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Play in the City 2013

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Anne Dalke's picture


Welcome to the on-line conversation for Play in the City, an Emily Balch Seminar offered in Fall 2013 @ Bryn Mawr College,  in which we are addressing the question of how we construct, experience, and learn in the act of play. How is play both structured by the environment in which it occurs, and how might it re-structure that space, unsettling and re-drawing the frame in which it is performed?

This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

Who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our course. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared explorations.  Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE

Anne Dalke's picture

still open for conversation!

This on-line forum will remain open...our ESem still here for us collectively.
We hope you all will post here in the years to come.

On the last day of class, Mark and Anne said,

"We think that what we have accomplished together (all of us) is important. It's important because play is the lifeblood of being an authentic intellectual and it's also profoundly healthy. We've assembled a toolbox together--a full, rich array of strategies to use when you are stuck or feeling unconnected to reading, writing, or talking in class.

We think it's important that you each have connections to the city--multiple connections. And that there are 25 other people in your class who understand their connection to the city and on whom you can rely to nurture your connection to the city. Bryn Mawr is an amazing place and one of the amazing things about it is that you can really nourish yourself, socially, emotionally, culturally and spiritually through your connections to the city and to each other.

We hope you feel connected to one another, to at least some of the ideas that we've worked on together, to the notions of play we have explored, and to the city in which we've all played--critically, deeply, and in friendship.

Anne Dalke's picture

Images of Our Final Day of Work-and-Play

Phoenix's picture

(presumably) Al Capone's cell in ESP

Mindy Lu's picture

Self Evaluation

Three months ago, with excitement and a little bit worry, I, an international student from China, came to the United States for the first time. Everything around was new for me, especially, the language environment. At the beginning, when I had to speak English all the time during my daily life, I felt awkward and tired. Even worse, I faced difficulties of various sorts in writing— sometimes, I faced culture collisions; sometimes, I misunderstand the meaning of words; sometimes, I clearly knew what I want to express, but when I started to type, I was trapped and even had no idea about how to build up my words into a shapely essay. Luckily, I joined Esem "Play in the City"this semester. Although it was not easy for me to read so many reading materials and write my essays every week, I, indeed, have to thank for those experiences because I learnt many precious skills of writing from them.

During this semester, we had at least seven trips to Philadelphia, which were all interesting and exciting. We explore the meaning of new definition we learnt in the readings in class; we visited museums; we watched plays; we took photos; and we absorbed knowledge and thinking a lot when we played and enjoyed ourselves.

Mindy Lu's picture

Rewrite Deep Play

 Rewrite Deep Play

I am in a daze, sitting in front of my laptop, my eyes staring at the photo of my little cousin Sam on the screen, thinking about that I would never notice that I did a kind of “ deep play” with him before without taking this course and reading the article by Ackerman.

Play is an activity enjoyed for its own sake, while deep play is the ecstatic form of play, which is a fascinating hallmark of being human. (Ackerman) With my own experience, I state the definition of deep play as a kind of play that not only bring fun, but also express something deep inside the players. During most of my playtime, I just have fun—search the Internet, play games or do some sports without think deeply and express anything from my heart. However, when I played hide-and-seek, the common game which seems may not be consider as a deep play, I thought much more than the game itself and did a deep play.

“Five, four, three, two, one …… I am coming!”

I still remember that it was my first time to play hide-and –seek with Sam, a five-years-old boy. I was a seeker and he was a hider. Actually, it was extremely easy for me to find him—he was hidden under the quilt and his back was like a little hill on the bed. Thus, I walked to the bed directly and opened the quilt quickly without any hesitation. I felt proud to be “clever” to find him while he looked a little bit embarrassed and upset. Looking at his bright eyes with depressiveness, I suddenly realized that I had made a mistake—I should not play this game so seriously.

tflurry's picture

Word Mosaic

Sorry! Accidentally deleted this while finishing up!

tflurry's picture

NW Revisited

Although at first glance the chapter naming system in NW, by Zadie Smith, seems almost arbitrary, there is an underlying intent behind the chapter-nomenclature. This paper intends to examine how the Natalie and Leah’s reactions towards their pasts are revealed through the chapter titles within their sections of the book: Visitation and Host.


tflurry's picture


When I first walked into Play in the City, I was a decent high school-level essay writer. Over the course of the semester, I learned more. I picked up more tools, things like ‘lenses’ and ‘the believing game’ for my writing toolbox, and these are tools that I expect to be very useful over the years. I discovered new terms and theories with which to interact with the world around me, different types of play and luck, that may or may not affect my writing in the future, but gives me different ways to think about my experiences: I consider that even more valuable to come away from a class with. In the end, I believe that I have improved in a few ways in my writing over the semester: I think about my essays differently, and in doing so I write them differently: I think about things like lens and how best to frame the point I want to make, what best proves my point or what point best discusses what I want to examine. I recognize, however, that I still have a lot to learn: my essays are not always as focused as they would ideally be, and they often have an overabundance of one punctuation mark or another. I thank this course further for that, because it not only taught me, but gave me an idea where to go next.


nightowl's picture

Essay Rewrite #4

When I went to Zagar’s Magic Gardens, which is a concentrated space of his mosaics in one building, I was experiencing a form of escapism. The various details in the piece where too much too take in. The mosaic was made up of tiles, glass, found items, and homemade molds. A common theme was to have paint over the tiles, which outlined human forms and quotes about the city. The painted quotes often had misspelled words in them for example; “Forms are converes of meaning” In this quote “converes” might be converse, conveyers, or another word. Having this misspelling forces the quote to be open-ended and untranslatable.

I interpret the gardens as a space that welcomes you to be aware of your surroundings, but not necessarily to interpret or understand them. This is also true for natural gardens. Unlike other forms of art, people are often more willing to take form over interpretation when visiting a garden. This is facilitated by a garden being so large and detailed that it is nearly impossible to take in everything.

Looking at form is made easier in a garden because of its detachment from humans, which relieves the pressure for it to be useful or meaningful. Gardeners collect plants, arrange them in a space, and then let them grow and take root. Zagar is similar to a gardener in that he collects and organizes trash and then presents it in a space. The Magic Gardens are like a garden made of human trash, rooted in a city space.

mmanzone's picture

How We Learn

How We Learn

In my elementary school, we had a day devoted to diagnostic testing.  They had tests to determine what level of different classes we should be in.  Tests that could show whether we were left-brained or right-brained.  And they had tests that would determine what type of learner we are.  I was determined to be a visual-kinesthetic learner with a strong preference toward logic and mathematics; I needed to be shown something and to do something with my hands and could solve problems more easily than many of my classmates.

This classification has lasted my entire life.  I still learn best when I can see or touch what it is I am learning about and numbers and science still make much more sense to me than symbols and metaphors.  This does not mean that I cannot learn through sounds or that I cannot understand the deeper meanings of certain things, it just means that I must work harder at it.  

Different assignments in Play in the City allowed me to see these differences and recognize why some did not work for me.  

lksmith's picture

The Value of Presentation

             What does a painting look like? That depends, here are many different way to look at the same painting and each person that views it will see it in a new way. However, the viewer is not the only factor that can be changed to alter the way a painting looks. The environment in which it is displayed is also a very important factor in what the painting looks like even though it is not an inherent trait of the painting. This applies not only to art, but to everything in the world. The way in which something is presented is a key factor in determining how that thing is perceived and understood.

Taylor Milne's picture

Revisiting the Magic Gardens

            When thinking of critical and deep play, I always come back to the mosaics created by Isaiah Zagar, and the playfully creative impact they have had on the world. They redefined mosaics, and have fabricated one of the most creative outlets of street art. All along South Street his mosaics glimmer in the sunlight, illuminating the numerous fragmented mirrors, reflecting light all around. Words written forwards, sideways, backwards, with many of them relaying powerful messages. The art that Zagar has dedicated his life to is as playful to the onlooker as it is to the creator.

            Although I cannot make assumptions on Zagar’s experiences in creating the mosaics, I would hope that through the years of his creations he has had moments of deep play. Explained by Diane Ackerman, “In rare moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time's continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world's ordinary miracles.” When looking at some of the mosaics that Zagar has created, his passion and playfulness is unmistakable, and allows the viewer to have the same playful and deep experience when viewing his life’s work.

Cathy Zhou's picture

Culinary Spirit

Culinary Spirit

There was a discovery by British scientists that taste and smell would last longer than visual memories. So today instead of taking everyone to tourist attractions and visit visually, I would like to use the “taste” to approach my city---Chengdu.

I’ve been out of the city for 4 months, and when I closed my eyes, I could still reencounter the taste of the restaurant in front our house. The taste in Chengdu might be the most unforgettable thing in the city.

It is a spicy city, everyone loves spice here, and it somewhat influences the attitude of the residents. Food takes a great proportion in the residents’ life, especially “malatang”. There is at least one malatang place in every block (not exaggerating, there are three in front of my home), and it’s the most representing thing that the city cannot live off.

AnotherAbby's picture

That's All, Folks.

This is a little bittersweet, honestly. I know I probably don’t seem like the type who would get emotional about things, and typically, I’m not, but I’m sad that this is the last paper I get to write for this class. I want to take a breath, even though I just started. It’s a strange feeling. We’re not coming back on Tuesday this time so we can all do our best to figure out what the twenty pages of reading we did actually meant.  How am I supposed to explain my issues with Deep Play to my mother? She’s not going to understand. I need fourteen other people to argue with me about it.

tomahawk's picture

Ruminations on the Class

Well, I’m sure Anne has read a lot of this before. But, I’ll write it out anyway. I love creative writing. It is my passion. Yet, I have never been able to merge analytical writing and creative writing. This class showed me that that is possible. It didn’t teach me that I should quote Sontag and write fiction at the same time. Instead, “Play in the City” showed me that I can be as free in my Creative Writing as I am in my analytical writing.

Or, to use the language of the class, “Play in the City” showed me that there’s no harm playing in my writing, that the times in which I write the best and enjoy my writing the most are when I take risks. Moreover, these risks often pay off. Deep play and critical play aren’t hard to find while I’m writing. Critical play comes far more easily to me than deep play when I am writing because in the past I have felt constrained by structure. But, now as I’m writing this I realize that there is a physical structure to writing. This is unavoidable. The structure I feared was just a mental roadblock. Deep play allows me to go past this roadblock. By the time I’m deep playing, there is no concern over whether I write the word “Penis” or “Headband.” I am only hoping that I’m going somewhere with my writing.

Muni's picture

rewrite, lucky number 13

There is something defiant about Isaiah Zagar’s mosaics. Cities are built for efficiency, functionality, but not necessarily beauty. Yet, around South Street, a glimmer of light in the gap between two buildings could mean a mosaic of mirrors and color. Upon closer investigation, a pedestrian could find his or herself in a different Zagar’s art is a street intervention, playfully ignoring Philadelphia’s figurative and literal grids to bring subversiveness and spontaneity to its streets. 

Isaiah Zagar doesn’t always plan ahead where his next mosaic will be, what it will look like, or where he will get his materials. Many of his mosaics spill across alleyways and onto the back walls of houses, creeping along fence lines as if they’re no longer in the artist’s control. The mosaics fill cracks in alleys with seemingly random words and images. Looking at a map of Zagar’s mosaics is not like looking at a map of a typical art gallery. The mosaics make no distinctive pattern and many do not even appear on the map. In the magic gardens, the route you take is not restricted to a single path. Zagar’s art defies the city’s nearly symmetrical grid pattern in its meandering nature. The art is there “to disrupt the everyday actions in the city” by giving people a chance to think for themselves about what it could mean (Flanagan 14).

tomahawk's picture

The Beautiful Little Rhomboid

After taking a step back, going home to California and driving to my city (San Francisco), I think the best way for me to end this class is to write an essay lauding discussion-based classes. While I drove through the city, I realized that so much of what we’ve talked about is there: Simmel, Zetkin, and many more. But more importantly, it became clear to me that it wasn’t just Simmel or Zetkin who was correct. They all were. And, they all weren’t.

Steadily, throughout the course, I’ve come to realize something about rightness and wrongness. I’ve written about wrongness before, but this is different. I still love being wrong and being told I’m wrong. But now, I think there’s something bigger than this and perhaps better.

Every day, we would come to class and disagree and agree. Some people would promote the Believing Game. Others would ask us to turn back to the Doubting Game. And slowly, I think everyone realized that it’s not black and white. In fact, few things are. We shouldn’t just scorn interpretation, but we also shouldn’t constantly search for some personal narrative, some greater meaning. 

Frindle's picture

Rewrite: Oh City, My City

When I think of a city, the first thing that comes to mind is skyscrapers and well-dressed businessmen, subways and taxis, Starbucks and a distinct lack of greenery. Cupertino is certainly not a traditional city. But it is a city, an important one. What it lacks in tradition it makes up for in innovation.

Cupertino has none of the elements of a traditional city. We don’t have skyscrapers (in my opinion, an excellent decision given our proclivity for earthquakes). Most of our employers are tech companies, and many employees tend to dress towards the causal end of the business-casual spectrum. Our only public transport is the bus, but most people have their own cars and embrace the California Roll whole-heartedly (in which people don’t stop for stop signs but rather roll slowly through them). And while people do love their Starbucks, they love their Pearl Milk Tea (PMT) even more.

Cathy Zhou's picture

final trip

in the final trip of the class, I went out to take the septa with only a sweater and it began to snow in the middle of the train trip. So I changed my original plan of going to Franklin Square. I went to Market East and found a window seat of a tea place, and watched the snowy weather and people outside. There were many people went outside in snow, most of them walked into supermarkets, and some are travelers with suitcases. The shop owners all come out to clear the snow, even it would be covered by snow again later. The interesting thing I found is in the supermarket, maybe it's because it's chinatown, everything is not sold outside US. Even all the pots, chopsticks might appear in US, but everything inside the Chinatown supermarket is having a label tag in Chinese. It come up to me with Barne's segregation of his museum and outside world. It's a segregated world.