Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Soft Spot for Mario

I've never been much of a video game enthusiast. That was always my sister's department. The sole exception being Mario Kart, which we used to play together in the living room of the house we shared when she moved to LA. We'd sit on the floor and race Peach and Toad around the colorful cartoon course. It was all so bright and childlike. Except for the part where I was swearing like a truck driver, loudly, and mashing the controller to the point of leaving bruises on my fingers. Hey, racing a cartoon toad is serious business.

In the intervening years between now and then, I haven't really played many, or possibly any video games. Maybe a round or two at an arcade here and there, but I was certainly not remotely up to date on the serious advancements between the Nintendo 64 version of Mario Kart that I used to yell at in 1999 and the newest incarnation a decade later. But recently all that changed. See, my boyfriend is a self-professed game enthusiast. Which is great, because I love games - scrabble, crosswords, cards, boardgames, you name it. One of my favorite gifts this past Christmas was the deluxe hardwood, 3-D version of my all-time favorite, Clue. Yes, that's how geeky I really am. But his world is bigger than just the classics that I know and love. His home entertainment system sports the latest in Nintendo AND XBox technology, all splashed in full-color graphics on a sixty-two inch television, which makes everything eerily close to life-size. A little overwhelming to someone who only ever managed to grasp the basic driving techniques on the N64. And he is on a quest to find games that I like.

It's been an interesting and entertaining experiment so far. My first discovery was that yes, they still have Mario Kart. But now, you stick the remote in a wheel and actually drive it. Which, in theory, should make the game even easier. But along with that nifty upgrade, they've increased the sensitivity of the controls so that the tiniest twitch of the wheel, and Peach is flying off the course into the ocean, and crying at the end of the race because I made her lose. I'm getting the hang of it. Slowly. With a lot of yelling and swearing.

And then there's the XBox, a whole new experience for me, with POV games and multi-player, multi-dimensional worlds. Call of Duty made me so dizzy with vertigo I had to close my eyes. And then there was the one that was something akin to the video game version of 28 Days Later, where the undead would spit globs of zombie goo on you. Tomb Raider was also a bust, neither of us actually liked that one. And there was one I wouldn't even attempt to play, this one on the Nintendo again. It involved serious slaughter in a comic-book style black, white and red world. I can't say taking a chain-saw to my enemies is my idea of a good time. Call me crazy. Probably, just call me female.

Though all in all, I still think I honestly prefer a good old-fashioned board game, as three and a half hours of Talisman a couple of Fridays ago can attest to, the experiment has been far from a failure. I'm still sticking with Mario Kart. I'm not sure I really love it, but we've discovered that I weirdly good at martial arts style fighting games. I have no skill, I mash the buttons in a mad frenzy, but somehow still win most of the time. I'm a pretty decent drummer when it comes to Rock Band and I can hold my own in the Wii Sports department.

But the newest and probably most successful discovery was a silly little game called Mario Galaxy. Sure the bizarre 3-D graphics make me feel a bit dizzy, and I tend to play the game with my head twisted at odd angles as I try to follow my character around. But I'm getting the hang of the game, I like that there's a mission, silly as it is, and I love that there are no chainsaws, guns or zombie goo. Which doesn't mean there isn't still enough excitement to get me yelling at the TV. The best part though is that we can play it together. Because I think that was the whole point of the experiment, really.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Karaoke for Beginners

I hate karaoke. The act of getting up in front of an army of strangers and friends to sing along in a badly-tuned microphone to the latest opus by the Pussycat Dolls is seriously not my idea of a good time. It takes at least four other people on stage and a lot of begging to get me up there. And then I will stand in the back and keep my mouth as far away from the microphone as possible. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Because I actually love to sing. In the car, in the shower, and as I dance around my house. The caveat being that I will only do it if I’m alone. It all goes back to the eighth grade musical.

The musical was a mandatory event for the eighty-some-odd eighth graders at my private all girls school in Texas. Which was okay by me, because I loved being on stage. Even as a little girl in elementary school, my natural shyness in day-to-day situations would give way once I stepped on stage. Dropping into a character was like removing a veil for me. I could be anyone but the quiet girl in the corner of the room. But I had never really tried to sing. Audition time came around. The chosen musical that year was The Wizard of Oz. And as I danced around the living room, belting “If I Only Had a Brain” at the top of my lungs, my mother uttered the five little words that turned my shout to a whisper – “Honey, you can’t really sing.”

She meant well, I know, and even called in reinforcements in the form of an eccentric musical theater woman who did her best to coach me prior to the audition. Nonetheless, on that fateful day, I stood on the stage and opened my mouth and all that came out was a raspy, off-key rendition of the song that would certainly scare off some crows but would not be landing me a lead singing role anytime soon. And it’s like that pretty much every time I try to sing in public.

There have been a few exceptions, because I am capable of producing something that sounds remarkably like music out of my mouth, just usually not when anyone else is around to hear it. I’m a definite victim of singing-related stage fright and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. I did recently attempt, after some significant persuading, to sing karaoke, this time with just one other person to help hide my voice. I told him I was a beginner and that I had never done just a duet before. He was really helpful and sang really loud, never once dropping out and leaving me to belt out “I want you to want me” on my own. I tried my best not to listen to myself but I don’t think the results were all that pretty. It did help that there were only about three other people in the bar at the time, and at least I tried. To be honest, I still kind of hated it.

I love to write. In the bookstore, I trail my fingers along the spines of the paperbacks, imagining the day that my books will be among them. But for most of my life, my writing, aside from anything required by the professors and teachers at the various educational institutions I’ve attended, has largely been written for my eyes only. At first poetry, then short stories and personal essays. Many pieces have never been read by anyone but me and those I’ve shared have only been with a select few. No one has ever told me “Honey, you can’t really write.” In fact, it’s often been the opposite. But like my singing voice, when it comes to the public, my written voice has largely come out as a whisper, or sometimes a squeak.

Inside my head, my words are loud and clear and they often flow easily to the page. If I were a psycho-analyst of some sort, I would tell myself that I’m afraid to let it out. Afraid that if it exists anywhere beyond me, it might be judged as being something less than what it is in my own mind. To that end, it took me 12 years to write the first 150 pages of my first novel. But recently, something has changed. I’m no longer afraid that I can’t finish a story, or that it might be less than what I want it to be. It only took me 3 months to write the rest of the novel. Now it is in the hands of an agent, which means it’s one step closer to being among its friends on the shelves of the bookstore, waiting for me to run my hand down its spine. And in an attempt to get up on “stage” and belt out what has previously been just a literary whisper, I’m starting this blog. And trying to do what I will never do in karaoke, share my voice, such as it is, with the world.

Just go easy on me, I’m a beginner.