Solitaire: On 20-Something Post-Grad Angst

Solitaire: a short piece on twenty-something post-grad angst

Solitaire is a game most people know how to play because like Tetris, it was pretty ubiquitous across devices and a decent way to pass time alone. That was a fact of life in the days of dial-up internet. Although for the most part I'm pretty far-removed from playing it with actual, physical cards, it's still what I play to pass the time when I am waiting for something, or want a minor mental task to help ease me into sleep. The week I lived without wifi in my new apartment, I spent a ton of time playing solitaire on my laptop.

Solitaire is a fascinating game, because despite the fact that it's been around for ages, we still don't know the probability of winning the game. Klondike Solitaire, the most typical game, (which involves drawing 3 cards at a time, infinite re-deals, and win 52,) supposedly has more than 7 quadrillion possible hands. Some are doomed at the outset. Others are potentially winnable, but often a player will make a mistake that will cost them the game. It has been described as one of the major embarrassments of applied mathematics. We have computers in our palms that can connect us to the internet wirelessly, and yet we still don't have a way to calculate the chances of winning a game of solitaire.

I'm in a period of transition in my life. So much feels up in the air. At times I am astounded by how much of my reality seems to be built on such precarious conditions. I'm out of school but still transitioning into real adulthood-- an adulthood where there is a four hour train-ride and a couple hundred dollars standing between me and my family, where few of my friends from home or school are in the same state as I am, and where I am trying to build a career in a competitive city like New York. I have such a hunger in me, but so does this city. In many ways, that's why I love it so much-- it's like the synapses in my brain fire in harmony with the hum of the city. But sometimes, it feels like I am trying to take a bite out of New York before it swallows me first.

At night, I lay in bed on my computer, open solitaire and think about choices. Click deal. Move six of hearts onto seven of spades. Draw three.

Some games are doomed from the start. Some games are winnable but ultimately lost due to a mis-step.

It is impossible to know which is which.

I think about my decision to move to New York. I think about the looming end of my employment contract. I think about how hard my family has worked to stack my deck. I think about how I can't ever see the full hand that is dealt, and how I have to find ways to uncover them bit by bit, each time risking changing the game from winnable to unwinnable. I think about seven quadrillion possible hands.

A lukewarm knot forms in my stomach from the low but constant hum of dire importance-- like those scenes in movies where our hero is trapped in a room filling with water with no exit, only the water is coming in at a fairly slow rate, making the scene last hours instead of a few riveting minutes. It is a quiet but persistent alarm siren going off in my brain. It is a great wet wad caught in my throat with no physical presence. It is a soft, warm pillow that is just short of smothering me.

Abandon game. Abandon game. Play some more. Abandon game.

I am not good at Solitaire. I don't think I'm particularly bad at it, and I might be better than some people at overcoming certain obstacles I encounter in the game, but I don't think I will ever be the kind of person to be good at the game. I don't always have the ability to see my own mistakes and learn from them. Maybe with yet-undefined odds of winning, the idea of being "good" at the game doesn't mean much, if anything.

But I keep playing. Game after game after game. Some days I win one-out-of-three, others it's one-out-of-six games. I can see when I am out of moves and I just play again. New game, new hand. One in 7 quadrillion. Some are doomed to begin with. Some I have an active role in losing. Some I win.

If I feel like I lost too many in a row, I'll fight for another win before lights out. Maybe it's because I've always been a little competitive, or because I've got a sturdy ego. Even when you know some games are just doomed, you've still gotta fight. I know when I've been beat, but I also know I've always got another win in me, even if it takes a few more games to get to it.

The lukewarm knot in my stomach loosens a bit. The siren dulls a bit more. This city is hungry, but so am I.

I've always got another win in me, even if it takes a few more games to get to it.


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