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Couch Explorer:

When I was young I always wanted to go exploring in a cave and when I got older I finally did & it was dark everywhere & there were strange sounds like your stomach after a big meal & I couldn’t wait to get out. I figured out later that I mainly liked to go exploring caves in my mind where I could be comfortable & not get dirty & cold. If you read too much National Geographic when you’re young it’s hard to adjust to the real world.  (Brian Andreas)

I could be off curing obscure tropical fevers, or creating diplomacy amidst warring nations, or writing the great American novel (which my mother would love), or scrubbing my freaking bathtub – but, no – I have been derailed. And it is all my friend Dan’s fault.

I did not want to want to join facebook. I didn’t even have an account until last September, and the only reason I joined was because my friend Dan was going off to the Americorps, and when I asked him for his email address, he said he didn’t really use it – he facebooked. It is a measure of my affection for Dan that I broke down and grudgingly joined the rank and file of facebook users.

And, I used the account pretty sporadically – at first. I was mystified by all of the random and seemingly inconsequential or incredibly personal things that people would post to their profiles – Things like, “going to work now” or “cleaned all day” or stranger things that I’m not sure I would’ve wanted broadcast across the world-wide-web.

I uploaded a bunch of pictures initially, too – but I kept them private so that only I could see them. I just wasn’t sure I wanted them broadcast to people I hadn’t seen since the seventh grade (even if it was really neat to see what became of them).

I logged on here and there, and as I reacquainted myself with some of these far-flung folk or connected with newer friends, I became more comfortable. I even decided to make all the pictures I’d uploaded available to the public (even the ones where I know I’ve put on some weight and I no longer like the shape of my jawline, or anything else).

And that was all well and good, and then I discovered Farmville. Last Thursday night (a mere 5 days ago), I finally decided to accept one of the oodles of invitations I received in my notifications and start my own little farm. I haven’t done much of anything productive since then, and Jeremy (my fiancé) has had to make dinner every night because I was hooked to my laptop and couldn’t be bothered to do it.

You’d think that he would be incensed, but he’s actually rather amused. He likes it when I do things that are somewhat more “human” and hint at potential commonalities with all the other humans. (I am a brainiac, and I know it gets intimidating sometimes, and annoying other times). Every time he comes home and sees me staring intently into the screen muttering things like, “One more valentine and I can get another Luv-Ewe,” and “I fertilized their crops, when the heck is someone going to fertilize mine?” and “My ugly duckling is 58% ready,” he giggles and asks me how the farming’s going. And I think he actually likes it that there is a part of me that is so utterly fallible and addictable and de-railable.

What has me totally confounded is this: How on earth have I become a Farmville junkie? And by extension, a facebook one?

I actually gave it a lot of thought (that’s what brainiacs do, I guess, when they are farming virtually), and I think I’ve come up with a theory. When I was a little girl, the family who lived behind us had a dairy farm. All of them took turns working on the farm, and they were all in 4-H and got to raise their own cows and stuff, and I thought it was intensely cool.

I used to read all sorts of books about pioneers, and I used to love the game Oregon Trail (even if all of the people in my little wagon always seemed to die of cholera). I was entranced by the idea of striking off and exploring new places, and then carving out a place for yourself that was just how you wanted it to be, and that you created with your own hands.

I used to play pioneer in the backyard, and spend the afternoon harvesting and foraging for supplies (which made my mother very nervous since I was harvesting berries from the rowan tree and leaves from hostas – and essentially creating “food” out of completely inedible and poisonous plants). I would gather them all up, and turn them into little meals like I’d seen the chefs do on the cooking shows I saw on public television.

I loved all of those things. I loved the idea of owning a little farm-let when I grew up and having some chickens and maybe some other critters, too.

And then, I grew up. And in growing up, I realized a few things: farming is incredibly hard work and it is difficult for the family farm to even sustain itself in this era of the corporate conglomerate farms; animals are not always cute and cuddly (more often they’re smelly and dirty) and they get sick a lot and they die – or you have to kill them so that people can eat them. Yeah…when I was twelve, my mother made duck for the first time, and I sat at the table and cried and wouldn’t eat it because I told her that all I could picture was this poor guy waddling around a barnyard (poor woman – no one looked too enthusiastic about the duck after that). I was not cut out to be a farmer – in real life.

I like it that Farmville is my grown-up version of playing farm or pioneer in the backyard with my brother and sister. The animals don’t die. They don’t smell. When you harvest them, it isn’t to turn them into bacon – I had been kind of nervous about the pigs when I bought them. I mean, we all know what pigs are used for, ya know? Well, the cute (non smelly) plump smiling piggies on my farm gather up truffles for me to harvest. How cute! And how fun!

Even thought I may never accomplish anything ever again (I am astonished that this post even got written!), I am glad I found this little game. I’m glad that it’s just for fun and it’s totally idealized and not remotely like real life. I get enough real life every single time I pay the bills – it’s nice to have a little fantasy now and again. Well, I’ve got crops to harvest and cows to milk…(and a tiny virtual agricultural empire to build. Muahaha).

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)