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March 10th, 2004


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04:57 am - Spellbound
It's been an up-and-down few days, but lots of extremely good conversation along the way. Happy birthday to sophie10 and (embarrassed!) belated well-wishes to the three lovely folk who celebrated on Sunday.

On Thursday, I went to see Spellbound at the university cinema; it attracted an audience of perhaps 35, compared to probably about 50 (...to 70?) for Spirited Away. Calling it a film about the (American) National Spelling Bee would be inaccurate; it's more a story about people - specifically, eight of the contestants thereof. The followed eight are largely very likeable; they fall into patterns quickly: the third-year veteran, the one with the bee-obsessed cutesy family, the one whose family treat the event as war, the one whose family have come across from Mexico, the hyperactive natural rubber-faced comedian and so on. At times it feels like eight stories may be slightly too many, but they're different enough and charming enough that they're good viewing. We're also introduced to past champion spellers and the competition's official pronouncer, who has a remarkable job to go with his remarkably animated face.

The main action of the film is watching competitions themselves. The most tense one in the film is actually the first, local, one we see; possibly due to a more restricted (and hence considerably more perfectable?) word list, the two finalists enact a only-just-ending penalty shoot-out where "dead heat" would have been a far fairer result. (This is also the most distressing defeat of the whole film for the second place finisher - not unreasonably, considering the effort involved.) We're also quickly introduced to the perverse tradition of a pleasant-sounding desk bell being chimed only for wrong answers. The knockout nature of the competition - only one speller remains perfect, all others make a crucial mistake somewhere along the sudden-death line - is a little harsh, but the little triumphs tend to outweigh the little heartbreaks. (Everyone enjoys the kid who mildly curses, surprised, upon discovering her error, though.)

Particular kudos should be gained for the ending of the film, which needs spoilers for discussion. Free clue, though: given that only one can win, at least seven of our eight lose. Some of them make classic bee errors - the tricky, nonsensical old -ible/-able, plus going out on a word with a homophone by giving the wrong version of the word. Fair, but only just. The other open question is whether the pronouncer really did say one particular word correctly; to my ear, I think he did about as well as can be achieved with his accent. The editing is excellent in that the film constantly plays with your "film logic" perception of "well, they wouldn't insert *that* bit of footage in at this point if *this* wasn't going to happen" and so successfully remains an unpredictable roller-coaster. The choice of the order of the last few insertions does seem to give the game away somewhat, but I think it's a wise choice - going from the final victorious shot back to the logo, showing all the contestants happy and equal, does much to cleverly downplay the importance of the result.

The National Spelling Bee is a curiosity which proves it's worth a film; incidentally, it raises questions as to why competitive spelling seems to stop at eighth grade - why there aren't adult Spelling Bees in the same way. There are definite similarities to be drawn with the comparative participative popularity of scholastic chess and adult chess, 66,000-entrant UK Chess Challenge and all. Gap in the market, there. I might criticise the film's soundtrack; although it would be hard for the soundtrack to be wonderful rather than functional, this was barely functional. All told, a tremendously happy film, fully recommended to all those who regard themselves as geeks on my Friends list. (That'll be about 80% of you, then.)

Quick explanation of my last post, as promised: the pictured encircled J. K. Rowling recently answered questions from the public about the Harry Potter series to celebrate World Book Day. She admitted that her arithmetic was weak, but gave at least one answer which either contradicted her own books or was, at best, highly questionable. The fans jumped on the interview in the traditonal grumpy-affectionate fashion, resulting in complaints and snarky icons aplenty, not least my own mutilation of Talking Barbie's old catchphrase. (Incidentally, "let's go shipping" rather than "let's go shopping" refers to shipping in the context of relationships between the sundry characters of the story; always troubling for those who would like to see one particular romantic development in the story, rather than another.) All highly nit-picky, inconsequential stuff, but you know, that's what fans are for. (So says the guy who thinks that the Quidditch scoring is fundamentally flawed, but dare I risk the subsequent lynching for devaluing the Golden Snitch to less than 150 in public?)

Part of the grumpiness was due to the format of the interview, which was a succession of quickfire soundbites that often covered the most mundane or unrevealing of trivia. I perceive that the world would really like to see a two-hour interview which, instead of trying to cover as much ground as possible, restricted itself to no more than a dozen of the open topics and covered each one in reasonable depth; we're also more interested in understanding the apparent contradictions than finding out what is to come, so answers of "I know, but don't want to tell you" become acceptable in a way that "Hmm, on balance, I don't think I know after all" are not. Yes, we're demanding, but the author herself does pride herself on the depth of detail she keeps, so we want to be able to enjoy them and admire them in full. The books may not be as successful as stories as they are sourcebooks inspiring original material in a world that's fun to explore, so we want to know how to properly play the game.

Incidentally, a GIP (Gratuitous Icon Post) is possibly the only sort of post where the post only makes sense if you see the post and icon on your Friends page, where icons are usually displayed next to posts in most styles, rather than looking at your journal directly, where icons are generally not placed next to posts. Are there any other sorts of posts with this property?

Today, I attended a university skills session, discussing assertiveness. Attendance was 12, much higher than the 2, 4 and 5 I remember for sessions from last semester. Here's an abbreviated version of my notes.

Assertiveness is a communication skill to be learnt, practiced and improved over your lifetime. You will get confidence through practice.

Assertiveness is important because:
  • it permits you to get what you want without being mean,
  • it's a good way to earn respect and
  • it makes you feel good about yourself and your behaviour.


There are three types of behaviour: aggressive, passive and assertive. Through brainstorming, we decided that:

1) characteristics associated with aggressive behaviour were confidence, impatience, emotion, intimidation, being "in your face", violence, swearing, shouting, anger, particular vocal tones, creating a perception of yourself as an image and the creation of an uncomfortable environment.

2) characteristics associated with passive behaviour were quietness, nerves, shyness, meekness, docility, overtolerance, a tendency to let your viewpoint be unheard, a lack of determination and overall weakness.

3) characteristics associated with assertive behaviour were calmness, confidence, uprightness of stance, eye contact, communication, conciseness, clarity, control, a measured tone of voice and self-satisfaction.

We then took a "How assertive are you?" questionnaire: answer 20 "I can..." statements with either a 1 to represent "I can often...", 2 to represent "I can sometimes..." and 3 to represent "I can rarely...". Adding them up, I scored 38 on a scale of 20 to 60, which means that I was in the 35-50 category of "You are unable in you ability (sic) to be confident in your assertive behaviour and should work to improve this". Not a high point in terms of illuminating self-discovery; this compares poorly to quizzes I have taken on the web over the years, for instance.

Six steps to assertiveness:
  • Know what you want.
  • Say what you mean.
  • 0wn your message, by using "I (present tense action verb)..." statements.
  • Say what you want in a way that has impact.
  • Do this with a comfortable level of emotion.
  • Be reasonable.
  • Use the following techniques as well as the basic principles.


Assertiveness techniques:
  • Non-verbal cues

    • Maintain eye contact
    • Look at who you're talking to
    • Have good posture
    • Have open posture
    • Speak slowly, calmly and deliberately
    • Take your time to respond
    • Use silence as appropriate


  • Broken record

    Calm, persistent repetition of what you want; start with "I want..." or "I would like..." and don't back down or give reasons to justify your opinion. cf Did you threaten to overrule him?

  • Fogging

    When someone is being critical of you, agree in part with the criticism in a calm, quiet, non-defensive, non-sarcastic voice even if you don't believe all of the criticism. Possibly agree with the general rather than the specific.

  • Active Listening

    Recognise cues to indicate what is important and interesting to the person you're talking to.

  • Self-disclosure

    Accept and initiate discussion on all aspects of your personality, behaviour etc. to enhance communication and reduce manipulation. Allows you to discuss things which previously caused ignorance, anxiety or guilt.

  • Feeling Talk

    Openly and honestly use "I..." messages, accept responsibility for self and own feelings, avoid blaming others. Start sentences with "I want to...", "I would like...", "I would appreciate it if...", "It would make me feel great if...", "I need more..." and so on.

  • Defusing

    If someone is ranting at you, allow others to express their strong feelings and use delay so that you can make an assertive request later.

  • Saying No

    Important so you can limit other people's demands on you when they conflict with your needs and desires without feeling guilty. When necessary, explain: rephrase, explain your reason, say no without apology, possibly suggest alternatives which meet both parties' needs.

  • Simplicity

    Ask for one thing at once. Do so using few, easy sentences.

  • Reinforcement

    When you've been assertive, whether the outcome was what you wanted or not, give yourself a treat to encourage you to try again.


The session concluded with the twelve splitting into three fours and role-playing a particular scenario in three different fashions; one with aggressive behaviour meeting aggressive behaviour, one with aggressive behaviour meeting passive behaviour and the third with assertive behaviour meeting assertive behaviour. This was somewhat a missed opportunity; two-thirds of the class deliberately had to waste their time and only got to feel one particular set of emotions. It would have been rather better to allow much more time for this section and play with shifting roles; give people more time to prepare, then keep a single role-played scenario going, but interrupt to get the teams to play out the scenario and feel what it feels like to approach it in different ways. In addition, there was no feedback given; it would have been better if all the teams could practice being assertive and could feel what it felt like to be effective at being assertive.

Nevertheless, I was in the lucky group of the three which got to practice assertiveness. Also we were the only group of the three to go longer than the suggested five minutes, though both the other groups fizzling in under two can be put down to being given something inherently self-destructive to role-play rather than any lack of improv skills. However, even though we had the plum emotions to play, it was an awful lot of fun to get the chance to play the scene out - more than I had expected and had remembered. Some general thoughts on role-playing. I don't role-play much, largely because most games are ambitious ongoing campaigns and I don't have the capacity to take one on. I've played some very occasional one-off games and ejoyed them. Certainly the traditional emphasis on "the aim is to survive and keep surviving forever" really does hark back to RPGs' miniature-wargame roots; there is much to be said for playing characters because they're interesting rather than because they're powerful in the game system.

In addition, I'm only all too aware how easy it is to spoil other people's game experiences if your character doesn't fit in properly. This, rather self-defeatingly, is why my role-playing experience has been all but restricted to very traditional generic swords-and-sorcery fantasy. (A few different game systems, but all very generic not-very-faithful-Tolkein-esque mythological-crossover fantasy.) I admire those who take part in the best online message board RPGs and get the balance right between staying at least sufficiently faithful to the original character to be satisfying while managing to develop them in ways appropriate to the storyline and differences of that particular game.

Part of the rather self-defeating reason why I usually stick to the same general sort of scenario is that I don't feel confident in my grasp of other genres. For instance, the biggest game I could join in Middlesbrough is a live-action Vampire: the Masquerade campaign; I've read Dracula (and I've been to Whitby!) but that's the limit of my vampiric knowledge. Admittedly horror isn't really my cup of tea so I'm not particularly inspired to delve further, but I haven't felt that I could be comfortable in these surroundings. I don't imagine that all the other players in the game are necessarily top-class spot-on characters, but it's not something that's particularly attractive to try and get wrong.

Tonight's little role-played scenario was one set in the boardroom of Madchester Hockey Club - a confrontation between a board who wanted to increase season ticket prices by 20%, while retaining good relations with the supporters club who felt their supporters were not able to afford a rise of more than 5%. I was one of the directors and had all sorts of fun making up sports club trivia on the spot - our previous season's results in the European Cup Losers' Cup, our plans for expansion and so forth. By experienced improv standards it was absolutely nothing special whatsoever, but I got to play one of the most comfortable and enjoyable characters I can remember playing. The lack of magic and spells in the scenario was very freeing. (Would this be an incredibly convoluted way to get back to the title of the post? Why, yes, it would.)

I know there exist lots of fantastic short freeform live role-playing games; you name a literary genre, even a modestly obscure one, there'll likely be a freeform set there. (Glaring exception: when I was looking for a Harry Potter freeform last year, people have broadly steered clear so far, possibly out of fear of WB, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time before the right intersection of "freeform LARP game writers" and "Harry Potter fans" finds itself.) That said, I've seen very few such games with sporting settings, and I'm not sure why. Admittedly, traditionally, sports games and RPGs have kept distant from each other, but there is so much potential that it does seem like a disappointing shame that the backroom and off-the-pitch dealings of modern sports life aren't explored further.

Which is part of the reason why today's exercise was so much fun. Hopefully we were all assertive rather than aggressive or passive, too. (Or passive-aggressive, which is a term not touched at all today, thankfully - my head hurt quite enough already as it was.) It was such an entertaining little interplay, with so much to explore, that I'd be keen to try to detail it further and try to participate in it again, simply because it could be so much fun...

An ode to a short-lived LiveJournal kerfuffle, in the style of Private Eye's foremost poet.

In Memoriam Friend Of

So. Farewell
Then
Friend Of.

Your name caused
A lot of
Arguments.

That was
Why I
Liked you.

You were a
Read / Trusted by
Me.

LJ Thribb (aged 17½)

PS Now you're back.
This is good except.

You've really
Buggered up
This poem.

Current Mood: artisticplayful!
Current Music: Tamperer feat. Mya - "Feel It"

(9 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:kearie
Date:March 9th, 2004 09:25 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for posting your notes on assertiveness. I think I may make this post one of my memories just so I remember to control myself around "Bitchface" in my American Studies group. (Even the name smacks of my agressive reaction so far!)

Didn't realize your icon said "Let's go shipping!", honestly thought it was just shopping!
From:themightyuser
Date:March 9th, 2004 11:23 pm (UTC)
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HAH. Snitch NEEDS to be 50, and I will defend that claim until the day I die. Will you be lynched for changing it? Highly unlikely.

In fact, it HAS to be changed, or else the tournament will be pretty much fucked anyway... 12 people should just sit back, do nothing, and let the 2 people that matter have their game. If you are going to charge entry (which I COMPLETELY disagree with) then that SEALS your obligation to keep the game fair for the PLAYERS, who will be paying for it, at the [possible, but EXTREMELY unlikely] expense (what expense?!) of the audience.

But yeah, until the day I die, Chris... until the day I die.
[User Picture]
From:chrisvenus
Date:March 10th, 2004 12:20 am (UTC)
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GIP (Gratuitous Icon Post)

Aha! At last I know what GIP stands for! :)
[User Picture]
From:ericklendl
Date:March 10th, 2004 12:49 am (UTC)
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The National Spelling Bee is a curiosity which proves it's worth a film; incidentally, it raises questions as to why competitive spelling seems to stop at eighth grade - why there aren't adult Spelling Bees in the same way.

Judging from how difficult it's becoming to find a winner of eighth grade spelling bees, I'd imagine the problem to be that an adult version would end not with an error, but with a death from old age.

Having said that, a multilingual spelling bee would be a whole new kettle of fish! Contestant B, please spell the Dutch word gelukkig.

Until then, there's always Scrabble™ Brand Crossword Game.
[User Picture]
From:addedentry
Date:March 10th, 2004 03:12 am (UTC)

Posts for Friends pages

(Link)
You made such a post yourself, back in the day:

http://www.livejournal.com/users/jiggery_pokery/2002/09/20/
[User Picture]
From:sophie10
Date:March 10th, 2004 04:39 am (UTC)
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Thank you!

*hugs*
[User Picture]
From:quiz_master_man
Date:March 15th, 2004 07:42 am (UTC)
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For all your spelling bee needs, do not miss the chapter "Shivering like Rhesus Monkeys" in Neil Steinberg's book "Complete and Utter Failure." All the best imagery in Mya Goldberg's "Bee Season" was stolen from it.

-Myron hates "Bee Season" with a hatred much more than it deserves. He hasn't seen "Spellbound" yet.
[User Picture]
From:addedentry
Date:May 6th, 2004 02:32 am (UTC)
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Sneaking under the wire, news that BBC1 will show a British spelling contest in November:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/uk_news/education/3594839.stm
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:May 8th, 2004 07:44 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Gasp. This seems as dubious a transatlantic cultural import as "Captain Britain", to say nothing of the increasingly increasingly stretched "Captain UK". Still, perhaps they'll have Carol Vorderman hosting, or someone who will softball it as much as Carol did when hosting Britain's Brainiest Kid; Dermot O'Leary and one-strike-and-you're-out wouldn't really be the British way, would it?

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