Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Games Beings Play (poem & essay)

We Can't Go On Meeting This Way...

If my voice, my smile seem
as intimate to you as your own
(yours seem my own), it's because
you and I met long ago in a dream
(where first meetings happen),

one I'd thought my own until the day
my setting sun surprised me
with a tint of airy blue I'd never
put there. Thus the game began:

I put forth Romeo and Juliet. You
covertly took over Juliet, and
when my Romeo's avid lips drew near,
her tiny teeth nipped off his nose.
I did a quick fade out (stifling
an earthquake of giggles, thinking--
one of us thinking--"Will Romeo
be rebuilt in a day?")

to a long white beach
with palm trees and crashing surf.
You turned into an old airplane
and sputtered across the sun,
dragging a Coca Cola sign. I became
an ack-ack gun, you an elegant finger
plugging my gun barrel. I became a
crocodile, jaws closing over the finger,
which became a stick thrust crossways
to prop open my jaws--

Too trite! Go back
to the gun, no the finger, no, just
play it out (I said, you said, we...)--

and so into the soft sky rose our
crocodile, trailing a Coca Cola banner,
and, flaring to lurid orange,
set slowly in the West.

The poem above (humor me -- I call such things poems) I wrote as an attempt to liven up the way we think of the spiritual life. If we are spiritual beings capable of creation, immortal (and I think we are), then what do we do with enternity? Where's the fun? Most poems that approach this (and there are millions of them) deal with finding some long-ago "you" and becoming verdant landscapes, winds, storm clouds and mountains, pervading galaxies and pocketing universes as if they were a child's pretty marbles.

They're good on spectacle, but often light on games, an old difficulty resembling the traditional response to the Christian idea of Heaven: OK, here we are on a cloud with golden harps. Now what? (One of the more ambitious attempts to resolve this and propose a life both transcendent and playful is Herman Hesse's novel, THE BEAD GAME. A more fully realized approach is Nabokov's great PALE FIRE, both about this and designed to involve the reader in a game of this sort, with author and reader the competitors. Kafka's THE TRIAL is a similar, but grimmer game. PALE FIRE is about as much fun as one can have while reading a book, which, on planet earth, means about as much fun as one can have, though love, sex, hot fudge sundaes and high speed chases are good too.)

The game in the poem above is closer to the way I think we interrelate when we are most ourselves. The closest parallel to it that I know of in art is the depiction of Calvinball in the great comic strip, "Calvin and Hobbes", where the boy (Calvin) and the tiger (Hobbes) invent the rules as they go along.

Suppose you're a being and you live in a universe of your own creation? How do you know someone not part of your creation is impinging? Something surprises you! ("I know I didn't put that blueness into the sunset!") And then the game begins, no limit, no end of ways to express no end of emotions and concepts via exchanged creations, the rules changing with great rapidity, action epics lasting a fraction of a second -- or as long as we consider they are lasting.

And the rules are based on aesthetics. One puts up (creates, makes available) a handsome male, the other bites of its nose: Is this attack? joke? intimacy? It's playfulness (above) is understood because it livens a boring stock romantic image. In other words, to respond appropriately, yet freshly, you have to operate at a level of aesthetic awareness comparable to that of a poet who must respond to a line of poetry with a next line that is both immediately recognizable as appropriate and also surprising, expanding the game -- or, for the hell of it, plunging into chaotic nonsense that's a kind of art in itself (not a sunset, but a gorgeous crocodileset).

I mentioned Calvinball, where, if tagged off the base, Hobbes will "remind" Calvin of the rule he has just made up that Calvin must spin around three times before making the tag. An even better analogy to what I describe in the poem is something I once witnessed between two nephews of mine -- identical twins. I watched them play -- age 4, I think (I'm ancient, since they're now in their 30s). They were playing catch on the carpet, rolling a ball, but not just rolling it, using some toy that had a ramp to start it rolling. And I noticed that as they played, mostly without words, they kept changing the game, more than once in a second, responding in ways that implied rules, and it all made sense -- to them, to me, watching.

It was odd, my knowing exactly what the little changes meant, without knowing how I knew -- or rather, realizing why I knew: We are not, natively, the players of games (not only that). We are the creators of games.

The best ways I know of to experience this state in action are to get involved in improv. groups, jazz and jam sessions or any art form, and especially art with live interaction among artists.

The single most effective way I know of to introduce someone to an awareness of the extent to which living is a continuing creation of games is explained in a book entitled THE CREATION OF HUMAN ABILITY by L. Ron Hubbard. In that book (pages 207-208 in my 1989 edition) is a "process", a sort of game used to increase someone's awareness (a sloppy definition, but it'll do here) called "R2-69: Please Pass the Object." It explains exactly what to do to get someone aware of games and rehabilitate the sense of play. Try it on someone deathly serious and watch him/her rediscover laughter.

[Note: The process is labeled "R2", meaning "Route 2" because it's one of a sequence of processes designed to get someone somewhere (from spiritual state A to spiritual state B, for example -- a route), and is done after a set of processes labeled Route 1; and this process (R2-69) is the 69th process of Route 2.]

Apologies to the pious, but "spiritual life" is not synonymous with "solemnity" or "dullness" or even "sexlessness".

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