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August 14th, 2016

Two years ago today was the happiest day of my life. In honor of that anniversary, and having just had a wonderful time in Fort Wayne, I decided to write (to quote k8) "happy conrad-y things" about Conrad, Scrabble, and the potential for their future.

tl;dr: "After a year away from the game. I am happy with the direction in which my relationship to Scrabble is evolving, and if I arm myself with healthy set of reasons for playing the game, I am hopeful that I might seriously play again in a couple of years when I have my masters and am settled into a new job."

My usual disclaimer: hey, you! Don't skim this post! Read it or don't read it! Either way is fine! :)

//pretend there are lots of \n here...

For starters, I had an excellent time in Fort Wayne! It was the first time I did not play in Nationals since my tournament career began. Many people asked me during the tournament if I regretted not playing, but the honest truth is that if I had competed, I likely would have been miserable. I am very happy with the decision I made, and even happier that I was able, this year, to do what I knew was right, and enjoy being a spectator. As such, this Nationals was a step in the right direction for my Scrabble future.

I love that at Nationals each year, I get to make new friends just by virtue of being in the same room as a bunch of like-minded people. There was beer, phoneys, things, more beer, cuddle puddles, giant board blitz scrabble, and, well, more beer. It was a low stress affair, and it helped me gain more perspective. And while you all were playing, in addition to doing homework, and helping various people with commentary, I found myself reflecting on where I’m at, in terms of Scrabble.

A year ago I wrote this post. Since the depressing week that was 2015 Nationals, I vowed to indefinitely limit my Scrabbling. Over the last year:

- I have played in just one tournament
- I have not studied a word
- I deleted Quackle from my computer
- I kept free Zyzzyva on my laptop only just because it’s an instinctive   way to look up the meaning of words
- I still don’t know the new threes
- I can name pretty much every time I have played Scrabble since that   tournament. Most all of those times have involved one minute blitz on   ISC or Collins club/pub crawls with Dave, Travis, Evans, Peter, and Kolton (always coupled with copious pints of beer.)

But like my appearance at Fort Wayne, not playing the game hasn’t stopped me from going to tournaments. In the last year, I also:

- Returned home to help run the California Open
- Flew to New Orleans in January
- Drove to Vancouver in March
- Cooked lunch for the entire Bend, OR CSW tournament at the beginning of my road trip

and I had a blast each time!

Other than winning the one tournament I actually played in, I didn’t profit a cent from Scrabble this year. I didn’t have to wake up stressed every morning (I got to sleep in, instead!) The time I spent with friends was more relaxed, and I enjoyed cheering them on as they won tournaments. And as just mentioned, the one time I felt like playing in a tournament without too much distraction, I flew to Phoenix and played word game for a weekend. Once it was done, I was satisfied, and haven't felt like playing since. As such, I haven't entered another tournament. I did spend two months driving 8000 miles around the USA visiting Scrabble friends, though! That was amazing.

Over time, the anxiety I have felt about the game of Scrabble has greatly subsided, to the point where during Fort Wayne, I actually began to peacefully contemplate what coming back to playing the game in a year or two might actually look like. I’m certainly not there yet, but stepping away from playing has allowed me time to ruminate. Three major topics come to mind:

The first topic involves the amount of time and energy I devote to Scrabble. From age 14-24, Scrabble was pretty much my life, especially after I graduated from UCSD in 2011. I had no professional direction, and found that trying to force a career path was making me sick. I was able to make enough money playing/promoting Scrabble “professionally” that it worked for awhile as I explored the world and slowly worked together an idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Scrabble was the glue that held everything together, and in a surprisingly healthy way, at that. When I won Nationals in 2014, however, I immediately knew that sort of devotion was no longer sustainable for the current direction of my life.

Secondly, as my relationship with Scrabble soured in the year after Buffalo, my disillusionment was perhaps most intensified by the ensuing deterioration and eventual depression-inducing breakup with Noah. Say what you want about my strengths as a person (and I am so grateful that so many people have the optimistic opinion of me that they do) but there is no way I would’ve spent the time doing what it takes to be a serious contender for an NSC without first falling in love with somebody who wanted the same. I spent the first quarter century of my life thinking my hopes and goals weren’t even worth having, let alone worth achieving; loving somebody who shared such a fundamental part of my being showed me that I have the ability to motivate myself to do great things. But with Noah abruptly out of my life, I wondered if I'd ever be able to untangle Noah from Scrabble. It took me nearly a year to slowly take the time I needed in moving on, period, but a result of finding peace was the tacit acceptance that this dissociation wasn't worth it. As I continue to mature and succeed in the wake of that relationship, however, I am realizing that there can be a serious Scrabbler in me without Noah. This belief is really encouraging, but I've needed time and space to get here, and I am glad I have given myself that respect.

The final ingredient of this unhealthy concoction is the burnout I feel from trying to grow the game and make a career out of tournament Scrabble. In working with the people who have the actual power to bring Scrabble closer to the public eye, I’ve learned there's pretty much no hope for growing the game. The truth is actually depressingly simple:

Scrabble simply doesn’t make enough money for Hasbro or Mattel for either company to care. To make matters worse, there is so much turnover and reshuffling at these companies, that even if there's a person on the Scrabble brand team that cares, they'll be gone before anything happens. And the fact that both companies dislike each other greatly makes it very unlikely that one will buy the brand from the other anytime soon. Even united under one entity, Scrabble still won’t make enough money for anybody to care. This reality has extinguished my desire to “grow Scrabble” for the indefinite future. I just don’t care anymore. My time and energy is best spent elsewhere. (As a sidenote, after the WWF tournament last September, the head of the WWF brand offered a very good word should I reapply to work at Zynga in the future. Unfortunately, I've heared way too many horror stories about Zynga workplace culture, so I don’t foresee myself working as a designer or researcher there anytime soon.)

And as an aside, I would add that despite often not seeing eye to eye with Chris or John, I can at least empathize, firsthand, with how difficult it is to deal with Hasbro. That respect is enough for me to keep my NASPA membership up to date, even without playing much. Something is better than nothing.

Cutting my Scrabble play down to near zero freed up plenty of energy to work on starting my “real” career out on the best foot (that is, getting myself to Pittsburgh this fall). Both succeeding in receiving a CMU acceptance, and finally having a solid career direction have opened the possibility of eventually playing Scrabble again.

So how do I envision that future?

I think the uniting factor amongst making peace with all of these negative influences is redefining why I would want to be good at Scrabble.

The answer is not because it defines my life and I have devoted my life to the game.
The answer is not to win the respect and admiration of my partner.
The answer is not to put myself in the best position to work professionally to grow the game of Scrabble.

The answer, instead, just might be an amalgamation of some simple ideas:

I enjoy playing the game of Scrabble. I enjoy pushing strategic boundaries. I enjoy studying words. I enjoy matching up against my friends. I enjoy going to tournaments every couple of months. I enjoy “having my people” and don't see a need to ever seek a new group. I enjoy being able to escape the sad state of our society and world, even if just temporarily. These things can all make me really, really happy.

If I'm right, then there does exist a healthy reason to play Scrabble at a high level (let’s be honest, I’ll never be content playing below something reminiscent of the top of my game).

Giving back to the game continues to be very important to me, even on hiatus. I enjoy directing the CO. I’m honored to be a part of the Crescent City Cup directorial staff next year. I hope I can pull something off school-wise to be an actual staff member at next year’s Nationals. I’m excited about turning my Social Media Committee efforts inward to rebuilding an enjoyable, modernized tournament Scrabble experience. As stated above, I don’t care about growing Scrabble anymore. What I do care about, however, is ensuring that both present day and future generations of Scrabble players have a vibrant, welcoming community in which they can continuously immerse themselves as they see fit. It’s a tough world out there right now, and Scrabble need not emulate that reality. This game and its people saved me, and I want it to retain the potential to do the same for others into eternity. Scrabble can and should be a happy place, even if it isn't a very large community. And if we can improve or redefine the tournament Scrabble experience, then I suspect we'll get some influx of new members along the way, too. And for me, that'd just be icing on the cake!

Lest I get carried away, of course, my short-term future lies elsewhere. On Tuesday, I move into my new home in Pittsburgh, and by the end of the month, will enter into the world of HCI. I cannot wait to begin this new journey, and I am continually empowered by my friends and family who believe so strongly in my potential to become an influential figure of that world, too. Scrabble taught me of just how much I am capable of achieving when I put my heart and mind to my interests, and I take this next step fully believing in my own latent abilities for the first time in my life. It also means I will have virtually no life outside of school for the next twelve months, so, Scrabble has to stay in a backseat for now.

But having been away from competitive play for a year and seeing where I am now, I’m excited to see where I will be in another year from now. Once I have my masters, and (hopefully!) a job I care about, then I’m starting to see a new place for playing top-level Scrabble in my life. That makes me really, really happy, especially when you consider what I was writing about the game a year ago.

So I hope to see a lot of you in New Orleans. In January, that is. And July too, should I finagle a way there. And after Fort Wayne, the idea of underachieving at a tournament doesn't sound so bad. I've been wanting to see the city of Asheville. Or maybe Albany, since I have an actual break then. But I gotta get settled in and started with the fall first. I suspect that two weeks from now, when classes begin, I'm not going to have any time to even think about this stuff for awhile. Regardless, we’ll see what happens. Deep breaths, self.

But in the meantime, I’m really happy with how my relationship to Scrabble is maturing, and I am encouraged that my future might involve playing the game once again, rather than pigeonholing it into “something that was a different part of my life.”

It was great to see everybody in Fort Wayne, seriously. As I’ve previously posted, the most sincere congratulations to David.

One of these years, maybe I, too, will make a run at being a two-time NSC. But until then, Scrabble and I are in a happy, peaceful place, and that makes moving to Pittsburgh and taking the next step with my life that much more exciting.

As always, I love you all. <3

cBB

September 4th, 2015

Many people go through this realization. Perhaps you have at one point in your life, or perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones. This post examines where I’ve gone in the last month since Reno, more positive/hopeful reflections on my breakup this past winter, and where I feel I’m headed. It’s more for me than anyone else, but when I have unanswered questions, I often find it best to put my feelings out there. Regardless, if you do decide to read this post, I do ask that you read it in its entirety.

Yesterday, while sitting in a microbrewery in Soldotna, AK, I was tempted by this Belgian style ale that used gummi bear sugar for the fermentation process. I was warned the beer would be sweet, and quite alcoholic. I took one sip, and my mind was blown. I’m not even so sure it tasted like beer, but many of you know that despite my lack of a sweet tooth, I have a very soft spot for eiswein. Somehow, this beer was like tasting a less intense version of an eiswein – not as cloying, but yet, undeniably sweet. There were notes of hops and malt that reminded me I was in fact drinking a beer, but my mind was blown. I ended up drinking another glass – I know I’ll never get to have it again, but when we left that brewery, I knew, without a doubt, that I was no longer depressed.

There are a few things in life that can excite me to a point of transcendence. They’re usually either experiences with helping people, some amazing food or drink discovery, or the arrival at the final destination of some far off land (usually with an unspoilt view). When I have these transcendent experiences, I am giddy. I am so excited, it borders on feeling a sort of high. And these experiences are special to me – they don’t happen often.

I haven’t had a feeling like in quite a long time. I’d noticed that wondrous side of me had faded, or at least become timid. Since Reno, I’ve been working hard every day to rise out of my depression, and I think I reached that point. The instant my taste buds processed that funky beer, I knew I’d rediscovered that side of me. I was sitting there next to Jesse, and couldn’t even describe to him what it was that entranced me so wholly. But that moment was back, and I let it envelop me fully.

A number of positive things have happened to me since I returned from Reno vowing that I now understood what it meant to believe in myself, and work hard for my own future. Along with the many wonderful discussions I’ve had with people who reached out after my post-Reno ramblings, I’ve started a reconnection with a friend that I hope will again blossom into something cool. Another visit from John and Cecilia always brings me to a happy place. Wordie Games finals is coming up, and the semis were a kick, and a chance to see Bay Area friends. This trip to Alaska was pretty damned fun, too. I’ve socialized more since Reno – more trivia, a couple of parties, and even cooked dinner at my house once with a friend. I’ve started getting the Tuesday day shift at work: this will enable me a very good time to return to the gym Tuesdays, and after that, play at the Tuesday night CSW club. I’ve missed stuff like that.

But as time goes on, it’s not like I am happy all of the time. Sometimes it is hard to get up in the mornings. Sometimes I feel trapped at work. Sometimes I can’t motivate myself to study Japanese or work on learning how to code because I feel like there’s no point. Without a doubt, I still go through minor bouts of what feels like depression for an hour or two a few times a week. Except now, I can much more clearly qualify how it is I feel when I’m in positions like that, and as such, I’m pretty confident in stating that it’s not depression. Rather, it is, as many of you have probably already guessed, is simply loneliness.

The reality is that it’s taking me a really long time to get past the breakup. After spending five and a half years loving somebody, I still don’t get how you’re supposed to stop doing that. What does one do when someone to whom they’ve dedicated their whole life, someone for whom I would’ve given my own life in a heartbeat tell you you’re not worth their time anymore? How the fuck am I supposed to feel about myself?

One way in which I punished my ex was to not use their name. Instead, I’d refer to them as ‘asshole’ or ‘mean person’, or something a bit more descriptive such as ‘curly hair’. Fact is, it’s hard to avoid talking about said person because so many of my memories from college onward involve them. But a discussion with a Scrabble friend suggested that maybe that was hurting me more than helping me. So I’ve started using Noah’s name more, and I think it is helping. I do slip back into using the pseudonyms when I’m particularly annoyed about how he treated me/handled this situation, but I think said friend was right in this regard. And that’s why I’m going to speak a bit more about the subject.

Over the last few months, I’ve purified my Facebook of Noah. I’ve since deleted most evidence of him from my life (too lazy to deal with photo albums, and I realize now that seems like overkill). I also redid my room to make it feel a safer place to me (it does – this was a fantastic decision!) These deletions/restructurings are helpful in finalizing the fact that he is no longer in my life, but the reality is, he will always sort of be in my life, in some way or another. I can’t delete the memories from my mind, I can’t shake the quirks I have adopted from him, or that he adopted from me, and I can’t change the fact that most of my Scrabble friends will continue to be friends with him as he/they see fit.

But what I’ve begun to understand is that, I shouldn’t try to erase him from my memories. Not only is it impossible, it’s cheating myself, and denying myself many good things that came of those years. Why shouldn’t I look back fondly on the many amazing experiences we shared together? It hurts, but the more I do it, the less it hurts. Why should I want to incinerate my memories of my first love?

But at the end of the day (sometimes the beginning, sometimes midday), I’m still very lonely. And the instinct that I gather from said loneliness is that, despite everything, I still want nothing more than to reconcile our differences. I’d give anything to make that happen, at times I just want to cry out to my friends or to Facebook, “Please, somebody talk some sense into him – this is crazy and over the top! Losing him is losing too much of a part of me!” But he asked me to never contact him again, and I feel obliged to respect that.** So such as it is, it is going on six months, and I am just now learning to cope with the loneliness. Not to mention he still lives all of four blocks from my house. Though I suppose that last part is not permanent – I never planned to be in Portland forever.

**Be that as it may, I am comfortable if somebody does decide to show Noah this post, or anything else I write in general. I’m not the one who cut him out of my life, and don’t feel the need to hide my life from him.

But now that I recognize that what I feel now is loneliness, it feels like a huge first step towards feeling like I could eventually make it back to a place where I’d trust somebody enough to perhaps form a romantic relationship. That will take time, and I don’t feel like I’m actively searching right now, but perhaps as I grow to take better care of myself, I will gain the confidence to seek a relationship that is more based in two people with self confidence, and not the lack thereof. And loneliness suggests to me that I actually do wish to form some sort of bond with somebody, that it would actually fill a part of me.

Right now I don’t feel I have the confidence to open myself up to somebody that way, and the reality is, I hopefully have a rather transient future ahead of me the next couple of years, so I think the time is best spent slowly but surely working on my ability to communicate with human beings on a romantic level. I am good at loving someone, but I just have no idea how to get back there (heck, does anybody?), and quite frankly, I don’t think I’m ready. See, I’ve still got plenty to work on, but I am headed back in the right direction.

But questions still remain: How do I deal with the loneliness more effectively when it hits? How do I work on my self confidence in the romantic domain? How can I learn that flirting can be OK and does not necessarily mean that I am a creepy guy? How will I know when I'm ready, if ever to embark on another relationship? How do I remind myself, when I feel lonely, that Noah's seemingly low opinion of me does not define me? And sure, there are more questions, but you get the idea.

I guess in a sense I'm opening up the floor here. I don't really know if I want advice, but some outside perspective usually doesn't hurt.

So how do I sum that up?

1) I am not depressed anymore. Success.
2) I am a human being. Human beings get lonely. Transitively, I get lonely.
3) Taking better care of myself has been great so far, and will continue to be great for the growth of my self confidence in the realm of romantic relationships.
4) I will always have a special place in my heart for Noah. He was my first love – I can’t ever change that, and I shouldn’t. I should look back on our time positively, as for every bad day, there were at least three good days.
5) Take it easy, it’s OK to move slow. I shouldn’t castigate myself for feeling too nervous to invite the cool girl at the cart next door to the party this weekend (disclaimer: I think I’d be able to work up the nerve if she was single, but since she’s not, it seems like a weird way to try to start a friendship)
6) Make peace with the fact that many other people, are, like me, constantly starting again on the ground floor at age 21, 25, 30, 35, 40, etc…I don’t have to be embarrassed for my lack of or simply narrow experience. If someone cares about stuff like that, then they’re not the right person for me, anyway.

And when I do decide I am ready to start seeking, or if love should strike me on the head again, I should probably consider myself fortunate that I don’t really care what the gender is of my hypothetical future partner. I’ve realized generally how I am wired since I was a child, but I tend to keep that sort of thing to myself, so I guess now it’s been officially said in the interwebs. Whatever.

As usual, thanks for reading. I’ll learn to live with loneliness, and as I begin to do that, I think my thirst for life will continue to return. And one day, maybe I’ll find somebody as incredibly special as Noah has been to me, or maybe even more so, and hopefully I’ll be able to offer a more confident, less confused Conrad, in return.

I think the future is looking more consistently bright.

<3

August 10th, 2015

Thanks for finding your way to this page. LJ seemed the easiest place to post this thing, so here it is! I know it's the Internet and this is a public post, but I do ask that you please do not share this post without asking first. Most people won't instinctively check my Livejournal anymore, hah.

What follows is 5600 words (about 11 pages) of thoughts. But before you get started, I have one request for you:


I spent a lot of time writing this, and these thoughts are very dear and emotional to me. I invite you to share in these thoughts with me, relate to them, offer your own thoughts, observe silently, chastise me, shake your head, whatever. All I request is that if you are going to embark on this emotional journey with me, that you read it in its entirety, and not skim over it. If you’re going to just scan through these thoughts, I’d respectfully ask that you stop reading after this paragraph. I am by no means offended if you decide not to continue – but it’s not a five-minute read. Read it in chunks, if that's what it takes - I sure wouldn't blame you. Ultimately, this writing was for myself, but a number of people asked me to share, and as such, I am happy to, and I am grateful for anybody who does take the time to read this whole thing. I hope that my emotion comes across effectively. It was written with some mix of disappointment, sadness, thankfulness, wonderment, but ultimately, an air of hopefulness for myself, within myself. I thank you for your respect and honesty, and if you are continuing from here, the introduction begins in the next paragraph.




[insert more \n here] ;)


No one ever believes me when I say I am quitting Scrabble, when I say I’m not going to Nationals, when I say I’m done with the game. Because the reality is, I don’t believe me either. It’d be cool if people reading this writing felt some of the same emotion I feel. But mostly, I just want to prove to myself that I can trust myself to do what is best for me, and to define exactly what moving on really means. You can continue to give me crap, chide me, be silly with me – that’s fine. But I hope by the end of reading this reflection, you’ll understand that I am making peace with my relationship to this game, and everything that comes along with playing, as well as taking a giant leap towards my future (I hope...)

Ready? OK, let’s journey…




Part 1: The most beautiful of games

Scrabble is a beautiful game. In a certain light, it may be the most beautiful game. People ask me “why Scrabble?” and setting aside the community for a moment, there is a reason why I stayed so attracted to this game. To me Scrabble mirrors life.

Life is often skill based, but some things are out of your control. Much of the time, if you work the hardest, you get the highest reward; similarly, if you don’t put in the work, you won’t see the results. But this “if A then B” relationship is not set in stone. A couple of examples:

  1) Some people try their hardest to get into that right educational program (a road I’m beginning to travel down), or job, or whatever, and despite having all the qualifications, their resume lands on the wrong step. That other person who perhaps half-assed everything, maybe whose parents had the right connections, or even just said right words got chosen, for some, seemingly inexplicable reason.

  2) Sometimes you don’t have the time, for whatever reason, to work hard – or maybe you only get 25% of the way there. As it turns out, that 25% was the 25% you needed to make it through this challenge. The guy who got 75% of the way there left out your 25% of preparation. You win.

  3) You have no idea where to go next, and then magically, life lays itself out before you.

In #1, you can learn all the words, master all the strategy, but sometimes the tiles just won’t fall your way. You just pick yourself up and try again.

In #2, you can learn a subset of the game. You probably won’t be the next National Champion, but now and then, things will fall your way, and you’ll go on a roll, and it’ll feel awesome. Because it is.

In #3, you’re just stumped. You can’t find the right bingo, you can’t find the right lane, you can’t figure out how to get back in the game, and then, suddenly, the spot hits you, and you hit that miracle draw, and you win. You can’t explain it – things just worked out.

To paraphrase Nigel Richards, if two equally skilled people are playing a game of Scrabble, 25% of games are unwinnable, 25% of games are in the bag for you, but it’s the other 50% of the time that makes the difference.

Anyway, that’s the beauty of Scrabble to me – I have yet to find another game that so closely mirrors our day-to-day successes and struggles. They say chess is human versus human. Go has been described as human versus oneself. I describe Scrabble as human versus life.

For the last 11 years, this dynamic of mirroring life has been really great for how I've gone about living. I’ve felt like a fuckup most of the time (people say I’m not, but we’re our own hardest critics, let’s be real here.)

Oh, and every game of Scrabble is always different. Always a new game, just like every day is a new day. You can always start over and try your best from the present forward.




2) High-level competition makes me sick

At least, it does in Scrabble. And by sick, I literally mean, physically sick. In 2005, when I was 15, playing in my first Nationals, I ate 3 meals in 5 days. By 2008 Nationals, I learned that greasy food was aggravating me, so I learned to limit the kinds of food I ate at tournaments. It helped a bit, in that I was actually able to choke down meals. But even to this day, breakfast and lunch at Scrabble tournaments are about choking the sustenance down. I need it for my brain to function at whatever highest level it’s functioning at these days.

The first thing I thought after I won Nationals was:

Oh my God! I never have to force myself to feel sick again in order to play this game competitively.”

I didn’t listen to myself.

I can’t remember a tournament where I didn’t have an upset stomach most of the time.

I’d typically pull all nighters during tournaments, or maybe snag a few hours of restless sleep here and there. It has only been in the last couple of years that I get a couple 8-hour-nights of sleep, and even then, I still find myself tossing and turning.

That’s how it works for me. Scrabble tournaments are supposed to be vacations, to be breaks from everyday life. And yet, by the last night of a Scrabble tournament, I just can’t wait to be home, just so that I won’t feel physically ill anymore.

And then there’s the mental aspect of the game. I tend to run anxious in life – probably a product of genes and my childhood. It’s no secret that I am a nervous wreck at tournaments. Usually by the time evening comes, I’ve calmed down, but during tournaments I am just not a fun person to be around.

It took me nearly a decade to conquer the mental game of top-level competition. Even then, I was far from perfect. Life was at an all time high leading up to Buffalo, and it was one of the two things on which I tried my hardest to work at between the 2013 and 2014 Nationals. Things have gone colossally downhill since then, and so you can imagine that my mental game isn’t exactly at its highest. To win at the top level of anything, your mental game has to be present. If it’s not, then you really got lucky.

So the combination of physical sickness and anxiety I feel playing tournaments has led me to a point where I don’t like myself at tournaments. I don’t like to be around people at tournaments because I am afraid of the things I say. People ask me why I show no emotion much of the time – it’s because that’s all I can do to keep from temporarily turning into a person I despise.

I want vacation to be about having fun again. I don’t want to put myself in positions where I am making myself physically ill. I wish I could control it – maybe one day I’ll be able to. But right now is not that time.




3) Learning to trust myself

Of course you’ll play Nationals, Conrad.”

I did not want to play in Nationals this year. I really did not want to play in Nationals this year. Most everyone told me that I was full of shit. Most everyone told me I had to come defend. I knew that I didn’t want to. There was no way I was going to put in the proper planning, and with how life had gone since Nationals, I didn’t really feel like I was in the emotional state to withstand a really sour streak. If you read part 2, you’ll understand why I didn’t want to play. Sure, I planned to come down to Reno and spend some time, because I love everybody, but I wasn’t prepared to play.

But I’ve never really been a big believer in myself, so my belief that it’d be better for me to sit out for awhile was overcome by people shouting in my ear that I must play Nationals. In the end, I didn’t listen to myself because I believed everyone to be more right than me, even though only I really knew how I felt.

So I caved. I entered Nationals. And as I’m writing this segment during the last couple of days of the tournament, let me tell you – I am absolutely miserable. I feel sick, anxious, I certainly don’t want to play anymore games. Normally I can handle a downswing of tiles, but the timing yesterday to have, let’s say, a bottom-5 worst days for variance in terms of tile-drawing, timing, whatever you want to call it over 11 years just got my mind in a bad space. Again, I can take the bad luck, that’s part of Scrabble, but it just reminded me of how awful I feel. Then it all just sorta compounds, and before you know it, I’ve turned into someone I detest. That’s what happened to me yesterday, and that was the moment I knew that I had to start listening to myself.

I’ve had moments like this before, but I think something clicked yesterday. Well, since I don’t believe in myself, I want to hope that something clicked yesterday. Time will tell. It’s time to start listening to myself, and doing things for me. That’s been the goal I’ve been trying to achieve to get myself out of the mental slump that I’ve been going through for quite awhile now.

I achieved my greatest Scrabble goal. I have other life goals I wish to achieve now. It’s time to trust myself and throw myself headfirst into the new things I want to conquer and master. Maybe I’ll never be a National Champion at anything again, but as I’ve matured I’ve learned I don’t really want so much in life.

Added a few days later:

I was worried that I’d return home and forget this emotion. Fortunately, the personal nature of the Think Out Loud radio interview really solidified how I felt. I’m working six days in a row as I’ve returned home, but I’m determined to stay focused.

Note: Everything before the last paragraph was written by Tuesday evening of the 2015 NASC; everything after was written the following weekend.



4) Be the best or do not be. There is no be.

I spent many years being “good” at Scrabble. I have a great instinct for this game, and it has always compensated for the superior word knowledge capabilities of most of my younger-generation peers.

My way of coping with my emotional exploitation as a child, both by my mom and by my peers at school was to just not put any emotion into anything, and to not put any effort into anything. It was easiest, I could skate by and still perform nearish the top of my class, and it involved little emotional investment. I could hide away. And once Scrabble came along, I could escape to Scrabble. It makes sense, then, that Scrabble was the first thing I gave my all at.

We’re motivated in two ways – extrinsically and intrinsically. Extrinsic motivation suggests external factors (money, fame, acceptance), while intrinsic motivation is an internal drive. Up until I won the National Championship, I was very intrinsically motivated. For whatever reasons, I wanted to be the best, and for the first time in my life, I really put forth the effort to do that. Of course, it took 5 years of competitive play to reach that point, but I hit that wall, eventually, and decided I wanted to try to scale it.

But in writing these thoughts down on paper, it’s impossible to skate around the issue of the state of the game. I have no official position to take here, and attempt to lead by my actions. Draw the conclusions you will from there:

I am one of the most knowledgeable people about the state of competitive Scrabble. For a time I wanted to make a career out of this game, so I’ve worked with Hasbro, and for MSI. I was at one point the youngest director to run a major multiday event, and I currently volunteer on the one NASPA committee to which I feel I can positively contribute (social media). If NASPA decided to have a third, elected member of the Executive Committee, I just might go for that.

There are currently fewer than 200 active NASPA Scrabble players on the west coast (CA, OR, WA, BC). 216 if you count Nevada. Feel however you want about NASPA, WGPO, Collins, or TWL, but the reality is, this number is frightening. There is no positive justification for it. My first multiday tournament, in Fall 2004 in Nevada, had more than 216 people at it.

This section can go on for pages, in reality, but the ultimate conclusion to which I always arrive is that these thoughts are hard to organize, and my future in the game is tough to reconcile. So this is my attempt at trying.

Extrinsic: There are virtually no extrinsic motivators in Scrabble. The big one for me would be money. If I could make a living playing Scrabble, I would. But there is no money to be made in Scrabble, and there probably never will be. You cannot make a living out of it. I won Nationals in 2014, and was probably counted, statistically, below the poverty line. Even for the better part of a decade, there were a number of tournaments every year with $2K-$4K top prizes around the country. Hell, there were even two or three on the west coast every year. That’s something, at least. Now, there are only a few tournaments, yearly, that boast a top prize of even $1000. West Coast? Dream on, CBB.

I don’t enjoy fame or notoriety, personally. I’m happy to do it to promote the game, but the only reason I value notoriety is for any career opportunities it could open up for me in the future. Bottom line, the extrinsic motivators for Scrabble are few and far between.

Intrinsic: There have never been very strong extrinsic motivators in Scrabble. The money was a good one as a kid/student because I wasn’t making much anyway – a couple thousand dollars a year to fund travel was huge (not that that’s possible anymore – I was a kid at the right time, in that one regard). It took a lot of intrinsic motivation to be in the shape I was in for Buffalo. I really did want to be the best.

But being the “best” at Scrabble now is very different than being the best a year ago, three years ago, five years ago. We’ve lost a number of top players both completely and to apathy. I certainly fall in the latter group. Sure, there’s the easy argument: “you’ve won Nationals, it’s different.” Maybe there’s a bit of truth to that, but after putting in the effort, and being fortunate enough to win, do you think the most logical decision is to let your skills decay? In an ideal world, I’d love to try to repeat as National Champion, and become a true legend of the game. And yet, my first thoughts after winning in Buffalo (other than, “oh my god, I won Nationals”) were:

Thank goodness I never have to put myself through this stress ever again.”

Sadly, I think that instinctive reaction speaks pretty loudly. I can take the physical sickness of competing if I care enough. I can keep myself emotionally centered, too. I attempted that for a decade, and I had success, eventually.

However, now there is virtually zero extrinsic motivation to play competitive Scrabble. And for various reasons, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way, either: there are very few common intrinsic motivators these days, as well.

One other motivator to keep me playing Scrabble was to see my friends at tournaments. As time has gone on, though, seeing people outside of tournaments has become the norm. It’s great to see everybody all at once, but those opportunities are becoming fewer and further between – especially on the left coast.

Quite frankly, I’m content to just see my Scrabble friends outside of Scrabble. I’ve been increasing our time together with that for almost as long as I have been playing. I could probably list every single non-Scrabble get together I’ve had with nonlocal players over the last decade, and the list would be staggeringly long.

And as I get older and [hopefully] have more disposable income, I see no issue with going the reverse route, and supplementing the time I spend with Scrabble people outside of tournaments with attending a few tournaments as an observer or director. I’ve certainly done both in the past, even with little disposable income. As long as I can still see my friends somehow, that’s all I’m motivated by right now.

All of these tangents boil down to the same conclusion that the title of this surprisingly short-winded section suggests: I either want to [try to] be the best, or just not play at all. I don’t have any interest in showing up to Nationals not at the top of my game. I don’t even want to play one days half-assedly. I know what it’s like to be at the top of my game, and I know what it’s like to have a remarkable intuition for the game. But retaining those abilities takes a lot of dedicated practice. And without it (for me) competing fucking sucks.

My ego is going to show for a bit here, but there’s a huge difference between being a 1900 rated expert, and being one of the top players in the game. Heck, if I look at the best players in Scrabble history, I don’t even know that I’ve truly ascended from that larger first group to that elite second group. Can I really compare myself to Brian or Adam? Sure, but the conclusion is that they’re better.

When I play tournaments like Nationals this year, or New Orleans every year, I become frustrated in my underachievement. I know I’m nowhere near the top of the game, and that I could do so much better, so I ask myself why I don’t reascend to that level, or attempt to reach even greater heights. But if you’ve gotten this far in this section, then you know why I don’t feel enough “activation energy” to rebegin that process. And then I get caught in this cycle of frustration. I show up to tournaments, fully knowing I will underperform if I don’t get really lucky, get pissed off, then do it again. Well, I think Reno has drawn that line for me. Be the best, or do not be, there is no be. And all I mean by this terrible pun is that there is no middle ground. It’s no fun for me to play Scrabble competitively below the level I know I’m capable of, and there’s just no motivation, neither internally nor externally, to leave me feeling like it’s worth the time and effort to play at that level.

I hate how depressing this section is, and to be honest I toned it down quite a bit. I endeavor to stay neutral on all of the issues. I’ve been the National Champion for both NASPA and WGPO. I’ve been the TWL National champ, and I’ve held the #1 ranking in the world after beating Nigel in a CSW series. At the end of the day, I value my friends more than the many differing opinions of beautiful fish in a very, very small pool. And I hope I have succeeded in remaining as neutral as possible in this section as to the difficulties that currently face the tournament Scrabble community.

But whatever the reasons may be, that pool is getting smaller, and those beautiful fish are becoming fewer and further between.

Yeah, I’ll probably see you in New Orleans. But will it be across a Scrabble board? I’m struggling to find a reason why.

And in the meantime, I’m being extrinsically motivated to play some hyper-volatile version of Words With Friends. It’s been 8 years since a word-game tournament boasted a $25,000 prize, and I could be a contender for this one.




5) What the hell does this all mean for my Scrabble future?

Shit, I don't know. Wasn't that supposed to be the whole point of this?

Look, the reality is that I’m never going to “quit Scrabble” completely. The people mean too much to me, and at the end of the day, it’s still the most beautiful game, to me. I’ll always be happy to play Scrabble with competitive-level players for fun, even if it’s not in an eerily quiet, sterile ballroom with meaningless rating on the line. Scrabble pub-crawls in Portland are so much fun, for example. I will always love mentoring up-and-coming players, as well.

So while I may be on hiatus / retiring from top-level play for the indefinite future, I am by no means leaving the community. Beyond that, let’s now default to a numbered, yet inherently unorganized list.

  1) I am playing the Words With Friends thing in August. If I make the finals, I will play that in  September.

  2) I still have to decide on Word Cup. All signs point to no, but it’s 20 minutes from my  house, I’m still the favorite, and as such is somewhat tempting. Although my instincts all say no right now, I’m going to address it after WWF semis. I am, however, playing a PDX Collins Club one day for the new CSW words at the beginning of September. After those two tournaments, I have no plans to play in a tournament for about a year.

  3) I will direct the California Open, assuming it gets organized. I will likely attend New Orleans, but will also likely not compete. I will likely attend the Vancouver tournament next March, but again, it is doubtful I will compete. I would love to run a weekend tournament in Portland before I leave next spring, but that 216 number is just a bit scary, if I’m going to go talking to hotels. Not worth the risk, I fear?

  4) Fort Wayne. I can’t play, if I’m being even vaguely true to myself and have learned anything from my experiences this year. Unless something drastically changes in me, or in the greater Scrabble world, there is no way I will be competing. If I’m stateside, however, it’d be really cool to give back as a division assistant, or better yet, do commentary for all 31 rounds. I guess we’ll see.

  5) I do have a next-tournament in mind for 2016 to attend (and play). It would be stateside, but it has not yet been announced. We’ll see.

  6) I intend to remain on the NASPA SMC. I feel like NASPA is listening to what we [the SMC] have to say, and it’s a great group of people with whom to work. I am looking forward to seeing what we can get going in the next year.

  7) You’ll probably find me on ISC a bit or at Tuesday-night Collins club on occasion. Both can be nice ways to check out from the world for a bit – something I’m learning to be better at allowing myself to do from time to time.




6) [The lack of a] Conclusion

I don’t really know how to end this, so I’ll just say what comes to mind (edit: yep, it’s kinda long-winded and sappy, thanks for bearing with me). Scrabble has done a lot of things for a lot of us. Here’s a list of what it has done for me:

  - Gave me identity as a teen, as well as a respite from an emotionally abusive parent and a high school environment of [emotional] bullying.

  - Inspired me to really try to be the best at something.

  - Showed me I actually am a halfway-“normal” human being, and can actually function in society outside of Scrabble far better than I ever believed.

  - Opened my picky eating habits to a world of food. I do attribute the origins of my hipster-foodiness to Scrabble.

  - I fell in love for the first (and thus far the only time) with a Scrabble player (no, I have never dated Emily – I love her dearly, and she is one of my closest friends, but things never played out that way, and I am flattered that people have thought I’m anywhere near her league. Oh, hi Emily! Meow!) I also had my first breakup with said Scrabble player, and am slowly learning how to cope with it. I learned a lot about myself, and am still far from healed. I hope with all my heart things can be reconciled sooner rather than later (or never). But above all else, I learned that I am capable of attracting other human beings, and that my actual image is greater than my self-image, no matter how negative I feel. Oh, and I have another Scrabble crush, too, but I don’t think that person knows that (yet). I’m still too insecure/nervous to say anything because in that domain I'm still kind of a noob.

  - I’ve learned a lot about how the [corporate] world works, from my interactions with Hasbro, MSI, NASPA, etc.

  - I had a lead role on a failed reality TV show. This was insanely fun.

  - I traveled to two other continents to play Scrabble. Once I started, traveling the world has been a passion of mine. The money I don’t spend on food, I spend on travel. Scrabble opened up the world to me.

  - The community of Scrabble has allowed me to fuck up, fail, make mistakes, be oblivious to my shortcomings, learn to accept myself, help me along when I needed it, put me in my  place when I also needed it. I hope this will never change, especially the putting me in my place part. [As a sidenote, I still owe an apology to at least one Scrabbler or just being a downright immature asshole, and shitty friend, and have always felt like it was just too late to say anything, but now seems as reasonable a time as ever to call myself out. So if for some strange reason you read this dugy (feel free to pass this along to him if you see fit), let me buy you a beer sometime.]

  - I have a big brother in JM. I have a brother in Matt Canik (I used to call him a younger brother of sorts, but it doesn’t feel apt anymore). I have an I-don’t-know-what in XP (uncle brother? and what does that make KC?), but family is family, and he’s that. Oh, and there is Doug, too – I think he’s my cousin, actually. I love these people, just as I love the majority of the people who have welcomed me into a bearably dysfunctional family of sorts. I’ve tried to do the same thing for people who have come since, and wherever the Scrabbleverse goes, I hope to continue to welcome people of all backgrounds to be a part of our world. Every person counts.

I know it’s not a competition, but I don’t know for whom this game has done more than me. I am mostly a product of Scrabble and its community. I don’t know where I’d be without it, and going forward, I still don’t want to imagine a world without it. Who knows – maybe I’d be further along in life on the surface. But I’m pretty sure that my life would not be as intense, unique, and colorful as it has been since I joined this subculture. The lows are just as low as the highs, but I’d rather a wild ride than a steady path. Without a doubt, I’m at an emotional low these days – I have been for awhile now – but I also know what I want to do with my future, and have even learned what I want to do as a backup plan, so there is hope on the horizon. Putting the nonhuman aspects of Scrabble on the shelf for now will enable me to start working toward that horizon, even if living in Portland is very tough, right now. But I have a job that both keeps me busy and that I look forward to going to (most days) here, and my time here is not yet done – if only to prove to myself that I am worth my own time and effort.

But what it does mean now is that, if there aren’t real motivators to play the game of Scrabble well right now, then there isn’t room to play the game competitively for awhile. Half-assing it is nothing more than a distraction from accomplishing the things I want to achieve in the next year or two. Studying words is nothing more than an excuse to say I was “productive” on any given day.

When I started writing this…thing, I was sitting on the floor near division 1 in Reno, and a longtime Scrabble friend (who had been out of the scene for a couple of years, what with being a new dad, and all) came up to me. He could tell I was sad (I mean, seriously, who couldn’t tell I was not in a happy place during Reno), and could empathize. We talked a bit about how depression entices you to hide yourself from people; it makes avoiding your friends seem preferable. I’ve been fairly successful at doing just this over the last 8 months or so, but his wisdom echoed my instincts that have been trying to shout over my depression. Treasure those friends. Trust them. Speak to them. Let them help you. Let them be there for you. DO NOT SHUT THEM OUT.

I’m not sure which ones he said, or which ones I just feel, but they’re all true. I do treasure this world. I’d be, as Chris Cree would so colorfully announce, “out of my ever-loving mind” to give any of you up. I may be giving up the game for now, but I will never retire from the Scrabble world. In the big picture, my life is fairly meaningless, but I already feel like I’ve lived a rich life in 25 years just from being surrounded by the people of Scrabble. I’m so fortunate to have the support system I do, and I’m learning to embrace the fact that I am worth peoples’ time, and that it’s OK to lean on my friends, community, and family. It is imperative now, in my dark days, more than ever. And I’m going to try to be better at that. Starting with sharing this writing. But part of embracing myself is recognizing my own limits, and looking out for my own health. Again, I am trying to be better at that, starting with this writing. I’m happy to be sharing it, but ultimately, it’s a very long reminder to myself that I actually do have a pretty good idea of what is/isn’t good for me, and what I want out of the present and the future.

I will probably never retire from Scrabble completely. A break is a break – I’ve taken them before, and if I do come back to the game seriously, I’m sure I’ll need another break eventually. But I will continue to be an active member of the community, and strive to be a better, more compassionate player, friend, and family member to the Scrabble world. The community helped me grow up to this point, and I will continue to seek/need that help as I continue to grow. I only hope I can continue to be there for others, and give them the chances and opportunities they’ve afforded me.

If you thought this writing was goodbye, it most certainly is not. I will never say goodbye to this world. I’d be an idiot if I did.
In closing, I’ll say it again, except this time I’ll say it directly to you: I love you all. I adore you all. You have made my life vibrant and colorful. Thank you all for being there for me the last 11 years, from Paula, Jeannie, John, Cynthia, Bennett, Marilyn, XP (etc.), the adults who first made me feel welcomed in the Bay Area Scrabble community, to my most recent friendships over the last couple of years in Kolton, Charles, Mack, Will, Travis, Chris, Josh (etc.) and everyone who has been there for me, or with me, in between, during my highs and lows. And thank you for having trusted me to be there for you in your ups and downs as well. For however long I have left on this planet (and hopefully whatever comes after), I will always feel loved, and always know there is a place I can (and will, actively) be Conrad. I am forever indebted and thankful to have had, and to continue having you in my life.


I love you all with all my heart.

Conrad “dacrON” Bassett-Bouchard
2014 National Scrabble Champion, 2000-always serial luckbox
Written 8/1/15 to 8/9/15


P.S.: If you have anything you'd like to say to me now that you've read this, I invite you to send me a message on Facebook, an email, or just call me if you see fit. I think my info is all on Facebook. If you want to say anything public, feel free to respond on Facebook. Even though this is a public post, please ask before sharing this post with people. Comments are disabled here because I've no desire to decipher anonymous posts.

December 27th, 2012

2012 Year in Scrabble

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I know nobody really takes me seriously when I say this, but I took a few giant steps backward in Scrabble this year. I spent the first two thirds of the year freaking out about what to do with my life, and while I had lots of fun this year, my stress levels went way up, and that probably contributed to the complete collapse of my mental game in Scrabble. If you told me this is where I'd be in Scrabble after 2012 given how 2011 went, I would've looked at you and laughed. I also would not have thought that by far and away my three favorite tournaments of the year would be the multiday event I organized, the event I co-catered, and the event I co-directed.

The end-of-the-year post is the only time I look at stats, and reflect on how I've grown in the last year - for that reason, this post is fairly long, and behind a cut. Using colors again - yay, colors!

I did achieve my biggest goal of the year, at least.Collapse )

2013 is going to be an awesome year. I hope Scrabble is a part of that. Stay tuned!

September 18th, 2012

(no subject)

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I am extremely still in Scrabble hiatus. My next TWL tournament will likely be BoB in 1/12.

That said, I'm somewhat disappointed that I haven't made it out of the continent in 2012. IF I was to go to an abroad tournament (not saying I AM - just brainstorming), there are three options:

Prague: December 1-4
Penang: December 13-16
Coventry: Jan 7-10

I have to distance myself a bit from Scrabble prize money in order to make a good decision, though. It's good to be economical in planning a trip, but winning money has to be icing on the cake. Obviously I don't have to travel with a tournament involved, but it seems like a good idea to me.

Flights:

- Prague trip could be as low as $750 if I can get to LAX, $920 out of SFO.
- Penang trip could be as low as $990 + intermediary flights (LAX, KUL, BKK, SIN, etc...).
- Coventry trip could be as low as $738 (to Ireland), $1000 to UK.

I feel like if the trips were free, it would be between Penang and Prague. What pros/cons am I missing?

(Note: I think doing both is probably too much [Scrabble, money], though I am open to ideas - lowest flights I see at about $2000, and ability to travel around events becomes more limited)

Anyway vote, and leave a comment (and your name) if you have anything to say!

Poll #1866920 Which International Tournament?

If I were to go to an international tournament in the next few months, which tournament should it be?

Prague 12/1-12/4
9(90.0%)
Penang 12/13-12/16
1(10.0%)
Coventry 1/7-1/10
0(0.0%)

June 29th, 2012

CALPAC!

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I have written player intros for CALPAC, which happens next weekend!

January 20th, 2012

hang in there Lester.

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January 4th, 2012

So I've been starting to learn how to cook throughout the last year or so, primarily from xpmorgan, but also from wallydraigle, eurobikermcdog, nagekinoki, and others. I think 2012 will be the year of putting that learning to use, as well as continuing to learn more!

Confidence in the kitchen comes with practice, so why not start off the new year right?

I'm in Portland, and Noah's mom just so happens to have all the spices in the world (approximately), so we decided to make what many consider to be Chef Jackass' signature dish!

This dish just so happens to be "tajine" (but we didn't have tajine, so let's just call it Moroccan beef stew). We used this recipe, with a few changes:

- biggest change (don't hate me, anybody): we used lean beef, since everybody wanted to.
- mixed red onions in with the meatballs, since we were out of white onion.
- we used the expensive saffron, since it happened to be readily available.
- no shrooms. I like the idea of angry old shrooms, but we decided to go shroomless# tonight.

Meatballs!:



Fresh out da' oven!:



Honestly, I was amazed how well it turned out. I like lean beef to begin with, so I thought the meatballs came out super nicely. If I had to find a mistake, I'd say that the broth was perhaps a bit watery - probably from the decreased amount of beef fat cooking off. Would probably thicken it a bit next time. Flavorwise though, I really thought it turned out great. The overall verdict was that we had achieved a rousing success, so I'm pumped.



As I said, I'm definitely going to cook more this year. It's all about practice.
Bay Area residents: who's in?

December 29th, 2011

I passed!

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I just passed my real estate sales exam! I don't think I did much better than the required 70% but hey a pass is a pass!

And I'm going to Portland tonight!

Now to get long overdue new shoes and get my suddenly haywire wireless keyboard looked at. Oh and food!

Ending 2011 on a high note :)


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