Play

Posted June 11 2006

When I was little, I had a Matchbox Landrover. Not one of the little two inch toys, but the big four inch model with the removable tires. The paint was mostly rubbed off. I don't know where it came from, and the tires were gone, but down in the barn I found four green Elastrator rings which were a perfect fit for tires. I look a couple of lengths of bag twine and used them to tow the Landrover behind me. I still remember it as something very special, and wish I could find an old copy of the toy. I got Dad to send me some tailing rings, and I used to check the antique toy store wherever I went to the Central Market, but I never found another Landrover.

Later, it was my job to water the fruit trees. I dug a drain down past them all, which fed into a gutter around each tree. After school, l would let the hose run from the top, and direct the water around each tree's gutter until it was full. There were little people who lived along this intermittent river. Each night I would play with them as the water flowed. I worked out my pain and alienation from that horrible school as I talked with the little people for whom I was a hero.

And now... I wonder if I have forgotten how to play. I write for my webpage, and read Arts and Letters Daily when I finally stop for the day. Whoopdidoo, as my son would say! Even if I were not too tired to play, what would I do? Too tired, too overworked, so badly needing to stop, and not a clue of what to do....

Getting up at six on Wednesday and finally going to bed at ten on Thursday probably adds a little to my sense of exhaustion! But even without the occasional twenty four hour shift too many of us are too tired. Is the only alternative to living in the mindless thrall of Brad and Angelina's new baby, or Big Brother, to be exhausted? Two very demanding jobs in our family, a boarder, the children's struggles- these all add to the pressure for me, but the pattern is repeated all over the country. I am not alone in this.

We are all too tired in our society. Perhaps some are driven by a lust for money, but probably more are driven by their employer's lust for money. No more public holidays, billing 80% of time done, never leave early, but get to work early if you want to succeed of be promoted- or not be first in line for lay off. Welcome to Australia.

Of course we add to it with our insistence on having the latest and greatest in gadgets, and too new, too many, and too big cars. We have begun to regard amazing luxuries, many unheard of in my childhood, as absolute necessity, and pay the cost in being too tired to enjoy them.

Is it really the money and possessions thing? I'm not that worried about status and money. Perhaps it's more to do with anxiety about the state of the world. What will Bush, Blair and the Mullahs and the terrorists do next? How will we do without petrol if the cost goes up any more? Australia is running out of water and green house disaster is brewing in the wings. No! Wrong way- that's not making me tired. Security is not the main pressure on people. There are other driving forces; the in-drilled need to be good, and serious and responsible. The drive to succeed and be someone- not in a monetary sense, but as a person who other people will look up to and respect. The need to feel approval. I suspect many Australians are more moral- and lonely with it- than we credit.

The need for approval and respect is far too strong in me. It outweighs desire for money, and security, and happiness. It almost outweighs the need to be serious and responsible that is part of me and grafted on as securely and thoroughly as my arms. So at first glance, play is a bad thing It is everything I should not be doing. (I think there are far too many Ozzie men who just want to play, or who use play as a way to avoid the pain of being serious. Football, or some other sport becomes less than play. and transforms into a kind of pseudo-serious.) Despite this, play is good.

When I play, some of the weight of the serious is lifted from me. Play lets what is really important for me come to the surface. The little people who lived along my fruit-tree river gave me the acceptance and friendship which was not there at school. Today they would remind one of quests and heroes, and what is really good. The simplistic morality of the little child in me who plays, will also remind me of what is ultimately good despite all the grey moral judgements and compromises we have to live with. Mind you, the little child may have been growing in a morally impoverished place, but it will do me no harm to be reminded of who I am at base, and from where I come.

Play is also innocent, allowing the tiny, lonely, central me some air. For some reason when I work in the garden with the whipper snipper, edging the grass, knocking down the weeds along the front of our house and the neighbour's, I am always taken back to a hard time of life, and need to fight off the memories. The physical work is good, but it is a mental struggle. The place of play is where I am comfortable and can be happy. The innocent little boy I see in the old photos, and saw in my young son, can choose a place to be free. He can choose the adventures he wants for the day and work with them. The day is his.


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