Having discovered only recently that I could download games like Solitaire, Spider Solitaire, and Crossy Road to my phone for FREE, I’ve spent hours (hours!) swiping cards and tapping animals across busy streets. Spider Solitaire was the most addictive. I love putting things in order, so it makes sense that I’d want to play the game excessively during a time in my life that felt full of disorder, with the move, the job search, the uncertain future. Still, I managed to limit my Spider Solitaire time to the bathroom, using it in place of making lists of things to do or groceries to buy. Occasionally I’d slip, my hand reaching for my phone while I watched another episode of Marvel: Agents of Shield or when I crawled into bed at night, promising myself to stop after one more game. But looking back, my draw toward Spider Solitaire was well within the bounds of normal. I could set it down and move on without a profound sense of loss.
Truthfully, I had begun to find it boring. I won too many times, and my senses had grown weary of the monotonous black-and-white color scheme and the fake sounds of cards slapping against each other or whooshing into a pile.
I’ve known about Candy Crush since I joined Facebook many years ago and was immediately baffled and annoyed by the influx of requests to play it. But Max plays it, and observing from a distance the bright candy colors and hearing the sound palette of crunches, pings, bursts, and the deep, sexy voice of positive reinforcement (“Sweet!” “Divine!” “Tasty!” “Sugar Crush!”)—well, it was like witnessing the birth of a star after staring at a plain blue sky. Or like what I imagine an acid trip to reveal—colors, sounds, visions unlike anything in this material plane.
And it’s free. I love free things. So now, after a mere week, I’m up to level 47 or so, and I can’t stop. I stop when I have to: when my battery runs low, when my eyes weigh heavy with exhaustion, or when the game itself stops me because I’ve failed a level too many times in a row. But I do not want to stop. Or rather, I want to stop, I wish I could stop, but I’m afraid of the silence that will follow.
“I can’t stop playing!” I half-joked to Max, while I crushed candies in bed instead of thoughtfully and lovingly releasing the day to calm myself for sleep.
“Darling, darling, sweetheart whom I love so much…” he began.
“I don’t like the sound of this,” I said.
He knelt on the bed next to me, grasped my shoulders, and shook them. “You can do Whatever. You. Want,” he said, “How many times do I have to tell you this?? You can do whatever you want. Do what makes you happy.”
I am highly skeptical of this viewpoint for several reasons.
a) Does Candy Crush make me happy? Yes, it’s delightful, and yes, I look forward to playing it, and yes, it helps ease the sometimes awkward transition of figuring out how to live with the person I love without having to make every moment we’re together about us. But happiness? Does happiness usually have an undercurrent of guilt and fear that I’ve lost control? Is happiness wanting to slide the quilt’s squares forward and sideways to create rows of three or more? Last night, during my dream of people killing each other, I saw, overlaying the scene as if in another dimension, the Candy Crush board, people shifting and wiping themselves out in rows.
b) Serious people--spiritual people—do not play silly games to distract themselves from their thoughts. Instead, they allow the dark thoughts to rise so that they can sit with them, acknowledge them, and then let them go.
c) Won’t engaging in worthwhile activities make me happier in the long run?
“Being serious about life is a major strategy of the separated self, which recognizes its own seriousness as necessary to maintain its separation.” ~A Course of Love
“There might be many practical reasons to cite for your happiness’ demise, but in the loneliness that comes with its loss you will wonder, at least briefly, why the choice for practicality needed to be made. Yet if the separated self can look back and see that it chose being right over being happy, it will congratulate itself despite its unhappiness and say, ‘I did the right thing.’ It will see itself as victor over the foolish dreams of happiness and say how glad it is that it came to its sense before it was too late.” ~A Course of Love
There’s nothing like taking quotes out of context to support one’s own vices, but it’s quite true that my main goal in life has been to be both right and good, and that when I make a choice for duty—a choice that supports my daily list of ‘shoulds’—I feel proud and righteous, and have probably mistaken both feelings for happiness.
The other night, Max and I watched a documentary of Alan Watts, the philosopher and writer who spoke so eloquently about Taoist teachings. The documentary showed a contemplative, kind, gently funny man walking in the woods, practicing calligraphy, making traditional Chinese tea; if I didn’t know better, I would assume he lived his whole life this way, so centered and spiritual that only the most dedicated could follow in his path. But Alan Watts died of complications of alcoholism. I wish the documentary had included that. I want to know how Watts drank (in secret?), what he felt like when he drank (guilty?), and whether he felt his drinking compromised his spirituality. Below is an excerpt from an interview with Taoist teacher Gia-fu Feng, a friend of Alan Watts.
You’ve mentioned Alan Watts several times and I know that you’ve been with him when he was teaching. What was he like to be with?
You see Alan Watts was very creative. When he drinks he’s very clever. He was in a class, you know, at night time, he was all drunk. But his lectures were never boring. He was a tremendous entertainer. He said, “I’m an entertainer, I’m no Buddhist philosopher.”
Alan Watts actually died from alcohol, didn’t he?
Oh yeah. At that time he drank whisky by the bottle.
But how could that tie in with the Tao?
That’s from the Tao! The fact that he drank is totally in tune with the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove-his utter disregard for convention. One of the sages, a famous poet called Liu Ling, had a servant who followed him carrying a jug of wine and a spade. In this way he always had some wine to drink and his servant would be ready to bury him if he dropped dead during a drinking bout! It’s in the Tao. So Alan Watts’ drinking is quite Taoistic.
I’m not at all sure I agree that alcoholism can be Taoistic or that Alan Watts didn’t drink to avoid something about himself on some level, but it makes me wonder: if a vice is embraced and relished without guilt or self-hatred, would it look and feel different from addiction? In other words, if I reframe my obsession with Candy Crush as a Taoistic disregard for convention, will I feel better? (Yes.) If I play without guilt (instead of with the usual battle between guilt and a rebellion against guilt), will I tire of it more quickly? Let’s find out.
You can tell from the picture that it was a recliner. You can probably see the dark green fabric with diagonal rows of rust-colored flowers. You can’t see that it was especially worn on the seat, pilled and coarse. You can’t see the faint but caked-on brown patch of something I tried not to think about that had been there since I inherited it.
It was my grandma’s chair, one of a line of recliners in her eternal quest for a chair that would soothe her polio-sensitized neck and back. Polio notwithstanding, extreme sensitivity regarding physical comfort runs in the family, and it’s usually focused on one particular item that never seems to fit “just right”—whether it’s chairs, mattresses, shoes, or bras.
Like my grandma, I like a good chair. When I sat in her chair and pronounced it good, my grandma pronounced it mine. “I want to get a new one anyway,” she said, when I protested. I should have known better; she had recently given me her new globe because I said I liked it.
That was about 15 years ago. I still have the globe, too, even though the capital of Myanmar has since changed from Yangon to Naypyidaw.
I’ve had other chairs and couches in my various homes but have sat almost exclusively in the green chair, even when I grew restless, impatient with myself for being such a creature of habit. That chair was my station for all of my single years—the place I ate, the place I read, the place I wrote letters, papers, poems, and slobbery journal entries, the place I talked on the phone, the place I watched TV. In the many apartments I rented as a single person, I set up my chair station in a corner near an outlet and surrounded it with lamp, Kleenex box, pens, piles of books and notebooks, and my glass of water. When I sit down to work, I don’t want to have to leave.
If I dropped into the corners a raisin, a pen, a piece of popcorn, or a salad-dressing coated sunflower seed, they fell directly through to the floor, so that all I had to do was feel under the chair skirt at the side to retrieve them.
Aside from being a little ugly, the chair was perfect. But it sits now on display at CentrePeace, a Goodwill-type organization here in town, and I’m sitting in my boyfriend’s cabin in a non-reclining, too-soft chair that doesn’t hit my lower back in just the right way or have a place for me to lean my head. My phone is charging five feet away from me, my books and notebooks are stacked on the table across the room, and I can reach neither lamps nor Kleenex from here.
Is it worth it? I ask myself. Is living with the man I love and embarking on a new life together worth the loss of a good chair?
I could have kept the chair; we would have found some place to store it until we move to our new house next month. In the new house, I could have set up my station in the living room once more or put the chair in the basement. But we already have a collection of old furniture for the basement, and parents will give us used-but-like-new matching chairs and a couch for the living room, and it was time. The green chair was my life as a single person. I’m starting a new life now, and yes, it’s worth a thousand green chairs.
I sat in my chair on the morning of my move, surrounded by stacks of boxes and empty bookshelves. I appreciated how the chair curved into my back and neck just right; I fingered its rough, pilled fabric; I closed my eyes and told myself “this moment is all there is,” stretching my body and my chair into the moment’s eternal space.
My grandma now lives in a nursing home for those with Alzheimer’s; she has a narrow bed in the room she shares with another woman, and the only place to sit is an upright wooden chair with minimal padding. While most of my grandma’s family—her sisters, her nieces and nephews, her children, her grandchildren—would think that moving in with your boyfriend is sinful, my grandma wouldn’t care. She had a few boyfriends in the years after her first husband’s death and scandalized the family by spending nights with one of them. She would, I know, be happy for me.
I thanked the chair. I wished it well in its future. I may have cried just a little.
And then Max came, and we picked up the rental U-Box, and we put the chair in his pickup and dropped it off at CentrePeace on our way back to U-Haul, and that was that.
On my fifth birthday, I remember waking up in my top bunk, excited but sober in the face of a new year. When my mother came in to say good morning, I gave her my blanky, my dear, dear blanky, and said, “Put this away. I don’t need it anymore.” She looked surprised. “Are you sure, honey?” I was sure. I was five, after all. It was time to grow up.