Upstairs, my wife has the kids. My daughter came home from school an hour or so ago, ran down the basement steps and gave me a hug (the biggest perk of working from home is extra hugs). I can hear the stuttering too-fast thumpthumpthump of my 2 year old running across the wooden floor over my head and the glorious cry of "bulldozer!!!" I can smell garlic sifting down the stairwell connecting my world to theirs.
I'm in the basement--my basement. During the day, it's where I work. At night, it's where I play. In my dark cave, there are no windows to distract me from my real world. No burning orange ball in the sky to kindle some primal flight urge. It is cold. It is dark.
I know that when I walk up the stairs, two kids will scream "daddy!", my wife will look glorious and kiss me, and I will be preposterously loved.
In my foxhole, the tools of a not-forgotten and reluctantly slipping youth surround me. The D&D books. The miniature figures carefully painted by 17 year old hands. The electric guitar desperately in need of both talent and new strings. The skateboard hanging dusty from the copper pipe.
In my foxhole, the detritus of my working life encroach. Two black and tech-cool chairs are at the desks--extracted from a dotcom startup that imploded recent enough to my scars to still be red, but fading quickly from memory. Two diplomas cover the white wall, splattered in paint from their old perch above the my emergent 20's handyman job workbench. Framed cartoons lampoon politicians. In the corner sits the work computer--a sacrosanct dome of light from a single lamp protects it from the invasion of the non-work.
"It's 10:30 honey, I'm heading to bed..."
The kids have been in bed for some time now. The last few hours have been wedged between the fuzzy blankets of family. The unseasonably temperate evening proffered a chance to cradle the two year old in the backyard hammock before the grill was warmed up for the burgers. Stories have been read. Hugs have been had. Baby Beluga sung not once, not twice, but three times to the slightly off tune of my guitar.
If I turn down my speakers, I can just hear the whistling snore of a toddler above my head, separated by a layer of wooden flooring and cheap basement-renovation-standard fiberglass drop-ceiling.
In my cave the comfortable, biting reality of middle age encases me. Pictures of and by my kids are tacked next to the Burton snowboarding posters. A stack of bills sits next to the printer. A box of picture hangers shout at me like an aging crone reminding me of the household chores left undone. An HP12c calculator – over 20 years old and just starting to lose its faceplate – reminds me of the taxes.
There's no "good" reason for me to be down here. My 10 hours of servitude have long since been logged for the day. I could leave the cave, climb out into the warm spring air, have a glass of wine, and be with my wife. To the outside observer, this would seem not only the logical thing to do, but such an attractive option that to reject it would be a sure sign of madness.
But I am also surrounded by the escapism of middle age. On the other desk – the one without the work - sit two flat screens, innumerable joysticks, yokes, mice, CD's and DVDs. Behind the screens keyboard shortcut lists are taped, and a flight sim map is curling up at the corners where the blue tack let go. Under the desk sits a Frankenstein's monster full of wires, water tubing, fans, drives, and dust. Unlike the HP12c, The faceplates have long fallen off the DVD drives and the sidepanel disappeared long ago.
When it's good, when the time in the cave is at it's most seductive, when it's working, I evaporate. The very "I" itself becomes thin and misty. I become no-mind. Buddha winks as I shed the layers of the non-basement, and then shed the layers of the basement as well. There is only the mantra. Breathe in. Breathe out. No mind. Time stops or lengthens to such a distance that seconds become hours, and hours disappear. There is no technology – no 5.1, no SLI, no RAID-0. There is no DirectX, eyecandy, puzzle, opponent or goal. There is just – just nothing.
When fugue ends, my mind rushes in and is full of the world again. But there are echoes left behind:
"I wonder if closing the gates makes a difference to the siege of Kvatch I left hanging"
"I really need to learn how to land a twin otter better"
"Why do Lumines blocks seem to drop slower when they're paired?"
"Why do trolls have rasta accents?"
"Will one more dual land make that much difference in my burn deck?"
"Maybe I can climb that building at Hotel to get a better sniping angle."
This is good.
My dead flesh has been scrubbed off, and I am exposed pink meat. There is nothing left of me that worries about the mortgage, the groceries, the garbage or the bills. The echoes press any remembrance of that laptop in the corner into a very small box and puts the lid on it.
"I'll be right there."
And it's actually not even a lie. I am right there. I am really there. The space left empty when the screens go dark is a vessel to be filled with family dinners, love, touching, prayer, wind and leaves, cold winter air, sweat, grief, lust, wonder and joy.