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Walking with Titanic Victims

mmanzone's picture

I have been to many of the traveling Titanic exhibits.  Different museums, different cities, even in different states.  Never before had I had this type of experience.

It was at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and my family had a membership there so we had the opportunity to go to a special showing of the exhibit before it officially opened the next day.  We got there Friday night to a special reception in the Institute’s atrium, complete with actors and food that would have been served on the boat.  We mingled for a bit and talked to the actors and then it was our time to enter the exhibit.

From the very beginning this exhibit was different; my parents weren’t holding my hand and watching over me the whole time-I could go at my own pace.  I remember walking around reading quotes on the walls and hearing them, not in my voice, but in cold, shaky voices that were scared and uncertain of what was to come.  I remember looking at the china sets from each of the classes and reading the sample menus.  I remember reaching the last room and finding I was alone.  It was the room with the list of the survivors and victims, and along the walls there were cases with clothes and personal effects that had been recovered.  I walked around and looked at each outfit, some looking extremely tattered and others looking relatively undamaged, and I felt each person with me.  I can’t explain why but the young girl’s shoes before me were suddenly filled and a young man from third class was standing next to me.  I could feel all of these people with me even though I was completely alone.

On the surface, the experience that I identify as “deep play” might not seem to fill Ackerman’s definition.  To an on-looker it wouldn’t have seemed that I was playing and there is no visible or inherent risk with looking at artifacts (Ackerman).  But this experience did immerse me in something I hold in high regard: history.  I think history is one of the most interesting, and most important, topics to study because there is so much that came before us and so much to learn from.  Normally I learn about history from what I read or hear, but in this one instance I saw and felt history all around me.  Ackerman states that “deep play should really be classified by mood, not activity. It testifies to how something happens, not what happens”

(Ackerman), and in this definition my experience in the exhibit is exactly what I think she is talking about: a moment when one is out of oneself, totally absorbed in the moment, liberated from the rest of the world.  In this moment I was not risking my life or trying to proof myself to anyone, I was simply allowing myself to “be” on the Titanic.  To see what they saw and hear what they heard and, in doing so, I risked the safety that I was in (sitting on a bench in a museum in Philadelphia) to experience the terror that occurred more than one hundred years prior.

People always say that books transport their readers to faraway lands and this transportation is the way I see “deep play” within the context of writing.  While, yes, this is true, it is also idealistic, as not all books appeal to all people, just as not all writings appeal to all people.  It is hard to say exactly how “deep play” could be applied to critical writing in a blanket statement, as it all depends on the reader.  The reader must be interested and have an open mind.  The reader must allow the writing to enter their mind and control their thoughts.  The ability for writing to utilize “deep play” is completely dependent on what the reader is willing to do.  If the writing is approached with a closed off mind there will be no “deep play” but if it is approached with an open mind, the possibility for “deep play” increases drastically.

If some way was discovered that enabled “deep play” in writing to be used in education I think our educational system would improve incredibly quickly.  Students would be engaged in what they read instead of reading it only for a grade.  It would also allow for much more individualized educations, as what allows one student to play deeply is different from what allows another student to do so.  If every student was able to read things that totally absorbed them, students would be more likely to enjoy learning, as “deep play” is something that many people seek (Ackerman).

Because I feel the ability for writing to use “deep play” is dependent on the reader it is difficult to gauge which of my own writings could be changed to use “deep play.”  I do think, however, that the last paper I wrote, the one from the Quaker point of view, could have elements of “deep play.”  I did what I could to write as one of the Quaker visionaries designing Eastern State Penitentiary and I think this allowed both me as the writer and potential readers to play deeply with my writing.  I allowed myself to forget about Marcia, the student, and write instead as Marcia, the Quaker visionary.  Because I let myself get lost in the process and I feel a reader, provided this reader approaches my paper with an open mind and an interest in the Quaker beliefs that went into Eastern State, could, in theory, also lose themselves in the writing the way it is, I do not think many changes would have to be made.

Works Cited

  Ackerman, Diane. Deep Play. New York: Random House, 1999. Print.