Our Shared Year of Words (with Variations)

If you need coffee, get it BEFORE you start the timer.
If you need coffee, get it before you start the timer.

On January 1 of last year, Toots and I started a writing game. We’d spent most of New Year’s Eve watching Slings & Arrows, which is not a prerequisite for the game, but it helps.

Players: 2

Materials needed: phones, notebooks or laptops, a timer (see phones)

We could have spent the day watching Season 3, but unspoken between us was the knowledge that watching TV, no matter how good, was not the way we wanted 2015 to start. Django and I walked Toots to the train, and New Years festivities were officially over.

To play:

Either player can start the game. Toss a coin maybe.

After the dog walk, I wanted to lay on the couch and read. Instead, I got my notebook and a timer, and decided to write for 20 minutes, using the word “Frame” as a prompt.

Player 1 chooses a word and texts it to Player 2.

Set your timer for 20 minutes.

Write the word at the top of the page.

Continue writing anything at all until the timer goes off.

When you’re finished, text “Done” to your partner.

When your partner is finished, they text “Done” to you.

After both players have texted “Done,” Player 2 chooses the next day’s word and texts it to you.

When I was finished, I texted Toots to tell her how my new year was going. She liked “Frame” and wrote for 20 minutes too.

“Want to do this again tomorrow” she asked.

“O-okay,” I said.

So she texted me a word for the next day: “Challenge.”

Rules and Advisements:

Wait your turn: Don’t text your partner the next day’s word, even if YOU’RE done, until they’re done too. With the exception of…

Doubling down: If you absolutely cannot write on a given day, you may “Double down” the next day. Text this to your partner, and send or receive the next day’s word. On the next day, write for 20 minutes per word.

Tripling Down: See above. You’re getting into dangerous territory, but it is possible to get back on track. Don’t give up.

On a dog walk yesterday, I lamented to Dave about how much I miss this game. Not that I wasn’t relieved for it to be over – a whole year of doing this has its ups and downs, and it’s nice to be able to freely journal again, without the word “Level” (Jan 22) or “Arriviste” (July 19) or “Cope” (Nov 11) staring at you from the top of the page. But I loved sharing the ups and downs with Toots. And completing 365 days of shared words felt amazing.

Tip:

Set your phone on silent if you don’t like getting texts at 3am.

After listening to me alternately whine about missing the game and celebrate the fact that I never again have to write about “Suppository” (Dec 30), Dave decided that he wanted to play this game. He called a friend who said, “Sure.” They had to double down immediately to catch up to properly start from January 1st, but they’re on track now to do it COMPLETELY WRONG. They’re writing too much. They’re texting each other  every twenty minutes with a new word. I think they’re on like Word 4 and it’s only January third. They’re going to burn out! But I’m keeping my mouth shut. It’s none of my business.

Variations:

Look up the word before setting your timer. Even if it’s a simple word. You might learn something.

Type if you don’t want to write. Any technology is fine.

But why a pencil? Who would write for twenty minutes with a pencil?

On today’s dog walk, Dave told me a bunch of interesting things about “Sewer.” Apparently it’s related to “Sewing” and “Serving,” which connects to “Steward.”

I might choose “Steward” today if I were still playing with Toots. But our game is complete.

Your turn.

Acts of faith

sign on a parking meter
Faith in glue.

Seeing Judy’s show last night reminded me of Fred’s ‘Fuck cancer’ tee-shirt. A few months before he died, he emailed a picture of himself wearing it. I remember the look in his eyes – that typical Fred look of combined amusement, affection, and a sense of having seen this all before, perhaps a hundred years ago. In the photo he had that same look but it was intensified. Perhaps a thousand years ago.

In Judy’s show, ‘Fuck cancer’ was on a hat. There were photos of hats and tee-shirts you can expect to receive if you get cancer. “Of course they’re fake. My real ones tried to kill me.”

I went to her show after watching another show at Second City, a solo class showcase a friend was in. My friend did a hilarious monolog and song about the exquisite tortures of auditioning. Another guy did a piece about recovering from a stroke. His cane, which he’d been given at the nursing home, was feeling a bit unwanted now that he no longer leaned on it every day. His piano was also feeling left out. Occasionally he still played with his right hand, but he seemed to get too frustrated about his unworking left hand, so there were no more duets with the man’s wife, no more music making long into the night.

Most other pieces were about breakups. One guy’s girlfriend cheated. One woman’s husband strayed permanently. One guy’s boyfriend dumped him in a text. Illness and breakups, those were the themes last night. It was odd how the breakup stories seemed to begin and end with the fact of the breakup, how much it hurt, how sweet revenge could feel, how lonely it was. Whereas the illness stories began with the illness and went on to explore the new reality, new values, new discoveries. On the whole, illness seemed like a more useful experience than breaking up, though of course most of us would choose a breakup over cancer any day.

It’s easy to make fun of solo shows and people do it all the time, but standing on stage alone is an act of faith in more than yourself. It’s an act of faith in human experience, to believe that your slice of it is worthy of a stranger’s time. It’s a sign of faith in community, bringing together a group of people who will be changed simply by being together, facing the stage. When Judy said good night, a woman called out, “My teacher!” and some of us cheered. I thought of my teacher, Fred, and his tee-shirt, and his smile.

During Judy’s show I worried at first that my friends would think it was too depressing, too personal, too detailed. But I heard Johnnie and Paul laugh when Judy brought out her hated cancer socks, which they lived through when Paul had to wear stroke socks. Toots and I exchanged awed looks when Judy sang about the uncanny string of holidays that hosted every one of her cancer and recovery milestones. Afterward, we went out and celebrated our very first evening of all going out together. We made multiple toasts. We were giddy.