Getting Your Game On


It seems like old news now, but last year, when the actor Alec Baldwin got kicked off a plane for acting belligerent, I understood his psyche.


Apparently it was Alec’s turn to make a move in Words With Friends, a Scrabble-like game available for smart phones. According to news reports, he locked himself in an airplane lavatory just before takeoff, so he could take an extra minute to come up with a reply to his virtual opponent’s last effort.


He probably was contemplating how to use that triple-word spot, or struggling with a slate of too many vowels or consonants. Or, perhaps he was trying every possible option for using a K (5 points) or Z (10 points).


I’m guessing that Alec is a hyper-competitive guy – most successful people are – and that his drive to rack up points eclipsed his ability to think rationally, along the lines of, “The FAA requires all passengers to be in their seats with electronic devices turned off before takeoff.”


I can relate to Alec’s presumed affinity for games. I, too, have a bit of a Words With Friends (WTF) habit, and I have been known to complete plays at inappropriate times, such as at stop lights, while waiting for pasta to cook, as I’m brushing my teeth or lying in bed just after the morning alarm has sounded.


For me, part of the allure certainly is the contact with friends, but my enjoyment goes much deeper than in one-upping them; I get personal satisfaction from coming up with high-point words.


A few years back, I started completing the daily newspaper’s puzzles page in an effort to keep my mind sharp. As a middle-aged woman, I had started experiencing “senior moments” – asking my daughter to put clothes in the “bathtub” instead of the washing machine, forgetting where my car keys were and coming home from the store with everything but the one critical item I needed (milk, butter, bread).


I had read that puzzles such as crosswords, word jumbles and Sudoku might help stave off dementia – crosswords and bridge definitely helped my grandparents – so I returned to the games I had enjoyed in my PK (pre-kid) years.


However, I found that fully completing a crossword grid or coming up with an 89-point WTF word also brought the immediate satisfaction of completing a task and proving my mental acuity.


While I work part-time (as a writer, editor and French teacher), my current career(s) is not as fulfilling as when I was a full-time journalist. Back then, I knew when I had done a good job, and received pay raises and positive performance reviews as affirmation.


Now, most of my energy is focused on raising four kids (and two dogs). As parents, the work is harder, days are longer and paychecks smaller (actually, nonexistent). We don’t have annual assessments, and can’t aspire to promotions.


Perhaps when I’m 98 I’ll look back on my life and say, “Yep, my kids turned out great; I must have done a good job.” For now, though, the jury is still out. All four seem to be doing fine – they have good manners, function well in school and in social realms, eat well and plan to attend college – but anything could happen.


My kids have made plenty of mistakes, as have I, and I’m sure we’ll all make many more before it’s all said and done. So, will I ever really know if I was successful at parenting? Will I ever feel a sense of accomplishment in the home?


My house is beautiful, relatively clean and well-loved. The yard could use some landscaping and the wood floors need refinishing (both problems result from owning dogs), but overall, it’s a pleasant place.


I’m happy with an abode that looks lived-in and feels welcoming, and I’d rather spend my time with my kids than scrubbing toilets and polishing furniture. I’m sure I would not derive much satisfaction from creating and maintaining a showplace home.


However, I do feel successful and instantly gratified when I complete a four-star Sudoku puzzle or complete an online solitaire game in record time. “Hey,” I tell myself, “you do have a sharp mind, and it still works well! Keep up the good work!”


And so, I’ll give myself permission to continue playing games when I can find the time, and patting myself on the back every now and then. No one else is going to do that.


By the way, if you happen to see me on an airplane any time soon, please distract the flight attendant until I can find a double-letter spot for that “Q.” 


–       Linda Williams Rorem, 26 Nov. 2012
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