“Everybody Else”

I learned a few things yesterday about kids, but also about adults. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a secret to everybody, but did you know that kids become adults?! Like, practically overnight!

But, whether you follow science or religion, consider evolution or an eternal Spring, there’s a very distinct link to our behavior and that of the animals. It’s evident in the youngsters of our species, but withers in adults, to some degree of variance per individual adult,* but adult animals still exhibit it. As one of the most effective learning tools a species has, it’s a practice that can’t be forgotten and yet is, entirely, though parents rediscover it through their kids… which physically, meaning “neurophysiology” of course, bonds them together as family. Parts of their brain begin to synchronize, attuning parent to child, guardian to ward, mentor to the unknowing, and this happens during play.
* – I was advised by my lawyers to make the distinction.

That’s right. Play. Like, the imaginative stuff? Peek-a-boo at first, but gradually more and more complex and rule-based, each “game” or “activity” teaching all the participants something, but also, in every way, building trust and friendship. (Which comes first there, play or friends?) If you can remember the last time you played, then perhaps, with that objective perspective, you can also remember that it was almost like an altered state, a trance where the game was the “all,” there was no time to think or worry about anything else.

But wait, I don’t mean video games, either. I can’t argue pros or cons to video games, since there’s science for both sides, there, too, but in this case, it is the physical play that matters. Moving bodies, building, pretending, almost anything “non-adult,” like taxes, or chores, or whatever adults do.

From studying animals, namely certain feral cats, you can see this kind of behavior in the young. They fall all over each other, testing boundaries, limits, developing social behavior. If two cubs from two rival packs meet, if the opposing adults don’t tear them apart, then the cubs will play as if they were always siblings, free of “adult limitations.” As they grow, they learn to stalk, hunt, and pounce this way. They learn the body language of hunting, so that there never need be a sound made, every lion/ess knows what to do!

And while we’re distracted watching the kuṭṭi* roll around, the adults are engaged in the same behaviors, pouncing, rolling, tumbling, mock-biting. It’s an amazing spectacle, really, and lion and cub alike have this “faraway” look in their eye, evidence of the above “trance.”
* – Tamil, “whelp,” or “youngling”

A few days ago when I wrote out my thematic exercise to have an idea of what I was doing, I mentioned that the way to bring people together was to help each other. Well, that’s all well and good, but even helping someone implies a trust. The same is true for playing, maybe (sadly) even more so for adults, but if there is a faster way to grow trust and to remove prejudice, it’s that.

Plus, mentally, there’s a huge surge of activity. If you tool your play to learn something, it’ll happen then, and worse, you’ll retain it for a longer period of time, giving you that much more of a shot to commit it (correctly) to long term memory.

I also mentioned the “team-building” exercises that some companies do and the successful ones are probably based heavily, if not entirely, in play.

When a group of people are in a tough, adrenaline-soaked situation, they emerge as a tight-knit group, close friends. The same part of the brain is affected during play, probably because there are some “tense” times in any game. Or not, it doesn’t matter. Playing seems easier than surviving a war zone, though.

I probably don’t even have to talk about this to adults who are parents of young infants or newborns. They’re already playing by instinct. The babe brings it out in them. It’s that brain thing again. Some sort of “tele-state-ry” where the child sends the signal and the parent (usually the mother) responds by … well, you know, cooing and tickling, and altogether being trance-like.

Sadly, as that same child ages, the play goes away. School sets in, kindergarten a great, last place to play, but once the rigors of first grade are entered, it becomes less and less important. The kids seek their own play, it’s why it’s hard to get them to pay attention. They know, as we all do, by instinct, that they should be playing to learn. They’re restless, ready for the game or activity. And around/outside of school, they play on their own.

Sports are a way of play and one of the few ways that adults can, too, without ever thinking about it that way. It does have a way of turning into work, though, which means the loss of another important word – “fun.” It would seem, though, that kids or adults who are athletes (or, at least, any who engage in some sort of game/activity with frequency) are a bit better off than the rest of us.

This isn’t about fun, though. Fun is inherent to everything and when it is lost or removed, well, there’s a dark turn. In some ways “fun” is another word for “motivation,” but that’s another paper for another time.

Well, but anyway, here’s the answer I’ve been looking for. “How do I teach kids? How do kids learn? How will I bring everyone together?” Playing. I guess now the question is “How do I do that part?” A book about some dogs and a kid is a good start.

I think the reason “the Lion Bros.” was well-accepted (by the four people that read it) is because there’s a lot of mention of playing. By imagining that activity, you almost get there yourself. I miss writing that piece o’ metafiction, but first…!

In that same regard, I learned a somewhat valuable lesson as it comes to dialogue. And writing it, more importantly, and more importantly as a non-speaker!, …that lesson is “Act it out!” Which is one of those moments where it’s so obvious, someone has to say something. I already knew to write so that it can be read out loud (it’s for kids, after all), but it makes sense doubly so for dialogue-focus.

I read the “Star Wars” book. I still have no idea what age group that was for. It was very well-written, though I admit my expectations were low. That said, still a bit difficult, I think, for younger readers. But that did lead to the question, “Do young readers like the challenge?” Obviously, the answer is “yes,” if the book is something they’re interested in. If it stinks, then “no.”

But, it didn’t answer a lot of my questions as I hoped. I mean, it was ridiculous to hope so, but sometimes, you really do get to be that lucky. I’ll have to read it again. And, the flaw in it is that it’s an adaptation of a movie so I can’t really judge it as to what a book should be, as it’s what a movie should be.*
* – By the time this went to print, I had already returned from the library with new children’s books!

“Act[ing] it out!” is the first step to learning how to tell a story in dialogue. I have to wonder if that’s the route to go, as I’m pretty heavy-handed on the narrative. I bet, like every damn thing, it’s some magical balance near the middle, but not quite set there. And worse, this is only something I can measure after my book is printed and failed. Ah, kids.

Only about twenty minutes left. I need to keep reading. With the impending release of the new “Jungle Book!” that would make a fine thing. It isn’t “modern,” but it ain’t Baroque, either.

So, despite the dribbling away into obscurity at the end, there, there’s an importantly simple message in today’s letter. I need to learn how to play. Hell, everyone does. It’s important for me, for all the reasons mentioned already, but also just … exposure.

While I’d love to say “I’ve figured it out! I’m crazy because I didn’t play a lot as a child!” But I did, to a degree, and more, I’m still a child at heart, so everything is already a game to me. Thus, that can’t be it, nice try. I’m not really concerned with “What’s wrong with me?” (< Nothing.), but sometimes there is that want to find a link or connection to something that might explain my peculiarities.

I tried playing with the cat last night. He isn’t much for play, or maybe he just got winded easily. Or he’s out of the habit. Or maybe I’m talking about me and the cat could sense he wasn’t going to be entertained.

Before my time runs out, for posterity’s sake, it should be mentioned that there are three basic types of play. Knowing these, you may be able to identify some own areas in your life that you’re already playing at and how better to use them. Or something. Everything is for improvement’s sake!

1.) Body play, like the lion kuṭṭi mentioned above. It doesn’t just mean wrestling, either. Sports fall into this category, easily. These are games that usually involve some sort of complex rules system that has “to be agreed by everybody” before the game can begin. And eventually, there is an understanding and play does begin. There’s almost no play that can’t be tooled to fit into this category and as you can guess, using one’s body in any way will help one learn to coordinate it. The social behavior that develops from this, too, (< at least when there’s others about) can’t be ignored, which is why it’s critical that adults continue to play, as ludicrous as it seems.

2.) Constructive play, which requires using your hands to some aim, not necessarily building something. Again, not to be confused with video games, either. This sort of play invites and strengthens problem solving, since whatever one builds will inevitably come crashing down. There need be no lengthy paragraph about why this sort of play is important, the least of which is that it can be a group activity, which of course has wonderful social implications. So, a great way to figure things out in your own world, even meditatively, as ridiculous as it seems.

3.) Role play. Yep, acting out that dream job, or even something mundane that you know nothing about. Or anything in between, doesn’t matter. What a great opportunity to discover “how the other half lives,” what a great way for secret prejudices to be exposed and shattered. If you watch kids role play, well, they learned those behaviors from “someone,” and they can be quick to point out that the social roles we have aren’t … uh, equal, balanced, structured, beneficial? If you’ve ever wanted to put yourself in another’s shoes, for whatever reason, you’re doing this. By its very nature is this a social activity, so there need be no elaborate discussion on how this is important for development. If you want compassion, why, live the life of someone you’re trying to help. In some ways, this is the way adults will play when they do give it a shot and no one is a stranger to it, crazy as it seems.

And that’s all of ’em. There are probably subcategories based on type and brain-stimuli, and you’ll notice that all of them usually involve being social.

Now, we’re all adults here. It seems to reason that I should be able to politely pull you aside and remind you that up until the turn of the 20th century, children were a large part of our workforce. In some other countries, they are vital workers playing an integral role, both helping to support their family, but also furthering whatever work they’re doing. In still other countries, children are exploited.

As a romantic dreamer with no sound ground in reality whatsoever, I’d love to believe that the life expectancy tripled when we started saving kids from early adulthood…, which is to say “Send them to school instead of work!” This isn’t totally true, though there may have been some lift in the spirits of the youth. Antibiotics also played a role around this time.

Kids, and I, will argue that “school” is its own institution (read: “prison”), but it shouldn’t be that way. School dominates childhood, and it does so under the guise of educating our beloved brats to better the future. Except, is it? School’s focus is limiting more and more “play,” so that more and more “information” can replace it and a little, not-quite-so-emotionally-unsure/unstable “adult” is produced at the end, ready for the world.

I don’t know. There’s a lot of the “same problems” in the world today as there were yesterday. I guess by “yesterday,” I just mean 50yrs or so. Energy, food, resources, all these things in scarcity. Poverty, war (or just non-peaceful conditions), greed, all these things in great quantity.

The point is, outside of imagination also tying into play and development, et all, eventually, our kids aren’t going to be kids anymore. And as much as we may try to make them dumb enough to not realize that we (the adults) have screwed up a lot… and continually over the ages, they’ll figure it out. There’s a sharp disconnect once we enter “adult” mode from “child” mode, so much so that our “new adult mind” offers resistance immediately when we consider letting down the guard enough to play around a little.

If we aren’t a little more careful or considerate, one day our kids are going to turn to us and ask, “Why…?” except that it won’t be “Why is there air?” or “Why do eggs come from chickens?”

Instead they’ll ask “Why is the world suffering/ending?”

Childhood shouldn’t be defined by the conflict that the nation/world was/is going through. It should be about learning what people are and how to overcome what we’ve become and how, instead, to be something more.

Play is the answer. I know it. Well, it’s a beginning.

Do something awesome today!


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