Birds Speak of Mysteries, Barbara Ruth
Birds Speak of Mysteries, Barbara Ruth

[Image: two large freeway lamps, one in the foreground and the other in the background near the lower right corner of the image. Both are slender poles bearing a long, curved metal arm extending to the left. On each arm, several small birds sit. The lamps stand out against a bright purple sky, with light thistle tones near the top graduating into a deep electric purple at the bottom.]


THE A WORD, Barbara Ruth


by Barbara Ruth

Thank you Ann Thompson, facilitator of Writing Memoirs at Campbell Community Center. You’ve given me the best justification ever to play computer games. Better than “it soothes me.” Better than “it’s a harmless way of getting rid of aggression.” Better than “it sharpens my eye hand coordination.” Better than “it’s improving cognitive skills.” Way better than “I could be addicted to something so much worse.” THIS morning I playing “Mole Word” for half an hour because it was my homework. Or…I needed to play to do my homework. And….ta da!  It furthers my writing. I’m not playing computer games instead of doing my writing. It’s research for my writing. What more research do I need to do? I don’t have an answer for that one just yet but give me a few paragraphs and I’m sure I’ll come up with one. Or maybe a few more games and it will come to me. Because things do come to me when I’m playing computer games. I have realizations. I calm myself down. I think things through. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I notice the A word has crept into this already. And that is the fundamental problem. Beyond the waste of time, the tearing of my eyes, the ache of my head, the crick in my back, the swelling of my fingers, the dizziness from staring at the screen, is the issue of slavery.


Addiction: n. the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”

Do I want to be a slave to repetitive clicking on a mouse, staring and aiming at balls, even making words as fast as I can? I don’t want to be enslaved to anything.

Why haven’t I stopped? I’m writing this to discover the answer. Or…maybe just to dance around the answer.

It could be computers themselves are the problem. Something about the blinking cursor, the hypnotic screen, and most of all the knowledge of all the things out there – in there – to find out, to amuse oneself with: I do believe computers suck the time out of the humans who use them.

And then there’s screens in general, connectivity, having buds in one’s ears, phones that make tiny pictures and contain your whole life, TVs, well, where does it end?

Which is all a way not to talk about my computer game addiction. Back to the assignment.

I remember in the eighties I was in a dream writing group. Not a group that wrote about our nocturnal dreams, rather a dream team of writers. We were all leftist lesbians, all writing novels which contained same, all serious about the level of critique we gave each other, and all respectful of each other’s craft. The meeting I’m thinking of was at Adrienne’s house. Grain was staying with her at the time. We had all arrived and settled in for the meeting, but Grain was still at the computer. I thought she was tweaking the section of her novel she was going to read to us that day. When she finally appeared, she confessed she couldn’t stop playing Tetris to join the game. I knew Grain also valued the group and I was horrified. What terrible power this game must have! How could I get it onto my computer? Then and now what flashes/flashed in my memory banks was when Janis OD’ed. There was a rush on the branded heroin that was too much, even for Janis.  These things are not the same, not at all. Why do I associate them then?

I did find a way to play Tetris, and I’ve found it again, on Facebook, of course. And there’s an app for it on my smartphone. But neither FB nor my android have the Russian folk music that went with the black and white eighties version. I know, I’m Old School.

Drone missiles are “flown” by people sitting in rooms thousands of miles away from the people who they kill.  It doesn’t look like burning and maiming and killing. Or it looks like the simulation of same on a computer screen. A successful drone launcher – that must not be what they’re really called – is a person who is good at simulated warfare in computer games.

Which brings us to Angry Birds. When I click on Angry Birds Friends – does this mean angry avians who are friends of each other? People who like to play Angry Birds and “friend” it on Facebook? Friends of Birds Who Are Experiencing Anger and Need Counseling? Who knows?

Anyway, when I click on the above, I am told Angry Birds In Space is the number one game now on Facebook. Again, multiple ways to unpack that phrase. But no doubt, it’s extremely popular.

Why are the birds angry? Why do birds want to wreck pigs’ domiciles? I know, there’s a backstory when you first begin, all in wordless graphics, but that was long ago and I was I just skipped past it.

Why do so many people like this? Is demolition hardwired into the human psyche. I don’t believe that? Is it just an American thing? That can’t be – the game itself is Japanese.

Why do I like it? The birds and pigs are not at all lifelike, and none of the destroyed structures are at all like pigsties. Is playing Angry Birds a way to avoid cleaning my house? Are ALL computer games ways to ignore the entropy which descends on my domicile, turning it in the direction of pigstydom?

Is the problem really distraction? Am I, like all conditioned by TV, and the various version of computers which surround me for fun and profit, reaping the fruit of an ever shortening attention span?

Attention. Another A word. The connection between TV shows, commercials, computer games and Attention Deficit Disorder – too obvious. Can’t be true. Isn’t the simple answer always too…simple?

I used to think the things which kept me from doing a week Buddhist retreat were lack of financial and disability-related access. That was in the nineties. I had a lot less screens in my life then. Going a week unplugged? Actually, at a Buddhist retreat there’s no phone, no computer, no radio. no iPad. No books even. And not much talking.

Why did I think I wanted to do that again?

So many questions. Fortunately, that Ann Thompson person told me that pieces for this class are supposed to max at seven minutes. So that means I can stop thinking about the why and play another computer game. Or twelve.

Afterward: This was written a few years ago, light years past in the evolution of computer gaming. I am inescapably old school.

Barbara Ruth writes at the convergence of magic and grit, Potowatomee and Jewish, fat and yogi, disabled and neurodivergent. She has performed her original work with Mother Tongue and Wry Crips Readers’ Theaters, taught in California Poets In the Schools, co-conspired with DYKETACTICS! and blogged at NeuroQueer. She writes autobiographical fiction, lesbian feminist theory, and memoir, and is a poet laureate of Fabled Asp.She is 69 and lives in San Jose, CA. She is the featured photographer for the June 2016 “Journey” issue of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing.