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Playing Differently Redux: A 4 page version

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/*I could have sworn this paper was meant to be six pages. So I trimmed my six-page essay posted earlier to 4 pages, which is slightly better.*/



Play in the City 028

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Playing Differently

            The purpose of visiting a city is to experience something new, or to experience something familiar in a new way. If our course Play in the City was itself a city, then our hometown must be our everyday experience of academia, in secondary school and in our other Bryn Mawr classes.

First, we played with the concept of a city, with the help of Lewis Mumford, George Simmel, and Sharon Zukin. This is a highly academic version of play, and, though mildly interesting, not different from my hometown of ordinary academia. Second, we played with Robin Henig and Cass Sunstein about serendipity and the science behind play. I preferred these. Despite the familiarity of reading and applying essays, the subjects were interesting and unusual. Serendipity is not an oft-discussed topic in my hometown. Furthermore, the topics were not overly theoretical, the opinions were easily understood, and the explanations were simple.

Next, we played with The Quiet Volume. This particular production was highly unusual for a city of any variety. Fringe festival productions are often particularly peripheral to the world of theatre, whether because they utilize unusual themes, locations, or, in this case, media. They are the sort of productions I go out of my way to visit, and I was happy to find The Quiet Volume readily available in my city. I would certainly enjoy experiencing more such theatre. Afterwards, we began to play with mosaics. We read Terry Tempest Williams’ Finding Beauty in a Broken World, and made mosaics out of his words. Then we visited the Magic Gardens and surrounding neighborhoods, which were full of examples of the mosaics of Isaiah Zagar’s art. This art and these assignments were extremely unusual, and a definite departure from home. I particularly enjoyed the chance to create an image instead of write a paper. It allowed me the freedom to play with my assignment. Since printing the document, which contained large amounts of blank space, was impractical, I copied down words and phrases that stuck out to me. Although I could have copied them in my ordinary handwriting, with a ballpoint pen, on printer paper, I instead taught myself how to use a fountain pen—one without an ink cartridge, at that—and copied the words onto eco-friendly paper approximating parchment in appearance. Since we were making a mosaic out of a work about mosaics—one layer of meta—I took it to a second level, and used the words I copied to form the word ‘mosaic’ on my desk top. This made a school assignment into a work of art and an opportunity for play, in a way difficult to do with a paper. The style of paper-writing we learn in high school is so deeply ingrained in us, it is difficult to find a way to be creative with our topic. I would enjoy more assignments like this, as well as opportunities to see unusual theatre and other forms of art like Zagar’s work and The Quiet Volume.

Fifth, we played with Mary Flanagan and the notion of critical play. While I found this to be an unusual topic and relevant to our discussion, I found her difficult to read thoroughly enough to write about. This was partially due to the length, and partially, especially during the second week of our work with Flanagan, to the timing, as midterms were approaching while I struggled to rewrite the essay about her to have a thicker lens. Since this class does not have a midterm exam, and this paper in your hands (or on your computer) is the midterm paper, having yet another difficult paper during midterms seems to me to be counterproductive. It is like asking us to take the busiest train when we need to be using it during rush hour. Most of our classes assign us extra work at this time of year, so none of it is done to complete satisfaction. Why is it that professors all assign extra work at the same time? I confess I do not know how to make Zadie Smith’s novel fit better into the time available. It is a long book and cannot be skimmed, or much of the meaning will be lost.

            Whilst playing with Flangan, we also took a trip of serendipity through the Philadelphia Inquirer to plan a trip. We were required to create a trail of at least five ‘breadcrumbs’ leading from the newspaper to how we found what we wanted to do. This was fun, though the Philadelphia Inquirer was not as much about Philadelphia itself as I had hoped. A more local newspaper might have been more fun to peruse, but that would necessitate that the ‘at least five’ requirement was removed. I was worried about reaching five breadcrumbs before finding my event, and should I have picked a show or other event directly advertised in the newspaper, which would be more common in a more local paper, I would only have one breadcrumb to show for it. Granted, this takes away from the serendipity of the event, but the chance to experience ‘touristy’ events and other directly advertised events should not be undervalued. Claire and I visited, as a result of reading the Inquirer, a tapas bar called Amada. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to introduce someone else to one of my favorite cuisines. This form of play, picking what interests us and introducing our classmates to it, is enjoyable, serendipitous, and informative. It also provides a direction in our meeting of people, for the random reorganizing of partners very rarely results in strong friendships, but the reorganizing based on common interests has a better chance of doing so. It would not do to play like this through the rest of our class-city, for we do not know the best secrets of Philadelphia, but including both this and assigned destinations in our class-city seems to be to be a good choice.

            Finally, we have been playing with Zadie Smith. I spent two hours this morning reading a hundred pages. That’s less than a page a minute. I used to be a fast reader. Zadie changed that. If I skim over one tiny detail, I could lose half a plotline. By not remembering the name of Leah’s mother, it took me eight chapters after the meeting of Keisha and Leah to realize that it was Leah that Keisha pulled out of the pool. By overlooking an ‘is’ or some other tiny word, I changed the meaning of an entire sentence. Zadie Smith seems to be a fascinating woman, and a fascinating writer. The essay she read out loud, her book, her answers to the questions asked of her, all provoke responses from me like yes and me too and ha, she recognizes the pluperfect when she uses it. She writes like I do, like so few do, by waiting until the idea has formed itself, and then sitting down to write it, instead of writing bits and throwing them away until the thing has evolved to what it’s going to be. Zadie Smith knows, like me, that people do not interact with the concept of I could die any minute, I will die someday in any logical way. I like Zadie Smith. However, her book is long and readable only slowly, and she was hosted at a very busy time of year. Much as I am glad I was introduced to Zadie Smith, and given incentive to read her long book, I cannot help but slightly resent where she was placed in the class-city. I can think of no simile for this, because when playing in cities in real life, I gave up the bookstore, the café, the library I wanted to see for reasons of time and safety.

            In the future, I would like from this course more opportunities to enjoy the secrets of Philadelphia, the unique things, the unusual art and theatre. I would like more opportunities to express myself in ways that aren’t writing a paper. I would like to visit Philadelphia in groups and in pairs, to predetermined destinations and our own choices. I would like to explore interesting writers like Zadie Smith. I would like to read less essays. Finally, I would like to challenge this course-city to be inventive with the placing of its assignments, and not place the largest ones right before breaks like all the other courses. After all, the point of visiting a city is to do something new.