"A playful path is the shortest road to happiness" and other unattributed quotes from the Oaqui

My email ebox was gifted today by the following message from The Oaqui:
My/our dear funsmith,

It is with a kind of cosmic schadenfreude, combined with a vague flavoring of comic weltschmerz that I/we note the repeated occurrence of unattributed misappropriations of Oaqui Oaisdom spread with remorseless abandon throughout both the Internet and/or web. To wit, e.g. the following pieces of poignant pith:

"Ask not what fun does for you.
Ask rather what you do for fun."

"The more fun you have, the greater your value to yourself and to your society. The more fun you share with others, the more fun you have."

"For every Way there's a way of following that Way that's fun"

"The Path that is best for you is the Path that keeps the best of you in play"

"...and the Truth will Make you Laugh."

"In the beginning it was fun. In the end, it was all for fun. And in between is where it tickles most."

"All for fun, and fun for all!"

"A Playful Path is the shortest road to happiness."

"Laugh longer, live louder."

"You can only have fun helping other people have fun if you're having fun doing it."

"Fun is better than winning."

"You ask: 'What is the Meaning of ME\WE?' I/we answer: 'When the will of the one is one with the will of the many."

"The more, come to think of it, the potentially merrier."

"It's more fun when you're not the only one having it."

"Happy are those who get to talk. Happier are those who get listened to."

"The purpose of fun is to have it."

"Fun is where it's at. That's why you have to be there."

"If it's not fun, tell me, why are you still playing?"

"Losing is hardly ever fun."

"Ask not what fun does for you, but what you do for fun!"

"In the beginning, it was fun."

"Might as well remove those doubts. Fun is what it's all about."

each and all of which are rightly and only attributable to The Oaqui.

Though I/we are roughly the equivalent of thrilled to discover the dissemination of the above hard-won truisms, we/I remain indignantly righteous in my/our demand for appropriate attribution.

Please take note and appropriate steps.

Appropriately yours,

The Oaqui
I can only echo the above.

Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Playgrounds of the 70s

In her photo-essay published on Divine Caroline, Dahlia Rideout contemplates the wonders and dangers of playgrounds of the 70s. She writes: "Growing up in suburban Los Angeles in the 70's meant lots of time at the local playground. Getting out to nature involved a car trip and because most suburbs were planned in the 1950's city parks were always nearby. We had simple needs back then. Most of the playground equipment consisted of basic metal structures with a certain level of danger which kept it exciting."

In those few words - "a certain level of danger which kept it exciting" - Ms. Rideout captures and condemns most of the current concerns that have given rise to today's playgrounds. Jill Harness, in her article comments: "Ridiculous, frivolous lawsuits aside, litigation does, to some extent help keep our society safer. But at what cost? Sure children’s playground equipment of the seventies was dangerous, but that’s what made it so darn fun. What better feeling was there than sticking your head on the edge of the spinning merry-go-round and having a friend push it as fast as possible? And was there anyone cooler than the clique that hung out on the top of the monkey bars?"

Something clearly needs to be reconsidered - the design of playgrounds, the opportunities we provide our children to experience risk, our over-protectiveness, the laws that govern lawsuits, our belief in our children, our faith in play.

via Mental Floss

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Flour Mound

For today's Daily Game, we turn to the second page of our Pointless Games collection, More Pointless Games wherein we find a description of the ancient game of Flour Mound, as follows:
Fill a bowl with flour, and pack firmly. Empty the flour mound onto a large plate or small tray, so that it retains the shape of the bowl. Place an unwrapped chocolate onthe top. Players take turns to use a knife to slice a part of the mound and slide it away from the rest (1/2 an inch is enough). Eventually, one person will do it and the chocolate will fall into the pile of flour. The person must retrieve the chocolate with their teeth.
(The photo comes from the The Robey Bunch blog, wherein the Flour Mound game is more graphically described, albeit with a slight variation. For further graphic corroboration, see also this image)

(According to this post, the game is called "Flour Pudding" and is traditionally played on Christmas. Then there's this post, from Alaska. In this brief description it's called the Flour-and-Gum game - a variation that seems most worthy of deep exploration. I suppose, despite it's globe-spanning popularity, some warnings about the dangers of flour-inhalation would be appropriate.)

See also: The Daily Game

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Exploring the Wisdom of Games

From time to time I notice that I am once again trying to describe the thing I teach - the one thing, the deepest thing, the most useful and life-enriching thing, the thing, of all the things I teach, that I'd most like to be teaching you. So I go back through my years of articles and posts, workshops and classes and events, and see if I can find one, really clear, comprehensive description of what that thing is, and what happens when I get to teach it.

In March of 2008, I wrote a post called: Exploring the Wisdom of Games. I think it might be the closest yet:
Once I learned to see the connections between theater and children's games, I began to understand the wisdom contained in their playful dramas. Once I started sharing this wisdom with adults, it became the thing I liked to do best - more, even, than designing games or reviewing games or writing about games and fun and stuff. I first discovered this when I was leading a workshop for teachers at the Durham Child Development Center in Philadelphia, and rediscovered the joy of this teaching at the Games Preserve and at the Esalen Institute.

What I do, it seems, is play kids games with grown-ups. Depending on how much time we have, we also play theater games, paper and pencil games and board games and party games and games I just make up. After each game, or maybe after every other, I talk a little about the theater of the game - the play and interplay of roles. And then everyone talks about the "drama" of the game, as if the game were really some kind of theater piece - especially about the drama they experienced, personally. Not so much about their own, personal drama, but about about the drama of the game itself, about roles and relationships, about the way of things in gameland.

As we play and talk, play and talk, some kind of healing, playful, loving wisdom starts manifesting itself. Because we are grown-ups playing these games. Because of the growing honesty and openness and depth of sharing we are capable of. Apparently, just the act of playing each game reveals to us a depth, a drama more profound, more personal, a truth more mutual, more freeing.

"I have learned to see children's games as scripts," I write, "for a kind of children's cultural theater. I see them as collective dreams in which certain themes are being toyed with - investigated and manipulated for the sake of sheer catharsis or some future reintegration into a world view. They are reconstructions of relationships - simulations - (myths) - which are guided by individual players, instituted by the groups in which they are played or abstracted by the traditions of generations of children."
For grown-ups, it's even more powerful - playing children's games again, rediscovering, reinterpreting, reapplying their meaning. It leads to an even more expansive kind of theater. Participating in a play community as adults, endowed with empathy and compassion and years of hard-won knowledge, with obligations and responsibilities and actually deeper freedom - we redefine ourselves, and the world.

And what seems to happen when we engage in all these playful conversations is this: we rediscover our ability to play, and to give each other the gift of play. We rediscover our unlimited selves. We reaffirm fun. We remember the playful path and find ourselves and each other once again on it.

The longer we get to do this, the deeper we get to play. An hour. A day. A week-end. A week. This is my gift. This is what I've been doing for more than 40 years. This is what I do. This is what I am still here to do with you.

Is that enough? Clear enough? Do you need to know more? Did I make it clear why you'd want to play like this, this deeply? Why you'd want to play like this with your friends, your community, your organizations? 

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Grocery Store Musical

Defenders of the Playful award-winning Improv Everywhere take their "musical mission" to the dangerously intimate and mundane environment of the local supermarket, producing the world's first Grocery Store Musical.

Be sure to see their
webpage. Get a little closer to the experience in this interview with a few of the innocent bystanders.

The real magic here is in how open and responsive most of the shoppers were, how willing they were to abandon their shopping lists and embrace the extraordinary. There was real shared delight here, as if they were all in on the joke, even though they had nothing to do with it and couldn't really understand it. "When we did Food Court Musical," the blog reports, "we had a pretty good idea of where our audience would be– sitting at the tables. This was more unpredictable. We had all of this choreography planned, but we had no idea if people would make way for us. The area got increasingly crowded as the day went on, which made it all the more fun. Often people found themselves right in the middle of the show."

May we each find ourselves there, at least once in our life times, suddenly, and without reason, right in the middle of such a silly, joyful show. And when we do, as the song so poignantly recommends, "let's squish our fruit together."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"Playing ball with no adult around"

"I would argue," says Mike Lanza in his remarkably insightful Playborhood blog, "that pickup ball is both more fun and better for children’s social and intellectual development. It’s also more inclusive, or egalitarian." He goes on to list some of the social tasks facing kids engaged in playing a "pick-up" game. These are his words, not mine, though they feel like they are:
  • Decide What to Play: There’s no "schedule" of pickup games - they’re ad hoc by definition. So, children have to decide on the game, and that’s unavoidably a social process.
  • Recruit Players: Organized baseball takes a minimum of 18 players. It’s never the case that 18 kids just show up in a neighborhood looking for something to play. Depending on what game is played, two to six kids might be the minimum. In fact, most of the time, kids need to get creative to find enough kids to play to make a real game.
  • Decide Where to Play: When and who’s playing can affect where the kids decide to play. "Should we play in _____'s backyard? The street? The nearby school field that has a backstop?" More negotiations are in order here.
  • Improvise Rules: Which field the kids decide on and how many kids are playing usually necessitates improvised rules. "What’s a home run?" If each team has only three players in the field, perhaps the foul line should be moved. "How many bases can a runner advance on an overthrow?" "Can runners steal bases?" Kids need to decide on these and other rules each game, depending on circumstances.
  • Implement the Rules: "Was that a fair ball?" "Is s/he safe or out?" In pickup games, kids have to work out these issues on their own.
There's more in his wonderful post "Playing ball with no adults around." Followed by some painfully incisive explanations why, "notwithstanding all these great benefits, pickup games have largely vanished from our culture. In fact, most kids have never gotten together with other kids to organize a sports game on their own."

Read it. Think about it. Find a place in your neighborhood where your kids can play without you.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The game doesn't matter as much as the fun

In that interview I mentioned yeseterday, the one included in Parlour Games for Modern Families, I noticed myself saying something that might actually be useful to us as we continue to explore ways to make ourselves in particular and the world in general more fun. So, here's me quoting someone quoting me:
"When you're playing a game with other peple, you're creating fun together, you are empowering that experience, and that experience is empowering you, so the fun you're having reaches deeper, the laughter is more profound, you laugh with your entire body. You experience a sense of exhilaration and timeless, of perfect focus.

"It's important always to remember that the game does not matter as much as the fun you're experiencing with each other. It's not the game itself but the playful contact between people that matters.

"I think the world is as fun as it always has been. I think what's changed is that there's less acceptance of peple having fun in any kind of public environment. If you're laughing, people start looking at you as if you are crazy or definitely not doing what you're supposed to be doing. Playfulness is suspect. I don't think it was that way 100 years ago. Those people who do those bizarre things where they get into a train station and start dancing....people like that are helping us all to become the kind of free people we're supposed to be."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Parlour Games for Modern Families - a guide to shared hilarity

Every new book of parlor games is a cause for celebration. If it's clearly written, well organized, and has, among its collection of time-tested invitations to silliness, a few brave new games, yet even more celebration is called for. The publication of Parlour Games for Modern Families is something for your whole family, and everyone your family knows, to party about. Seriously. Well, not too seriously.

Before I continue, I must admit that I am personally implicated in this book. Somewhere in the book (page 7), there's a quote from me. Somewhere else (page 91), there's a whole interview with me. Which, from my perspective, makes the book that much more celebration-worthy. However, don't let me bias you. With surprising objectivity, I can tell you that this book is something you will treasure - a resource that will lead you and everyone you know to whole-hearted, side-splitting family and community fun.

Written by Myfanwy Jones and Spiri Tsintziras, Parlour Games for Modern Families includes a wide enough range and variety of games to bring everyone you know into play, many times over. There are paper-and-pencil games, dramatic games, card games, active games, word games, story games, dice games, marble games, and on, and also on. Since it is most likely that the person who reads the book will be the same one who will be organizing the play party, every game includes an overview detailing the appropriate ages, the recommended number of players, anything you will need to play the game, and about how long the game will take to play. Most of the games include variations and ways to adapt the game to younger and older audiences.

Written and published in Oztralia, the book talks lovingly and playfully to anyone who can read English and understands the value of sharing silly times. Just like you.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Cloud Gate

According to the official site
Cloud Gate is British artist Anish Kapoor's first public outdoor work installed in the United States. The 110-ton elliptical sculpture is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect the city's famous skyline and the clouds above. A 12-foot-high arch provides a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see their image reflected back from a variety of perspectives.

Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture is among the largest of its kind in the world, measuring 66-feet long by 33-feet high. Cloud Gate sits upon the At&T Plaza, which was made possible by a gift from AT&T.

As you look at the photos of the sculpture, it becomes clear how playful this work of art becomes. It plays with the skyline of the city. It invites people to play with their amazingly clear and strikingly distorted images. Anywhere you stand, inside or out, gives you a different way of looking at yourself, at the people around you, at the space you are sharing. For me, as your personal fun-advocate, it is iconic, representing with stunning appeal what public art is when it is at its most public best.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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"Fun can obviously change behavior for the better" - proof #3

In the latest manifestation of the VW-sponsored Fun Theory project, we are treated to a brief glimpse of the Bottle Bank Arcade experiment. Here we learn that adding arcade-machine-like sounds and scoreboard to a bottle recycling machine "...can obviously change behavior for the better." The experimenters observe that: "Over one evening our Bottle Bank Arcade Machine was used by nearly 100 people. During the same period, the nearby conventional bottle bank was used twice."

Whatever one concludes from these experiments - even if one questions their thoroughness, objectivity, or purpose - there's something significant going on, something encouraging, something that can make one feel that one's faith in fun is not, after all, entirely misplaced.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Hand shadows soon on a wall near you

The brief, but complete manuscript of Henry Bursill's Hand Shadows to Be Thrown on a Wall is available, online, for free, for you, personally, thanks to the gute Völker at the Gutenberg Project.

Youtube has some great clips of hand shadow performances. The Richard Balzer collection features an inspiring hand shadow webpage as well as other playworthy illusions.

So much fun to fool the eye and tickle the mind.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The flowerings of my soul

It's my birthday. I'm 68. I have grown old enough to notice that there has been more than one flowering in the growth of my soul.

When I was young, I was beautiful and immortal. I was a forever being, with flawless skin and ever-growing grace.

As I matured, I became more certain of my ways, more powerful in my abilities to work the world.

Today, in the deepening embraces of time, I seem to be reaching towards a flowering of wisdom, a growing understanding of both the painful comedy and glorious tragedy, the dances of ignorance and knowledge performed throughout my so far lfe.

The flowerings of the soul are like the play of time and trees: the blossoms of spring, the leaves of summer, the colors of fall, the stark elegance of winter. Lessons so obvious, so poignant, so incomprehensibly beautiful - taught with extraordinary patience, year after year after year.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Can you guess where this playground is?

Can you guess where this playground is?

Doesn't look any different from your local playground. Nor does the kid.

Could be almost anywhere. Even in a place like Nablus. In Palestine.

Kind of startling to think of finding playgrounds like these in places like Nablus, Palestine.

Kind of startling to think that it's startling.

It was built by a group called Playgrounds for Palestine.

They explain their mission:
"This project is an expression of solidarity with the plight of Palestinian children. It is an affirmation of their right to childhood. It is a minimal recognition of their humanity. It is an act of love."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Pervasive Gaming anyone?

Gaming without a dining-room table , a recent article from those wonderful people at SFGate, offers us a very useful introduction to the increasingly popular art of pervasive games.

Though all the various games are worthy of your most thorough consideration, one shining, archetypal example is SFZero. According to the article:
SFZero, founded by Kizu-Blair, Lavigne and Mahan three years ago, is a real-world, location-aware game, in which participants cherry-pick tasks to execute from an online hub of user-generated missions. Once a task (burying a treasure box for a stranger) is completed, players document their work (via photos, usually), post it on the Web and rack up points.

"We place a big emphasis on getting out of your house to complete a task, getting into the city and creating things that will enhance the lives of non-players as well as players," Kizu-Blair said.

Very simple concept, endlessly creative, attracting players of all ilk, and a wonderfully transparent web presence for those of us who want to understand what this playfulness is all about.

Still puzzled? See SFGate's semi-inspiring Guide to Pervasive Gaming (and more)

via Emperor Matt Weinstein, of Playfair fame

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The Fun Theory

With ample funding from a still amply funded funder, a set of stairs was converted into something very much like a giant piano keyboard. It was an experiment, so they say, to see if an invitation to a bit of fun could make people choose to take the stairs rather than the escalator. There are a couple of great shots in this video, comparing the two, before and after. The Fun Theory illustrated.

From the soon-to-be-launched website TheFunTheory.com - "an initiative of Volkswagen." You go, VW! And so, with a little bit of fun added, apparently, do we.

One of reassuring things about this whole exploration is how effectively viral it has been since its inception. I've lost count of how many people have written about it since I first saw it - and am still finding earlier mentions of it on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Apparently, it affirms something that many of us want to see affirmed - a long cherished belief, a faith in fun, nourished by the forces that drove our youth, the Internet, and our very souls.

See some of my many posts to this effect.

via Phil Shapiro

see also The World's Deepest Trash Can (via Maaike de Jong)

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


For hunter-gatherer societies work IS play

In the fifth in a series of articles, intriguingly called Play Makes Us Human, Dr. Peter Gray muses about Why Hunter-Gatherers Work is Play. Like all the articles in the series, Dr. Grey's analysis is thought-provoking and well-informed. In exploring what hunter-gatherer societies think of as work, Dr. Gray writes:
In general, hunter-gatherers do not have a concept of toil. When they do have that concept, it derives apparently from their contact with outsiders. They may learn a word for toil to refer to the work of their neighboring farmers, miners, or road construction workers, but they do not apply it to their own work. Their own work is simply an extension of children's play. Children play at hunting, gathering, hut construction, tool making, meal preparations, defense against predators, birthing, infant care, healing, negotiation, and so on and so on; and gradually, as their play become increasingly skilled, the activities become productive. The play becomes work, but it does not cease being play. It may even become more fun than before, because the productive quality helps the whole band and is valued by all.
Dr. Gray reaches some conclusions about hunter-gatherer ideas of work which could prove very powerful in helping cybercitizens redefine the work-play connection:
  • Hunter-Gatherers' Work is Playful Because It is Varied and Requires Much Skill, Knowledge, and Intelligence.
  • Hunter-Gatherers' Work is Playful Because There Isn't too Much of It.
  • Hunter-Gatherers' Work is Playful Because It Is Done in a Social Context, with Friends.
  • Hunter-Gatherers' Work is Playful Because Each Person Can Choose When, How, and Whether to Do It.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Why we age, according to the Oaqui

Reflecting a bit more on my Growing Upper post, I found the following in my archives:

In the beginning we were ageless.

We had no age.

We were neither young nor old, adolescent nor decrepit.

Without age.


And great fun was had by all forever.

A little later, somebody noticed that it was even more fun to be ageless when we were also pretending to have age. We pretended all the fun parts of infancy and youth, maturity and old age. We especially liked to pretend the fun parts of being grown up.

Because to pretend to be grown up we had to pretend that we weren't pretending. And that is the hardest and most fun of all.

So we devoted year after decade to it until we got so good at pretending to be grown up that only drugs and enthusiastic charismatics could get us to pretend to be children again.

...In the mean time almost completely forgetting that we are all each ageless in the first place.

The Oaqui

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Pat Kane discusses the Power and Potential of Play

Play ethicist Pat Kane recently spoke at the Learning Teaching Scotland's conference on "Play and Active Learning."

He offers some profoundly pithy pointers (alliteration is often a portent of playful pondering). My favorite: "play is taking reality lightly."

The presentation is brief (16 slides) and replete with thought-provoking insights about the nature of play. As you click through his slides, don't be fooled by all the cleverness and cuteness. Pat has been thinking deeply about play for a very long time. His thoughts, like a good piece of candy, are rich and chewy - worthy of much delightful rumination. Be sure to check out his brief write-up where he includes a valuable collection of links to some of the sources he used in preparing his presentation. He shares his slides on his site, and I on mine.

To get a better feel for Pat, and the experience of his presentation, here's a moment from Pat himself:
"I took an idea of his [Stuart Brown] from the book [Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul] a CEO who gave his employees the permission to fire sucker guns at him for a quarter of bad performance - and twisted it around: I asked them all to make a 'projectile' while listening to me (as crude as a scrunched-up ball, as artful as origami), and then surprised them at the end by getting them to throw it at me in the centre of the room if they approved of what they heard. We had a 'deep fun' moment, as you might say - a space at the centre of the room covered in everyone's particular paper construction, some covered in slogans, some amazingly intricate."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Worm Up! Or, "why I review games"

Alex Randolph is the designer of Worm up! - a game that just received a Major Fun award. An elegant little game for children, adults, families. A minor masterwork.

There's a quote by Randolph on the side of the box. I think it explains much about why his game is as fun, and as elegant as it is:
"Somehow," he writes, "I feel that boardgames are the beginning of everything truly human, and so, ultimately, of the highest human endeavors, especially those which I find most precious, because they have no purpose outside themselves. They are, themselves, their purpose. Poetry, art, music, story telling, pure mathematics, pure science, philosophy...all are spiritual luxuries. Luxuries are things that delight us, that we long to possess, but that we can very well do without. They are not practical. They are not needed for our survival. And board games? Board games are luxuries, too, of course, albeit minor and marginal, but in the sense of non-utility, perhaps the purest."
Such insights explain much of what fascinates me personally about games, and why I devote so much time to reviewing them.

Speaking of which, here's what I wrote:

There's something gently lovable about Worm up! O, it's fun, all right. Major FUN, in actual fact. But it's funny, too. And so spare in its design that it's what you might call endearing.

The colorful little game box contains 5 sets (each in a different color) of 7 wooden hemispheres. These are used to make worms - take a set, put the hemispheres, hemi-side down, in a column, and there you have it, your basic worm.

Then there are 4 black cylinders. Also wooden. And some cardboard pieces. Thick, durable cardboard to be sure. One of these pieces serves as the finish line, and two of the cylinders fit on either end of it. The other two cylinders are placed about 2-feet away to create the starting line. The other cardboard pieces are also in 5 sets. Each set consists of 5 rectangular tokens, numbered 4, 5, 6, and 7, and one with an X on it.

Once the goal and starting line are set up, players line-up their worms. Each of the 3 to 5 players selects one of the cardboard tokens, places that token face-down on the table, and turns their tokens over simultaneously. Players who have chosen the same number token don't get to move their worms. The others move their worms, one segment at a time, starting from the last segment, and sliding that segment to the head of the worm, the player who chose the lowest number going first. The X token allows you to either move your worm (any number that hasn't been already chosen) or move the goal (which takes on evermore strategic significance as the game progresses). To move the goal, you put your finger on one of the cylinders (anchoring it), and then, with your finger on the other cylinder, rotate the goal as far as you want to.

You can move your worm in any manner you wish, positioning pieces so as to make it twist and turn to block your opponents, as long as each worm piece is placed adjacent to the piece most recently moved to the head of the worm. Even though you're just sliding these little wooden half-domes from the back to the font of the line, as the game progresses, the worms seem to move in a wonderfully wriggly, worm-like fashion. Because the pieces are so simple, the illusion is that much more powerful.

And of course trying to predict what tile the other players might choose so you can choose differently is endlessly surprising, turn after turn.

The rules are brief and easy to learn. The game takes maybe 10 minutes to play, though we had to play it twice before we felt that the game was over, and then had to have a quite serious discussion about why we should really be playing it at least one more time. It's good for families whose kids are a precocious 7 or older. It's good for kids. It's a good game to play between more serious games. The packaging is very spare - very little space is wasted.

Gentle fun. A happy little diversion.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Growing upper

I've managed to live long enough to understand that my particular life, like all particular lives, will someday reach its ultimate conclusion - i.e., (as well as e.g.:) my personal, physical demise. O, I've known about the consequences of mortality and such for many years now. But I've only recently begun to take them personally. I realized, to paraphrase a well-known source, that: I will my actual self have passed on. This being will be no more. It will cease to be. It will expire and go to meet its maker. It will be a late being. Bereft of life, it will rest in peace...pushing up the daisies. Its metabolical processes will be of interest only to historians. It will have hopped the twig, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. It will be an ex-being.

And then I had a moment. I started thinking about my parents' deaths, about my wife's parents deaths. And certainly not that they intended it, but I realized that their deaths somehow prepared me, in some deeply visceral way, for my own.

And at that moment it all suddenly seemed somehow beautiful - exceedingly so - this living and dying thing. From a very certain perspective, which apparently I had actually momentarily glimpsed, I could see how each generation helps prepare the next for the natural consequences of life. I could sense how the love my parents shared with me made their loss that much more deeply instructive. I could almost see the crystal delicacy of the whole of life - generation after generation, holding on and letting go with such intricate beauty, like so many leaves on one big tree, in one glorious fall.

And my diabetes and my glaucoma took their place alongside my last memories of my parents, the clear shining eyes and glowing skin of my grandchildren, the deepening love of my children, and my wife's always growing grace. And, for that moment, I understood. And I grew upper.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Of Games and Players

One thing you learn from playing with children - especially the very young - is that the fun you are having together is more important than the game you are playing. This is equally apparent when you play with the very old. What good is it to win if it makes the other person not want to play with you anymore? Or if it makes the other player cry? Or get angry? Sure, you can blame it on their immaturity (or post maturity), but, still, if your goal is to play together, the game has to end with your being together. In fact, that's how you have to measure the success of the game - the more together you are at the end of the game, the better the game.

This is less apparent when you play with your peers. You tend to think of the game as being the ultimate arbiter of your relationship: "Let the best man win" and all that. When, of course, neither the game, nor your relationship has anything to do with who is the best person. Both, in fact, the game and your relationship are about your being better, together. Not better than each other. Better with.

On the other hand, for the sake of the game, we have to play as if one of us, or one team of us, will prove to be better than the other. It's called "winning." To make winning seem as important and meaningful as we possibly can - again for the sake of the game - we add officials and official rules, trophies and prizes, records and world standings. It makes the game seem more real (when we know it's nowhere as real as we are), more significant (when we know we're far more significant than a game could ever be), more permanent (when we know that neither the game nor any of us can last forever).

So, again for the sake of the game, we play as if it's not just a game, as if it's in fact more real, more significant, more permanent than we are. Which is fine. And fun. Unless we're playing with people who are much younger or older than we are. Because what they have to teach, all over again, is that when it comes to games, the people who are playing are more important. If it's not fun, change the rules, change the goals or the way you keep score or the number of pieces you get or the number of players you have on your team or where you play it or how long you play or what side you're on. Or try a different game.

Sometimes, this is a very hard lesson. Because we want to make the game as real as we can. And we forget who we're playing with or why. And we hurt each other. But as difficult as it is, it's probably the most important lesson we can learn from playing with the elderly and youngerly. It's the reason we need to be playing with them whenever we can. To be reminded what games are really all about. Because otherwise, we forget. And the games get too important. And we play too hard. And we break.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Bob Gregson presents "At Every Turn"

At Every Turn (click on image to enlarge) will be on display this weekend where 107 artists will be exhibiting at Erector Square during New Haven's City-wide Open Studios. The artist's (Bob Gregson) installation will be at building #1, 2nd floor, studio E.

I'm an ardent admirer of everything Gregson. I first met him in the 70s. I was teaching classes at Trinity College and he was producing a lovely, funny, engaging public event he called "Thursday is a Work of Art." The giant chair (right) was one of his more emblematic, engaging, and playful installations. Another of my favorites was a row of chairs, strategically placed along a well-traveled alley, occupied by a random assortment of people, who would applaud you as you passed by. There were always a few empty chairs for those who chose to join the "audience."

Gregson explains: "I am excited when a resonance begins to intensify between my work and people. It is at that special moment - when all the ingredients come together - the work comes alive and exists at its best."

If you're going to be in New Haven this weekend, consider visiting Gregson's studio and "come alive" along with his wonderfully playful work.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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