Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Week in Jeopardy: And You May Say to Yourself, Well…

…how did I get here?

1994 and everything after
It’s a random weekday evening some time in the last, oh, fifteen years. I don’t much television—I watched enough when I was a child to last me a lifetime, I think—but three nights out of five, maybe two, I’ll be watching this. A quiz show; that’s all it is, in the end,. A quiz show with an egghead reputation, deserved or otherwise. I watch it fairly often, call out my answers. It never occurs to me to keep track of how I do, to chart my ratios of right-to-wrong or my potential scores; there are so many other things to occupy me.

This given night—one of many occasions—I’m watching with other people. Friends, family maybe; doesn’t matter who. Somebody says, “You ought to try out for this show.” Maybe I should. I shrug. How the hell do you get on a game show, anyway? I have no idea. I suppose I could find out, but really—what’s the point? It’ll never happen.

January 2008
The thing about freelance writing is that the money is good—when it comes. And it hasn’t been coming, lately. I have found myself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and there have indeed been times when I have said to myself, “My God, what have I done?”

The design I have chosen for my life is based on a certain circularity of reason: Working from home as a writer allows me to spend time with the children, and staying at home to care for the children will leave me plenty of time for writing. This is true insofar as it goes, of course, but there’s a vital factor missing from the equation. What I need most for a writing career is not time, but clients—and those are proving difficult to come by. It was one thing when the kids were small; but with Sam now in kindergarten full-time, I’m simply not getting enough freelance work to justify being home all day, every day.

D, God bless her, tries hard not to make it all about the money; but the money has a way of asserting its own importance. It’s not even a question of my happiness. Throughout the long winter I’m feeling increasingly desperate and guilt-ridden, knocking around the empty house, avoiding the work, muttering to myself. I am afraid all the time, now.

Somewhere in the midst of this black season, the TV is on, and a cheerful voice announces an online Jeopardy! qualifying test. I always wondered if I had what it took. What’s to lose by taking a shot? It’s a long, flopsweat Hail Mary, but it sure can’t make things worse. I sign up and wait.

The night of the test comes. D has been a peach about the whole thing, and we’ve tried to create an atmosphere of calm and focus for that thirty-minute block. About ten seconds into the test, though, the phone rings; dogs start howling; somewhere in the distance, a car alarm goes off; the kids are looking over my shoulder, trying to sit in my lap, hanging off my arms. The conditions, to put it mildly, are less than ideal.

Still, I think I do pretty well. I can’t see my score, of course, but I reckon I don’t embarrass myself. Nothing will come of it, I’m sure. The quiz is ultimately only a diversion, changing nothing. I log off and resume efforts to find a way out of the corner into which I have painted myself.

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