It was my turn to get up with the dogs, so when they started barking at 7 a.m. on a Sunday–which is actually sleeping in–I rolled out of bed, threw my grubbies on and got up to feed them. After that, I propped the back door open and went into the study to do my favorite secret pasttime: gaming.
I’ve been an online gamer for close to 10 years now. I first got hooked on Everquest years ago when I got curious and then used it to do some sociological research for my doctoral dissertation. It was there that a gaming friend–who had never met me in real life–was shocked to learn that I was a university professor. “Don’t you have more important things to do?” he asked. “No,” I replied, and that’s the point. Everybody always has more important things to do, but sometimes we need to escape from those very things. My wife calls it my “cave time.”
These days I am playing Lord Of The Rings Online. I discovered recently that some of my students, and even fellow faculty and staff are playing the game, but I never see them in game, and I actually prefer to solo, simply because I never know when I will be pulled out of the game, and I don’t want to disappoint either my family or someone who I am teaming up with in game.
So right now my character is a level 49 hobbit who is doing quests in a place called Goblin Town. It’s deep underground, and if I take my time, I find I am usually OK. But I get in a hurry, and occasionally I get surprised, so instead of fighting one or two or even three goblins–which I can handle–I end up fighting six. At that point, I know I am going to die. When you die, you have the chance to either “retreat”–which means being transported back to a safe place outside Goblin Town–or “revive”–which means coming back to life where you are, with a penalty. Because I die quite a few times in Goblin Town and it’s a long way down there, I have started looking for safe places to die. In other words, when I revive, will I immediately be set upon by goblins, or will I have a minute to get my health back up to fight again? I am not always successful, like what happened earlier this morning, but when I am, it saves me lots of time coming back down into that hole in the ground.
Enough about gaming. What message is there in all this? Well, we all have good days and bad days. My dad used to say, “Some days you eat the bear; some days the bear eats you.” That goes for writing too. Some days the words flow from your pen–or keyboard–like butter. Other days, it’s like chipping granite. But in either case, if you get stuck, rather than giving up, sometimes it’s a matter of backing off for a while and approaching it again when you have allowed your subconscious to get a new grip. There have been times when I put my writing away, convinced that I was writing sheer, unadulterated crap. I went off and did something else for a while–a few hours, a day, a few weeks–and came back to it. Sometimes when I revisit it, I discover that yes, it was indeed crap. But many times I get a fresh perspective and discover that maybe it isn’t as bad as I thought.
So if you are going to die, do it with a certain degree of dignity, and in a place where you can regroup and recover as much as possible. That way, you don’t have to look at dying as a total loss.