Things To Teach
I watched some of City Slickers the other night on television, the part where Curly explains the meaning of life to Billy Crystal (and I paraphrase): "Just do one thing", he said as he held up a finger, "extremely well." Billy Crystal replied with the obvious question: "What one thing"? "Ah", replied Curly, "that's for you to find out."
Now, that's funny, but that's also a standard theme in finding satisfaction in life, in following the
path toward enlightenment. Curly wasn't kidding. You master the path to any discipline and that path will be the path to the light. And I was thinking, well, it isn't supposed to matter, really, what that discipline is. It really doesn't, other than the fact you find that you've chosen it and spent the rest of your existence in its pursuit. We're talking mastery here. Actually, I don't think you have to be drawn to it, you simply have to master the subject and in mastering the subject you will at some (aha!) moment of realization make the mental leap (from, I don't know, peanut farming) to the meaning of life. A kind of cookie cutter deal, if you will, all patterns ultimately the same pattern at their essence. That pattern you ultimately find in the mastery of any discipline, when you reach its very essence, is the pattern of life. And peanut farming. Mothers sometimes tell their kids they can get there if they eat their Wheaties, but you hear a lot of shit when you're a kid.
Now, my thought is: Can you get to that light, can you find enlightenment by playing FreeCell at four in
the morning sleepless and tired, the world silent, your head grinding, gears locked in reverse? I think so. Why not? FreeCell can lead you to the mountain, no doubt, but can it take you to the top? Hey, why not? You think I'm kidding. How long might you have to play and how good might you have to get? FreeCell keeps statistics and I'm stumbling along at about 80%, which is probably about average out there for someone who doesn't think his moves out in advance. If I play 500 games, I will win 400, maybe more. What might a master's percentage be? A master might have to make it a point to only play when his head wasn't full of wool, for example, or maybe give up drinking. Mastery now, remember, not skilled, not brilliant, not spectacular, but master. Struggle. Committment.
Understand FreeCell has some advantages. Some of the traditional disciplines, the Way of the Sword (Samurai), the Way of the Spirit (monk), the Way of the Force (geek), take time and effort and some of them require that you go out into the rain at night and maybe miss Ally McBeal on television. FreeCell generally takes place on a computer in a reasonably warm room, at the worst on a Palm Pilot in a Grey Hound Bus station, at the very worst on an Etch-a-Sketch in Boston.
The question is where it may lead, what it may teach, this essence at the core business. Is it the real
thing? The cards: Little electronic rectangles on the screen. The Queen of Hearts. She reminds me Valerie C. in high school, nature's tantalizing hint that there was a world to come more fantastic and majestic than a young man's imagination could encompass, something beyond moms and dads and suburban living as seen through the eyes of a kid. Can the Queen of Hearts make me relive and maybe learn lessons I should have resolved in high school with Valerie C., dark eyes and pale skin, black eyebrows and hair, the first woman I was to meet who had a drinking habit?
Or Elaine. Queen of Diamonds. Fishnet stockings and high heels tap dancing across the stage in a high school production of Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, except she wasn't. A blond. (Well, what was she? It's been a long time. She might have been a redhead. I've had a history with redheads.) Is this part of the mastery business? Gathering up old wooly memories and tying off half forgotten loose ends? (Blonds happened in college and in the first decade after. If I'd known then what I know now back in my college days, I'd be dead.)
There are other cards. What can you learn from the deuce of clubs other than it had better get its ass
up on top of the ace if you're going to win the game? The digital deuce, on and off, one and naught, a subtle reminder of the digital dots that wire the world together. I wonder sometimes what would it be like, what would I do if I were to wake up one morning at the age of fourteen again, knowledge intact? What would I do, where would I go on that first day of a totally new and different fourteen going on fifty seventh year? Well, I think, hell, if we're going to imagine travelling back in time and reality waking up in my fourteen years old world with an old fart's memories, maybe I'd better imagine that world with a Web. Intel chips. Microsoft. My parents could have afforded to buy their son a computer had there been computers.
But there, you see? I've already lost it. Imagining a miracle waking up at fourteen years of age, knowledge and memories intact, and I'm thinking hey, where's the computer? The deuce of clubs. Grab a camera. Head for New York City. It has things to teach. Even now. Ask Steve.