Recently, I was fortunate to have Play on Words San Jose present one of my stories, Your Superpower," in their reading series. Play on Words pairs actors with flash fiction: the actors read the stories on stage. The actress Ivette Deltoro read my story, imbuing it with loads of energy.
I had a great time! The night showcased the works of top-notch writers. I loved finding new voices to enjoy. I met up with some friends and met in real life some folks I had only known virtually.
It's always interesting to hear someone else read your work; their interpretation is not always what you expect, and the result is fascinating. I hope they'll post the video; if so, I'll post it here when it's available.
My story “It’ll Do Motel,” has just been published by The Harpoon Review. I often write stories inspired by real places I've visited, such as “I Used To,” inspired by a shell shop in Morro Bay, and “Secret San Francisco,” inspired by the San Francisco wave organ. “It’ll Do Motel,” though, is about a real place that I imagined.
At church coffee hour a while back, a man told me a story about traveling across country years ago and stopping at a motel called the It’ll Do Motel. The name inspired me to write a story set in my imaginary version of that hotel, and because it’s imaginary, it’s fitting, perhaps, that the story veers away from strict realism at the end.
By the way, I googled the hotel name and found more than one hotel called that, but the one he stayed at might not even still exist. In any case, any similarities between those hotels and my imaginary one are strictly coincidence.
Recently, I noticed that the tip of my left index finger wasn’t as sensitive as usual. At first, I wondered if I had burned it on the oven (I manage to burn myself whenever I bake). It took a few days for me to realize that I was developing a callus from playing the ukulele.
I’ve been playing the ukulele a lot. For those who read my earlier post on the ukulele, you’ll be glad to know I can now play songs with more than four chords. For about six weeks, I decided to subtract one occupation and add another—I gave up playing games on my phone and pledged to play the ukulele every day.
Shockingly, I only got a smart phone last fall. After I’d had it a couple of months, I found a solitaire app and also downloaded the Candy Crush game that I’d seen my friends playing. Soon, though, I found myself playing these games often. Candy Crush especially mesmerized me with all its bright colors and movement. If my phone was handy (say, on my bedside table) I’d find myself thinking “just one game” and playing for half an hour or more. I was surprised, after I quit, how often I craved a quick game.
Physically, my arms hurt from holding the phone out in front of me and tapping. But I discovered that the mental effects were worse. Because Candy Crush suggests moves, I could sit there tapping mindlessly, watching candies explode and getting rewards for playing often. I’d stop interacting with the world around me and only see the phone. Meanwhile, I wasn’t learning facts or experiencing emotion and empathy, as I would be watching a movie or reading. Even working a crossword would have kept my mind more engaged.
By playing those games, I was developing calluses of the mind—deadening sensation and my interaction with the world. Instead of people-watching while I waited at the DMV, I watched the bright lights on my phone. But that meant that I wasn’t observing the world around me. Henry James said to writers: "Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" I wasn’t being one of those people. Maybe I would have noticed some DMV detail that would have sparked my imagination, the way seeing an out of service bus flashing the word Sorry became the start of my story “My Route.”
Playing the ukulele, on the other hand, has made my mind work in ways it hasn’t had to work previously. It’s teaching my fingers muscle memory for chords. It’s given me the opportunity to meet other players at my local ukulele group. The ukulele is stretching me to develop in new ways.
Now, mindlessness has its uses. Sometimes it’s a relief to sink into an activity that can distract me from nervousness or worry. Will I go back to playing the games? Maybe. But I hope I spend more time on more engaging activities that feed the heart and soul, instead of activities that act as a barrier between me and the world.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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