Sunday, November 05, 2006

Daddy Sudoku

Deadly fear. Self-sabotage of the highest order. A vicious circle of procrastination, inaction, frustration; then, more procrastination.

Any one of the above describes how the writing life is treating me—or rather, how I’ve been treating the writing life in recent weeks.

It goes beyond mere output. Instead of writing fiction, penning my blog, watching television, downloading porn, brewing beer, bungee jumping, moving to an ashram, or even reading a book that consists of more than 1,000 words, all of my time, energy, and precious little mental health has been spent in a futile pursuit, a destructive and banal effort that threatens my livelihood.

Sudoku. Again.

Every evening, I retire to my study (the “man room,” as Wife calls it, citing the beer cans and issues of “Bonerama Monthly” on the floor), fire up the ol’ iMac, and let my fingers clack away on the keyboard. If one was eavesdropping—I might play some Bach or Schubert to confuse a snooper—he or she might assume I was happily typing my way to a best seller, untold riches, and a spot on the U.S. National Figure Skating Team.

Unfortunately, as all the taps are simply my fingers entering numbers, all the clicks are my mouse moving over the grid of an online sudoku puzzle. This particular Web site allows yourself to rank yourself against others, and I will work on puzzle after puzzle to “beat” the average time.

I try the “Hard” puzzles and pride myself when I complete them under 10 minutes. Like an addict, however, this high is simply temporary, and I must continuously push the edge of sanity to get a buzz. I move on to the “Evil” puzzle and try to finish it under than 15 minutes.

This is not exactly shooting heroin, but still.

I have refered to this Japanese-bourne illness in the past, and if I were a conspiracy theorist or racist, I would posit that sudoku was invented to destroy American capitalism, reducing us to robot junkies whose productivity is spent on filling in a box with numbers. (Not unlike anime, the PlayStation, toilets with cameras, or the ultimate weapon, Hello Kitty.)

This photo has no bearing on anything

What makes sudoku doubly evil is one can rationalize that it is not a waste of time. Unlike watching pro wrestling or Fox News, sudoku operates on the premise that you are doing something “smart.”

Make no mistake about it, sudoku is addictive, at least to a geek like myself. Why bother with grappling with yet another underwritten and disliked story that won’t see the light of publication when you can smoke a puzzle in less than 10 minutes? Why try to rewrite a particularly nasty passage in the novel when you’ve got this harmonic convergence of numbers, calling my name, awaiting my pen?

If you are saying, “Enough with the blogs about how you waste your time, because I can procrastinate and waste the precious minutes remaining in the hourglass of our pitifully short existences on earth in ways you can only dream about, you stupid neurotic writer,” I [heart] your pain. If there’s something I do better than writing about writing, it’s writing about ways not to write.

But, as an old editor of mine used to say at length, if you don’t have a reason for writing a story, there’s no reason anybody’s going to read it, so I actually have a reason for sharing my latest pathetic psychodrama.

I will admit this: my obsessions—my fears, actually—these days have no limits, and the more I consider it, the more I realize that sudoku is just a way for me to deal with the fear. I am plaited with anxiety, but not from work, my marriage, or the despair that Paris Hilton (R-Hollywood!) will be president one day.

I suffer from fear of what, you ask? What could change my attitudes towards work and life, to the point that I turn to a puzzle instead of living out what I once considered a Manifest Destiny of literary fame? This fear is familiar to many of you: the fear that I will never create again.

A common fear, one that haunts every artist and probably doesn’t merit more than 30 seconds of deep consideration. Yet mine is specific in its scheduling: in five months, I will cease to write for the foreseeable future, forsaking my love of the written word in favor of another, a love that Wife and I will share, whose activities in life will consist of sleeping, eating, crapping, crying, whose arrival makes me sick with worry, who will turn my cynical essence to mush and turn Wife and I into the protective equivalent of a psychotic Mamma Bear, and who shall, I predict, if we do not lose our sanity from lack of sleep, make our hearts swell to proportions I thought not possible.

Smashing, baby!

(And if so inclined, I might even write about the new arrival, and produce verbiage that is sappier than a forest of pine trees. You have been warned.)