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worms with friends

June 20, 2011

[Welcome to the latest installment of Chasing Maybes, or “Challenging Myself to Happily Adopt a Series of Formidable Experiences and Write About Them.”  In short, I’ve charged myself to put my preferences on trial, one Trivial Pursuit category at a time.  This month, I’m diving into uncharted pink Entertainment waters.]

Roxanne Kowalski: So why did you say those things?
C.D. Bales: (whispering to Chris)  Tell her you were afraid.
Chris McConnell: Because I was afraid.
Roxanne Kowalski: Of me? Afraid of what?
C.D. Bales: (whispering to Chris) Tell her you were afraid of words.
Chris McConnell: What?
C.D. Bales: (whispering to Chris) Words.
Chris McConnell: Because I was afraid of worms, Roxanne! Worms!

— From the 1987 Steve Martin/Daryl Hannah film “Roxanne” (based on Cyrano de Bergerac)

If you know me at all, you know that I love words and language and sound.  I thrill at the cadence of syllables strung together.  I hold poems close in my arms like flowers.

Thus, when the game Words with Friends™  hit the scene a while back, my friends and husband assumed I would be all over it (for the uninitiated, Words With Friends is a free multi-player mobile game in which players take turns building words on a virtual board, very much like Scrabble).  Many of my close friends began playing obsessively, and they assumed I would become similarly addicted.


I did not.

I ignored invitations to play, never even downloading the game to my phone.  Several weeks ago, after enduring multiple snubbed overtures, my husband literally threw his hands in the air at my recalcitrance.  “What’s with you?”  he asked.  “Why won’t you play with me?  You’ll love Words with Friends.  You love words.  You’ll be great at it.”


And, just like that, we were on to something.

Though I may bill myself as the least competitive person you’ll ever meet, citing my inexperience with team sports and my preference for “Hug O’ War” as examples…  if I am unflinchingly honest?  I hate to lose just as much as the next person.  To be clear, I hate suffering defeat in a battle I expect myself to win.  I unskillfully zip through a hundred tasks every day without a second thought (I am a slow and clumsy runner, I have no sense of spatial relations, I can barely sew on a button, I can’t do even basic math), but I am ruthless when it comes to areas in which I expect myself to excel.  As unflattering and unsportsmanlike a portrait as this paints of me, it is the truth:  I have sometimes avoided playing because I’ve feared the big loss.  Words with Friends is but one teeny example of this irritating character flaw.

As long as I’m sharing my petty side, I’ll offer another example:

About ten years ago, having just moved to our new city and finding myself with some time on my hands, I responded to a call for auditions for the then-popular T.V. game show, The Weakest Link.  For those of you who don’t remember this show, it was an NBC trivia quiz show based on a British program by the same name.  In short, a team of eight players tried to win a cash prize by answering trivia questions correctly.  At the end of each round of play, the players voted off one of their own (the person they believed to be the “weakest link”) leaving the final two players to battle it out in a high speed, high stakes trivia smackdown.  The stern host, Anne Robinson, insulted players when they responded incorrectly to questions and glared at the studio audience from behind her podium.  Sounds irresistible, right?


So, back in 2001 I joined hundreds of other hopefuls in the lobby of some downtown Raleigh hotel.  I remember being very grateful to have brought along a book, because I spent lots of idle time waiting in lines and lounging on hotel furniture (with no children and no job, though, what else did I have to do?).  I also remember taking a reallllllllly long written exam, then being called back with another group of potential contestants.  Next, I was filmed alongside other candidates playing a mock game of The Weakest Link.  One guy in my group, a sweaty-lipped medical resident with curly hair, missed a no-brainer question early on.  “At least I could beat that guy,” I thought to myself.  I remember little else about that day, other than the fact that I got lost walking back to my parking garage and had to call a friend to help me find my way.

A few weeks passed, I got a job, and I all but forgot about my game show audition.

When my phone rang and the caller I.D. displayed an unfamiliar area code, I let it go to voicemail.  I was stunned when I replayed the message:  NBC wanted me to tape an episode of The Weakest Link, and they wanted to fly me out to Los Angeles, and they wanted me to be available on this particular date. 

I won’t bore you with unnecessary details, but (as it turned out) I was scheduled to attend mandatory training for my job on the very same date NBC wanted to fly me out for the taping.  As a brand new employee, I was not yet eligible for vacation, and when I requested time off anyway, my request was denied.


Don’t feel too sorry for me, though.  I never told anyone why I wanted the time off, never suggested an alternate date for my mandatory training, and never offered to take leave without pay when I issued my request.  In retrospect, I can only assume that I didn’t try very hard because I was scared to death of being televised failing miserably at something I thought I should rock.  As convenient as it was to blame this missed opportunity on my employer, I had options at my disposal — I could have pled my case, I could have called in sick, I could have quit my job — and I chose none of them.

If I had flown out to California and played The Weakest Link on national television, I might have seized up within ten minutes and passed out cold on the neon-tiled sound stage.  I also might have won a million dollars.  But because I let my frailty do the talking — because I muzzled C.D. Bales — I will never know.  Incidentally, a couple of months after my run-in with potential game show stardom I happened to tune in to an episode of The Weakest Link.  I had flipped on the television right as the final smackdown round between two finalists began.  Care to guess who was in the final two?  Here’s a hint:  he had curly hair and a sweaty upper lip, and at one time I thought I could have beaten him.  Fat chance.

I wonder how much I’ve missed over the years, invested as I’ve been in not letting myself down, but I’m trying not to waste even more time on regret.  So, for now, I am reluctantly playing Words with Friends with Steve.  I am in it, as they say, to win it do a passably decent job.  For the past week, I’ve bitten my lower lip and formed idiotic words on the game board (“rices” and “hone” come to mind), but I’ve persevered, arm wrestling my overblown expectations of myself.  He is currently beating me 178 to 162, but I’ll come back soon.  I refuse to be afraid of worms — er, Words — anymore.

Today, I hope you wad up whatever’s holding you back and toss it behind you, where it belongs.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff permalink
    June 20, 2011 10:33 am

    Ho. Ly. Cow. It’s like I’m reading about myself. I’m often incredibly risk-averse in situations where I feel my identity is somehow at stake. There have been so many times when I’ve made “safe” decisions instead of taking big chances, fearful I’d be exposed as a fraud. Strange as it may sound, I actually find it tremendously reassuring to know that other people–especially smart and accomplished people like you–sometimes let their insecurities get the best of them. (That said, I’m an avid Scrabble player on Facebook, even though I lose more often than I’d like!)

    • June 20, 2011 7:59 pm

      thanks so much, jeff. i’ll admit it — i also find it reassuring to know that i’m not the only one who has played it safe… but no more, i say! look out, words with friends, here I come.

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