Dat Korra Finale (Spoilers)
I swear to god if Avatar The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra preserved as a cultural artifact to be studied for generations to come our culture knows NOTHING about art.
Secret Writing Technique #8: Write about things you’re too terrified to describe literally. The resulting cowardice to actually talk about what’s on will drive you to make up phrases and play with language as you desperately try to avoid speaking the truth.
Only to come back and speak it anyway.
Play’s a funny word.
It’s a verb. A noun. Add an ‘ful’ and it becomes an adjective. One of my favorite adjectives perhaps. It’s an adjective that can shine with so many different colors, ranging from the most basic explanation to the satisfyingly coy. One can be playful if they’re grabbing the handlebars of a jungle gym, or playful if they grab your shoulder and pull your ear close to their lips as they smile and you can sense the warmth of their bodies, hear the wetness of their mouth.
But Play. The core word, the noun, the one that refers to an act…that’s a funny word.
We use it for a lot of things. We use it to describe playing video games, playing sports, playing the violin, playing mind games, playing cards. These are all fundamentally different activities, some have rules, some have money on the line, some are just about interacting with other people.
Play. It’s a word weirdly associated with children. That pure version of playfulness evokes a carefree sense of enjoyment, a clambering and kaleidoscope imagery that you’re supposed to do when you’re a kid. Work is not play. (Not for most of us anyway.) Bills are not play. Exercise isn’t even necessarily play. Play is an exception to the adult life, and a mainstay of the child’s.
But that’s not true, is it? Adults play too. We play Quidditch, we play Humans Versus Zombies, even those of us who enjoy mainstream sports play soccer. Sometimes we just play hackey sack. We are as capable of play as children, we just choose to find excused to not experience it as often.
Maybe it’s because we have so many other emotions to choose from. Maybe because to open ourselves up to others we have other tools besides play. We have confession, and love, and death defying stunts, and all those other things we interpret and analyze and dig apart in search of meaning. Kids have a wide range of emotions to be sure, but supposedly they can snap into “play” just like that, just like it’s natural.
But something…feels off about that dichotomy.
I “played” for the first time in many years a few weeks ago. At the Indiecade festival. There was an outdoor game set up out there called The Church of Play. Simple outdoor games you might play at camp disguised with voiceless masks and pretend rituals. Symbols drawn from no prescribed text provided supposed meaning while we cast our dice and snapped our bodies into virile shapes. And as I spun and fell, a golden die slipped into my palm to show I’d passed some unknown test, all the barriers wore away and I felt—-strangely pure.
I speak of a temporal barrier since the last time I felt like this, and you may think that barrier to be childhood. But it’s more than childhood. It’s long into childhood’s past. For how can one feel like this when every game in childhood is built with loss conditions? How can one feel joyful and silly when the possibility of failure feels strangely engineered into one’s actions? As someone who grew up not winning the many games he stepped into, I think there was a gap between what everyone else thought I felt while at play and what I experienced. Goofballery could quickly turn to frustration or shame at the turn of a rule, physical strength or experience could mark the difference between play and humiliation.
But this isn’t the sore loser’s speech. Waste of time that would be. But spinning about that night at Indiecade—-letting my limbs lay loose and sliding into the poses of a golfer, a cello player, and even a dancer felt far safer then I’ve ever felt moving my body before.
Play. Play is supposed to be safe, right? Or at least, emotionally safe. It’s rules without consequences, war without death. We’ve turned sports into stakes but especially for children play is meant to be practice. Simulation.
…So why did it never feel this safe before?
We separate play from kids and adults in this weird conventional barrier right now. This digital world of ours is filled with people pontificating on how adults need to get back to play.
Perhaps. But before we can even wonder about adults, I wonder about the games we teach our children. About how we teach them about dominance and coping with pain.
We create an illusion of play then hide it behind false doors. We make a memory of a vague point in childhood then seek to seal it off as soon as possible.
I have memories of trying to play the way I did at Indiecade. To just make weird noises and turn my body into something it wasn’t. But there are shadows hanging over them. Shadows that grew more and more frequent as I got older. Until one day the shadows grew even brighter, and the walls began to rise up against them.
A part of me thinks how it was so strange that so many things in the world wanted me to stop what I was doing. But after a night of making people laugh and laughing with them, I wonder why doing the same thing as a kid didn’t do the same thing.
Only Adult Problems Are Capable of Making Me Do This
Two Roommates moving out at the end of November. 1 Big lease for me to take over. 4 people say they’re interested. 3 drop out before even seeing the place. Cue hyperventilating.
Obviously I’ve got a month and and plenty of resources to fill the room but God DAMN if that didn’t just trigger some minor anxiety.