Thursday, August 25, 2011


While everything I did not need to learn was learned in Kindergarten - the most idiotic statement ever made - it was there I acquired my taste for something that has remained central to my life ever since.  It is central to most of our lives, though I don't think we realize it.  I am speaking about the habit of show and tell.

In education, it is merely an exercise in public speaking, and for some people not a very fun exercise.  But it is hardly restricted to the classroom, as we were all thrilled every time we had something new we could take to school and show off.  It is a kind of prestige, one that carries forward into adulthood with the acquisition of cars, electronics, golf clubs, houses and vacation pictures.  The same practice applies to pregnancy and the birthing of children, the day we graduate from university, the new job we've been hired onto, the relics we bring back from war zones and even the gravestones we buy to anxiously show our loved ones where we want to be buried.  Having something new and then showing it, or telling about it, is the best kind of buyable status there is.  For ten minutes we have something that someone else does not, and we want to enjoy that brief measure of satisfaction.

Obviously, a thing that brings satisfaction to others is ten times better than something that brings satisfaction only to ourselves.  Vacation pictures, and telling about vacations, are the absolute worst ... not only do we listeners NOT get to see anything, we are forced to hear stories about something we'd much rather be doing that what we are doing right now.  Our only real response is to tell about OUR vacations, thus evening the score.

Things that do bring satisfaction to others are far superior ... and I think those things can be divided into two categories:  things we purchase and things we create.  There are things that are awarded, such as medals and trophies, but while these convey status I don't think they necessarily bring satisfaction.

Most everything that can be purchased by me can be purchased by you, and that is what we think of when we see a new boat or some marvelous new gadget ... unless, of course, we can't afford it - and then the first thing we want to know is can we borrow it.  If that fails, we just don't care.  We're listening to the other person go on and on thinking, Get the thing out of my face, all right?

Things that we create fall into a whole other measuring standard.  You can show me the crappiest blender in the world that you purchased and my opinion will be that I wouldn't buy one.  But show me a crappy blender that you built yourself and my first thought is more likely to be, "Wow, you built a blender?"  Only after that, when it proves to be pretty crappy, will I think, "Why did you build a crappy blender when you could buy a new one?"

Believe it.  This same thought process can be applied to virtually any creative work that has a counterpart in the world.  Build your own anything and it will be compared with that same thing done by somebody else.  It doesn't matter if you laid your own driveway and it cost you $35 because you did it with stones you found in the nearby mountains.  It will look strange and people will raise their eyebrows at you and feel all superior and shit.  It is only ten years later that they'll look again at that driveway and think of it as 'folksy.'  Right off, they'll think you should have spent more.

Then there are the creative things that can't be bought.  They exist nowhere in the world except in your possession.  Some of these things, such as a novel you've written or a sculpture you've carved, still have a bit of that "measured vs. the good stuff you can buy" feel.  That is, unless you've sculpted or written something really profound.  On the other hand, there are things you make yourself that cannot be bought.  There is simply no place anywhere in the world for you to go where that thing can be obtained.

Your world is one of those things.

Even if I can measure your world against my world, both of us being D&D players, the fact is that my world and your world will never exist in the same time and space.  When we sit down around the table to listen to you be the Dungeon Master, my world ceases to exist.  And as you show and tell the various features about your world, presenting them to us so we can oooh and aaah about what's new and different, you are maximizing the satisfaction not just for yourself, but for us as well.

We hope you are, at least.  We hope you haven't worked all week in order to flount your world in a superior, fuck-us fashion that makes us feel unnecessary and uncomfortable in your self-aggrandizing fantasy.  In the fight against that, , I and many others have written hundreds of thousands of words decrying the DM's-world-as-my-vacation-photographs.

I still get excited before a running.  I have this mess of things I've created and am ready to spring on my players - I will show them and tell them what they see, and watch the fall out at they tackle the new quandaries I hope to create for them.  I have new rules to talk about and new bits of my world I've created.  Knowing I get to talk about them, and knowing others are interested, it is that moment in Kindergarten when I brought a preying mantis in a bottle, all three inches of it crouched in its horrific splendor.

I admit, though, that some of the thrill at the outset of a new D&D running is robbed by my having this blog to talk about things first.  This blog is S&T in perfect harmony ... post a map, a table, news of some kind, a bit of knowledge from the past or even some other person's contribution to the blogosphere and tell ALL about it.  And doing so without any concern about anyone's facial expression, or shuffling feet or nodding eyelids.  I don't see any of that.  I can tell and tell until my fingers get tired and if people don't want to listen any more, they can skip off and I'm none the wiser.  You have to love this formula.

Now I will take myself off, and think of something else that's new, and conjecture on how best to tell about it tomorrow.  The classroom awaits.

No comments: