Did any of you have the board game Life? The edition I grew up with had little plastic red cars with pink and blue plastic peg people that fit inside the cars. I loved filling my car with people–a mom and dad, twin daughters, and a baby son. Or, a mom and dad and four little blue peg boys filling the car’s backseat. Just like in Monopoly where instead of cars and people you collect cute houses and hotels, collecting becomes the game. Collecting the family, or the houses and hotels, was fun and as well as necessary for playing to win, but I wasn’t as good with the chance cards and the bad spins where you’d get problems with a fire or insurance hassles. I didn’t like the random acts of badness that came with playing Life and Monopoly, didn’t like someone–something–sabotaging my good fortune.
I’m an adult now and don’t play as many board games as I used to, but I’ve been thinking about chance cards and fate and real life. Those games aren’t that different from real life. In our real world, every day is up for grabs. Every day we start a new game and every day we stand to win or lose. Sometimes its big, sometimes is small, but every day includes risk and insecurity. But that chance–that risk–is part of our search for meaning which ultimately gives life meaning. It’s not knowing what will happen that gets me out of bed every day. It’s the unknown–the not knowing–that makes every day exciting and hopefully worthwhile. This is how I write, too. I get a big picture in my head for a book, but I don’t plot and outline in great detail. I tend to write by the seat of my pants, allow the characters and their inner conflict to drive the story as I write, and while I know certain things about my characters and my plot, I never let myself get bored. I never let external plot dictate the story because as we all know–life is far more random than that. And its that random quality which brings the most pleasure, as well as the most pain.
Conversely in the real world, if we know at the end of the game exactly how many little peg people we will have in the car, or how many houses and hotels we will own, why play? We don’t want to know what bad things will happen, or even what miracles could occur. I think we just have to be willing to play the game. To wake up and see what happens.
In the past year I’ve begun to live as I write. I go to get to the edge of the cliff (or high dive) and jump off fast before the rest of my brain kicks in with objections and thoughts of self-preservation. I honestly believe the best writing–and the best living–comes when you dive in before you let the control side of the brain chant, ‘don’t do it, that’s insane, you can’t do that, that would be insane.’ The little worried voice in my head isn’t always the voice of wisdom though. Sometimes its just the voice of fear. I’m learning to seperate the two voices–wise from fearful. Jumping off a cliff onto rocks is stupid and deadly. Jumping off a a tropical cliff with waterfalls into a gorgeous deep pool of water would be frightening but amazing. Possibly life changing (and no, there’s nothing dangerous lurking in the deep pool of water but fears of failure and inadequacy). What I’m learning is that we’ve got to jump off more cliffs or we don’t learn anything about ourselves. We’ve got to be willing to live, to know life.
Life isn’t ever easy. Being human means we get loads of hurt and sometimes far too much sadness. But being human means we also have gigantic hearts and impressive amounts of hope and courage. So draw the chance cards. Spin the wheel. Buy the houses and hotels. Fill up the little car with peg boys and girls. We don’t want to hurry this game of life. We want lots of turns. Lots of cards. And lots of spins.