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A Far, Far Better Thing

Frindle's picture


It’s a hot day today. It was a hot day yesterday, and it will be a hot day tomorrow. I’m already tired –– canyoning from the day before has gotten to me, and my arms protest even the slightest movement. I hope the one hour hike will loosen them up, because I can’t really afford to be without the use of my arms when I’m rock climbing.

Ackerman defines deep play as “the ecstatic form of play.” She tells us that “in its thrall, all the play elements are visible, but they're taken to intense and transcendent heights. Thus, deep play should really be classified by mood, not activity.” When an intense form of emotion is felt (usually extreme joy) deep play is occurring.

I learn many things on the hike. Our guide, Javi, has taken it upon himself to make us fluent in Spanish.

“Enero febrero marzo abril mayo junio julio agosto septiembre octubre noviembre diciembre,” he says, enunciating each syllable.

“Enero febrero marzo abril mayo junio julio agosto septiembre octubre noviembre diciembre,” we repeat, stumbling over sounds that aren’t ours.

To first understand deep play, one must understand play on its own. By itself, “play is an activity enjoyed for its own sake. It is our brain's favorite way of learning and maneuvering” (Ackerman). Play is fun. It is enjoyable. It is a thousand other words that give off everyday emotions. It is the basic. But in literature classes, basic is never enough. We need always go deeper.

We arrive at the base of the cliff we’re climbing today, and stop to get a quick drink of water. We check our gear: harnesses, helmets, rope, carabiners. Everything is in working order. Clipping ourselves in to the first rope of many, we begin our ascent. Three-quarters of the way up Javi stops us. We’re on a narrow ledge that provides little relief. The sun has not gone down. It is still hot. We cling to the wall, our sense of survival kicking in even now. Especially now?

Deep play does not occur everywhere. It does not occur for everyone. It does always involve the “spiritual,” whatever that may mean to each individual. Ackerman tells us that deep play is “sometimes hidden in the most unlikely or humble places — amid towering shelves of rock in Nepal; crouched over print in a dimly lit room…we spend our lives in pursuit of moments that will allow these altered states to happen.”

Javi motions to me, then the rope that anchors us to the cliff. “Hold on.” I do so, gladly. But then he smiles. “Lean out.”

Assuming I’ve misheard, I repeat what he said “Just…lean out?”

“Lean out.”

So I do.

My moments of deep play are few and far between. Too much of a good thing and all that. It is interesting to consider, however, the benefits of deep play. It is something “akin to rapture and ecstasy, that humans relish, even require to feel whole” (Ackerman). And yet, we spend the vast majority of our time not in a state of deep play. The vast majority of our time, therefore, must be spent feeling less than whole.

I hang there for a moment, suspended, looking out at the rest of the cliffs surrounding us. I look at the greens and browns and whites. I look at the tiny people climbing all around us. I look at the sky. And then I look down.

In an instant, my body is flooded with adrenaline. My heart speeds up and my breathing increases dramatically. I see my toes on the dusty edge of the cliff, as I cling with one hand to the only thing holding me to the ground. I have climbed far, so far, and it is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done…

It is for this reason that people actively seek out danger. It makes much more sense logically to stay on the ground, safe, where we can’t get hurt. But we are made up of more than just synapses and frontal lobes. We are made up of something “spiritual” as well. And the spirit is not completely satisfied unless it is experiencing deep play. As Ackerman wrote, “How peculiar not to feel whole.”

The wind grasps my words and hurtles away with them, tumbling along the face of the cliff. They are in my hair and over my ears and on my skin and it would take so little to just become one with them.

“A person…is a single self-contained entity.” (Ackerman).

Suddenly a feeling of complete fullness courses through me, perhaps brought by the adrenaline, perhaps not. But the feeling is inside my chest and it keeps growing and growing but can’t get out and I know that pressure and volume are inversely proportional which must be the reason why I can’t breathe anymore; my lungs are compressed by this feeling.

I feel.

“A funny notion, feeling whole” (Ackerman).

And then it stops. The wind is still blowing but it has returned my words to me. I shakily return to solid ground. Javi looks at me. He understands.

We continue to climb.

A funny notion, indeed.

If deep play contains a spirit, a hint of danger, and an unlikely place, then deep play in critical writing contains these aspects as well. Every essay should have spirit in it, a drive to explain something or learn something. It should have feeling. By writing an essay, one is opening oneself up to danger. Others may think the essay doesn’t make sense or is badly written. The teacher could give the essay a poor grade. But danger appears in a deep-play essay in another place as well: the unlikely place. We have been taught in this class to look for the “crack,” the “break” in our essay that really makes something of it. It is to that unlikely place we should go. It is dangerous, of course, as it could very well turn out to be unremarkable. But that unlikely place in our essay can bring our spirit out to the forefront of the essay.

If I were to change an essay using deep play, I’d have to rewrite the whole thing. It is only after I wrote my essays that I found the break in them. Once I did find the break and begin to write my essay, however, I’d be sure to focus on the specific word choices that I’m using. Just because it is a critical essay doesn’t mean I can’t infuse it with my spirit as well.

It is a far, far better thing...

Work Cited:

Ackerman, Diane. "Chapter One." Deep Play. New York: Random House, 1999. N. pag. New York Times. New York Times. Web.