Marty is in Charleston, West Virginia playing Scrabble. I am in Charleston, Illinois grading English 1000 papers, writing up a report as to how I spent my summer grant money, writing up a proposal asking for more money, reading and commenting on several graduate student prospectuses. I haven’t done laundry in a week. One unfortunate consequence is that I’m out of my more dignified clothes; on Monday I wore a pair of too-tight aqua-colored pants to school. “Ooh, Professor Markelis is wearing green skinny jeans!” a student exclaimed loudly.
Guess who’s having more fun? Correct answer: Marty. Oh, I have my little pleasures lined up for the weekend: I’ll take breaks to watch the World Series while munching on low-fat Doritos, I’ll read an Alice Munro short story (she just won the Nobel Prize in Literature—check her out). I’m usually amused by the writing of my freshmen (when I’m not horrified.) One student recently wrote that he enjoys watching “mediators falling through the sky.” It took me only a second to realize the student meant “meteors”; I will never be able to look at a falling star without thinking of earnest men and women in bad suits hurtling through the heavens with open briefcases.
In addition to not being the one having more fun, I am also the lonelier one this weekend. I do have friends, but one of my reasons for not going to Charleston, WV is to catch up on work. Calling people in Charleston, IL to make plans for getting together would just defeat the purpose.
Me: “Do you want to go for a walk at three?”
Friend: “I’m busy at three. How about eleven?”
Me: “Eleven falls within the limited frame of my prime writing time. Maybe we can just do coffee. How about noon?”
Friend: “Who does coffee at noon? Besides, I’ve given up caffeine.”
Me: “You’ve given up caffeine? When did this happen?”
One advantage of being happily coupled is that you can be in one room, your partner in another, and still feel connected. A five-minute break every hour—a short chat, a long hug, a quick “Let’s see if you can anagram this”— is enough to alleviate any sense of loneliness. Alone without company, I find myself chatting with the refrigerator, hugging the book shelves, asking Miguel Cabrera to anagram EEILLNOR.
My spouseless (SPOUSELESS is good only in Collins) husband, on the other hand, is not feeling lonely in the least.Playing game after game of Scrabble makes you forget your essential aloneness in a world seemingly indifferent to your needs and desires. You may feel other emotions, for example, anger; your opponent, ahead by two hundred points, is taking an awfully long time shuffling those tiles. You may feel disgust—how in the world did you miss TENUOUS? You know your OUTENS stem, AND you’ve memorized all of the seven letter words with two Us. You may feel that a great cosmic injustice has been inflicted upon you by the Scrabble gods—one lousy blank in six games. But you will probably not be feeling lonely. Being engaged in an activity where you really need to concentrate AND where you are surrounded by people prevents that most embarrassing of emotions.
And that’s one of the great things about the game, perhaps even the reason so many introverts are drawn to Scrabble. It not only keeps your mind sharp, but also allows for a sense of connection that isn’t anxiety provoking. (I’m talking about big party/new people anxiety.) Most people chat between games; they bemoan their luck or analyze troublesome racks. Even if they don’t—even if they stand on the sidelines looking up words on Zarf—they are ten or twenty minutes away from sitting down and facing the person across the board and playing a game they love.