Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Solitaire is my Guru

This could be the most embarrassing thing I ever confess (emphasis: that I confess).  It perches atop Shame Mountain, a flashing beacon, an obvious blemish on the landscape.  Red-faced, I dismount the high-horse, to tell you that I, too, waste time. Not with video games, or kitten youtubes, or tanning beds, or shaving my legs. No, I waste time by... by ... playing solitaire, not computer solitaire, (although that played a role once upon a time) no, I need the cards flipping through my hands and shuffling out, arrayed across the table, awaiting their destiny.
"Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red"

It began when I was a child of 7 or 8.  I was wandering around at a Lummi Potlatch and I found this old lady sitting by herself at the end of a long table and playing a card game. Noticing my curiousity, she taught me to play, and I felt very special about it. On the way home, I excitedly described the clock-like game to my parents to which my father (having no idea that spiritual destiny had just struck) sharply commented that Solitaire was a waste of time, time was a precious gift, sacred, and solitaire whittled it away pointlessly.  Okay.  Fascination and curiosity meet Protestant Work Ethic, Protestant Work Ethic meet Fascination and Curiosity, I don't believe you've met before.

And from then on, it was my secret. I would sometimes play on the living room floor, hiding my games, doing "nothing" while I smeared the cards around when anyone came near.

Plath's little hell flames, Poppies in July
When I was 18 and 19, I lived in a small town on an island in Southeast Alaska, a ten hour ferry ride from Juneau. I worked graveyard at an old hotel which would eventually burn to the ground during my shift (due to a faulty boiler and a faulty boiler repair man), taking the whole block with it... and I would save a bunch of people (aw, shucks) and have fire nightmares for years. Prior to that, I had many adventures in the middle of the night at Scandia House, involving drunk guests passed out in the communal bathrooms, or confusedly pissing on the front desk thinking it was the communal bathroom, etc. etc. Between my duties of financial auditing and picking up guests from the ferry terminal, I would NOT sleep the night away like my predecessor (what? And miss all the drunk pissing fun?!). Instead, I would improve myself.  I got a list of classics, which I read taking notes.  I watched Mystery Theater 2000 and Comedy Central on cable (self-improvement galore!). And I played solitaire, the only thing I knew to do on the computer in 1994-5.  And that's how I learned to play that way, the computer way, straight across.

Solitaire has become my dirty secret.  Something like the-picking-of-the-nose, only to be done after looking around and assessing the likelihood of getting caught. Stolen moments, furtive glances, dark corners: this is me on Solitaire.  The pressure to look productive has kept my solitaire habit to a minimum, a few obsessed weeks a year.

Blue captured the F-word on my lips; damn bunny ate my tomato plant
So imagine my glee when my Speech Therapist thought it might be a decent compliment to the Bananagrams, Boggle, Sudoku (a similar obsession, but a smart one I'll readily admit to), and Word Search regime designed to get my brain scanning properly, finding words, and putting things together.  Oh yes, she said, SHE SAID, Solitaire would be a good idea, one game at a time, with breaks in between. It was like a pain killer addict getting a big, bottomless prescription for ... pain killers.  And I followed her advice, however hard it was to limit my activity to one game at a time, and not push beyond the blurring, the waves the rolling over my head when it's been too much.  I had to apply some self control, but I got to bring my addiction in to the light. I am entitled to play and it's no waste of time. It's not merely "permission" it's an edict, it's required. And I play it now at the dining room table, where the children can see me.  It's my good work.  It's part of my temp job called healing.

What is it about Solitaire?  Why the secret love affair?  Why the addiction?  The questions were finally asked.  And you know what I found? I actually like the answers, now that I can look them in the eye in the clear light of day.

Solitaire is an opportunity to watch my mind work, to get to know myself and understand how I approach the world. For instance: I've got a set number of times I like to shuffle so that I know it's enough to confuse the cards but it's not an endless process. I do this because if I win a few times in a row, I'll assume I'm cheating, although I am not a cheater in any part of my life. If I lose, I'll feel like such a good girl for shuffling so well!  Isn't that curious! That's what I mean by watching my mind at work.  So I shuffle my set number of times so that if I win I can remind myself that I didn't cheat.

Over the years, through trial and error, I've developed "best practices." I develop new theories and take risks and watch them pan out in about five minutes. I'll develop some theory that these types of cards are the most important to reveal in order to win, and then the next time I loose it will be because of a seemingly insignificant card, like a 6. And I'm always startled to watch myself not follow the proven successes, through impatience, or thinking my hunch is better, even though I know that in this game (with cards, no people), instincts count for very little.

I like that how a game starts cannot predict how it will end. It could look impossible and then slowly success emerges.  It could go fast at first and then suddenly peter out.  Our it could go fast, start to finish: WIN!  Or slow and slower and slower, loose. It reminds me of a saying Huck remembers from his Hare Krishna days: "Start sweet, end sour; start sour, end sweet; start sweet, end sweet; start sour, end sour." It's so life-like that way.

It requires some creative thinking in that not all wins are just straight forward and often, when it looks like I've lost, there's sometimes something creative I could do, shift things around for an opening.

There's a frantic, compulsive pace of play that brings careless mistakes and I've learned to recognize it and slow it down into a meditative pace that's much more likely to win. The desire to win this game motivates me to be more thoughtful, to move with more intention, and I've learned how to switch the mind to do that, in life as well as solitaire.
Windy and wonderful stop at Maryhill Museum

I like the curiosity/resolution cycle, much like that of a novel.  It's like getting turned on so you can orgasm.  Or getting hungry to you can eat something yummy. When I lay out the cards, I'm immediately curious as to what is beneath them and how the game unfolds.  I love to have my curiosity peak and resolved, and I believe it's a biological urge that's sent us humans around the world and pushed us forward. And here it is, present even in the humble solitaire game.

Solitaire is no mere passing of time. It turns out that for me Solitaire is a meditative practice, revealing myself to myself, and a low-risk action to understand how to work with myself better, to become more the person I want to be. 

And finally, it's more lifelike than many games because it's a game you play alone, like birth and death and all the feelings and decisions you'll make in between. It's you.  Your life.  Your decisions.  We're all playing this game by ourselves. Competition has it's uses, but it's just a tool. The reality is that we're all on our own trip, at our own pace, in our own heads. It's our game and no one else's.
Quintessential Sunflower photo op!


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