When I use the Duolingo app on my phone, since I refuse to pay for the premium version, I see a lot of ads. Some are for local furniture stores, some are for Duolingo Plus (the paid version), some are for other language learning apps, but a lot are for games. There’s one where you have to put pieces of a “wooden” puzzle together, and one where the fat king gets in all kinds of danger and his life depends on you moving little icons around on the screen, and then there are all of the different versions of water sorting puzzles; some use test tubes, some use bottles, or vases, some even use colored balls instead of water, which is not the same at all. There’s something unreasonably peaceful, and satisfying, about watching water pour from one bottle to another, until all of the blues are with the blues and all of the greens are with the greens. I found myself watching the water sorting game ads all the way through to the end, instead of dropping my phone and looking for something else to do for those thirty seconds.
And a few weeks ago, after the Duolingo tournament had raised my stress level into infinity instead of the app’s usual calming effect, I gave in and downloaded one of the water sorting games.
There’s no productivity excuse for playing this game; I’m not learning a new language or important scientific principles, but the game is actually the embodiment of some lessons I keep thinking I’ve learned, and keep having to relearn: one, that it’s okay to fail, as long as you keep trying (the game lets you retry the same puzzle until you’ve mastered it, without penalty); and two, sometimes, in order to reach your stated goal you have to take a circuitous route, because there will be barriers in your way that you can’t foresee.
The goal of the water sorting game is to move the sections of colored water from one bottle to another until each bottle holds only one color of water, and you get two empty bottles to help you sort, because you can only pour purple onto purple or green onto green, but any color can be poured into an empty bottle. And the strategy that works for you in one puzzle rarely works in the next one, so that time after time I have to relearn that even if my goal is to get all of the purples into one test tube, I’ll still have to deal with the reds and greens and yellows in the way.
So, for example, if I want to write the sequel to Yeshiva Girl, which I’ve been trying to do for a very, very long time, I have to accept that there will be more barriers to overcome, and that I won’t always (or even usually) know what they will be ahead of time. I’ll need to try new things, again, and again, again, and if I continue to fail, I may have to start over from the beginning with a blank page. But starting over doesn’t mean I’m failing, it means I’m learning, and inevitably, I will find a way forward.
There’s a variation of the water sorting game where you can’t see the color of the water below the top section of each bottle until you move the top section away and the next color is revealed, and therefore you cannot plan ahead. I love this variation because it frees me up to accept my blindness, and to accept that I won’t know everything that will be coming my way, and therefore I can take a deep breath and know that I can’t be expected to plan and strategize, and it’s okay to just take it one step at a time, and see what happens.
I still go to Duolingo every day to work on my languages, and I haven’t fallen into a deep hole wherein all I do all day long is sort colored water instead of writing or getting chores done, yet, but each time I take time out to play the game, I feel like my brain waves are untangling and relaxing back into place, or finding new and better configurations that can help me work through the knots in my actual life with a little more patience.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?