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Jumping Puddles

On a cloudy Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on the bench of an Indian restaurant on the sidewalk, waiting for my friend to arrive. A few meters to the left, a kid jumping joyfully up and down in a puddle the rain in the morning had left behind.

It was using its hand to hit the water's surface, shrieking in joy as the drops jumped up and its impact created waves. The suspense of its loosely held balance kept my eyes glued to it. Eventually, the Dad started holding their hand, presumably to prevent any falls and the kid from running toward the street.

It was very clear that only one of them was having actual fun; even when once it fell to its bum, it quickly recovered and was back up, continuing this play. When, eventually, the Dad had enough and carried it off, the kid would protest loudly.

When was the last time I had been jumping around in a puddle like that? Probably when I was 17 and out with my little siblings, all of us wearing rain boots.

That's a long time ago.

It seems that as we become adults, we lose the ability to let loose in play.

Everything is supposed to have a purpose; we're not to just let go and enjoy ourselves dancing in the streets or jumping in puddles. We define our leisure time as the time that we rest to be better at work and fill it with activities aimed at self-improvement.

There's little space for play in a world that wants us to deliver ever more and threatens to take away our livelihood by outsourcing our job to someone who'll do it at half the salary from across the world.

Doing something for the sake of it? No. There always must be some broader purpose. There's rarely a moment we allow ourselves the freedom just to do something because we want to, because it fulfills something that the grand economic system doesn't capture.

The use of language is one example. Few people still write or read poetry these days. Language is mainly used to convey information, not as something for play.

Even though it can be so beautiful, I'll never forget the first few lines of the Poem "Mondnacht" by Eichendorff, which we had to learn in high school.

Nothing is safe. Even art is impacted. Decades ago, in 1940, Orwell wrote an essay elaborating on the role of artists and whether their works should be political. He, as well as Ian McEwan, who wrote a response to this essay in our time, defended the freedom of artists to be apolitical, to write from inside the whale.

All writers like Basho who choose the belly of the whale, who refuse to tell us what they think, or what we should think, who wish to celebrate or investigate love, childhood, Boys' Weeklies, frogs or the delights of close attention to one or two details - they must have their freedom to do so. The writer who denies that freedom to herself, to himself or to others is - and I quote - 'in effect,demanding his own destruction.'

Ian McEwan

I interpret this as allowing oneself to write for the sake of it. To create, to have fun, to play.

Sure, you might not consider yourself an artist; hence, this doesn't apply to you.

But what if we're all artists?

In his speech, Art as Hope for Humanity, violinist Yehudi Menuhin argued for allowing humans to play the violin, chess, and fetch, as long as we keep them from becoming mere automats that serve the state while their talents are exploited for someone else's benefit.

He closed that speech with the belief that "All humans are artists."

We're all creative.

Maybe we just need to allow ourselves to give into that a little more. We should give ourselves room to be bad at something and not overthink what others will think or its purpose.

In play, kids learn a lot about the world.

In play, we, too, can learn a lot about ourselves.

Han extends the notion of play even to thinking, showing that thinking is more similar to a game than math. It's not following linear steps; it's, at times, inexplicable jumps.

Just like the ones the kid was enjoying in the puddle.

Thanks for reading 💚

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