I walk to the garage. I get a hammer. A big one.
“Sam,” the hammer says with trepidation. “You look angry. What are you doing?”
I don’t say a word. I head back inside. To my desk. To the basement bunker I’ve been working in for over a year now. To my computer.
The computer gasps.
“Sam,” the computer says with trepidation. “You look angry. What are you doing?
I say nothing. I unplug the laptop. Grab my cell phone. Walk out the patio door. Into my backyard. The Pennsylvania wilderness.
Birds are chirping. Spiders are spidering. Central Pennsylvania is Central Pennsylvania-ing.
I place my devices onto the ground. I’ve spent countless hours staring at them over the past year. Typing. Texting. Grading. Writing. Reacting to emails and messages. And, sweet Lord, the Zoom meetings. My consciousness bleeding into the void. The devices look up at me with, you guessed it, trepidation.
“Sam? Sam, what’s wrong? Sam?”
I become Al Pacino. Because why wouldn’t I become Al Pacino?
“Say hello to my little friend.” I’m talking about the hammer.
The blows fall like so many unread notes cluttering my inbox. Like so many hours spent muting and unmuting myself. Like a year that has left me with a blurry mind. Blurry soul.
And then I blink.
I haven’t obliterated my laptop. Or my cell phone. No, I’m still here. Sitting in an office chair. Listening to Miles Davis. A few tabs open. Doing all of my virtual chores. Fantasizing about unplugging.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a real masterpiece. Released in 1991 for the Super Nintendo. In A Link to the Past, you don’t use a hammer to destroy technology. You do, however, need the hammer to remove obstacle that are in your way. This is especially important when you first arrive at the Dark World. There’s a bridge that can only be crossed after the hammer smashes a barrier. A hammer opens a new pathway for Link as he continues his quest.
I started playing A Link to the Past again. I bought my boys Link’s Awakening for Christmas. It’s a game for the Switch. Link’s Awakening is a nostalgic play on A Link to Past. I finished the boys’ present before they did. Then I got an itch to play A Link to the Past. I was halfway through the classic game before I realized that, in fact, I had never finished the game. My 11 year-old self never completed his quest? That is something my 40 year-old self would have to remedy.
So I’ve been playing the game off and on over the last few weeks. They boys like watching. I’ve made it to the final dungeon. And I’ve done my best to avoid looking up hints online. The internet has changed everything when it comes to rescuing Princess Zelda. My 11 year-old self would never have been able to look up how to beat a boss or figure out a puzzle in A Link to the Past. He’d have had to keep banging his head against the wall until he figured something out. Or asked his friend Josh about it at school the next morning. Walk to school barefoot up hill both ways in the snow. Get off my lawn, kids. Times have certainly changed.
The Legend of Zelda games have stood the test of time. I think I blogged about playing Breath of the Wild last year. Another game for the switch. My friend Nate lent me that game before the pandemic. So I still have it. The game is breathtaking. Really beautiful. Zelda got it right.
Video games have always provided me a respite from reality. Parents getting divorced? Play some Baseball Stars. Mom’s drinking herself to death? Final Fantasy 10, it is. Teaching a million hours a week? A couple of hours in Skyrim on a Saturday morning is a nice way to ease the mind.
The problem for me in this moment, as I see it, is the blur. Work and escape and socialization and creativity all seem to happen in the same place. The little screen on my phone. The slightly larger screen on my laptop. The pixilated reality that has replaced moving through the world. What do I do when I’m done teaching a class on a screen? Play a game on the screen? There’s not much respite in that.
My 11 year-old self would be shocked to read what I’m about to write: I want to turn off the TV and go play outside.
So yes, a hammer can open a new pathway for Link in A Link to the Past. But I don’t think it would do me much good here. As much as it pains me to say it, my laptop is an essential tool. My phone too. Though I’d kill for an extended screen break. Adulthood closes in like the growing bald spot on the back of my head. My poochier stomach. The claustrophobia of being forty is especially gloomy during a pandemic. Start a Zoom meeting then stop it. Then start it again. It’s hard to clear a blurry mind, friend.
But there’s always something else around the bend. That’s the good news about being human. The scary news, too. Nothing you can do will stop the fact that something else is always about to happen. Whether you smash something with a hammer or not. So, my growing bald spot and my poochier stomach, join me as I stretch, yawn, and get ready for what happens after I’m no longer confined to this basement bunker.
Did you just hear a relieved sigh? That’s my laptop. Or my phone. Or my eternal consciousness recognizing that there’s always more in store. Bald spots or pandemics be damned. And that moan of frustration? That’s my hammer. Always irritated that I don’t bring myself to choose destruction.