Friday, January 23, 2009

Lessons of Solitaire

When I was nine, my mom took us to Southern California on the train. Mom, my brother, my sister and me. We spent 24 hours exploring our sleeper car (okay, about five minutes exploring the sleeper car), the dining car, and the other seating areas. The vast majority of our time was spent at a table in the dining car playing card games and eating snacks while we slowly made our way to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Santa Barbara. The trip there was okay, but somehow my Grandma knew the trip home would take twice as long and before we left she slipped a book into my backpack. As soon as we boarded the train for Oregon, I headed to the claustrophobic bathroom to examine my gift. It was a book of card games - solitaire games. It came with a deck of cards, new shiny slippery cards that slid out of their stack every time I shuffled them, and it contained instructions for more than fifty different ways to play solitaire.

On the trip home I became an expert. I played 'Round the Clock, Traditional Solitaire, Spider, Pyramid, and even managed to scam an extra deck of cards so my sister and I could try Double Solitaire. There was something challenging and fun about trying to beat the game and something cleansing about knowing that even if I didn't I could shuffle the deck and start over again. Each game was self-contained and represented a new lease on life. Reading the book, I learned that it is hard to beat the game and the odds are stacked against you, so somehow it didn't bother me when I failed to stack all of the cards in their proper places.

Solitaire became something I would play anywhere - at home when everyone was hanging out in the evenings, in the gate area of the airport, in the lobby of the doctor's office. When my stepfather discovered my obsession, he explained the Vegas rules of solitaire to me and, somehow the thrill of imagining myself losing or making money made it that much more fun. Even though I almost always ended the evening in the red, I was always excited to play another round the next time.

Two days ago, I figured out how to download Solitaire to my phone. I'm addicted. I played over and over again while my daughter was in choir. I've started games while sitting at a red light (no, I don't play while the car is actually moving). I played three games while waiting for the girls to finish school this afternoon. Definitely addicted.

This morning as I waited for Bubba to show up for a meeting with our financial planner, it occurred to me that what I love about Solitaire is the endless do-over. Because I know that it is so difficult to beat the odds, it doesn't bother me when I don't. Because I'm not in Vegas and, thus not digging myself a financial hole every time I lose a game, starting a new game completely erases the memory of the last one and represents a clean slate.

Had I been told that you were supposed to be able to beat the game in Solitaire, I would most definitely put more pressure on myself to win every single time. I would be disappointed in myself for not winning and feel as though I had failed every time I admit defeat and start over.

What would happen if I treated my life as though it were a game of Solitaire whose sole purpose is to entertain me and engage my brain? The odds of a perfect game (life) are so slim that I can't count on it. The most I can do is enjoy this one particular game (phase of life) and play it to the best of my ability. I'm not worrying about the last game I played or the next one I'll deal. I'm just playing this one for now. When I start over again, which I surely will have to do, it won't be with a sense of defeat or a prediction of imminent failure, but with anticipation and curiosity for what is to come.

I'm thinking this will be a difficult habit to establish, but so long as I get a chance to play Solitaire every once in a while, at least the reminder will be there.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

Love that idea, and everything ABOUT that idea!

Deb Shucka said...

What a great metaphor! I love this piece and I love what it teaches me about you. We'll have to engage in some doubles the next time we're together.

Scott from Oregon said...

I prefer word games like this one--

Good for the scrabble game...

Michelle O'Neil said...

Your Grandmother was a smart lady!

I love the concept of the endless do-over. It's all we've got, right?

BTW, HT is a solitare addict. You are in good company.

Stacy Quarty said...

That's a great concept.

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