you are blocking the scene from moving forward. Boo.
Take full control of your character
“Characters in uncomfortable situations are the meat and drink of drama.”
“Your character is part of the story; this is not your character’s story.“
Two different lessons here: take risks, and make your partner look good. Gamers need to stop looking at some rolls as “failures” and instead call them “complications,” just like improvisers need to be okay with getting into trouble.
Improvisers are also part of a troupe. It’s not a one-person show. So you may ask yourself, “Whose story is it?” Who does the audience care about most, and how will you as a troupe to develop that story. Here’s where it’s different than gaming — in a game, everyone should have the same amount of screen time, and all be equally valuable to the campaign. In a scene, a main character or set of characters will emerge as being the most interesting, and everyone should turn their focus towards giving the audience what they want to see. There are secondary characters.
Don’t harm other players
“If you steal from other players, you are exerting power over them in a really messy, underhanded sort of way.”
This is talking about in-game, character vs. character fuckery. It’s annoying when someone is trying to stymie your actions. Unhelpfulness = unfun. In improv, it’s not fun if someone is just gleefully making the scene difficult for you. Not their character, mind you, the player. The suggestion is “reunion” and you say, “Hey, been a long time, what’s it been, 10 years?” and they say, “I don’t know you, lady!” now you gotta scramble to justify that.
Know the system, don’t be a dick about it
“You are the Health and Safety Inspector of roleplaying games, and you need to stop talking, because you are sucking the fun out of the game.”
Don’t call out and nit-pick mistakes. It drags everything down. In a scene, if someone just said your name and someone else got it wrong, just roll with it. Repeat the name you’ve been using and move on. Please don’t take time to justify that you have two names. Also, if you just painstakingly built a table and chairs through your space-work and someone walks through it, don’t stand up and scream “Witch! Witch that walks through tables!” Can the players make that work and have a scene about an incorporeal witch? Sure, but if you’re doing long-form and had established characters, now you’ve switched genres. And killed someone off. It’s messy. Just ignore that they accidentally walked through your table and keep going.
Give the game your attention. If you can’t give your full attention, step away from the table
“I would rather have an empty chair than someone who wasn’t paying attention, because I don’t have to entertain an empty chair.”
Okay, so an improvisor isn’t going to be on their phone on stage. They should be paying close attention when they’re off-stage. If you’re not in scene, you’re not pre-scripting and whispering with someone else about what to do next. Something is unfolding on stage right in front of you, and you need to respond to that. Because they might, being part of your troupe, mention your character, or benefit from having someone else enter the scene, and you need to be ready for that.
If you make someone uncomfortable, apologise and talk to them about it
“It’s not rocket science; that’s how existing as a functioning social human being works, and somehow because we’re pretending to be a halfling for a bit, we often forget how to do it.”
Don’t be gross. It’s sad that we have to keep talking about this like it’s some new idea, but there’s always new people discovering the truly wonderful gift of improv and sometimes they forget that it’s not the fantasy world of wish-fulfillment and they can’t endow their scene partner as a horny prostitute gagging for their junk. Or sex acts with puppies. Or painting with menstrual blood. Don’t take the audience there, and don’t make your scene partner help you. You are now the worst person ever. I have seen an over-zealous disgusting person walk onto stage after many scenes of drugs, lewdness, violence against women, and everyone else stayed on the sidelines. Nobody went out. Awkwaaard.
Be a Storyteller
“So put some effort in, eh?”
Have a scene that goes somewhere. Let your character be affected and change. Move the plot forward. Don’t sit in the fishing boat talking about the fish with your fisherman friend while you are fishing. Go fishing with your erratic boss as part of the company retreat. Talk about your recurring nightmares. Grimace every time you handle the bait.
“…learn to treat failure as a story branch, not a block”
This is different than saying no. Negating what exists in a scene and refusing ideas from your partners is bad. Accepting that your character can’t get what they want and have to do it differently is good. The struggle and the journey and the resolution is the story.
Play the game
“If you can’t walk away at the end of the night with a good memory, with something that you could talk about in the pub in years to come, then everyone at the table has failed.“
We’re all doing improv to tell a story and have fun and make people feel something — maybe it’s short-form comedy, maybe it’s long-form drama, but your audience should walk away feeling entertained. And you should feel like you accomplished something. Because you totally just made up that awesome story on the spot.
I think a great compliment is when people think that your work is scripted. You had strong characters, a coherent arc, and it never wavered. If it looked scripted, then it didn’t look like amateur hour. So go you!
It happens every year, the day I spend a few hours attending an emergency preparedness meeting. Here are this year’s highlights:
“The manual’s been updated… but keep the old one, there’s some useful stuff in there.”
“I’m a 20 year war vet, spent 16 years at sea doing stuff like this.”
“Whoduv thunk it that the Boston Marathon, something like that would’ve happened there, let alone here.”
“The Fire Department will be here in 5 minutes, unless there’s an earthquake, then it’ll be 3 days.”
“This is a real important piece, and you’re gonna see these around, they fall down all the time. You see one, you call me.”
“In 13 seconds, this building could all be engulfed.”
“’89 was a long time ago. That’s reality.”
“You walk in the bathroom, walk out, there’s a briefcase there. I know, right? I’m not gonna check it out, I’ll call 911.”
***I found this sitting in my drafts, dated May 9th 2012. Enjoy!***
Here are the top 9 searches that have led people to my site so far this year:
- dog drinking milk
- karen twelves
- milk drinking dog images
- gatsby drinking
- katee sackhoff feet
- new years treats
Please don’t judge the content of my blog by this list.
I also find it curious that people actually clicked through to my site when no doubt researching for their English papers (this site gets a lot of Gatsby-related search traffic). I hope they got something interesting!
I still really want to do another “Drinking Through” project, but never came up with a book as good as Gatsby. Suggestions are appreciated!
This is mostly from a series of Facebook posts, but I want to put it here so it’s archived.
I have crowd funding fatigue. Some of this comes from my Twitter and Facebook feeds having more Kickstarter plugs than entertaining content, but most of it is my growing bitterness towards people abusing the system to ask for free money without producing anything, but expecting people to give on the merit of who they are and/or why they need free money. And yes, I’ve seen the Amanda Palmer TED talk, and no, this is not just in response to that.
I was struggling to consolidate my feelings on this into 140 characters so instead posted this:
I am having a hard time expressing my continuing bitterness w/ people abusing crowdfunding without sounding like a total jerk. FYI.
Which cross-posted to Facebook, where I elaborated:
Part of me is like, “Hey why swallow your pride and ask your family for help when you can take money from faceless strangers online and call yourself a worthy cause?” but then I’m like “Well some people don’t have family who would help them out” and I feel like a jerk.
I’ll think, “Well does it make a difference if a friend starts the crowdfunding on your behalf? Is it only bullshit if you start one yourself just because you’re behind on your bills? Does it depend on how much you’re asking for? Or how it is that you came to be in this position? Where is the line?” but then I’ll think, “This is making me way too judgy about if people are deserving of my charity or not” and I feel like a jerk.
And I’ll wonder, “Am I totally old-fashioned to feel ashamed asking ANYONE for money? Do I need to get with the times and be okay putting my financial woes online? Is that too brazen?” but then I think, “Why am I being so harsh on what other people do when it doesn’t affect me in any way?” and I feel like a jerk.
But then I start looking at the cultural standards that we have, which is that if someone asks you for help and you say no, you’re kind of a jerk, and people who intentionally abuse that model are kind of jerks themselves, because it’s not so different than jerks who say, “Well if you think I’m being a jerk then you can just tell me to stop being a jerk,” and they think that gives them the right to be a jerk. And that is a manipulative dick move. Then I’m basically calling anyone who needs help a dick.
Some friends chimed in with similar views, but I’ll add here just a few more comments of my own:
I’m referring specifically to people who start funds for themselves because they are in need of cash. In most cases it is because they have fallen on hard times, but for many I find the “dire circumstances” debatable, and it brings up a lot of mixed feelings and bitterness.
I am totally in support of crowd funding for starting new products or projects, and have gladly given money to see people make cool stuff happen.
I still remember asking my parents for $10 once as a teenager so I could buy a t-shirt I saw in a thrift store and HAD to have. And then I barely wore it and felt really guilty. So I definitely grew up with a fear of spending money. I’ve been living for about 10 years now with $0 in my savings account, and have borrowed a great deal of money from my parents. They have never made me feel bad about needing financial help, I just feel ashamed because I feel I should have my shit together by now. I get nervous spending more than $30 at a time in one store.
So I see someone making themselves a charity case and exploiting the crowdfunding fad and I feel really bitter. Then I feel like a jerk for judging people who, like me, need help, and are just doing what they can.
So, there it is. My funding fatigue and money anxiety. Hopefully I’ve gotten most of it out of my system.
But honestly, rather than wishing that I would stop having negative feelings about crowdfunding, I really just wish I could filter it out of my social media, so people can go do their thing and I can do my thing and we don’t have to worry about what the other person thinks. I don’t think that my feelings are invalid, I’d just prefer if they weren’t provoked so often.
If you’ve never heard of Planet Fitness before, good, because you have lived a life with one less thing to piss you off. And now I’m gonna ruin it for you.
I need to talk about this commercial:
I get it, Planet Fitness. You have this whole motto of being for a particular demographic of people who want to be comfortable at the gym and not intimidated. But I see this commercial and I actually feel bad for the hot chicks.
Planet Fitness has an alarm that they sound when someone “grunts, drops weights, or judges.” Yes, an alarm. Who’s the judgy one here though? Look at their commercial. Are the models maliciously making the other woman feel bad? No, they’re excited about how hot they are, and celebrating it with their friends. Good for them. When I dress up for an evening out and a friend says to me, “You look great!” and I say “Thanks, so do you!” I should not be kicked out of the restaurant because someone overhearing that conversation doesn’t like their own outfit.
There is a woman who works out the same time I do, who I’ll call Kelly. Kelly is a fucking badass and looks like an Amazon. She is tall and lean and works out hard. She also has 3 teenage boys so you know that in addition to the body type she was born with, she’s done a lot to get and keep the amazing shape she’s in now. Am I jealous of her body? Fuck yeah. Am I gonna hate seeing her every morning? Do I want her to be asked to leave because she makes me feel shlubby in comparison? Of course not. She is friendly and supportive and has nothing to do at all with my body and my goals. But I guess she wouldn’t be allowed in Planet Fitness because she’s too hot.
Dropping weights I get, because it’s dangerous. But grunting? It’s part of working out. My boyfriend grunts sometimes when he lifting. He’s exerting a lot of energy. Professional tennis players have signature grunts. They would be kicked out of Planet Fitness. But first they would sound a shrill alarm. Because that’s not potentially dangerous for anybody in the middle of a lift. Because there’s no strenuous lifts allowed in Planet Fitness.
They don’t allow deadlifts. I did deadlifts for 12 weeks. Anyone can do deadlifts. So would I be shown the door?
Let’s look at another commercial:
We all hate roided-out trainers who are only in it for the money, right? There’s good reason to be suspicious of trainers; they may not be giving you a workout that gives results but instead makes you dependent on them for more sessions. Surely you’d want a gym that doesn’t have built-in ways to slow you down in reaching your goals.
Planet Fitness does not have trainers. They have free unlimited pizza days each month. They have bagel days. They have free candy. And then there’s this:
Let’s also briefly mention that coming up behind people on a weight machine and patting them on the back is a good way to make someone lose focus, lose form, and potentially hurt themselves. But the real message of this commercial is that they have a contest where you will get cupcakes. Cupcakes for all! Because they want you to like their gym that isn’t really a gym, it’s a place where you can do a half-ass workout and not actually push yourself, and then undo all your not-very-hard work with a slice or two of pizza. And for just 10 bucks a month, you can keep that membership for as long as you like.
Because the moment you achieve your goal and are proud of your body, you’re no longer allowed at Planet Fitness.
[I found this draft sitting here from early October, and I have no idea why I didn't post it. So here you go.]
It seems that every time I go back to visit friends in Cork, I’m introduced to a new Irish meme. Last time it was “Horse Outside,” which I’m just gonna post again because it’s brilliant:
This last trip I took in August (which was amazing, by the way), I was told that I absolutely HAD to watch “Sminky Shorts,” a collection of cartoons featuring different Irish accents. Here’s my two favorites:
Now even for someone who’s familiar with Irish accents, I did not get all the words on the first viewing. I feel like my friends are showing me this as a cruel test, as if to say, “Yeah sure you lived here a while but can you understand THIS on the first try?”
Not yet, but maybe some day.