You hear about the cheats writers have to avoid facing the blank page. They sharpen pencils they’ll never use, eat, wash dishes, run errands, hunt for a lost sock. My cheat is Free Cell. It’s a highly addictive form of solitaire, almost always winnable but sometimes extremely challenging, installed on all Windows operating systems since 1995. I don’t know exactly when I discovered it and started to play, but it was at least 10,000 games ago. Ctrl+Z lets you erase your mistakes. One click and you begin a new game. Surely this is just junk food for the mind. And yet!
For me there’s something restorative about manipulating numbers rather than words. And isn’t finding patterns in a scramble of red and black cards roughly parallel to the process of bringing order to words and ideas that first appear in the imagination and must be wrestled into poetic form or crafted into a coherent essay?
While I admit to real satisfaction when I win, there is a point beyond which taking refuge in Free Cell is not therapeutic and the ease of the one-click access to a new game does not enhance my artistic practice. New ideas emerge in the shower or on a walk but not so far while playing a computer game. But we all need something to reboot ourselves. This is a confession and a commitment. A confession that I’ve squandered hours of my one wild and precious life playing an unnecessary game and a commitment to hold myself responsible for redeeming more of the hours still allotted to me.
Thus, one last confession: It took 42 Free Cell games to write this short reflection.