Bubblegum for the Brain

The workday is done.  I again sit facing my computer monitor, but instead of answering emails and processing orders, on the screen before me is an array of playing cards.  You know what I’m looking at.  That ever popular “guilty pleasure” for thousands, the Solitaire game, has me in its grip.  I remember when, as a child, I first saw the game played.  I was at my Grandpa’s house, watching the little black and white television set, with its rabbit ear antennas providing the signal so we could view the old western playing on the tiny screen.  It was night time and the cowboys in the bunkhouse were sitting around swapping stories, but the cool tough-guy character sat by himself at a table, flipping the cards one after another and placing them on top of each other.  I don’t remember anything else about the show; I just recall marveling at that game, a game that one person could play by himself.  Now, nearly fifty years later, every computer has a version of the game readily accessible, without even the inconvenience of finding a deck of cards or shuffling between games.  I wonder how many hours have been wasted by folks in our country alone, playing the game over and over.  My own investment of time has certainly been significant.

I find myself playing the game almost nightly.  I would like to have a credible explanation so I could claim a higher ground.  Alas!  It is a merely a way of passing time, nothing more, nothing less.  You may now resort to feeling superior to me.  I wouldn’t even blame you if a quiet “tsk, tsk” escaped from your lips as you realize the depth of my indolence.  I already feel your corporate indignation and disgust being directed at me.  In my defense, I will tell you that the game-playing does, frequently, have a positive result.  One thing I have noticed as I digitally manipulate the black queen to lie atop the red king, with another red jack being sought to continue the sequence, is that while I play this game my brain is cleared of the chaff of the day.  The stress and the uncooperative customer is forgotten, as my brain seems to go into neutral and takes a much needed break from the burden of everyday life.

I actually view the solitaire game as a kind of “mental bubblegum”, a mindless activity for the mind, if you will.  And often, as I play, an idea for something to write about in that day’s blog will spring up.  As the eight of spades is laid atop the nine of diamonds, in preparation for the blushing card with seven hearts from the draw stack, the flesh of the idea is being applied to the skeleton of a thought that was discovered just moments before.  You see, I find it difficult to sit quietly, doing nothing at all, while I hatch brilliant (and not-so-brilliant) compositions to offer to you in these frequent posts.  I am a product of my upbringing, in which sitting and staring off into space was considered lazy and was just as good a way to have a broom (or shovel) thrust into your hand as any.  “Idle hands are the devil’s workplace.”  Even though I feel a little guilty about it, as least the cards flipping in front of my eyes don’t scream out my laziness nearly as much as just sitting and thinking.  I actually did learn something new, earlier tonight, as I played the time-wasting digital game.

The game I play keeps score by adding “money” to my imaginary bank as I win (or deducting it when I lose).  I had been winning a few games, with the bank showing almost seven hundred dollars.  With no goal in mind, I kept playing until I started losing.  Six hundred was left behind and then five hundred.  All of the sudden, I had a goal.  I would quit when I dropped down to two hundred dollars in that bank.  It is, by now, an all too familiar mindset and for awhile, I didn’t think any more about it.  But the nature of playing being what it is for me, my brain began to skitter around the goal I had set for myself.  The goal?  Since when is losing to a certain point a goal?  When I was winning, I had no goal.  I just kept playing.  Now that my fortunes had changed, I suddenly had a target to hit.  Lose until I reached the chosen threshold.  How is that an acceptable goal?

As the cards continued to fall, mostly into the discard pile, I remembered.  We humans set a lot more contingency plans than we do positive goals.  We plan for failure.  We expect to lose.  Again, it is a mindset which is ingrained in us.  Perhaps parents, or teachers, or friends unwittingly pawned off their sense of lowered expectations to us.  I know some of you had family members who did so blatantly, passing on the cruelty heaped on them by their upbringing.  My situation was the former, with more than one influential person in my life who expected poor results for themselves, guaranteeing that the young minds they influenced would adopt the same mindset.  A lifetime of fighting against those thought patterns has resulted in numerous battles won, but there is no ultimate victory yet.  The moment of clarity while playing the computer game tonight exposes the ground yet to be taken.

How about it?  Do you plan for what will happen when you succeed?  Or do you, like I, work hard to get your contingency plan in place, determining what you will do when defeat inevitably drags you down?  I will admit that I have always had a certain amount of antagonism toward the “think positive” crowd.  I am enough of a realist to understand that failure is a possibility and that it won’t be avoided by clearing my mind of any trace of negative thoughts.  Still, I remember the story I was taught in Sunday School, of the widow that the prophet Elisha helped.  Now there’s a man who planned for success!  When there seemed to be no hope, he instructed the good lady and her son to go to the neighbors and borrow all the pots they could get.  He had a single pot of oil and was going to pour it’s contents out into what they brought.  I’m confident they weren’t thinking positive thoughts.  But, grumbling and doubting, expecting failure, they still took the steps to succeed.  The story of the unfailing jar of oil has stuck in my head all these years.

So, I think I’m going to plan for success.  I will reach out to assist in hopeless causes.  I’ll keep buying merchandise to sell in my store; I’ll have shipping cartons on hand to send out the products which customers order.  I’m going to work on making my contingency plans for what happens when things go well, not the opposite.  I know there will be bumps along the way, maybe even a pit or two that we drop into, but I’m fairly confident that the road leads up, not down.  Time will tell.  How about you?  You coming?

It may seem like foolishness to you, since you now know that I fritter away my time playing computer games, but we may all be surprised.  Well…I’m going to play Solitaire for a few minutes more now.  Who knows what bright ideas may come next?

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm; plans to give you hope, and a future.”
(Jeremiah 29:11)

“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.”
(Herm Albright~German artist and philosopher~1876-1944)

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