books games music

Random Notes, 2/21/21

I’m almost a decade late to the party—which means I’ll probably be signing up for a Substack newsletter in 2029—but as an experiment I’m posting my product management pieces on Medium. I write about product management and strategy from my background as a project-turned-product manager who writes fiction and has a doctorate in anthropology. Feel free to follow me there, subscribe for notifications, all that stuff.

Further below, recommendations for reading and watching, plus thoughts on maids, the gig economy, board games, deep work, and FOMO, though not all at the same time.

Three things I especially loved:

Veronica Montes’ story “The Alchemist, His Daughter, Their Two Servants” on Wigleaf. It’s a perfectly poised gem of a story that requires you to read it even more slowly the fifth time. All the better to see, between breaths, how the sentences gently push against each other and are refracted in the light. There’s a story behind the story too, which you would know if you receive her TinyLetter updates—and if you haven’t, sign up!

Indi Samarajiva’s “The Gig Economy Is White People Discovering Servants” from 2019. Looks like it went viral a couple different times, but I was preoccupied with a different virus, you know? Like most middle-class Filipinos, I grew up in the Philippines with people to cook and clean and drive me places just as Indi Samarajiva did. And so Samarajiva’s article strikes a familiar nerve, and not just because I devote a chunk of my ethnography, Pinoy Capital, teasing out the cultural meaning of the tradeoffs of middle-class Filipino migration to the United States, one of which is—you guessed it—the lack of people to cook and clean and drive these new immigrants places. My life in the United States has allowed me to realize how unfamiliar this experience is, especially in a country where the reality of staggering inequality is discreetly swept from view—much in the same way the convenience of a mobile app with frictionless user experience obscures all the necessary labor-power to get that food cooked and delivered to your door. As Samarajiva writes, you’re even afforded the guilt-free luxury to not have to think of these gig workers as servants at all.

The great Chick Corea passed away last week. When I heard the news of his death, I spent all day listening to Return To Forever and Corea’s My Spanish Heart album, then dove into a YouTube rabbit hole looking for live footage. My favorite discovery though features Corea as a sideman, playing electric piano with George Benson on a marvelous rendition of Benson’s smooth-jazz chestnut “Breezin’” from 1976. With Phil Upchurch on bass and Billy Cobham on drums! Such a delight.

Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doot-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doot-doo

For other supergroupy goodness (and to give Corea his due), check out this version of Chick’s straight-up jazz standard “Spain”, with three RTF members (Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White). And then you have Benson sitting in for Al DiMeola, Hubert Laws sitting in for Joe Farrell, and a killer trombone solo from Bill Watrous. Corea recorded and re-recorded “Spain” probably a zillion times—I was fortunate to catch the Chick Corea Akoustic Band from the front row at Bailey Hall in Ithaca, back in the early ‘90s, and of course “Spain” was the huge encore—but hey, you’d do that too if you wrote a tune for the ages.

On board games, deep work, and FOMO

The other day, trembling with FOMO that was completely self-afflicted—but isn’t it always?—I added one of the hottest games on Boardgamegeek to my Miniature Market shopping cart and was about to click the Checkout button.

Then I abandoned the cart. (I have received at least four emails from Miniature Market asking me to come back. Doesn’t matter because that game is once again out of stock.)

Part of this hesitation came from the realization that I had a bunch of games still in shrink and a few more used games I hadn’t played yet, including four (!) other games by my favorite designer, Uwe Rosenberg. (We board gamers refer to this as the Shelf of Shame. I have no doubt my Shelf of Shame expanded this year due to so-called “emotional spending.”)

But the other part had to do with how my relationship to one game has changed in the last month or so. I’m talking about the game Street Masters, which did not leave my table for a record 25 and a half hours since I opened the box for the first time. They weren’t consecutive hours, mind you—I’m not some Red Bull-swigging nut—but up to that point I had never been so absorbed by a single game, trying out all the possible combinations. (Street Masters uses a so-called Modular Deck System, where you can mix and match cards representing different heroes, enemies, and locations. The combinations aren’t theoretically endless of course, but just trying to play every possible combo with the base game alone will take you some time.)

Then I ended my period of immersion and started playing Canvas, a very pretty game which I backed on Kickstarter last year. It’s okay as a solo game, and works better with an opponent. It’s also deceptively more complex than the box promises, which is an invitation to some mild analysis paralysis, and that’s fine by me. (The fact that I got my non-board game-playing spouse to play it is a miracle!)

But I still couldn’t help but think that the time I spent learning and setting up this new game and playing merely okay sessions could have been better spent, I don’t know, digging deeper into Le Havre, or playing Obsession at Expert Level. (Or, say, pulling out Gloomhaven—you know, a game I actually own, as opposed to getting thirsty for some other game I don’t—from the closet behind the boxes of DVDs and clothes and doing a bit of play testing to see if I still want to keep it after being unplayed for years. Obviously it has not sparked joy.)

I’m reminded here as well of this essay by Kameron Hurley where she writes (among other things) about the importance of having a big block of uninterrupted deep work, as opposed to daily 90-minute increments:

I know it’s not going to be enough time to really get into what I’m doing. I know there will be distractions, and my brain won’t have the time it needs to slip into the sleepy-dream-hallucinating-I’m-in-another-world state that I need to crack out some effortless writing.

But give me six hours and I fall into the process there in hour one, and emerge on the other side during hour six blinking and bleary-eyed, like I’ve just battled monsters and saved kingdoms all by myself for the last six hours and hey, I also have 7,000 words done and gosh do I feel fabulous.

– Kameron Hurley

I miss that feeling about my own writing.

(I miss that feeling about reading books too.)

And that’s also the sort of relationship I think I want with my games: not this restless itch for the new thing, not the impulse that makes me pack up a game after I literally spent more time relearning the rules and watching a video and setting it up than actually playing it. I want something deeper and more meaningful with the games I already own and love and I want to emerge from that spell blinking in the sunlight and wondering where the time went.

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