There’s a reason I don’t have Tetris on my computer anymore. As long as I know it’s there, the seductive icon beckons and I can’t resist. It was only when I would close my eyes at night and see Tetris shapes falling behind my eyelids that I decided I needed to go cold turkey. Still, today I am having Tetris cravings. Not so much to play the game as to superimpose it on my life. I want the daily challenges and unanswered problems to fit neatly together, to make sense, to complete the puzzle. I long for the sense of mastery, of knowing that if only I turn and position the falling troubles, I can place them in exactly the right spot and they’ll magically disappear. It’s always the long red stick that I'm waiting for – the floating shape that fits anywhere, completes every line, and is always useful. My life is missing the red stick piece.
I don’t mind the hills to climb or the new quagmires to solve. I can gear up for a challenge and trudge through the puddles. I can practice the mantra of “this is a lovely growth opportunity” rather than cursing the crisis. I just like to know that if I can examine the predicaments, if I can slide them over and rotate them correctly, I will clear away the chaos and move on to the next level.
On level one, the Tetris shapes drift slowly down the screen, allowing enough time to brush your teeth between new parts. It offers a false sense of control, an ego boost: See, look how easy this life stuff is! No problem. One headache at a time to maneuver, and still enough time to prepare. But then we move on…level 3, level 7, level 10. The shapes fall faster and faster, until blinking is an extravagant luxury lest the screen fills up with mismatched figures and Game Over. There are the L-shapes and the square blocks, the small z-members and the prized red sticks. And even if you know what piece you’re missing, the answer you need, the cure for the chaos, it’s not up to you. We only get to choose how to arrange them, not which ones we get.
Life as a Tetris game. I have level one days. Hours of leisurely tackling each to-do item with breaks of dog cuddling and strolls in the neighborhood. The times to boost confidence, climb the next ladder rung, and close my eyes at night secure in a day well lived. I love level 1. No problem seems too overwhelming and there are concrete solutions at my disposal. However, knowing me, I'm guessing that were I to have a life entirely spent on level 1, I’d probably be bored, and just like when I used to play Tetris, I’d rev up the speed, jump to level 8, and invent problems out of clear skies.
Then there are the level 12 days where figures stream down the screen, struggles and worries race past, and there never seems to be enough time to focus on the current shape before the next one sprints before my eyes. I try to multitask, keeping my gaze on the current L-shape or square block while simultaneously glancing at the small box in the corner that gives me a preview of what’s to come. I'm torn between taking care of the issue at hand and preparing for the impending storm. Sometimes I find my rhythm, becoming a wiz at rotating problems and placing them perfectly to achieve the desired result.
But inevitably, I blink or sneeze, and all of the sudden the lines are precariously tall, leaving no room to do anything other than wait for the shapes to fill the screen. The lines mock me as they rise with alarming velocity, worries piling up, and disaster imminent as I reach the point of no return. These are the days of scattered anxiety. The moments where I shuffle through knots, never untangling any, merely moving them around as I search for space to breathe. The memory of the level one control and life Masters degrees fade as I convince myself I'm out of my league.
I forget to slow down, even in the face of torrential dilemmas, and to take a step back. I forget that sometimes I can regain my footing, find the long red stick to make the lines disappear, and channel my talents to arrive at an ideal resolution. But sometimes I need to call it a day and start over. I forget that once I'm past the point of no return, it can be wiser to watch the shapes flood the screen and admire the pretty colors rather than continue to mindlessly flail. I find myself getting lost in the details, certain that if only I could find the accurate position or hit upon the needed component, I could resolve the puzzle. I forget about the “pause” button, the call-a-friend lifeline, and the ability to take a time out. I forget to ask for help, forget that fresh eyes might see the overlooked space where the L-shaped heartache can fit. The irony is no one shape is a disaster. Seldom is any falling worry or hardship a matter of life and death. There might be square blocks that weigh heavier than z-shaped irritations, but compared to true tragedy, life is still good. It’s not the singular struggles that throw me off, it’s the mess that they create when they fall, cluttering my brain with sharp edges and empty holes.
The orderly precision of Tetris appeals to me. I like the shapes that complete the lines, the way that each block can snap into place, the way the lines vanish when you arrive at the correct placement. Maybe you have a life that always fits into place, where the challenging pieces float slowly and you always are on top of your game. Maybe your tribulations are neatly organized, stacked up and tucked away. Maybe there are those for whom Tetris is a mirror image of their lives and don’t get dizzy from rapidly falling pieces. Maybe. Maybe, but probably not.
So far, it’s a level 4 day, with the added bonus of sunny skies and a play date at the dog park. I mark my problems as they fall, trying to tackle them one at a time, and doing my best to ignore those that lack a clear-cut solution. I have time to breathe and enjoy the game, getting a thrill when lines disappear and knots unravel. I remind myself to look for the fun, and keep perspective. I remind myself where the “pause” button is. I keep my eyes on the prize and use my lifelines.
And I remind myself that what matters isn’t if I can achieve the highest score, but if I whether I participate in my days. I remind myself that I’d rather lose the game than never play at all.