The Art of Playing: Celebrating life and happiness

imageIt was my 47th birthday today and I spent it in an unusual fashion compared to some, but quite the standard within my family. During it I was reminded of a conversation I had recently with some pretty important and powerful people about the nature of living and how I manage to do so many things at several layers of severity and risk,  but still manage to lay my head down on my pillow each night for sleep without wanting to jump off a roof. It’s a secret that I feel compelled to teach the world, just so that I might remove just a bit of their suffering and change the direction of their life’s focus. It’s a method that everyone would benefit from if they embraced it more and would drop the broken stereotypes of the past—because they don’t work. As a brief intro to the concept please understand that my wife could have given me just about anything for my birthday—a new Apple Watch, an expensive vacation, a dinner at Cincinnati’s exclusive restaurants, even a new car—but what she did give me was infinitely more interesting and fun. She gave me a Zoomer Dinosaur. She has been watching my grandson and he knew what she had bought me, and at just over 2 years old, he couldn’t wait to tell me. So he guided me to where she was hiding it and we opened it up. She didn’t care because he was so excited to see it move. After opening it, we put the little dinosaur on the ground and began playing with it—which set the tone for the entire birthday celebration.

My mother taught her kids how to play, even late in life. Growing up we played a lot and had very diverse interests. My grandmother also played at life a lot and made growing up very fun. Every trip to the grocery store was fun because they made it that way, and as a result I carry that into my own life-even in tragic situations. I try to have fun every day of my life—no matter what is going on. That is a pattern started in my childhood by my mom. My brother and sister have a similar love of playing and as a result as grown adults, they don’t have any mental problems or issues with social interaction. They are not drug abusers of even a slight nature and have no real insecurities of any mention. Now with kids of their own, they are bringing that element of play to their own offspring with very positive results. But out of all the members of my family, I learned to play more than the others and I am more obvious in my dedication to it.

One of my best memories as a kid was when I had to go to soccer practice one evening when I really didn’t want to. I always loved sports, but only the games themselves. I didn’t like all the team work crap—ever, or the social infusion with the community. When my team would win the parents were always excited for some mysterious reason and used the word “we” a lot. Yet they never did anything to help win the game except yell like a bunch of idiots on the sideline. It never made sense to me, and as the years moved on, I stepped away from sports because of the heavy emphasis on team building and derision on individual achievement. If I had different teachers and social influences as a young kid I might have moved into professional sports of my choosing, but because the wrong influences were around me focused on the wrong things, I abandon sports at my first opportunity—as a freshman in high school. But of that wonderful memory, I was at soccer practice, miserable because honestly I had a huge set-up in the basement of my home dedicated to Star Wars and I wanted to be there playing with all my toys rather than running around at soccer practice. It was spring time, my dad was out-of-town on business, and I was hoping to be home so I could have some play time before bed. It was the middle of the week and I had school the next day, so my time to play at the things was short. My mom picked me up from practice and we headed home. Only this was different, my brother and sister were in the car dressed like we were going somewhere, and there was the smell of popcorn from the trunk. I didn’t think much about it until we took a different route home and ended up on roads I wasn’t familiar with. Those roads eventually took us to a drive-in theater in Hamilton that was playing the very first Star Wars movie as a re-release. My mom took us all to see it for what I think was the 7th time at that point. It was wonderful and I cherished deeply every frame of film. During the scene where Han Solo and Luke were rescuing the princess, which is the high point of the film for me, I was sitting in a lawn chair with my soccer cloths still on listening to the echo of all the portable speakers around the drive-in playing the sound of the movie with a slight delay during that specific scene—the clouds were high in the sky and slightly blotting out a big bright moon on a spring night—and I thought about how wonderful life was. It really didn’t get any better than that.

But every day I try to make the day better than that day at the drive-in, and most days I come close. I am always looking for a way to have fun with a situation, and most of the time I do. I avoid people who don’t know how to have fun. If they are depressed people trapped in emotions constructed around neurosis, I usually paint them out of my life for my own preservation. If they can’t keep up, I leave them behind without looking back. I like to have fun, I love to play, and I hate people who don’t know how. I’m happy to teach “happiness” to them, but if they don’t show much of an effort, I drop them quickly. I understand and sympathize that they didn’t have a mom like mine who showed them how to play, even as adults, so I take the time to teach them. But I won’t sacrifice myself to their misery. If they want to be miserable, I leave them to it. I might write an article like this to help show them the way, but I won’t take their burden on myself if they wish to be stubborn about it.

I have known many adults who give Rolexes to their spouses and new cars for birthdays—but most of the time those gifts are laced with a desire for social approval more than developing happiness in the recipient. Behind such gifts is the desire to brag to someone else about the value of the gift, and thus, the amount of social pull that person has in the world of mixed economies. So it means quite a lot that my wife out of all the things she could have given me picked the cute little dinosaur which I think is quite a leap in scientific development. The little sensors in it for a kids play toy are very advanced, and the gyroscope system which balances it on two wheels is quite extraordinary. I could play with it all day and night if left to my own devices. It is intriguing, and intellectually stimulating. I love it!

imageBut of course there was a gathering with my family like we usually do later in the day during my birthday. This year we went to Dave and Busters so that we could……………play…………….as a family. Specifically there is a new video game called Star Wars Battle Pod which is a kind of flight simulator for Star Wars. It is the newest, and greatest of what technology has to offer, complete with a breeze simulator to replicate actual environmental conditions. It has a wrap around screen that totally engulfs your vision allowing you to invest your intellect into the experience without distraction. The food was great, as it usually is at Dave and Busters, but playing Battle Pod was for me the best thing I’ve done for a birthday in years. In my family, most of us are intense Star Wars fans so we loved taking time to play it together. It was a stunning game to play, and fly. I had to reflect back to that drive-in surprise where my mom played like she was just picking me up from soccer practice on a school night, but instead took us all to see Star Wars one more time on a big screen, before it was gone forever—or so we thought at the time. Now, because of Battle Pod, people can play in the Star Wars universe in a way that was only a remote fantasy for someone like me years ago.

At Hollywood Studios my favorite restaurant is the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. It tries to simulate the drive-in movie experience I had in my youth, with my best memory being that Star Wars outing. There are still drive-ins, but they don’t carry the same impact as they did when I was a kid. Now they are viewed as a cheap alternative to the cinema experience as opposed to a first-rate experience. But when I go to Hollywood Studios, I have to stop by the Dine-In Theater and have a hamburger. It reminds me of that Star Wars presentation after the soccer game, and reminds me of the importance of playing at life instead of taking things too serious.

In reference to the important people I was talking about the best of us realize hopefully before they arrive at 60 years of age that career climbing and ass-kissing doesn’t get anybody anywhere. People are most effective and ultimately better when they retrain, or relearn the art of playing—as they did when they were kids. Typically, I don’t get along very well with people in my own age group, because most of them suffer from socially created illnesses. The people I most get along with are kids and old people because generally they aren’t worried about the ridiculous social rules which construct our network of associations. They would do far better for themselves to spend their time playing with other members of their families than in chasing the tail of someone higher in the peaking order hoping to schmooze their way to the top instead of letting their actions speak for themselves. One of the people I was talking to is a guy I enjoy quite a lot. He has a PHD in an advanced field of endeavor, but has not lost his love of playing. He’s is the grandpa of some lucky grandkids and the father to some fortunate children. Yet he solves problems like they don’t even exist, the kind of problems that might hang up regular people in the related field of endeavor. The difference is that this smart guy never forgot how to play at life, and therefore solves problems the way a child does, with resiliency and creativity. We teach our children to stop doing these things, and that is our first mistake. Instead, we should be teaching them to develop it further and to do so through their infantile 20s and 30s. But until everyone else gets on that page and recognizes that this is the way to conduct their lives—with playing at life for their entire lives—then I will continue to recharge myself the way I have. And for that, the little dinosaur my wife gave me along with Star Wars at Dave and Busters was a wonderful experience that gives me more than anything money can buy–a chance to play.

Rich Hoffman


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