Home to Dinner

Subtlety, judgement and balance in play

She was waiting in bed when I got home. I'd printed a copy for her to read while I was away. She'd been angry. I could tell. I'd known she would be. She always is when I do something like this. Something that isn't what she'd expected. Something she doesn't believe in. I pretended I didn't see her glaring at me. I was tired. My publisher had worked me over for it already. They'd even threatened to revoke my advance for non-compliance. My pajamas were too slick. They were her choice, all silk and smooth, no warmth to wrap myself in for the upcoming festivities. I hoped that she'd been in bed a while, at least then the covers would be a little warm.

Nope, she'd just climbed in. "You couldn't just write the bloody theory?" Her voice could take on an edge sometimes, icy, just slitting the skin, waiting for your organs to fall out, or someone to pull off your scalp. I held still. I had to play the game, let her get it out, wait until I could say my piece. Hope my organs are held in by something other than skin, that no-one had a hankering for scalp.

"I've supported you for a year, a whole year, and you write this?" Originally it was to be eight months, but the format had taken so much longer than I'd anticipated. "Hell, couldn't you have at least included some sort of overview, or crib notes, something?" She hates it when I don't answer. She'd like me to say something so she can blow up, so she can punch or kick or something. She wants to release the anger. It means she's won. It means she's made her point and can just get her frustration out. Know your audience, only way to pull off a part.

"No-one is going to read this. I don't care what you promise them in the introduction. No-one is going to wade through this much stuff just to figure out your cock-eyed theory." I am silent, let her feel that she just made a tactical error.  Supposedly she's the loving wife who's one-hundred percent behind me, who believes in me, she recovers quickly, that's not going to kill her position.  I've messed up big time, I didn't tell her what I was doing. I didn't tell her what she was supporting "Look, couldn't you just do a summary? You could put it in somewhere, or something. It's just too much. You don't understand these people, they aren't going to have time to think all this through. Heck, you say it in your introduction, they are 'pushed every which way, no time to think, no time to live'. How can you expect them to do all this work? What about the ones who can't get it? You say right in there that there are people who can't grok this stuff, what about them? What about the people who've never been given any training?"

She decides to try physical persuasion. It's never worked for her, but she seems to have this belief in her sexual powers over me. Apparently some day I'll just capitulate when a leg is thrown over me and she whispers a few compliments into my chest. I'm thinking some day I'll do it, just to see where the game takes us then, but until then, it doesn't really thrill me. "It's well written, very well written. I liked it. You just missed the audience a little, made it a little too complex. Don't worry, I'm sure you can rework it in a few weeks and they'll accept it. It doesn't need much, just get rid of all the stories and stuff, make it more normal."

She's really quite good at the whole scene, I suppose maybe I'm just a really bad audience, certainly, she should be given credit for technical skill if nothing else. "They're architects. They don't like that kind of stuff. They're really just engineers. They want a straightforward solution. Didn't you when you were one of them? You could give it to them. I might be able to figure this out," (she was an English major), "but they can't, they can't put together all these pieces, it's not what they're good at, it's not their field. I can see how much it would mean to them, to have a recipe for creating good designs, it would be a great thing. That's why I've supported you all these months, that's why I was all right with you quitting your job, but honey, I can't keep doing this. You know it, the bills aren't getting paid on my salary, and the advance is almost gone. Would you look at me."

She was just about done. I kept my eyes on the far wall. The covers were getting warm, finally, might have something to do with having her draped over me. A few more words along the same lines and she fell silent. I slowly launched my monologue. I have a deep voice. I let it rumble in her ear. The same voice that rumbled in her ear all those years ago when we first met, when we would lie long into the night discussing dreams and visions and ideas. The words and hours flowing into each other. It's terribly pedantic sounding to me, but I find she doesn't generally interrupt me when I use that voice, it's the one I use when I'm trying to make a long, complex set of ideas work out in the listener's mind , rather than in my speech. Occasionally I wonder what would happen if I switched to my normal voice in the middle of it. Just cough and switch or something.

"Maybe, maybe I do need a summary in there. I'll think about it, but I don't think so. I think this is what they're looking for, something fun, something that doesn't take itself so seriously. I want to give them a game, but one where the prize really means something. I could have created the essay, but would they read it? I don't think so, there are too many systems that claim they do what I can do. I have to prove it in a way, prove it by making something attractive to them.

"They are architects. They aren't engineers. Sure, everyone would love a simple and neat solution, it's natural. Everyone would love everything handed to them on a plate, until there's a thousand plates, each one plain and white and boring and no way to tell them apart? You'd have no challenge, no stimulation, nothing would make you think, nothing would make you understand. How are they really going to react? I don't know. But the designer, the creator, they have to decide to work with some model of the user. They have to decide who it is they are creating for. I'm not writing for an engineer. I'm not writing for someone who's looking for an equation. This is for people who see patterns and build them. I think I know these people, heck, I was one of them a while back, you know.

"Sometimes it's hard to predict, I mean, sure, what if they come from a different culture? What if they've never seen the television shows or books I play on? What if they just don't have a sense of humour? What if they are really getting pressed with deadlines and don't have time to read it? There's a thousand things that can go wrong when you introduce play into your work, when you make a design that has that little something more that the user can relate to at level beyond function, with a mind more aware than the conscious one. I don't know if this makes any sense to you, but if you don't take a little bit of a risk, if you don't see how far you can push it, if you don't play the game a little, you'll be stuck on the textbook shelves. You'll be nothing more than some dry academic text they force themselves to read because they are told they have to. I want this to be more. I think this is more important than that. I think this is something that needs to be exciting and powerful. Sure, it's important enough to write the essay that's a hundred pages long, has twenty diagrams, and an index, but it's also more important than that, it's more important than the stop sign in some way. There's an appropriateness and a subtlety that needs to be observed in play."

I feel her tense, ready to debate that one. "This isn't subtle, no, this is fantasy, this is escape, this is beyond subtlety, but it's not beyond appropriateness. I saved the subtlety for inside the fantasy, they get too much reality, give them something really powerful that's not of their lives, that doesn't make them think about their next deadline, but something which prepares them for that project, which gives them the tools they need, gives them something more, something playful, something alive, something they can love and hold against their hearts." I trailed off, I'd got the points I needed out, and was just rambling. She lay on top of me for a while in silence. Considering. In a few moments she would tell me I was just dreaming, that the thing would never fly, that I'd missed it, that they'd reject it. I had to time this just right.

Her body tensed against mine as she prepared to tell it to me. Gently by the feel of it, some gentle, motherly words that would belittle everything I'd said as the dreams of a schoolboy that she was so sad to dash.

"Oh, and the publisher bought it."

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This work is Copyright (c) Mike Fletcher 1997