Wednesday, August 17, 2005

This game has been played 715 times...

I admit to being a Mah Jongg Solitaire addict. Well, maybe not an addict. It hasn't taken over my life, I don't feel powerless over it, and I don't play it over and over expecting a different result.

Okay, that last one might not be quite true.

I do keep track of my high scores, and I do expect to beat them. But what I really use Mah Jongg Solitaire for is to get to sleep. See, I used to read books at night before falling asleep. A chapter or two, then turn off the light. Too many nights of refusing to turn out the light because I simply had to know what happened next, however, and the book-reading quickly got banned from the bedroom or my daytime sanity would suffer.

So now it's Mah Jongg Solitaire. A game or two played on my PDA and my eyes simply won't stay open any longer. I'm not sure if it's falling asleep out of boredom or if it's a way to quiet my brain after a day of dealing with small children, husband, house, volunteer jobs, work, writing, and those pesky characters in my head that won't leave me alone until I tell their stories. I'm leaning toward the latter.

I've come to the conclusion that we fiction writers actually do perform a great service to the world. We provide an escape. We do more than entertain; we give you a chance to spend a few hours with our characters, so that when you return to your real life, you maybe have a different perspective. This can be good, such as gaining insight into a relationship or realizing that a problem previously thought insurmountable is actually quite solvable. Or not so good, like developing irrational fears of psychotic serial killers around every corner, conspiracies among anyone in power, or dogs named Cujo.

So how do the designers of escape find their own escape? I find that when I'm reading others' books, I'm still "on." I'm enjoying the story, but I'm also analyzing pacing, noting effective description, mapping the narrative, and exploring character motivations and interactions. To truly turn that part of my brain off, to quiet the constant rush of ideas and what-ifs and fixes for that problematic scene, I have to do something completely unrelated to books and words. I have to keep my brain busy, but not in a create something out of nothing way. I have to do something routine yet not repetetive.

Enter Mah Jongg Solitaire. And now I'm off to play my 716th game.

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