Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I seem to have a huge need for significant down time in order to be as productive as I am in my professional life.  And I am productive, and efficient when I am writing, teaching or administering the MFA program.  But when I'm "off" I want my off-time to be efficient and productive as well.  I used to read for fun; home after a long day teaching or grading essays or commenting on poems or writing myself I'd curl up with a few books for fun.  But reading no longer seems like fun to me. I spent 90% of my life reading books and student work, and I want to do something else in my down time.   So games provide me with a way to be "intensely idle."  At the end of an hour playing a game at night I feel invigorated and challenged, as if I had taken a brief vacation, and in a way, I have.  I've gone to another world for a hour, one that didn't cost anything but a few pennies at most, and hardly any fuel fossils.  I'm ready to go back to reading and writing and teaching.  

But I think I must also have a gene for wanting to have fun, if that's possible.  My husband thinks my family has some kind of addiction gene and that I have found a way to make that a positive thing by becoming obsessed with whatever it is I'm doing, whether it's planning a conference, teaching a class, doing research for a book or playing a video game.  There may be some truth to that, but I think there's also something there about having fun.  My parents loved to have parties--in their early years they danced and bowled and had people over for escargot and card games.  No one else on our block did anything like that.  I should mention, maybe, that we were Catholic, and it always seemed to me that Catholics had way more fun than Protestants.

At any rate, I also remember my grandmother  liking to have fun, to dress up, to play games with us, joke with us.  We all liked very much the partying that went on at Mardi Gras, the disguise, the fun of it.  We were not a sober family, although my father worked very hard, at two jobs and sometimes more when he was alive.  He played very hard, though, when he wasn't working.  

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite past times was playing with paper dolls.  I loved cutting them out oh so perfectly, then cutting out their clothes, putting them on and taking them off, making them have dinner, or go out on dates, or fight with each other.  I loved doing the same, later, with Barbie dolls, dressing them up and imagining different situations for them.  On rainy days I'd sit all my dolls and stuffed animals in chairs on our porch, set up a chalk board in front of them, and play "school."  

It's clear to me that the playing I did as a child prepared me for some of the successes I had later in life:  it engaged and honed my imagination, and allowed me to imagine scenarios where I was, in fact, the leader, faced with crucial decisions (what should I do about the fact that my Midge dolls didn't seem to want to learn how to spell? Or that Chatty Cathy didn't want to learn to read?).

Sometimes I think the electronic characters I have online are just a more advanced version of  the paper dolls I had as a child. For what might all this killing and dying, over and over again in the game, be preparing me?


  1. I like the comparison of paper dolls and gaming. Makes your project much more personal in a way that I, a non-gamer, find compelling. Further explorations of exactly why gaming appeals to you would make this book really interesting to me.

    I'm also intrigued by this mention of the desire to find "fun" in all things--both in this entry and in Swamp Songs. I feel as though I have a similar insistence but that every activity be "meaningful." I'm working at having a little more fun, and being a little kinder to myself--not requiring every activity to morph into a poem, an essay, or a song. To just "be," I suppose.

  2. And maybe it's a cultural thing. A permutation of that midwestern + Mennonite work ethic. Mardi Gras strikes me as a sort of built in pressure hatch that the midwest just doesn't have.

  3. Well, now I'm feeling like I should be writing about Mennonite college super gross and crazy parties as a sort of Mardi Gras. Not sure if anyone's reading these comments--I like to think out loud, which is most likely clear in class...

  4. powerful last line, worth exploring. killing the self destructive parts of ourselves perhaps?