This is an old rant, but I’d still like to get those emotions out there. It dates from 10/25. I finished it on 1/22/15, but saved it from being sent out until now because I wanted the Look Around You class to be a surprise for dzaefn and lucci as well as our students 🙂
This rant was sparked by the comparison of two “art” exhibits – the cool light up swing set and MetaLand.
It’s been a while and memory is short, but you might remember that at the tail end of October, a lot of people were really excited about the installation of these light up swings. I like swings a lot and thought this would be more of an adult playground kind of thing, like the amazing park on the Esplanade. So, I went with lua, Lucia, Clint, Lisa Kong, and isaacg on a great exhibition over there. When we got there, we were sorely disappointed – the swings were closed because the cables the swings were on had snapped 2 days in a row, so they were closed until further notice (which was a disappointment because the swings would be taken down just a week later). While everyone was diappointed by this fact, I found myself even more disappointed by the fact that the swings were part of an art exhibit, not as just some adult playground thing. Sure, there were a bunch of frisbees lying around and cornhole set up, but I just had this unshakeable feeling of fraud. “Free play” was the theme of the art exhibit and there were some inscrutable modern art pieces around as well, like a giant flower in a cage next to an armchair in a smaller cage while there was a QR code that you could watch this bizarre 1 minute video that had those elements in there. That coupled with the really crappy indie outdoor band and the bar selling craft beer just made it feel like an attraction for twentysomethings to feel cool, snapping their fingers being like “yeah, man, free play, it’s like return to innocence or whatever”
In contrast, let’s talk about Meta Land. It’s a house on Franklin and Brookline that is just absolutely breathtaking. On the same day that I visited the swing exhibit, jrowan and I passed by this house on our way back from lunch. We literally just stopped and stared at the fence for a solid 10 minutes. I’ve attached some pictures of Meta Land’s fence and it’s very easily googleable (Google “cosmic moose fence”), but I highly recommend going to go see the house for yourself before reading the reactions of others. Maybe I’m overhyping it, but it was really something to just take a different path back to Random and then all of a sudden, see this purple graffiti’d fence just appear. It’s certainly really validating to see others on the internet to have a similar reaction. The artist himself is really Cantabridgian and eccentric (Google “peter valentine cambridge”), but his belief system seems really earnest and feels mostly harmless to me.
The point that I’m trying to make here is perhaps less about art and more about the nature of play, childhood and innocence. MetaLand just felt like something true and meaningful. In the middle of this residential neighborhood sparks something wonderful and unexpected with one man’s observes written all over. It feels authentic and uplifting and just wow. What the swing-set-art-exhibit failed to realize is that childhood and innocence isn’t something that can be demanded of “you play here”. It felt more like it was trying to make a place where people could pretend to recapture the innocent days, but in by so constructing a system, they have in fact failed to remember the great chaos of being a kid. It’s like the huge failure mode of talking to kids that adults suffer from – they have forgotten how to be a kid and thus end up condescending towards them or not valuing their opinion. Like, goddangit, when I was in elementary school, I was reading the PTA parenting handouts and comparing / contrasting my parents’ teaching styles to what their literature recommended (spoiler: there were significantly fewer mother-daughter arts and crafts projects in my life than was recommended).
For perhaps a more clear example, when the group of Randomites found out that the swings were closed, we ignored the pre-setup formal “free play elements” that had been laid out for us. We thought the lines on the ground were for a game of hopscotch, not for some piece of modern art (which they actually were). I started making up my own game where I could only travel on the lines, much to the weird stares of the twentysomethings. Likewise, we took one of the frisbees and tried to play monkey in the middle until we realized it wasn’t that much fun. THIS is actual free play – going out on a limb, being creative with existing materials and trying to make something new out of it. If it doesn’t work, then fine. If it does, great! Try it out and move on if you want to.
As you might have been able to guess, this whole rant is talking about a philosophy that is one of my pretty core fundamental values. A lot of you have seen me running around being hyped about things. That’s pretty much the end result of this philosophy in action. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not trying to say that it’s an act or that I have to intentionally fraud in order to act this way (ex. Holden Caulfield wondering “How long did it take for that kid to practice all of those skating tricks” and then enjoying the performance significantly less because of all the goddang “phonies”). What I’m saying is that I have still maintained this core characteristic of being a kid because I value it and think it’s important and saw no reason to change. To be a kid is to maintain wonder at the world. To still gasp and press your nose to the window when the plane takes off
A lot of generalized East Campus has this attitude. It’s the creative spirit of “Why don’t we just cut a hole in the floor to fit a manhole cover?” or “Let’s build a frickin rollercoaster because it’ll be amazing?”. I no longer find it terribly surprising that the stupid games we played at Mathcamp translated so well to the 6-8 year olds at Epsilon Camp – this is actually true creativity and without fear of doing something really stupid, because you know what? It was fun. I love talking to little kids primarily because of this. I have no problem playing cars with my 2 year old cousin because it actually is fun to make the police car chase after his little red car and then get T-boned by a motorcycle riding Yoshi. I don’t mind causing havoc at the Tidor family Thanksgiving by teaching “Kill Bunny” to his cousins (much to the horror of the stodgy aunts and uncles and Benjamin Tidor :P). I guess this is why some West Campus people call the East Side “childish” and “immature”. I guess also the fact that I value this trait highly in myself and others is probably why I live on the East Side 😛
For me, the difference that came about from growing up was less of “Oh, I’m too old to do stupid things like that” but more “Oh, I have a responsibility to do other things”. I know empirically I can change modes really quickly – from going from “WHEEEEEEE HYPE HYPE HYPE” to “crap this is a panic situation and I need to get serious immediately so I can deal with the situation”. I first realized this when I got frustrated with my younger cousins by their inability to be quiet so we could get un-lost after I had got them all hyper by playing a game with them.
I guess the flip side of this is probably why I actually feel really shy around people. A lot of you are O_O at me right now and think I’m lying, but I actually really don’t like talking and meeting with people. I think this is because I worry about being hyper to other people because they won’t understand me (kinda like what James Mickens was talking about at Quiche Cabal dinner). I know how to act professional and cordial around people but it takes a lot of effort from me to do that and maintain tact. Since you guys are really actually my friend, I do really feel free to be derpy and poke y’all and do all of this stupid stuff and try to bait you into goofy plots. I think at Coursera, I don’t think I ever managed to really drop my shyness / guards and be a derpy person except for the one cool intern. Similarly, that’s when I know that I’m on a good level with my UROP advisors – when I feel free to make stupid jokes with croliver or arccarter although still maintaining some level of professionality.
Thanks for reading my multipage manifesto. Stay literary, my friends.
P.S. Attached are also some pictures that didn’t really fit in anywhere else – Book Sale sight gag, the previously mentioned “dress like everyone’s watching”, bullet holes in the MIT Museum glass from that shooting near Random, and CJT’s conference room. These photos date from around the time I originally had the rant (~October 2014)
Pingback from earlier mention
Pictures are here