Category Archives: Fiction

The Playful Continuum

I have been a student of the socio-cultural phenomenon American’s know as PLAY, for over ten years. My obsession started when I began working as a substitute teacher for the so-called, “Elementary” grades, (a terribly outdated label), especially Kindergarten and first grade. It was the first time I had ever experienced an environment that was purely playful by right. In other words, 90% of Kinder and First instruction better have some PLAYFULNESS in it or you will NOT REACH THEM.

And I am not referring to orchestrated or formalized playfulness. 

TRUE PLAYFULNESS has a journey. There is unexpected outcomes, even if you do the same thing every day. Thus, non-stuctured PLAYFULNESS is growth, plain and simple…It is GROWTH, and thus, HEALTH…and HOPE.

Upon this somewhat romantic thesis, I have tried to assess the evolution of PLAYFULNESS in America, so far as I have had an opportunity to observe what we all know as PLAYFULNESS and its antithesis. 

What is PLAY?

A basic definition of PLAY for this essay would be 

  1. An act, either social or independent, in which the individual is able to experience growth and self-affirmation, through the unstructured practice of JOYFUL and experimental self-actualization, that produces self-realization, through self-animation.


The heart of my studies begins and, to a large degree, ends, at/in/on the PLAYGROUND. 

The joy of the PLAYGROUND is, and always will be, its lability. PLAYGROUNDS are the humans first encounter with complex organization and sociality, but always in a PLAYFUL context. While I agree with the need to resist UNIVERSALIZING or essentializing a practice, I have yet to meet a single philosopher, ancient or otherwise, who doesn’t recognize unstructured PLAY, so-called CHILDISH PLAY, as a universally understood idiom.

I read a book recently, and the central question was, DO YOU RECOGNIZE PLAY WHEN YOU SEE IT?

Of course you do. GO to any PLAYGROUND. And you will see and experience PLAY.

 That’s because, to a child, everywhere has the potential to be a PLAYGROUND. 

Thus, there is a dualism which exists between the child and the PLAYGROUND. It can be actualized anywhere, at any time, and yet there is a formalized understanding of the PLAYGROUND as a particular space, with recognizable practical features that encourage PLAYFUL sociality and interaction. 

Unfortunately, as children get older, schools, and society begin to redefine for the child, the purpose and meaning of PLAY. Unstructured PLAY is equated with childishness, and thus, useless and perhaps, dangerous to establishing order.  As a child grows, PLAYGROUNDS are supplanted by PURPOSEFUL play, like athletics or competitive academics. By the time the student reaches seventh grade, opportunities for unstructured PLAY are almost non-existant, and what is perhaps more impactful, the PLAYGROUNDS are gone. 

For some reason, American academia has decided that PLAYGROUNDS are no longer necessary for all students, elementary and above. 


When I discuss this interesting historical PLAYFUL procession with those in Junior High and above, all the way to college, they say the same thing. THEY MISS THE PLAYGROUND.  They miss the swings as much as they miss the social spaces that PLAYGROUNDS create spontaneously and organically. 

This suggests that by removing PLAYGROUNDS we are eliminating historical spaces of intense and satisfying learning that are always optimal because the behavioral and psychological predispositions they enable are favorable and adventurous, regardless of the age-group.

PLAYGROUNDS are and will always be the most impactful practical basis for  human development. 

She sneezed

(THIS IS FICTION, just ask my daughter)

I said “honey, I ain’t broken I’m just lost.” She said, “daddy, everything lost is broken.” And I smiled, weakly, guiltily, then tried again.

“But broken is as broken does and we’re not destitute. I mean, you’re eating well, have a roof over your head, your own room (then I blew it and got mad). Yeah, your own fuckin room! And HAVE I EVER violated your privacy?”

My daughter doesn’t cry without smiling. And it’s not because she’s happy. (And it breaks my teeny tinee little heart every time. As it should), So, she started smiling. “So your question was, ‘have you ever violated my privacy.”?

And then the real beating started.

20 minutes later, I was alone. I had been alone for 15 minutes (When she is angry, Sophie is always very direct and economical in describing what you have done to piss her off). Fortunately, most of what she said, I already knew, and had been punishing myself for decades. But, then…

S: “To be honest, I don’t really think you like me daddy.”

Me: I was stunned, speechless, “wha’ no! why?!”

S: “You don’t really respect me or trust me. You’ve been disappointed with my choices ever since I was like ten years old. Sometimes, the way you act, it’s like you hate me for…”

Me: ‘For what?’

Sophie: “For not being more like you.”

Me: (I paused, despite myself) But, no, I love you…

Sophie: “People love what they hate all of the time daddy.”

Suddenly, I heard a buzzing, like a radio station being tuned in, I couldn’t hear anything but a noise and pain, so I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

A lifetime later, I woke up. I was in bed. A soft, comfortable bed in the noontime. I could see children playing outside my window, and then she appeared amongst the others. She was nine years old again. She carried a tether ball and looked up at me with her giant beautiful freckled smile. I smiled and waived at her, crying the whole time. She smiled, then waived back and we just stared at each other, in what seemed like forever, in peace. Then she sneezed, wiped her nose, smiled at me again, and then left with her friends.

I never saw her again.

Chapter one: to be exposed.

It’s interesting how the word expose, or the idea to expose, has evolved over the millennia. As with all verbs in our common usage, it has its roots in a practice. The word practice itself has a history of meaning that is from the earliest of recorded history.  All that being said, it’s these two words that when combined, weave a complicated tale of victims and survivors, forgotten and the re-imagined; all, a complex product of one phrase: to be exposed.

In the ancient Mediterranean and Near East: Anatolia and the Levant, even as far as the northern coastline of Africa, all the way to Gibraltar, the practice of being exposed mostly referred to the poorest of the poor, the proletarii. The word proletarii derives from the Latin word for children, “prole”. The proletarii were the lowest class of the Roman caste. Landless, it was said that the proletarii could only contribute their children for the benefit of the Republic. And they did, and in this way, exposed their children to a life of slavery and hardship. But that’s not what the term, to expose your children, meant.

To expose one’s child was a form of ancient birth control. One of the earliest examples is, actually, from ancient Greece, Oedipus is exposed (left out in the wilderness to die) to ensure the prophecies about him go unfulfilled. Well, turns out the Romans were listening. So, a common practice for the poorest of the poor, the proletarii, was to expose their children. From the modern perspective, it seems not only animalistic but also, inexplicable, how a parent could ever expose their child in such a way. And yet, that is how far we have come as a society based, in many significant ways, on the Greco-Roman cultural project.

We can’t imagine exposing our children like that, and yet, we understand the phrase, still, as a negative, even in the modern context. In fact, isn’t it true that instead of referring only to some momentary event, the modern definition now includes a much broader timeframe? In other words, exposing your children could be something that happens for a day, a year, maybe their entire childhood. That’s an example of one of those moments I was talking about before, the deadliest kind, the kind that kills both the perpetrator and victim. It’s times like that when everyone needs a heaven to make sense of it all, but I wouldn’t rely on it.

So, one would be right to ask, ‘are we really evolving to a better us, or are we still yoked together by the neck, watching shadows on a rock wall?’ I pulled my chips on that question a long time ago, but not after losing my ass playing against the house. I think it all comes down to tellin ourselves what we want to hear so that the hit we take is always from a position of suffering, never something we might have deserved. Again, it might make sense, but I wouldn’t rely on it.

When you compare the impact of the law of exposure of the modern age to that of its antecedent, a sane person would have to wonder whether it might be more merciful if practiced like in the days of the heathens. Just put them out of their misery early and be done with it. But, still, I think that’s a step back. All these mountainous decisions are the projected image of the smaller decisions made by all of us. That’s why you should fear them. It might just be about ice cream, or a seat on the bus, hell, maybe it’s about your momma or your sister, trust me, they can fight their own battles without you losing course. The best thing to do when you’re being exposed is to just watch and listen, and when possible, escape.

I was a boy when I was exposed to a sexual predator, and yet the experience didn’t result in any sudden enlightenment of the OT. If anything, it made me more subservient to its various guises: health, wealth, youth. Instead of an acceptance of the truth, I embraced its antithesis: I didn’t want to die. A divergence to my path was introduced that could not be reversed, and only intensified as I got older.

I remember walking home from school one day, I wasn’t supposed to because I was far too young, but I was precocious and thought I would show them all. After walking several blocks, in the right direction, I suddenly became lost. I no longer recognized the landscape. It was then that a fear began to grow within me, ‘what if I’m wrong about all of my previous steps?’ I was terrified and started to cry. Suddenly one of my older sister’s yelled at me, “what the hell are you doing out here?” I wanted to hug her as my savior. But that’s the fear of exposure I’m talking about. The cadence of fear. The realization that there is no one coming to save you.

The experience left me untethered but more importantly, it revealed an essential difference between the ancient practice of exposure and its modern cognate. In the modern usage, it may not be possible to reverse course, but it is possible to recover control of the direction you are traveling, and that can make all the difference in the world. But everything that graces your doorway comes with a shadow (not a truth per se, but certainly a statement I can make with complete confidence).

Recover and recovery are two different modes of a practice, the former usually leads to the latter. But in the practice of the law of exposure, there is never a so-called “recovery”. The loss is the beginning of change, the change in course that will define the trajectory of your journey, until the next one. And there is always a “next one” for those that have been exposed, just ask Oedipus.

When I compare our souls with those of our ancient past, I see the anguish of the proletarii with greater clarity than parents of those who are exposed at the beginning of the new millennia. The primary difference being the immediacy of the loss. No woman exposes her child without memory and loss. But because the modern practice of exposure can last for so long, it’s difficult to outline or to recognize. It’s in the shadows of the good times, a language in music that only plays at the end of a long and terrible day. It takes a connoisseur of suffering to recognize its mournful plaint, but that’s the legacy of the exposed. We become the worlds empathics. We come to recognize that the OT has a language of its own, and that language requires no translation. Not everyone understands the truth, but everyone understands the language of death through the concept of loss. Ultimately, that is what the conversation of exposure is about, loss, permanent loss, and a wrestling with the Only Truth.

All those who experience exposure, experience a corollary loss. I feel fortunate to have discovered my loss at the age I am. Perhaps that’s the biggest distinction between us and the ancients, unlike our infant predecessors, once we discover the loss, we can begin to understand its history and its trajectory. Suddenly, we come to realize, we’re no longer lost, we’re exactly where we should be, nowhere.

And ‘nowhere’ ain’t a bad place to be.

Nowhere but here – Prologue

It may take you a week, a month, a year. It may happen in your youth or in your prime, even in the later years. The only way to describe ‘it’ is a sudden realization of something you’ve known all your life. A truth, perhaps the only truth one can ever hang their hat on: no one gets out alive.

Looking back on the days and years, the minutes and careful seconds that compose my life’s trajectory, I am astounded that I am still ‘alive’. Life, as I see it now, is simply an aggregate of moments, split-seconds when you make that final decision to run or stay. And yet, who’s to say the choice was ever yours in the first place? Who am I to tell you anything about your life, or mine, and expect it to make any sense or be decodable?

It’s the great irony of life, how similar we look and yet, how different we can be. I have always believed that gap between us could be filled by the dream long lost in the technological ether, that thing called ‘love’. I sit here now, half dead in time, wondering if I even know what the word means. That’s how fragile things become, like ideas, beliefs, even the foundations of your life start to show their age in ways, with a smile or a tear, you did not expect.

Again, there is only one truth. And as dark as it looks, one only need shed a light on it to see it more clearly and discover that what you thought was the cave of a monster, was a place that you could find shelter from the storm, a little home of your own. The ancient Taoists understood. They shined a big fat light on the subject of death and realized, it’s nothing to be afraid of because it’s the truth of everything. That doesn’t mean the living don’t get to mourn. Everyone grieves, even Chuang-tzu wept at the loss of his wife.

Nope, it’s not the end of the journey one should fear, it’s those moments of mental lightning, where the gods demand you testify for your life, the ones that introduce a deviation from the course that can never be reversed. Again, who’s to say I’m right? Maybe it’s just me, my life that’s had its moments when all you’re eating is a bowl of shit. That’s theoretically possible and I am just trying to say, I know now, it doesn’t really matter.

The rest of this is a selective memory of the journey that got me nowhere but here, so to speak. ‘Selective’ in the sense that all memory is selective. It will come much as it arrived, in unexpected ways and over a long period of time. But, as sure as a man jaded by life, yet still optimistic, can put time enough a way to remember, think and write, I promise to do as such, realizing such a promise might as well be made to the wooden cross on my wall for all the good it will do.