Vulnerability (1)

Letting yourself be vulnerable. “Hey! Does that tie in with the book?” Of course it does. When you play one of these games, you’ll notice that some people are afraid to do their best – or at least make it look like they’re doing their best. They’ll finish drawing a torso or writing a phrase, and verbally or physically convey a “Whatevs!” afterwards… because exposing your best to people is risky and can show weakness. (I don’t dwell on this fear-to-commit in the book, but I do mention it.)

But there’s a bigger tie-in, which I didn’t write about, because I didn’t let myself see it until this week. The scariest part of Social Nonsense is being the person to suggest playing it. I was with some people, and we were sitting at a table, and there was that pause, and I knew that we’d all have a good time if I started that legal pad going around, but I remained silent. Because introducing the idea of a game is risky, and opens you up to hurt and rejection, right? What if they said, “What the hell, Doug? Are you eight?” Or if they did play and rolled their eyes and made fun of me the whole time? (I do comedy, and yet I really hate being made fun of) And now that Social Nonsense is out I’m afraid of hearing, “Are you just trying to get us to buy your damn book? If you are that desperate for cash just ask for a handout.”

If you have the book and haven’t gotten up the nerve to ask anyone to play with you yet, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and you aren’t alone. In fact, the author is standing right there with you.

You know, in the first draft of this post, I wrote the above example in the third person and made it hypothetical, because I was afraid of being vulnerable to you. And then I heard Alanis Morissette in my head and told you the truth.

This post is getting long, so I’m not going to tell you the Tom Waits story, but I want you to know that… it’s worth it. I’m not just talking about passing legal pads and telling stories and filling out bingo cards now. I’m saying that if the price of meaningful moments of true connections of creating and receiving is risking an eye-roll or being teased… it’s a price worth paying. I’m paying it too.

Pictures & Phrases

I’ve been asked, “What’s your favorite game in the book?” I don’t know how to answer, because I feel that I’m expected to dodge the question, “It’s like choosing who your favorite child is” or say something clever “Whichever I’m playing at the moment!” But the honest answer is Pictures & Phrases.

I wish it were one that I created myself, of course. Something I could say, “Only people who bought Social Nonsense know about XYZ.” But no, my favorite game in the book had to be the one that gets the “Oh! I used to play that!” response from browsers. (BTW: If you browse a book in front of its author, you are the most interesting person in the world at that moment and the author is watching you very closely and trying to pretend s/he isn’t.)

So – Pictures & Phrases. Why do I love the holy heck out of that one? It’s really easy to explain and not even slightly threatening to new people, while never losing its fun and surprises for people who do this often. Like Chips Ahoy cookies or pouncy kittens, it’s a classic I will never tire of! (“of which I will never tire?”)

Facilitating Tip: Don’t over-explain Pictures & Phrases. Have everyone write the song lyric without telling them what happens next. Then have them fold and pass without telling them what happens next. Etc. Etc. A delightful progression of surprises.

One time I was doing this with a bunch of college students, and one student wrote, as his song lyric, “It was the Summer of ’69.” The person who went after him was an unfortunately excellent artist. That was awkward. I’m not going to share that picture! But this one was from a workshop I just did in New York. They were all great, and I’m picking a few at random.


This story ends with two people crying.

Whenever I plan a Social Nonsense workshop I have Portkey right there in the lineup, and, for a long time, I would always find a reason not to do it. Not that I was scared, no no no, it was just THIS crowd, or THIS day, or something was running long, or or or or or… (I was scared)

I don’t know why facilitating Portkey made me nervous. I think it was fear of rejection – I’m asking people to turn to strangers and talk to them. What if they said “no?” Or worse, what if they said, “No, and you are a loser, Doug Shaw.” I knew Portkey was great, I’ve played it and seen it played, but something about the idea of introducing it to strangers caused the fear reaction.

So one day, I was presenting to the audience that frightens me most – high school students. Younger kids can be intimidated, and older people have learned to follow along, but if a high school student doesn’t wanna’, the high school student ain’t gonna’. And I thought, “If I do Portkey with these students now, I will never be afraid of it again.” And so I did. And it worked wonderfully. And then I looked at the counselor table, and there was distress.

The counselors’ jobs were to keep the kids in line during my workshop, and it became clear that they weren’t needed – the kids were enjoying themselves and into it. So they sat at a table in back and participated along with their charges. And at that back table, someone was crying, and someone else was tearing up. I got there as soon as I can, and didn’t get a chance to speak. The crying one said, “We’ve been working together for so many years, and we never really knew each other.” And then the tearing up one cried, just a bit. And I, erudite as always, said, “Wow.”

And another counselor – a big tough guy, made eye contact with me. Not smiling. Serious. “Wow,” he stated. And that really was all there was to say.

Since then, I include Portkey whenever I can. Yes, it is fun. Yes, it can get intense. But it is magical how it brings a table of people together, which is appropriate given its name.

Facilitating Tip: At least as of this writing, if you ask the audience, “Can anyone tell us what a ‘Portkey’ is?” at least one Harry Potter fan will supply that information, and be thrilled to do so.