Writing 101: All those hours I’ll never get back

Day 4 of Writing 101 and we’re supposed to write about a loss. I’m going to write about the many, many hours I have devoted to playing daft games on my iPhone: hours of my life that I won’t get back.

To be honest, I’ve had a bit of a rough time this year. My PhD studies all went very wrong very quickly and I withdrew from the programme before the upgrade process because it was clear to me that I didn’t have my methodology sorted out and there was no way I was going to get past the panel. This was at the beginning of April, and I fell into a fit of gloom for a while: I’d been enjoying my studies and the PhD had given me something to strive for, something to be proud of, and something to distract me from other aspects of my life that are less satisfactory. Without the PhD, I felt dejected and morose. But I’m coming out of my misery pit now because I have A Plan.

The self-motivational image below has been doing the rounds on Facebook recently, and just for once, the advice given is actually rather good:

Make a fucking plan

And I don’t know about you, but I’m always more inclined to accept and act on advice if it’s largely expressed in expletives. So, this is My Plan: I’ve applied to study for an MA in Literary Linguistics at the University of Nottingham and I’m hoping that by going back to MA level, I can get my methodology sorted and then have another stab at the PhD. The gap between now and the beginning of the MA course gives me plenty of time to get some extra research done and I’ve made a little pile of the books I intend to read. Now, if I’m going to get through this reading and work on My Plan every day as the little self-help mantra suggests I should, I need to stop wasting my life playing games on my iPhone.

There was a reason why I started playing these games in the first place. Two years ago, I was working at my job until mid-afternoon, studying until dinnertime and then I’d be out playing the oboe somewhere most evenings. This meant that by the end of each day I was fairly ‘wired’, as they say, and I was having trouble getting to sleep. I needed something to help me wind down: reading was no good because it would only get me thinking about my studies again, so something more mindless was required. It seemed to me that Angry Birds was pretty mindless, so I installed the game on my phone and started playing. It worked a treat. I’d come home from my rehearsal, spend twenty minutes or so exploding things and then I’d get a good night’s sleep. But that twenty-minute period soon stretched into an hour, then an hour and a half, and before I knew it, I was playing Angry Birds instead of going to bed and I still wasn’t getting enough sleep.

So Angry Birds had to go. It was annoying me anyway, especially once I became obsessed with getting three stars on every level. Instead of calming me down, the game was making me agitated, and after once hissing ‘Die, you little piggy fuckers!’ at the screen, I thought okay, okay – enough. Delete it. In any case, by this time I’d discovered Pet Rescue.

Pet Rescue 2

Now, Pet Rescue is great because you only get five lives which are renewed on a half-hourly basis, so you can’t play the game for hours on end as you can with Angry Birds. And it’s not just about causing carnage either: essentially you have to get the pets to the bottom of the screen by removing all the blocks. It gets harder and harder as you go and some levels require quite a bit of thought.

Pet Rescue 1

So I can justify Pet Rescue not only on its wind-down factor – who wouldn’t feel a sense of gratification at rescuing little piggies and bunnies? – but also because it presents a puzzle to be solved and I don’t usually test myself in this way, so to give the maths side of my brain an extra workout or two doesn’t do any harm whatsoever. And this brings me to The Curse:

The Curse loading page

This puzzle-solving game is fabulous. Not only does it feature sumptuous graphics, but the puzzles are graded in difficulty (easy / medium / hard) and some of the hard ones are really hard. I’ve completed 83 out of the 100 puzzles and I’ve almost reached my limit. The only puzzles left are those I really can’t do, like this riddle (any suggested answers are most welcome):

Solve the riddle

…and these release-the-block puzzles:

Remove the mannequin block

I just can’t do these. But I’ve solved most of the other puzzles. In the one below, you have to memorise the sequence in which the light bulbs light up and then reproduce it accurately:

Watch the sequence

And in other puzzles, you have to measure a certain amount of liquid into each container:

Divide the liquid as shown

…or create an unbroken circuit:

Make a circuit using every nail

All good clean fun, yes, but once my PhD had gone out of the window, I started to spend whole afternoons playing these games, among others, just to find some sort of sense of achievement in something. With the birth of My New Plan, however, this has to stop. I will never get through that stack of books if I carry on like this…plus I’ve almost worn my phone out and I can’t afford to replace it. Up until last week, which was when I found out that I would definitely be offered a place on the course at Nottingham, I was having to recharge my phone twice a day so I could carry on playing games. I feel terribly guilty about all that wasted time now, because I could have been reading novels even if I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to read text books on narratology and cognitive poetics, but you see, at the time, I didn’t want to do anything else other than try and get through the next level of this or that game. I just couldn’t see the point because at the time I didn’t have A Plan: there wasn’t any projected or achievable outcome for which to aim, and I felt so tired and beaten after studying hard for eighteen months, seemingly to no avail, that I simply wanted to sink into lazy afternoons of trying to remove all the jelly in Candy Crush Saga:

Candy Crush Saga copy

But as May turned into June, I realised that I didn’t want this downward spiral to continue and the offer of a place at Nottingham has come at just the right time. This is my lifeline. And that self-motivational image reproduced at the top of this post is now the lock screen wallpaper on my phone, so every time I pick it up for just another round of Pet Rescue, I’m confronted with the reminder that I’m supposed to be getting on with The Plan. So one round really does mean one round – and then it’s back to the books. I won’t get back the time I wasted, but I can learn my lesson, put it behind me, and take care not to do it again.

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