Crushing It

It’s taken me a long time to get as good as I am at Candy Crush. I tell my kids that when they ask me how I’m so good. I tell them it’s like anything worthwhile; you have to work at it. I tell them about the thousand hours theory of mastery. They ask me if I’ve spent a thousand hours playing Candy Crush and I tell them, “yeah, you know what? I probably have.”

It’s those in-between moments, I tell them. That’s what it really comes down to. It’s when you’re on the toilet, when your putting your kid down, when your wife is telling you what credit card not to use because blah blah…it all adds up. Next thing you know your 5 year-old son’s friend is over and you overhear your son brag to his friend about how his dad is on level 2000 of Candy Crush. You take that in. You don’t rest on that but you take it in. Because those are the moments that make you stop and say, “you know what, I have accomplished something.”

Honestly, I don’t know what it is about that goddamned game that so appeals to my reptilian brain –the bright colors, the patterns, the candy, the immediacy of each finely laid-out goal– but I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to figure it out. Here are some thoughts:

Very random thoughts pass through my head when I play Candy Crush. I’m not usually thinking about the game itself. In that way it’s like a form of meditation. And that’s gotta be a good thing because it’s meditation.

But then I realized that a good 80% of the thoughts going through my head are of the “ Ben? What are you doing? There are SOOOO many other things you should be doing right now; There is NOTHING redeemable about this; Seriously, you’re just going to keep playing? Ugh. You total dickwad” variety. And that doesn’t seem like good meditation at all.

Then I’d say there’s another 10% of the time –and this is weird—where I’m doing commentator voices in my head while playing. I’ll have whispering voices saying things like, “Ooh, he has to be kicking himself for missing that great cookie opportunity.” or “if he ends up winning this level, that right there is the move that made it happen.” Then I’ll catch myself doing this and go right back to calling myself a dickwad.

The remaining 10% of the time playing Candy Crush is spent trying to think of ways I can get out of making dinner for the kids. Which is a fruitless endeavor because I have to make dinner every. single. night. and there’s nothing I can do about it. They just keep eating. It’s horrifying.

There’s a mechanism in place within the game to keep Crushers (that’s what we call ourselves, probably) from OD’ing and/or getting back to a life of marginal worth. In the game, you get five lives and when you’ve run out of lives you have to wait like a half an hour for each new life. Early on in my playing, I might sit and watch the timer but one night, while perusing some Candy Crush fan sites for help getting past a level, I found out that you can circumvent this time stoppage by going into your phone’s settings and setting your clock one day ahead. Then you just go back to the game and voila, five new lives just like that. But if you don’t go right back to ‘settings’ and change it back to the right day you end up living in an alternate future like the Upside Down from Stranger Things. It gets real dark and gloomy and your kids slink home from school like a bunch of demodogs and suck all the food from the kitchen into their face holes. So you have to remember to do that.

But, I’ve found that even when I remember to go back and make time right again, I feel like I’ve cheated the time/space continuum and, one of these times, it’s going to figure it out and get super pissed off and relegate me to a world where I’m trying to write a novel and there’s this stupid video game I keep having to play, Sisyphusian-style.

Maybe I’m predisposed to this sort of time-suck. Like, this black hole of self-destruction is in my soul somewhere. My mom plays a LOT of Wurdle on her ipad. Wurdle is a timed, Boggle-like word search game. She also has a little fat deposit on the back her neck that looks a bit like a hump and seems to run in her family. Sometimes while she plays we call her Wurdle the Turtle. She used to enjoy the attention enough to laugh at such things but now that she’s older she just gives us a sour look, like “watch it, buddy”, and goes back to her Wurdle.

I don’t have the fat deposit on my neck. Not yet anyway. And I don’t know if hers came from too much sedentary Wurdling or if it would’ve come regardless. I do know I don’t want it. As good as it looks on my mom, I feel like it wouldn’t suit me or help at all with where I’m trying to go in life and how I’m trying to get there. Far and fast, respectively.

At some point I decided to try the adult coloring books. They seemed meditative by nature and I’ve always enjoyed coloring. I would do some laundry, wash some dishes, take a break on the sofa and feel the black hole of resentment and self-loathing start to whirl and I’d reach for the Candy Crush. But I stopped myself and I took out the Forests of Enchantment coloring book instead. For a few days I did this. But then one day Kate came home from work to the usual mess and I proudly showed her the jungle cat scene I’d finished while the kids were at school and she just looked at it and said, “are you fucking kidding me?” No, she didn’t really say that. She actually said, “wow, honey, that’s really great, did you do that yourself?” which, honestly, felt worse.

When I was a kid I didn’t get read to much. It’s part of the deal being the fourth of four kids in the late 70’s, early 80’s. You get to watch Night of the Living Dead at age 5 but you don’t get read to. I’ve caught up with most of the classic children’s books later in life thanks to my own kids. I think that’s how it’s gone for a lot of grown kids of the “Me” generation.

It was only recently, for instance, that I was introduced to the classic children’s book, Harold and the Purple Crayon. This is the worst book I’ve ever read.

There’s a 40th anniversary edition out now and the new cover is Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. Or, it should be. If you don’t recall the story, it goes like this:

Harold is completely alone in the universe, only an abyss of white surrounds him. He has to draw his own world, draw his path in this world…it’s ALL up to him. And he fucks up. He fucks up at every turn. He draws an ocean and then nearly drowns in it. He draws a mountain, climbs it, but doesn’t draw the other side so he falls off and plunges into eternity, no ground to put a merciful end to it, just whiteness forever. Luckily he draws a balloon he can grab a hold of. Thank God. But then he goes and draws the next scariest, most metaphysically horrific scenario imaginable –endless city buildings with endless, identical windows; so many he can’t find which one is his.

He eventually finds his window and climbs back into his bedroom and into his bed. But he has to draw it first. He literally has to draw his own bed in order to get into it. And even then he’s still completely alone.

This is why there are now entire sections of bookstores devoted to adult coloring books. Because of Harold and his shitty purple crayon. All we want to do now is color within the damn lines because, I suppose, we’ve been drawing our messy lives with our little purple crayon for too long and it’s confusing and it’s tiring.

But it made me think of the time/space trickery with the Candy Crush game. Like maybe some day we’ll figure out how to tap into the ‘date and time’ setting of our lives, move the needle forward a bunch of years, see what we’ve got ahead of us and then basically just work on coloring in what we’re given as nicely as we can. To some, I suppose, that sounds equally horrifying. But those are probably the same people who still buy Harold and the Purple Crayon.

And, say I do somehow get a hold of the adult coloring book of my life and I sit down with all my colors out and there’s no completed novel in there, no Vermont country house, no parent weekends at Princeton, no affair with the 22 year old bra model, no brewpub, no great inventions, just Kate and I in this same house; a dog, a cat, a hamster (because our current one, Bernie Sanders, is never going to die) maybe a weekly tennis game will pop up or a cooking class, maybe I’ll have a slight hump, but it’ll all be more or less the same as it is now. And wouldn’t that be nice to know? So I could just work with the pictures I’ve got and color them super nice? Maybe that’s what Candy Crush is for –ensuring my ‘life’ coloring book has no real surprises. Just some vignettes of suburbia to go to town on. The last page will be me on my deathbed saying, “I just wish I had played more Candy Crush.” There’ll be one blurb on the back cover, from my mom: “Well, I liked it.”

That was hard to write.


Ok, I just erased Candy Crush. For real. I did it. I really did.

Hello white space! I’m pulling out the purple crayon! (not a dirty euphemism, just a hopeful metaphor)

Thanks for the therapy, as always, SAHD Life reader(s).