My life is in need of order. I know that because I'm in a Tetris mood, rather than my usual Scrabble state of mind. Tetris is a classic video game that requires spatial reasoning skills, a high-tech version of a simple geometric puzzle. When it comes to spatial relations, I am simple-minded indeed. In high school, I always did poorly on the abstract reasoning section of those dreaded aptitude tests. My best scores were in vocabulary; thus, my preference for word games and puzzles.
My father taught me to read before preschool age, and I remember playing with the wooden tiles from our Scrabble game as if they were little square dolls. The tile racks looked like miniature church pews, and I'd line them up neatly before arranging the letters on them. I'd fill each pew with my favorite words of the day - animals, foods, names of friends. Sometimes, in a whimsical mood, I'd just let all the vowels sit together.
I preferred hangman to tic-tac-toe, and crossword puzzles to mazes. Throughout my school years and most of my adult life, word puzzles have been my go-to activity during down time. Like my mom, I used to keep a puzzle book with me, plus a spare one in the bathroom. Now, with Scrabble on my smartphone, I've gone paperless.
Jigsaw puzzles were the exception to my obsession with wordplay. My Auntie Alice always had one of those 500-piece scenic panorama puzzles in progress on a small folding table, and I'd work on it while the grown-ups visited. Later, in my teens, I built my own collection of challenging or unusual puzzles, the smaller and more plentiful the pieces, the better. One came in a paint can and, when completed, resembled an uneven puddle of blue paint. No corners, no straight edges, just a can full of oddly shaped pieces. Surprisingly, I was pretty good at jigsaw puzzles.
Not so with those Chinese wooden puzzles, the kind that interlock into complicated geometric shapes. I was confounded and intimidated by them. As many times as my friends showed me, I could never put the darn things together. Years later, I did master Rubik's Cube, but only after reading the solution.
Fortunately, my son didn't inherit my ineptitude for 3-D puzzles. When Jimmy was 8 or 9, he solved the cube on his first attempt, in just a couple of minutes. I thought perhaps I had a young genius on my hands, until I asked him to show me how he did it.
"I just peeled off the stickers and put them back in the right place."
Tetris came out around that time, and after much coaxing, I tried it and was immediately hooked. Jimmy was much better at it than I, but the simplicity of fitting the falling tiles together appealed to me. When I got my first smartphone many years later, Tetris and Scrabble were the two games I installed.
Generally, Scrabble is my weapon of choice against boredom; playing with words is both relaxing and stimulating. I'm such a nerd. But sometimes, the urge to play Tetris comes from deep within. Only lately, I realized that this seems to happen when I'm feeling pressured or overwhelmed by daily life. My gut, rather than my brain, wants to feel the satisfaction of pieces falling into place.
Unfortunately, another recent epiphany caused me to uninstall Tetris from my phone. It finally dawned on me that my trigger-finger problem stems from tightly clutching the phone as I race to line up the tiles with my thumb.
So this weekend, I'm going shopping for an old-fashioned jigsaw puzzle, one of those 1,000-piece monsters or perhaps a paint puddle, if they still make those. Of course, I'll have to clear my living room table of all the clutter first. Which means I'll have to complete or discard numerous unfinished projects. I could just store them in my closet, but that would require even more sorting and purging.
Maybe I'll just get myself a Rubik's Cube. With removable stickers.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.