I have an addiction. It’s nothing as seedy or interesting as drugs, alcohol, or sex. It’s DragonVale, a game I loaded on my phone sometime in April. My boys suggested it because they know what I sucker I was for Zoo Tycoon and Farmville. They weren’t wrong — I love that goofy game. Perhaps a bit too much.
As soon as I loaded it, I began racing through the levels. I can spend hours arranging and rearranging my islands. I have a spreadsheet to keep track of my dragons and the right breeding combinations for dragons I want. Yes, a spreadsheet. Like I said, I have issues.
It’s understandable. There is so much about my world I can’t control. My health, my job, the global pandemic. I can’t seem to get traction on any of my goals — thanks to the big three mentioned above. But in DragonVale, I can actually achieve things. I reach goals. And the dragons are cute.
Seems harmless enough. But as I fall further behind on the million-and-one things I could or should be doing because I’m tapping my phone screen, a passage comes to mind. In it, one demon is teaching another how to keep man from living his purpose.
“As the uneasiness and reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures the vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo...you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but also in conversations with those he cares nothing about, on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say...'I now see that I spent most my life doing in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
We live in a world of dead fires: social media, streaming services, dating sites, video games… this list goes on. None of these things are bad in and of themselves, but they’re dangerous nonetheless. It’s all-too-easy to get sucked into them and lose days, weeks, months. We get hooked on these sites thanks to the dopamine hit they give, and the effect is that we are literally rewiring our brains. They impact our peace, relationships, and ability to find contentment. These are all reasons I generally stay off social media, I left dating sites, and (pre-covid) limit myself to one television show in the evening.
Stuck in my house and too sick to do much else, I kinda left the one show rule in the dust. But it wasn’t until Dragonvale got its hooks in me that I found myself staring into a dead fire when I should be writing.
Now that I've recognized the problem, I’m going to try limiting myself, seeing if I can have the restraint to only check in a couple times a day and for up to half an hour a time. Because the goofy game really does seem to help me deal with all the rest. But I suspect that, like most addictions, I’m eventually going to have to quit cold turkey because the benefits aren’t worth the cost.
For me, it’s DragonVale. For someone else I love, it’s checking news sites. For another, it’s SnapChat streaks. The world is littered with dead fires. And I can’t help but wonder what we could do if we stopped staring into nothingness.
Right now, the Internet is awash with extroverts climbing the walls amidst social distancing. My poor sisters are jonesing for people. Per usual, I feel like a bit of an oddball because, in many ways, I think I’m less lonely here in the heart of isolation.
Being a single mom is a lonely gig. I often find myself on the outside of the acceptable groups, a bit adrift from the rest of humanity. I don’t get invited to social functions that are largely for couples. I work too many hours to be deeply involved in parent groups at the boys’ school. I’ve never been much of a bar hopper, but I’m especially not now that I’m solidly in my 40s.
Usually, I’m working full-time outside the house and trying to juggle everyone’s competing activity schedules, so I'm too busy to notice it as much, but it also keeps me too busy to reach out to make connections with people. I join things like Meet-Ups, trying to find groups of like-minded people, but I’m invariably too broke and too tired to attend the events.
The truth is, I have friends - wonderful friends - who have their own spouses and children and lives. We are all just so terribly, painfully busy these days.
Pretty much overnight, Covid cleared my calendar, along with the rest of the world’s. But we humans are social creatures; we didn’t let it stop us for long.
There have been a lot of things I’ve seen in the past month that have left me scratching my head, wondering if I will ever understand humanity. But there have been many beautiful moments of people reaching out and finding ways to connect and support one another as we get through this period of isolation together.
Almost immediately, I was added to a local group galvanizing as a community to keep people informed and help people find the resources they needed. Then other Facebook groups like Heart Hunters and What Do You See From Your Window? #StayAtHome popped up, creating a sense of solidarity with others practicing social distancing around the globe.
My family started game nights via Zoom and the HouseParty App, and I saw nieces and nephews I haven’t seen in years because we’re scattered across the country.
Patrick Stewart started reading us A Sonnet a Day. John Krasinski started sharing Some Good News, even hosting a prom for 2020 seniors. Every morning for the past week, I’ve tuned in to Travis Linville’s live stream along with others from around the world, forming what’s been dubbed “the morning crew.”
When a Final Fantasy gamer died of COVID-19, the community honored her with an online funeral procession in what was truly a beautiful moment.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this, except to say that this week has been unsettling for me with all of the strife over when and how to end social distancing. I have opinions on the subject, but they’re just that, opinions. I’m not a scientist and what I think really doesn’t matter. I’ll go back to my office when I’m told to because I have kids to feed.
BUT, whenever I start to get too upset by the venom people are spewing at each other because they feel out of control in this crazy situation, I stop and think about all of the stuff above. I think about all of the people who reached out to check on me and the boys. I think about the store manager at work who created a giant sign that read "We will be okay" in the fence at one of our Iowa locations. I think about the way the entire world, or at least a good portion of it, pressed the pause button and joined together for even this one moment.
As with all things, I’m inching my way through this crisis, hopeful yet pragmatic. Thankful for where I am in this particular moment but aware that circumstances change. Mindful of those around me who are suffering.
Wherever you are tonight, I hope you are well, and I hope you’ve found a tribe to weather this storm with. And if you need a friend, I'm just an email or message away.
Ya’ll, I’m not going to sugar coat it: I have a crush. After the damage the last couple of guys did to my heart and ego, I’d begun to resign myself to being an asexual romance writer, so it feels like a wondrous thing to have a schoolgirl crush, even if it’s on a man I’ve never met.
One of my favorite things about living in Buffalo was the Old Home Place Concert Series. So when they took this month’s concert online because of Covid-19, I was pretty excited about attending. Eight musicians sang two songs each from their home. One was friend and favorite musician Lyal Strickland, but the other seven were new to me, including Travis Linville.
If there is a Mrs. Linville, I will apologize now but that man is adorable and I have been listening to his music pretty much non-stop since Thursday night. I’m fairly certain I need to meet him in person when the world resumes.
I watched Miss Austen Regrets this week - it struck a chord with me on so many levels. I know my inability to finish a novel these past few years is as tied to my regrets as it is to my busyness. The movie, the music, the COVID-inspired isolation, it all seems to be converging to help me embrace where I am in life, who I am.
Whether it’s to my benefit or detriment, I can’t say, but I’m a romantic. I am a writer. (I also miss my farm. I miss my chickens and goats and long walks in the woods with my dogs, but that’s for another day.)
Since I was a teenager, I relegated my novels to hobby because I needed to do something “practical.” I am not a practical person and I am making myself miserable trying to be. I’m an observer and a dreamer and I’m happiest when I let the words tumble from my brain onto the page. I think it’s time I own that, fully, and actively work toward putting it back in the center of my world.
When my kids were growing up, I relegated my desire for romantic love to my books because my children were my world. They needed me to focus on them. When they were old enough for me to try to find my person, the antics that ensued were worthy of a novel - a bit comedy, a bit tragedy. (That book is coming, eventually.) But, not gonna lie, I think the endeavor nearly broke me. He nearly broke me.
I’ve done a lot of healing these past months. A lot of thinking. A bit of writing. The ideas are back now. I’m dreaming books again. I wake up and furiously write down everything I can remember so it’s there when I need a new book idea.
I have three nearly-finished novels that I’ve painstakingly chipped away at FOR YEARS. So naturally, when I dreamed the inspiration for Violet Sky, I set them aside and dove head first into it. At the moment, I am completely and utterly in love with the characters in this book. They’re in my head all the time. I enjoy thinking about them, who they are, what their story is.
As non-sequitur as it seems, stumbling across Travis Linville’s music feels like it’s all oddly a part of whatever transformation is happening to me right now. So I am going to wake up early on a Saturday morning to catch his 8 am Facebook Live because--seriously--dude’s adorable. And then I’m going to spend the day listening to his music on Spotify while I immerse myself in the world I’m creating with Violet Sky, and I’m going to enjoy the writing process. I’m not going to worry about word counts or publication schedules or any of the myriad of practical things I could or should worry about.
I’m simply going to be a girl who owns her regrets, smiles a bit over having a crush at 42, and is happiest surrounded by the words tumbling out of her brain.
Subscribe to my biweekly newsletter to get the scoop on new books and giveaways!