Since May I’ve been playing Solitaire.
It started in the rain, in the blueberry fields. I was gifted with unlimited time during an artist residency in a small town in Michigan. I’d wake up and spend myself writing. From 7 a.m. until dinner with small breaks for exercise and meals I’d revise. The work went well.
In the evenings I’d sit down to a light supper—either pancakes or lentils. I didn’t have many supplies and without a car, I’d have to bike to Coloma or Benton Harbor for groceries. Except it rained almost everyday for a week.
It was just me and my laptop—since the TV hardly worked and I didn’t have Internet access. I decided to check out the games. Hard to believe I hadn’t done it sooner, but I’d never been this bored in my entire life. I finally learned how to play Solitaire.
I loved the way the cards fanned out, even the sound effect of shuffling—you know, of stiff cards getting twacked at the corners—excited me, made me feel three-dimensional after a day on paper or rather a flat screen.
I love working puzzles. Not hypothetical word games or math equations. I need to know the end is in sight, that it’s there right around the corner. Solitaire became a metaphor for my revision—if only I could reshuffle the words like cards, move a scene to another chapter, play this or hold that for just the right moment. I started to feel I was going to make it to the last page of the last chapter, to the end, where the screen explodes into a drug-induced display of cards splitting like amoebas and reproducing until the entire screen is a montage of cards. Finishing my revision was not near as exciting.
Perhaps it was also about control. I had this little world on my desktop, and like a master of the universe I could deal or not deal. At any time I could start over with a new configuration. After a day of long, intense focus, I could flit, float, space out. Sometimes I found that I’d lost 3 or 4 hours playing Solitaire.
The game also fits my personality. Ever since I was a little kid I’d learned to content myself. Perhaps that was also what drove me to read and then later to write. These were solitary activities. Dealing with people presented a multitude of problems with seemingly no solution. The variables were endless. Whereas with writing, yes, there are 2 or 3 ways a story can go—but in revising I’m constantly looking for it to make sense. There are patterns to sentences, logic in how a story progresses, the order of the scenes and chapters. I can see it. A fictional character can do anything, but truthfully, if I am faithful to my protagonist (and to myself as a writer) I have to follow the plot points, the clues embedded; the character cannot go against personality or act counter to motivation. My whole life has been emblematic of a geeky loner. So playing Solitaire makes sense. It’s who I am.
After my residency I came home with a revision and enthusiasm for Solitaire. I didn’t think I’d continue to play after getting home—I’d be too busy. But, I’ve discovered the game in slightly different variations on each of the computers I use. I have a home computer with an older version, which allows me to right click and the cards fly into place. And a newer version on my work computer that seems somehow more archaic, where I have to manually move the cards with the mouse or right-click over the card. I keep expecting any random right-click to move them into place. One version allows me to scheme and one allows me speed. Either way my goal is to beat the game and win.
But it goes deeper than that. It’s about grief. About losing. So so much.
It’s my way of procrastinating, to avoid writing, doing real work. I stay busy right-clicking and twacking cards—instead of doing other stuff. My spare time finds me in front of the computer, filling the space with fanning cards.
I lost both my parents this past winter. Then came the opening of the will and, thus, the discovery that I’d been written out. This isn’t like an undo—where I can retrieve a card or fix a stupid mistake. This is forever. Even with an attorney or money for an attorney, even if I managed to fight and make a case—what would I have? I could rig a game of cards I guess, I’ve often thought if I played with a real deck of cards I’d easily cheat, but I’d miss the speed and that incredible sound effect that is absolutely perfect. Real cards are messy. I’d have the money, but never the satisfaction that I was included, provided for.
That’s the loss. The forever puzzle of my father’s last wish. I cannot figure it out. No matter how I replay it in my mind, I cannot come up with an answer—to why I was disinherited. Like a character working against type or acting without motivation, Dad surprised us all.
No, the cards have been played as they lay. I’ve worked myself into one of those Solitaire corners where nothing lines up. I have no more possible moves. In this game, there is no sense of control, that I can make it happen. I’m the one being re-arranged, pushed forward by an unseen hand.
I wish things could have ended differently.
. . . But for now I play, hoping to forget.