Saturday, October 8, 2011

The WNBA: Where Nostalgia Happens by Ben Snyder

I recently had the misfortune of reading an article that tried to convince me that the WNBA is a real sports league and that the players in it are talented athletes with a fantastic product.  Having grown up with the Internet, especially during impressionable years by which my primitive brain associated recommendations from the Internet with naked women and snarky, laugh out loud humorous writing, I have previously encountered pro-WNBA sentiment, and followed the advice of said bloggers to my television-watching doom. 

I wasn’t going to get caught again, so instead, I sat down and penned this article, which I will attempt to convince someone to publish somewhere online (conveniently, I work with a website that will not only allow me to write sentences like the one you are reading right now, but is in desperate need of content, so they’ll post just about anything I send them).

Every argument against the WNBA can be summed up in one simple statement: there is nothing fun about watching women play basketball.  Women’s track?  Love it.  Women’s football (soccer, really, but I hate calling it soccer, I’m no purist but I really loathe the word)?  Better than reality television.  Women’s tennis?  Breathtaking.  I’ve thought this for decades, probably because my mom used to play and also because some of the athletes are not only gorgeous, but they really could compete head to head with the men, a comment that unfortunately comes off as chauvinist.  I wouldn’t want to compete with a talented woman in an essay-writing contest, and even if I were 2003 Andy Roddick, I wouldn’t really want to go against Serena or Venus.

Women’s basketball?  Boring.  This comes from having spent at least two years involved with women’s basketball, including getting my ass kicked by a girl in pick-up games after her practices.  I don’t believe the women playing the game aren’t better at what they do than other women, and even most men, but I do believe that what they do is as exciting as waiting for the water to boil.  The pace is glacially slow.  David Stern answers labor questions faster than most plays take to develop in a sport that is specifically designed for engaging and fast-paced play. 

High scoring games tend to be clinics in lay-ups, screens, and spot-on outside shooting.  What do those have in common?  They are not exciting.  No one goes to the playground to watch some high school talent shoot one hundred three-point buckets except for people getting paid to do it.  (Aside: If the WNBA or anyone else, paid me, I would watch all 40 minutes with the kind of intensity physicists devote to figuring out if that particle really traveled faster than the speed of light.  However, I still wouldn’t enjoy it)

Proponents of the sport point to crisp passing, genius play-calling, and fundamentals that are much more solid than the isolation one on five that most NBA teams play as reasons to enjoy the game.  This would be great, except that the NBA used to look like that, too, and it is infinitely more popular now.  As an experiment, I will suggest watching video of games from the 70’s and early 80’s before watching re-runs of the Celtics/Bulls first round series from two years ago.

Actually, it’s funny that I should mention it, since I actually did that the last time I was back home.  See, I have a collection of late 80’s, early 90’s VHS tapes with names like “Super Slams of the NBA,” “Michael Jordan’s Playhouse,” and “1984 NBA Finals”.  Because I was riding a massive nostalgia wave at the time, I actually watched the tapes using a contraption I bought at a Goodwill thrift store for $3.  (You don’t need to point out that ESPN Classic routinely shows these games, usually at times of the day reserved for soft-core porn and “Dazzling Diamonds”)

As I sank into the montage music and visions of He-Man, Thundercats, and Transformers flitted through my brain, I became more and more aware that what I was watching was terrible.  Everyone stood where they were supposed to stand, offenses flowed like well-oiled machines, and in the earliest tapes, no one jumped higher than two feet for fear of offending someone else.  The more I watched, the deeper my depression.  These games, for all the excitement I remembered of them, were terrible.  Lebron, Wade, Kobe, or even Kevin Love (ok, maybe not Kevin Love) would have dominated the piss out of these teams.  To them, everyone would have been moving in slow motion. 

Take a step back from the nostalgia express; now imagine that instead of finding a recycled VCR-TV combo at Goodwill, you actually paid real money to watch the crap.  That is the WNBA fan experience.  “Expect…Everything You Saw in a Basketball Game Played 40 Years Ago”.  And the worst part?  They aren’t even wearing those same short shorts…

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Electrifying: A MTG Article by Ben Snyder

So last time I ran through a few ideas I had for the shape of post-Innistrad standard.  One thing that I definitely wasn’t expecting was the speed at which the metagame shifts now as opposed to ten years ago.  While I compulsively devour every midnight update of SCG and ChannelFireball, it’s different when you are actively trying to play in the new environments.

With that in mind, I’m going to try and publish an article every week, especially once Innistrad is online and I can actually playtest more than ten or fifteen games every five days.  For those of you who don’t remember, or haven’t bothered to check out my archives from the various websites, I take playtesting seriously.  I do not like small sample sizes.  But now, I think, I’ll have to accept that it isn’t possible to spend three to six months tinkering with a deck any more as the metagame will just evolve around it while you try and do so.

"Vinyl Just Sounds Better" by John Keyes

The old man wore a dusty leather overcoat cinched around his waist and a wrinkled shepherd’s cap fit snug on his head.  Considering that most of the customers who frequented the shop preferred gaudy counter-culture tye-dye and peasant blouses, it was safe to say he made an impression on anyone who saw him there that day.  This was not to say any of them saw him do it, which would be too easy.  They all were sure that he had, though, since in their own words, “Who else could it be?”  As if the whole lot of them weren’t repressed anarchists who flirted with retro-paganism in order to eat shrooms and cavort with pleasantly loose men and women who reassured them that the bruises and rashes were the result of too many trysts conducted by moonlight in a poison ivy patch.

"On Writing: Part Three"

                The main point of the second essay is to explain that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with writing the statement, “She was happy.”  If the simplest way to get your point across is to make a broad generalization, there are plenty of circumstances in which it becomes correct to do so.  If you try to “spice up” or “unpack” your writing by using convoluted metaphors or similes to describe a character’s mood, it often has the opposite effect from what you intended.  Either you lose something in transcribing what is, as I said in the essay, a subjective response to a stimulus, or you risk sounding like one of those fake school-children on those clever “terrible” simile websites. 

                “John and Mary had never met.  They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.”   “He fell for her like he was a mob informant and she was the East River.”
“She was so beautiful that her beauty hangs on the cheek of night like a jewel in the earring of an Ethiopian woman.”
“The locusts hung over the land like night.”
                “The hailstones leaped from the ground like popcorn popping in silver foil.”

                Admittedly, those aren’t even the worst examples I could come up with, but even more remarkable is the fact that similes are inherently “bad”.  I can’t say with complete certainty that any of those sentences would be cut by a competent editor, but I would be very surprised to see them in a published work.
                Of course, two of them are from published works by Shakespeare and Milton.  If you did not recognize them at first, they do not seem that out of place in the list, going back, you’ll pick them out in a split second and praise them for the beauty of the language—even though you would have been the first one in the comments section of Shakespeare’s blog to call him a hack.  Possibly even a racist hack.  Or you would have posted a trollface, one or the other.
                Obviously, you can’t find good writing that is completely free of ornamentation.  It’s practically the hallmark of competent, evocative literature.  The issue is not that metaphor or simile are flawed, just that our interpretation of them is necessarily shaped by factors far beyond what makes writing “good” or not. 
                Reading Dickens is like meeting a woman dressed up in a Victorian gown.  Chandler is like finding her in a slinky dress on New Year’s Eve.  Picking up Hemingway is like seeing the same woman at a college frat party.  And reading Carver, Lish’s fault or not, is like catching that girl in the damn shower.*
                The reason I remain a devotee of Raymond Carver after years of critics poking holes in his oeuvre is not because I am some minimalist hipster.  I value the story above the composition.  For all of his quiet genius in character development, I am always more excited to read Carver because of what happens.  I’ll try and touch on this later, but I’ll leave off this entry with a mystery:  what I’m referring to is not what you think of as plot.

*If you prefer:  “Reading Dickens is like meeting a man dressed to fly to the Moon.  Chandler is like finding him in a well-cut tuxedo on New Year’s Eve.  Picking up Hemingway is like seeing the same guy at a college frat party.  And reading Carver, Lish’s fault or not, is like catching that man swimming naked in a lake.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"On Writing: Part Two"

Ed. Note: We will continue to post the "On Writing" essays regularly.  These will appear Mon-Fri.  Stay tuned for another Magic: The Gathering article by Ben Snyder, and a previously unpublished short story by John Keyes.  Both should be up on Friday.  Thank you again for your patience.

                 It amazes me that in a world saturated to overflowing with light—the blinding brilliance of individuality, shining from your computer screen—everyone is still completely, almost manically, obsessed with darkness.  If you want to knock the television salesman back on his heels, talk up how much you know about the black levels on the flat-screen he is offering you.
                I’ve written a few stories that have happy endings, and even more that don’t have endings at all.  If they are rejected it almost never bothers me, but my consternation grows when the editor or agent or publisher decides to leave comments and tries to explain that my story “isn’t real,” that there is no depth, no catharsis, that the words are soaked in passé sentimentality that has been siphoned away from reality and is being kept bottled up somewhere with Ted Williams’ frozen head.
                Palahniuk wrote in an essay—or maybe it was a short story—that it isn’t possible to write about happiness in a meaningful way without “unpacking it.”  The demand is constant:  show the reader what it means to be happy.  By this logic a writer must ignore the fact that positive feelings of almost all kinds—those which are experienced viscerally, at the least—are so subjective as to have almost no objective relevance.  This is why it seems the world is focused on the shadows on the wall and not the sun coming in from outside the cave.
                I can write pain, loss, suffering, tragedy—take your pick from a Chinese take-out menu of human frailty and just about anyone can put together a decent twelve dollar meal.  Evidence can be found in the emo abattoir of MySpace or the constipated backlogs of putrescent puerile vomit that passes for modern poetry.
                “A smile crept over his face as the feeling washed through him like a warm whiskey haze.”
                “A grimace split his face as the feeling washed through him like the burn of a whiskey haze.”
                Neither sentence, admittedly, is particularly strong, but the illustration here is that the first sentence makes sense to you if, and only if, you drink single maltsand derive pleasure from the experience.  If you are an alcoholic, or your dad was, or you had a bad night with a bottle of Jack that may or may not have involved Ke$ha, you do not and cannot associate the first sentence with happiness.
                This is not merely a failure on the part of the writer, because the second sentence is clear and evocative to everyone despite being functionally identical as a sentence.  The reason that so many great stories go unheard is not because they are not well-told; it is because they all tell the same story.  It is as if Ezra Pound is reaching out from beyond the grave and throttling the publishing industry with his invective to “make it new,” only they all misunderstood and figured that he meant, “make it, but only if it is ridiculous or someone knows someone who knows someone who is willing to vouch for the artist.”
                Because even if you do enjoy reading depressing works because of their up-lifting catharsis—and I enjoy many depressing stories—the truth is that in the end reading them means that we are all just sitting in the darkness staring at thesame boring shadows.

Sorry for the Inconvenience

We know that several visitors have noticed that the website has not gone live yet.  In the process of trying to build something more interesting than a mere content provider or yet another mindless "blog", we have encountered some unforeseen hurdles.  We will try and post new articles as soon as possible, as well as establish a publishing schedule, but in the meantime and while we work on resolving the issues behind the scenes, please enjoy the following series of essays.  Thank you for your understanding!

“On Writing: Part One”

                Almost every book on writing that you’ll find contains, somewhere inside, a bulleted list of
unassailable rules or tricks or recipes for cooking up that guaranteed bestseller.  When I find those lists in a
book I tend to tear them out.